Living the parking blues

BY TAYLOR CASEY | MARCH 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Anyone who has ever lived in Iowa City knows that parking spots are limited — and, even worse, costly.

Despite the convenience, not all residents can afford parking spots. Instead, they must resort to the next best thing: street parking.

It may sound like a pretty sweet alternative, but depending on the attentiveness of the individual and the location of her or his vehicle, it can get expensive. A couple of parking tickets and even towing incidents, brought on by poorly publicized parking ordinances, can easily drain students' wallets.

I live in a house on South Lucas Street. Parking in the driveway is tight, typically forcing one or more of my roommates to resort to street parking. However, it's not a big deal — South Lucas has free parking, and it's usually available, because it's a good distance from campus.

Not only do I park on the street often, but I tend to leave my car there for several days (if not weeks) because there's not a huge demand for it in Iowa City.

However, it wasn't until I left to go home this past week for spring break, leaving my car on the street for four days, that I realized this is technically illegal.

If one visits the city of Iowa City website, it states that, "No vehicle shall be parked at the same location for more than 48 hours." Furthermore, doing so is constituted as street storage and results in a $15 ticket. If vehicles are not removed in 72 hours, the city has the right to tow them.

Sure, being ticketed for something that I had done numerous times, and done so because I thought it was OK to do, was frustrating; however, that is not what made me so irate.

The part that really got me mad was the city's ability to take advantage of such a law at a time that officials knew they could benefit most.

While I am aware of the rule now, the city generally does a poor job publicizing parking regulations and needs to be more explicit and consistent in its enforcement.

If street storage is prohibited, that is perfectly acceptable — I will no longer leave my car on South Lucas for more than 48 hours. But it's only fair that this law should be consistently enforced 12 months out of the year, not only during breaks, when city officials know people are more likely to leave their vehicle for several days.

Mark Rummel, an associate director of Transportation Services, enlightened me about why this rule may appear to be selectively enforced.

Rummel said residents may have seen an increase in street-storage tickets over spring break because there may have been fewer tickets in other areas, giving officers more time to chalk cars and check up on them later.

However, if this is technically the same violation as an expired meter, why is it not just as much of a priority?

Rummel said parking restrictions are enforced 100 percent of the time; however, unlike an expired meter ticket that is given directly on the spot, it is a lot harder to check chalked cars. Staff members must come back 48 hours later to check up on them, and then they can ticket.

I'm skeptical. My roommate was unable to drive for a month, tempting her to leave her car parked on the street for almost the entire 30 days, unmoved, without a single ticket. Obviously, a data set of two points is small, but it's cause enough for some mistrust.

It's understandable that the city doesn't have a large enough staff to check every day, or even every week, but I find it nearly impossible that someone was unable to come and check for an entire month — not once ticketing or chalking her tires.

"It's difficult; it's a wide area," Rummel said. "The area is just so vast, and our resources just aren't there.

"We try to maintain it the best we can."

Regardless of the number of staff members, or the high demand for parking on South Lucas, the city needs to be more consistent with its parking rules. It shouldn't matter that ticketing expired meters is an easier task; if street storage is listed under the same rules, it should be enforced the same way.

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