A long time in the making, the pilot project to create “cashless” parking in Fairfax County, Virginia went into effect this past weekend, and some two dozen pilot lots already have signs that allow residents to reserve spots for free.
The move, however, is a mere flash in the pan as many of the lots will not be fully cashless until the fall. And those who did sign up in the first two days of the program, are already finding that the “free” signs can fool a driver into thinking the lot is actually open for free parking.
According to Jonathan Goff, executive director of Fairfax Community Action Agency, the agency is the parent of the program at 14 intersections through town and has been working to make them available for the past three years.
“There’s some complexities involved with signing up and processing all of the claims,” Goff said. “We’ve got some rough edges to work out.”
Nevertheless, according to Goff, Fairfax’s LED signs are a significant improvement over old signs because they can turn on and off, as needed.
“It’s an improvement,” Goff said. “We’re making great progress.”
Soon all non-designated spots on Chesapeake Avenue, for example, will be paid for and all of Fairfax Center Drive will be paid for.
The 22 lots were “staged” for the start of the program because of security concerns. Two thousand spots are available at any given time. With 70,000 people passing through each day on average, it’s clear that this is a low hanging fruit for the non-designated spots.
The “EZ-Plus” signs used to denote the paid spaces, were deemed too dangerous to work with. They will only be used in spots where the natural lighting is too low to indicate the area as paid parking.
Goff said that there is a critical shortage of spaces in Fairfax right now, making any free spot more valuable to residents. He also stressed that motorists were not legally obligated to park in the free spaces. That’s all the community could do until now, he said.
“If folks need a place to park and they see a free spot, that’s a great thing,” Goff said. “We weren’t against having paid spaces in the open spaces. We’re just suggesting that those spots get separated into the paid spots.”
Local businesses haven’t been keen on the idea either, “but we had to do this,” Goff said. “We can’t drive those businesses out of business.”
In addition to the threat of commercial insurance companies going after spot based sites, as well as signs that aren’t lit, supervisors fear that reporting a paid spot on First Street may send letters and robo calls to the lot owner.
Fairfax, along with nearby Arlington County, has the smart meter, or pay as you go, meters. Arlington officials began taking regular digs at the county for their scheme to install free meter parking on First Street in anticipation of the October launch of the project.
“I think it’s foolish to take away residential or non-designated spaces in order to make these new ones,” Todd Burford, a Fairfax resident said. “There is no proof that it has had any positive benefit to congestion reduction.”
Burford and other Fairfax residents are familiar with more than their fair share of congestion. Fairfax was named the nation’s “most congested” county in January, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Anyone who finds that the signs are falling short of expectations can report them directly to the agency. In the meantime, Goff suggests residents try walking to one of the designated spots before they park.
“Take your time and use the bus,” Goff said. “Then pay your change.”
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