The District writes more than 1,300,000 parking tickets every year. (Yes, that’s one million, three hundred thousand.)
But in a growing, crowded city, apparently that’s not enough.
In October, city ticket writers will have a brand new tool to generate more tickets, more rapidly. Separately, a private company is beta testing a new app that could allow thousands of ordinary D.C. residents to easily report parking violators that now escape enforcement.
First, the Department of Public Works is going to roll out its new enforcement tool next month. DPW ticket writers will use cameras to photograph license plates of improperly parked vehicles. Those photographs will automatically generate tickets and mail them to offending owners just as red light and speed cameras do now. The change will allow a ticket writer to record dozens of violations in the time it normally would take to physically tap out a ticket, print it, and place it on the windshield.
“It drives me nuts … I see people blocking the bike lane, delivery trucks blocking a whole lane of traffic,” says DPW Director Christopher Geldart, commenting on his own drive to work and around the District. Geldart says he hopes to start a 15-day warning period in October and then begin writing real tickets.
Meanwhile, the District government could get some help for enforcement and, more importantly, street redesign improvements from an experimental private app. Now being tested, it’s called How’s My Driving. Over the past few months, individual testers have used the app to tweet thousands of parking violations in real time, showing not only the violating vehicle but whether that vehicle has outstanding tickets.
“After a few months this year,” says Mark Sussman, co-founder of the app, “the first thing I look up is the total citation amount outstanding; it was over a million dollars.” Some offenders have as much as $30,000 in outstanding tickets. Sussman says he turned to his partner Daniel Schep—who created the app—and remarked, “Daniel, I think there is something here beyond just our Twitter bot.”
Initial results from the app show that the almost-always-crowded intersection of 14th and Irving streets NW has prompted the most Twitter app reports, detailing this nerve-jarring confluence of car and truck traffic, bus stops, and pedestrians and cyclists adjacent to a Metro stop.
Recently, How’s My Driving did a one-day survey of the District’s highly touted bus-only lanes on H and I streets NW. Mayor Muriel Bowser herself had helped paint the special lanes and said they’d be rigorously enforced. However, How’s My Driving volunteers monitoring the lanes recorded almost 300 vehicles stopping, standing, or parking in the lanes.
“The lanes [effectively] were always blocked,” Sussman tells City Paper. He says it’s part of the parking syndrome that each individual driver believes, “I’m just parking for a minute, so I’m going to park illegally,” and chance a ticket. Replicated thousands of times, drivers and trucks can keep lanes everywhere almost constantly blocked in some fashion. The app’s initial finding showed bus lanes may have to be blocked off to be effective—the same for rampant parking in unprotected bike lanes. (You can read about this project in Sussman’s own words in Greater Greater Washington.)
“These are momentary infractions, very difficult to capture in a systematic way,” Sussman says, noting it would be a staff and management nightmare to patrol thousands of blocks of city streets, writing tickets and towing offenders. Both DPW’s Geldart and Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian are familiar with the app and tell City Paper they are watching its development. “I think the premise behind the app is great,” says Geldart. “And I applaud them. I’d be glad to talk to them. There is a whole range of possibilities.”
Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and an unpaid advisor to Sussman, says, “There is so much a lack of information, this is another way for people to get involved. The point is to get users of all modes of transportation to report things.”
As satisfying as the app is now for irritated cyclists, pedestrians, or other drivers who might want to park-shame violators or point out dangerous situations, Sussman says Twitter isn’t the end game.
“People can certainly share on social media, but our goal is to get off of Twitter.” He and his partner, Schep, are talking about monetizing their app, and having conversations with Arlington and other cities like Austin and Pittsburgh about their data collection. A pilot project right now is linking the app with the District’s Department of For Hire Vehicles, which could speed DFHV enforcement and monitoring of taxis and other for-hire drivers.
Sussman’s app overall would aggregate violations, showing real-time hot spots. But he says the app, which is soon to be renamed #OurStreets, also is not designed to be just an enforcement tool squeezing more money from drivers. He says such real-time data could more quickly guide city transportation officials on how to make immediate traffic calming changes and aid the redesign of city streets.
“Our mission is not about shaming people. If all of it is just bitching, it’s not going to go anywhere,” Sussman says, adding that he sees the app “as a force for good.”
And it could be, unless in the meantime you are the one getting tickets from tougher enforcement.