Snow emergencies illustrate need for new city parking policy


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Snow emergencies in Iowa City provide a chance for UI students to cross their fingers, yearning for a snow day and a class-less day. But this year, the thought of heavy snow is more an umbrage than ever.

The city’s parking fines are too steep, and its communication during snow emergencies has been lacking.

Between two snow emergencies this winter, one of which occurred last week, the city has brought in $38,500 in citations. That staggering amount is deposited into the city’s general fund. All together, the city issued 777 citations during the two snow emergencies that lasted, together, four days, Iowa City Public Works Director Rick Fosse said.

Taxpayers expect their city’s infrastructure to be effective and efficient. Errantly parked cars obviously throw a wrench in that. But raising snow-emergency citations from $15 to $50 this year suggests the city knows where it can cash in without fear of public retribution. After all, the 462 people whom the city ticketed during last week’s snow emergency were breaking the law. Who can argue with that?

“The $15 fine was not covering our costs,” Fosse said. “We also wanted it to be high enough to serve as an incentive to move your car even if you are in an area that the tow trucks may not get to.”

But there seems to be a direct lack of communication between Iowa City and its public. This is a town in which parking is a scarce commodity, to say the least. UI students unable to afford outrageously expensive parking spots are relegated to street parking, a dreadful sort of purgatory involving many wasteful hours of circling blocks and interpreting “Odd/Even” parking signs. It’s time the city re-evaluates its snow emergency protocol.

We understand it’s a daunting task for the city to mediate a population of both longtime residents and the ever-changing students. But the city’s strategy of posting parking stipulations during snow emergencies on its website isn’t enough. Nor is an e-mail/text message alert program that, while practical in theory, assumes residents and students will subscribe on their own accord. Fosse said “hundreds of people” use the alert service. But that simply does not reach enough of the population.

The city should develop a more proactive line of attack.

“I believe we do a good job, but continually work to get better,” Fosse said. “After each snow emergency, we debrief to discuss what worked well and what did now.”

He said he looks for ways to improve the things that did not go well during snow emergencies.

Hopefully, such improvements are coming. Students should expect better coordination between city departments responsible for declaring snow emergencies and UI officials. It merits consideration for the university to implement a mass e-mail system during snow emergencies — or any time there’s a spate of nasty weather — to educate students on what they can or cannot do.

The city’s tactics are failing. The cite-now-explain-later policy is breeding resentment toward officials and emptying the pocketbooks of students, who are already strapped for cash. We suggest city officials take a portion of the $38,500 addition to their general fund and invest in retooling its convoluted, ineffective parking policy for snow emergencies.

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