WASHINGTON — Parking signs in D.C. can be very confusing. Some joke that you need a Ph.D. to decipher them. But what happens when the signs are flat- out wrong? A ticket writer should spot the error and report it, and then it gets fixed, right?
Lisa Foreman learned this lesson the hard way.
On June 13, she parked at 400 5th Street in Northwest, a block from D.C. Superior Court. Foreman and some clients had some business at the courthouse. But when she came out 90 minutes later, Foreman found a ticket on her car for $100, even though the signs said she could park there for up to two hours.
“I’ve gotten enough parking tickets in D.C. to know that I need to look at the signs. I was very diligent about it,” Foreman says.
D.C. Department of Transportation Officer Monique Mobley cited Foreman for parking during the afternoon rush — between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mobley also requested a tow truck to remove the car.
On June 15, WTOP Ticketbuster visited the block and found the parking signs were inconsistent and contradictory.
As WTOP’s video shows, green signs on the block said drivers could pay to park between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. However, the signs didn’t carve out an exemption for the afternoon rush. Red signs said the exact opposite: “No Parking or Standing, 4 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.”
There are four green signs spread across the block. Only two red signs were posted near the intersections.
At 5th and E Street, two signs are on the same pole right next to each other: One says drivers can park from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; the other says you can’t park 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
You’re not alone.
“The video, for me, is exhibit A of exactly [what] the problem [is] with DDOT,” says D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh. “We have confusing and conflicting signage.”
For two years, Cheh says, DDOT officials have told her they’ve done block-by-block looks at all the signage.
“Your video certainly shows, in a very public area near D.C. Superior Court, they haven’t made sure the signage isn’t conflicting.”
Cheh chairs the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, which oversees parking agencies such as DDOT. She and other lawmakers who reviewed our initial video did not seem surprised by the problem, but suggested it was just “the tip of an iceberg.”
“It’s up to the government, if it’s going to enforce the rules, to make the signs not conflicting,” Cheh continues. “The driver can’t be expected, if there’s a conflict, to parse which one they should follow.”
It’s “mass confusion,” says Lisa Foreman. “I don’t know how DDOT expects drivers to understand the rules, if it can’t even get the signs right.”
Within 10 days, DDOT changed the parking signs at 400 5th Street to correct the error. WTOP’s updated June 25 video shows DDOT made two important changes.
Firstly, it replaced the incorrect green signs with new ones that tell drivers they can pay to park from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and again from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Secondly, DDOT added new red signs on top of the new green signs. In all, the agency replaced four incorrect green signs and added two new red signs.
Now, all the parking signs are consistent: it’s illegal to park between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. during the work week.
While Foreman is pleased the signs are now correct, she doesn’t believe she should pay a fine. She says that when DDOT changed the signs, it admitted liability, so her ticket should be dismissed.
At 5th and E, it’s the same story: Confusing, contradictory signs on June 15 (left) have been corrected on June 23 (right). (WTOP/Ari Ashe)
“It seems like even when the signs are wrong, you are wrong. So you can’t win,” Foreman says. “What can you do? I guess you just don’t come to D.C.”
DDOT did not respond to our request for an official comment. However, spokesman Reggie Sanders watched our videos and remained informed during WTOP’s investigation.
If DDOT does not void the citation, Foreman will have to adjudicate her case at the Department of Motor Vehicles. She isn’t confident this will happen, recalling a story published on May 29 about Eric Rosenberg. DDOT dismissed the Rosenberg ticket on June 16.
It’s still unclear why DDOT Officer Mobley wrote the ticket instead of reporting the incorrect signs to her supervisor.
“As a parking professional, I would agree that the signs in your example are conflicting and inadequate,” says one parking official. “On that basis, my department would administratively dismiss this ticket.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about other enforcement agencies. However, he said DDOT has a tough job to make sure all the signs are accurate in a city with such density and complex rules.
Foreman has until July 13 to respond to her ticket before the fine doubles.
If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape.