Just Sittin' Here, Watching the Tickets Flow
The Key Bridge — Friday, October 19. Walking across the bridge, from the Rosslyn metro into town, five police officers were sitting on the Washington side, immediately pulling over drivers on their cell phones and issuing tickets. All the commotion was exacerbating a traffic jam on the already crowded bottleneck onto M Street, on a typically busy Friday morning. The rows of stopped vehicles and squad cars could have led you to believe there was a drug bust in place. Three blocks into town, I had already passed three other officers ticketing vehicles that had over-extended their parking privileges by the slightest infraction.
Traditionally, this is what you would call “bad business”. Washington, specifically Georgetown, needs revenue from outside the city to prosper — a situation made all the more serious by the city’s deficit and declining revenue. To welcome visitors and commuters with a hundred dollar fine for a menial violation is not a reasonable manner in which to treat your fellow neighbors. What does this attitude convey to a visitor, coming into town to shop or meet a colleague for lunch, about the city they’re in? This is a clear and consistently raised issue among citizens living outside and around the city. No one wants to come in because of the too-strict, small-scale traffic enforcement. There has been many a quip, even by unlikely Democratic Mayoral candidate Leo Alexander, that an evening in Georgetown is expensive enough without a parking ticket under the wiper-blade or that you can’t come into town without a sack of quarters in your pocket for the money-hungry parking meter.
There has been a crime wave through the neighborhood — assaults, robberies, homes broken into, and even an organized armed bank robbery. But still our local police force piles the citations on reasonable citizens for petty misdemeanors. Priorities need to be straightened.
Talking on a cell phone while driving can indeed be hazardous, especially in congested, urban areas. Parking enforcement is ultimately a burden we all must carry, and the circulation of parking spaces through a time system is a reasonable and pragmatic design. There are indeed reasons for these laws, which can be agreed upon. But where is the line drawn between reasonable traffic enforcement and a police officer needing to fill a quota? At some points, it begins to seem that keeping the peace becomes overshadowed by a disgruntled, hungry system shaking spare change from the pockets of its people. For now, as Bob Dylan (sort of) said, we’ll just sit here on the Key Bridge and watch the tickets flow.