Transportation Policy

D.C. Bill Would Let Regular Citizens Issue Parking Tickets

These citizen meter maids would be empowered to ticket drivers for parking in bike lanes

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If you follow enough transportation advocates or local government agencies in the Washington, D.C. area on Twitter, chances are you've seen tweets like these:

Wherever a car parks too close to a crosswalk, a fire hydrant is blocked, or a bike lane is intruded upon, code enforcing vigilantes are quick to snap a photo and tag the relevant local department demanding action be taken against the offending motorist.

Soon enough these bike lane Batmen might get to play police for real under a proposed pilot program that would give citizens the ability to ticket each other for parking violations.

Last week, D.C. City Councilmember Charles Allen introduced a new Vision Zero omnibus traffic safety bill that adopts the ambitious goal of eliminating traffic fatalities in the District.

In 2018, 34 people died on the District's roadways, including 15 pedestrians, eight motorcyclists, seven people in cars, three bicyclists, and one scooter rider, according to data parsed by DCist.

In order to bring that number down to zero, Allen's bill would change up road rules to lower speed limits, create more four-way stop signs, ban right-on-red turns, and increase penalties for those found violating any of these rules.

More broadly, Allen's bill would commit the city to reduce car trips to just 25 percent of all commuter trips by 2032, down from 39 percent in 2017, according to Census Bureau data.

As an extra means of enforcement, Allen's bill would direct the city's Department of Public Works (DPW) to establish a Citizen Safety Enforcement Pilot Program. Under the pilot program—which would run for one year—10 citizens from each of the District's eight wards would be authorized to ticket drivers parked illegally.

After first being trained in D.C. traffic laws, these 80 vigilantes would be given access to a DPW-created app, which they would then use to submit photos of cars blocking crosswalks, bike lanes, fire hydrants, or the city's singular streetcar line.

Submission of a photo through the app would be treated as if it were a police officer or other city official issuing the violating driver a ticket.

While the goal of increased road safety is laudable, one can imagine a lot going wrong with the panopticon-like citizen-operated surveillance system that Allen's bill would create.

Road rules, even the ones most necessary for public safety, require a little bit of flex and discretion when it comes to enforcement.

One can easily imagine those who sign up to ticket their fellow citizens being a little overzealous. There's also the possibility that those with access to this app would let personal prejudices and self-interest influence which cars they decide to ticket or even which violations they go searching for.

Unlike city employees, whose enforcement activities can be restrained or redirected by an internal set of rules and informal practices, these new citizen parking enforcers would be accountable to no one. Citizen meter maids would be penalized only for submitting false information through the app or for letting an unauthorized person use it.

In essence, D.C.'s new traffic safety bill would seemingly empower a nation of narcs to ticket any violation they come across, regardless of how necessary that might be.

Allen introduced his Vision Zero Omnibus Bill on Tuesday of last week. No votes or hearings have been held on it yet, but according to WTOP, several council members have already signaled their support for it.

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  1. Soon enough these bike lane Batmen might get to play police for real under a proposed pilot program that would give citizens the ability to ticket each other for parking violations.

    Wake me when I can use my Bat Tow Truck – Tow Bat Truck? – to pull the bumper off some cyclist path scofflaw’s Beemer.

  2. “accountable to no one” — ha ha ha, you think city employees are accountable? ha ha ha!

    Make them a literal bet — let anyone take a picture of a traffic violation and send it to city hall, who would look up the license plate and forward an actual ticket.

    If traffic court upholds the ticket, the citizen ticketer gets half the fine.
    If traffic court acquits the registered owner, the citizen ticketer pays the fine, and half goes to the registered owner.

    There’s your accountability.

    1. BTW, I think you recommended “Factfulness”.
      It really is worthwhile, but, man, that guy (or his committee, given that some was written after he died) can bring back memories of the worst sort of instructor:
      ‘Here’s what’s in the chapter, here’s what it means, now I’ll read it to you, and now I’ll tell you what was in the chapter’.
      Good info presented in a way to make most people avoid it…

  3. What could possibly go wrong? Would they let you put a boot on a car too? That actually might be more problematic because then the person would get to face their accuser when they came to remove the boot, and that person would run the risk of getting their ass kicked.

  4. The citizen cops would have to show up in court if someone contests their ticket, right???

    1. Only if the constitution applies in DC.
      Which it definitely does not.

  5. Did he run this by the Union first? Because they may not want others doing THEIR job. God now I am happy about having public sector unions, thanks DC.

    Ps.
    Fuck you RobSmith031978. Construction over bike lanes every time unless your paying a huge chunk of change to the city for bike permits like construction does.

  6. >>>Submission of a photo through the app would be treated as if it were a police officer

    D.C. moves past humanity just being assholes because phone = camera = insta

  7. Do these volunteer clowns get free donuts too?

  8. I predict a spike in homicides of traffic-enforcing busybodies in D.C.

    1. THIS^^^^^^^

      “Snitches Get Stitches”. I wonder if they’ll try to charge the attacker with assaulting an officer?

