SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 13, 2012

Danvers selectmen ponder scuttling winter parking ban

BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — DANVERS — Last January, amid a relatively balmy winter, Maple Street resident Carla King questioned the need for a blanket parking ban on town streets on days when there was not a snowball’s chance in Hades that snow would fall.

Nine months later, and with the usual Dec. 1 start of the on-street winter parking ban looming, King and several other residents asked selectmen on Thursday for an update on whether the town will scrap the winter parking ban in favor of a system that bans on-street parking only when a snow emergency is declared.

Selectmen voted to continue the discussion until a future meeting to gather more information.

Parking on the street during the winter parking ban, which normally runs from Dec. 1 to April 1, can result in a $15 fine. Residents can get ticketed even on warm winter days, and that can lead to hard feelings when residents show up at the parking clerk’s office to explain things. Town Manager Wayne Marquis said the town is looking into how much discretion officers have to enforce the ban during mild weather, but nothing has been determined so far.

“We had a good discussion (Thursday) night, and we are going to go back to do some more homework,” said Marquis, who said the town is looking at the cost and other details of putting in place a snow emergency parking ban.

King, like others who live downtown or in condominium complexes with limited parking, barely has enough space on her property for her and her tenants’ vehicles, and they are constantly juggling them around a narrow driveway.

Town officials say the winter parking ban helps keep streets clear when it snows. Marquis also said some cities that have emergency-only parking bans can tow up to 100 cars in a winter; Danvers has towed just five cars in the past five years.

Often, rural communities take the approach of banning on-street parking all winter, while cities like Salem opt for the snow emergency approach, given a lack of parking in general throughout the city.

Selectmen wanted information about how much it would cost to install a blue-light warning system in town. Peabody, which is doing away with its all-winter parking ban, already has one in place. Marquis worried that communicating about emergency parking bans could be difficult because many young people have cellphones rather than land lines.

King, a Town Meeting and Affordable Housing Committee member, said she may have raised the issue alone, but that she and her tenants are not the only ones affected by the winter parking ban in town.

Selectman Bill Clark, a retired Danvers High teacher and a farmer who used to plow streets as a contractor, said he was impressed by an argument made by a resident who lives in a condominium complex on Purchase Street. The garden-style condos were built with only one space, and the family has three vehicles. It’s more than a mile to the nearest municipal lot, Clark said.

“It becomes a burden for these people,” he said.

Clark said he liked the idea of a “periodic parking ban” that would have the town contact people via phone alerts and other means before a snowstorm, and then keep the ban in place for few days after to allow crews to clear streets before the snow turns to ice. Clark wants to do something this winter, rather than study it for another year.

Last spring, the Peabody City Council voted to do away with its winter parking ban and in September opted for a plan to alert residents to move their cars as a storm approaches. The city plans to use a system of flashing blue lights on city streets; social media; a low-power radio station; and messages via phone, email, text and the Internet. Once a snow emergency is declared, vehicles must be kept off Peabody streets until the ban is lifted or face $50 fines plus the cost of towing.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.