Wednesday, October 10, 2012

City Council Mulls "Lazy Double Parking" Ordinance

By Christina Georgiou

The discussion of a possible "lazy double parking" ordinance continued at the Easton City Council workshop meeting Tuesday evening.

If enacted as discussed, the new law, similar to one recently passed in Allentown, would impose a $100 fine on those who double park when street parking is open and available within a short distance--20 feet is the limit being considered. The fine would increase another $25 if it's not paid within 7 days, and could escalate up to an additional $50 on top of the initial $100 fine after that.

The "lazy double parking" fine would presumably be imposed on top of a parking fine for the infraction of double parking, which is already illegal in the city.

Councilman Jeff Warren who heads the council's public safety committee, said it's not his intention to bolster city finances with the proposed ordinance.

"We're not trying to ticket our way to budget salvation," Warren said. "What this is meant to do is give the police department another tool."

He added, "Quite frankly, if you double park when there's a space 20 feet away, you deserve to be ticketed."

Warren said a new law is needed because he's had "numerous" complaints from merchants about double parking by delivery trucks.

But Councilwoman El Warner questioned the need for a separate law to deal with the issue, noting that the Easton Police Department has issued just seven tickets for double parking in the last six months.

"Why not just enforce the ordinance we already have? It's already illegal to double park. Why not just make it a huge fine to double park if it's an issue?"Warner asked, adding that proving a driver double parked when an open spot was available might be difficult in court.

The enforcement officer would have to directly witness the event, which would only happen by chance, she said.

Warren said that issuing 'lazy double parking' tickets would be a matter of police discretion.

EPD Chief Carl Scalzo said the measure might be difficult to make stick in court, unless it was clear that a car couldn't have pulled out of an open spot during the time an offender was double parked.

Mayor Sal Panto said the real offenders when it comes to 'lazy double parking' are delivery trucks, who he said often disregard open spaces and fail to pull off the streets when making deliveries.

"That's what really bothers me," Panto said. "I understand the need to be business friendly, but when they blatently disregard like that..."

City Administrator Glenn Steckman said he's in favor of the measure.

"I think it adds a little extra sting," he said.

Warren agreed.

"I simply think that having this on the books will be a deterrent. It's about sending a serious message to people that chronically do this."

No firm date was set, but it's expected that Warren will officially  introduce a lazy double parking bill in the next few weeks.

Warner also brought up the idea of the city offering dedicated motor scooter and motorcycle parking.

She said that when parking her scooter, she often gets dirty looks from motorists for taking up a metered street spot with such a small  vehicle, but parking a scooter on the sidewalk or at a bike rack is illegal in Pennsylvania.

"It just seems like it would make sense," Warner said.

She added that such spaces could be designated where there isn't sufficient space for a car, such as at the end of a block, and that designated motorcycle and scooter spaces might not necessarily need to be metered.

But Warren objected to the idea that two-wheeled vehicles be allowed to park for free.

"I'd be concerned we'd be sending the message that scooters and motorcycles don't have to pay, but (cars) do," Warren said.

Warner said such possibly free parking spots might not be located in the most prime Downtown locations, but require users to walk a little further. She added that she didn't think others would think of the spots being free would necessarily think the drivers of motorcycles and scooters were privileged.

"I've never gone past a handicapped spot and thought, 'Aren't those  people lucky,'" she said.

Panto said he thought the idea might be a good one.

"I think in the places where there's not room for a full don't have sight line problems because motorcycles and scooters are only so high," the mayor said.

PennDOT regulations allow for as many motorcycles or scooters as can safely fit to occupy a spot.

City officials also discussed possibly implementing an ordinance requiring the owners of private parking lots to post better signs advising the public they could be towed if the lots don't allow public parking.

In response to a number of complaints from city visitors who were towed after parking at a private lot at South Second and Ferry streets, Panto said such signage might be a good idea.

The cars, towed at the lot owner's request, were unable to be retrieved for days due to the private towing company not keeping weekend hours, Panto noted, adding that the visitors were from out of town, which made retrieving their cars particularly difficult.

"Getting towed away and not getting your car back until Monday isn't acceptable," Panto said.

But the city may have no control over the policies or choice of towing company in the case of private lots, Steckmann said. However, warning sign requirements may be enacted by the city.

A requirement for signs to be more visibly posted throughout such lots may be in the near future, though the mayor said he'd rather work with lot owners to convince them to allow public parking when they aren't using their lots.

"We'd pick up the insurance for parking after hours and on weekends," Panto said. "That's not a problem."

Council delayed discussing the ideas of raising the metered parking rate or purchase of smart meters Tuesday evening, with Warner saying that she'd like to see the plan or a presentation of the idea at the Wednesday evening city council meeting instead. She added she thinks a number of members of the public will be on hand to express their opinions too.

It's unclear whether that presentation will happen tonight, at the October 10 meeting, though.

"The goal is to create a dedicated revenue stream for GEDP," Steckman said of the proposed plan. "It would also go toward a parking management system."

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