  9. They’ll be able to ticket police cars too right?

    1. Somehow, that would be considered assaulting an officer.

      1. Good point. We all know what happens when you point a phone at a cop.

  10. They’re not “vigilantes”.

    1. They are just very vigilant.

      1. Vigilantes don’t work for the government.

        1. Not true. Batman was duly deputized by the Gotham PD.

  11. Submission of a photo through the app would be treated as if it were a police officer or other city official issuing the violating driver a ticket.
    But don’t photograph someone blocking a bike lane if they are eating breakfast.

  12. I think this won’t end well.

    lovely Rita, racist rat
    shove this ticket up your ass

  13. Do they get to wear a special sash? Because the hall monitor was always the coolest most popular guy in school.

    1. I picture Rob Misek making himself a whole uniform.

  14. There’s also the possibility that those with access to this app would let personal prejudices and self-interest influence which cars they decide to ticket or even which violations they go searching for.

    That would never happen with true sworn officers of the rule of law.

  15. Stupidest fucking idea I have heard in a long time so I’m not surprised it’s happening in DC. A couple of years ago, the district also employed secret citizen shoppers to bust shops that weren’t charging the plastic bag tax: The District of Narcs. The citizens here are mostly white upper middle class progtards hellbent on turning DC into a car-free utopia. Be my guest guys/gals/xi, but please do not move across the Potomac (looks like it may be too late)

    1. DC city government is just as corrupt and incompetent as Baltimore’s, it’s just DC has more money to steal due to the federal government. Lunacy to live in DC unless you are a multi-millionaire and can buy them off without it putting you in the poor house.

  16. And yet, isn’t one of the libertarian ideas about war, one that Ron Paul even floated, to issue Letters of Marque? Essentially privatizing war? In this case, it’s law enforcement.

  17. Violet. you think April`s bl0g is neat, last saturday I got a great new Acura since I been making $4380 this past 4 weeks and also $10,000 last munth. this is really the most rewarding Ive ever had. I began this 5 months ago and pretty much straight away earned minimum $73 per-hr. I use this here great link,,

  18. How are D.C. cyclists paying for their bike lanes?

  19. They say close to 50% of east Germans were informers for the Stasi.

    1. The author of Handmaid’s Tale says that Gideon was based on East Germany.

  20. If I lived in the District, and got one of those assignments, I’d spend my time ticketing bike riders for riding on the sidewalk in the central business district, and running red lights and stop signs. Bet I’d give out more tickets than anyone else.

  21. In the first image, with the fire hydrant tucked entirely behind the road work sign, that is not a ticketable offense. The sign, placed by a government contractor, is blocking the hydrant preventing the driver from seeing it. In the worst interpretation, it is straight up entrapment by the state to obscure the hydrant.

    In the final picture, the hydrant is clearly aft of the car, and is not directly blocked. Blocking a hydrant is likely defined by some number of feet, not just what the amateur feels like.

    Citizen, non-professional, vigilante, written tickets, will get tossed at a high rate because the ticket writer will miss the details of the law, and substitute petty outrage for required impartial evidence gathering.

    1. impartial evidence gathering.

      You mean, like the police do? LOL

    2. In a competent city, no one has to guess whether they are parking far enough from a fire hydrant because the keep-out zone will be clearly painted on the curb or pavement. Here, either those markings are either missing or in colors that don’t stand out. And that is not the only incompetence on display. The reason some think parking vigilantes are needed is not just that the cops don’t come around often enough, but that they fail to write tickets even when the address and a picture of the offense is sent to them.

      So if the use of a tape measure is required to write a valid ticket, I’d expect a volunteer to do that better than a city employee with a badge and a union protecting his job.

      1. In a competent city

        But we’re talking about Washington.

  22. What a pure DC thing to do. As if it’s not ridiculous enough to devote infrastructure to bike transportation in a city where the weather is either raining, or 95° with 95% humidity.

    I’d wager a grand that out of a region with millions of people, no more than 1,000 use a bike to commute to work on a daily basis. And I’m not just talking about renting a bike when it’s 65 and sunny.

  23. those with access to this app would let personal prejudices and self-interest influence which cars they decide to ticket or even which violations they go searching for…Unlike city employees, whose enforcement activities can be restrained or redirected by an internal set of rules and informal practices

    You seriously think the cops are less guided by prejudice and self-interest than average citizens?

  24. A. The fire hydrant was painted blue, so how are you supposed to see that?
    B. There was a sign in front of it.
    C. There was no fire that day.

  25. Just what we need, vigilante justice! I suggest we should also be able to shoot double parkers.

  26. […] D.C. Bill Would Let Regular Citizens Issue Parking Tickets – Reason.com […]

  27. […] Reason‘s Christian Britschgi was less than impressed with the notion, saying it would create a “panopticon-like citizen-operated surveillance system” that would “seemingly empower a nation of narcs to ticket any violation they come across.” […]

  28. […] Reason‘s Christian Britschgi was less than impressed with the notion, saying it would create a “panopticon-like citizen-operated surveillance system” that would “seemingly empower a nation of narcs to ticket any violation they come across.” […]

  29. […] Reason‘s Christian Britschgi was less than impressed with the notion, saying it would create a “panopticon-like citizen-operated surveillance system” that would “seemingly empower a nation of narcs to ticket any violation they come across.” […]

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