Traffic vs. parking enforcement

I got into it the other day with my walking buddy. We were standing on a corner watching a police car that was “hidden” behind some bushes near a stop sign. That sign is well known in the neighborhood as one that is run constantly. The cops were there to bring some enforcement. My friend holds that a rolling stop at such a neighborhood sign is ok and the cops would be of better use catching murders and rapists.

He then pounced on the fact that I believe that parking enforcement officers should be able to have some leeway in issuing citations. “You can’t have it both ways, Van Horn.”

I think I can.

The only way that we can survive on city streets and freeways is by knowing what the other driver is going to do. We assume that they are going to follow the rules, and when they don’t, two tons of steel meets another two tons of steel at 40 miles per hour and injuries occur. I’m told that running stop signs is one of the most egregious of driving law breaking.

In our neighborhood I have watched car after car roll through stop signs, in some cases, barely slowing down. Now there may not have been a car coming up the street at that moment, but there may have been a pedestrian, a cat, or a kid chasing a ball, plus the habit we learn by “rolling stops” can extend to busy city streets and “t-bone” fatalities.

However, walking up to a parked car that has just gone over the time limit on the meter, getting in and driving away doesn’t have the same potentially life endangering result. Giving a warning to that driver may in fact help the situation in future moments when he or she decided to run in to the cleaners and not put that quarter in the meter.

The two positions are not inconsistent. They are different. In one case, the rule is there to protect life and property. In the other, it is there help preserve an asset in a way that is beneficial to both the driver and the local property owners.

In the case of parking, the commodity owned by the municipality is being provided to customers who need it to go about their business. The relationship between the city and the parking customer is different than that between a driver and the other drivers on the road. In one case, the customer is, or at least should be, treated as just that, a customer. In the other, we are talking life and limb.

As I have said before, the private sector changes their customer’s behavior every day without creating an adversarial situation. They seek to do so in ways that the customer not only might enjoy, but in ways that keep them coming back. MacDonald’s trains you to know your order and give it quickly to make your time in line easier. By setting menu “meals,” that is combinations that most people order, it makes it faster and more efficient not only for the folks in line, but also the team behind the counter. The restaurant makes a decision that says that some people won’t like ordering by number, and they can, but it’s a more difficult task. In the end, they can get many to change behavior by demonstrating that it’s easier and faster to do so.

How can we get parkers to change behavior because they see that it’s easier and better for them to do so without a program of “fair, firm, and consistent enforcement?” First we have to determine what we are trying to do. Are we there to collect money for the general fund, or are we there to properly allocate an asset necessary to our customers and the community.

In either case, the way to succeed AND have happy parkers is related to the approach. Turning up the heat on drivers may save lives. Turning up the heat on parkers stokes resentment.


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3 Responses to Traffic vs. parking enforcement

  1. Shannon S. Robeson says:

    I must agree….. only a small percent of the population actually breaks the law / rules. (an estimated 10%) This reminds me of a time when I had the right of way and was hit on my bicycle in a turn lane. The driver made a rolling stop looking past me with all my required safety gear…. As he rolled his “stop” I laid onto the hood of his vehicle lifting my legs with the bike to avoid a bone break. If the driver had only stopped he would have seen me pass in-front of him.
    The same idea can be applied to parking violations. You may not know or understand the reasons for the parking law as readily as I would hope one would understand the reason for law governing vehicle operation, but know that the parking law or ordinance is in place for public safety. It is easier to understand you should not park within 15 feet of the fire hydrant so the it can be used in-case of an emergency, but did you know you cannot park at the approach of a stop sign? (normally within 30 feet)The law is not specific on the type of vehicle so everyone is subject to the citation.
    So what is the issue with the stop sign? You block the view of the stop sign and create a traffic crash when a driver fails to see past your vehicle. Should a crash occur often the illegally parked vehicle is at fault.
    So next time it inconvenient to park and your just running in for a moment…before you park illegally give a little thought to why the law was in place…. Its not just a random event.

  2. Lindsaybanks says:

    I also agree with this post. You can’t be too generous or easy on people, or else they will take advantage. Give a warning that clearly states that the next offense will be severe, or implement escalating fines. Your first offense is $50, second is $100 and third is $175. I read that something like 30% of revenue in LA for parking fines was coming from a small number of repeat offenders.
    And I also second the comment above on the bicycling issue. If drivers don’t stop at stop signs, it can be very scary for those of us on bikes or walking. I think that people don’t realize the potential for harm that their enormous cars have!

  3. John says:

    In the UK we had a situation where the police had leeway whether to issue parking tickets or not – not surprisingly a pretty face or cute smile resulted in no ticketing and the system fell into disrepute. While a few minute leeway is provided in some areas a no leeway system ensures that it is not abused and enforcement is based on the offence not on the attributes of the offender.

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