It might seem odd, even outrageous, that in a winter of no snow, it is still illegal to park your car on the street overnight in Peabody and Danvers.
"It makes no sense," said David Gamache, a Peabody city councilor who, with fellow Councilor Barry Osborne, has proposed changing the ordinance mandating an all-winter parking ban.
"I get a lot of complaints from people parked on the street that get ticketed," Gamache said. "But all I can tell them is that it's an antiquated law and it should be changed."
Similar complaints are being fielded in Danvers.
Last month, Carla King, a Maple Street resident, said her family is constantly juggling cars to keep them off the street during the winter. Even if there's no snow, they can get hit with a $15 ticket — every night — for parking on the street.
Selectmen agreed to look into changing the law there, too, and instructed Town Manager Wayne Marquis to figure out what it would take.
"We will look into it, survey other communities around here and around the state, and come back to the selectmen sometime this summer," Marquis said. "It's certainly not a black-and-white issue. You need to do a complete analysis with something like this."
In Salem and Beverly, cars are allowed to park on the street all winter, unless there is snow or ice in the forecast and public works officials decide to ban cars from the streets. In Peabody and Danvers, there is a blanket ban, meaning no overnight street parking, period, regardless of the weather. Both sides have some valid arguments.
On one side are residents, many of whom see the tickets on their cars on balmy, snow-free winter mornings as a clear injustice. Surprisingly, in Peabody, there have been about the same number of winter parking ban tickets to date this winter (1,081) as there was all of last winter through March 31 (1,080), when the area was inundated with snow.
But police don't necessarily like doling out the tickets — $10 in Peabody — because it takes time and in many cases is unnecessary.
"When it's 50 degrees at 2 in the morning, it's kind of hard to put a ticket on someone's car for a snow ban," Peabody Deputy Chief Marty Cohan said. "People always question why they can't park on the street. Traditionally, it's a question we get asked every year if there's no snow."
He said there are a lot of variables to consider when and if a new ordinance is written — including making sure streets are wide and clear enough for emergencies — but police "are not going to object to it in any way, as long as they realize there are issues and downsides to it."
Salem's flexible parking ban is very useful, police there said. Last year, for the first time in a long time, police Chief Paul Tucker instituted a complete parking ban on certain sides of the street because of the huge amount of snow. It allowed needed space for cars and emergency vehicles to get through.
"We might not need to do that for another 10 years," said Salem police Capt. Brian Gilligan, commander of the patrol division.
The ordinance "works fantastic because of the fact that we have the power under the ordinance to deal with a snow emergency appropriately when it arises and patrol guys don't have to go out and tag cars all night when it's not necessary," Gilligan said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the guys in charge of the plows like the idea of a more permanent snow ban, despite the weather.
"I'd give my left arm to have the type of ordinance they have over in Danvers," said Michael Collins, the director of public services in Beverly. "You can't even imagine how much easier removing the snow and ice would be if we have more than one shot to take care of it."
In Beverly, any threat of snow or ice prompts a 48-hour ban on street parking. But even after a significant snowfall, if it's sunny at 3 p.m., people start bringing their cars back out on the street whether it's clear or not.
"Nobody cares. We haven't even made our first pass on some streets, and people move their cars out and start snowblowing their driveways," Collins said. "I can't overemphasize how difficult it is for the people driving these (plow) trucks."
If the ban ends before they get to everything, the snow packs into hard ice along the curb and slowly gains ground until the streets get narrower and narrower — you only have to look back to last winter to see an example. In places with broader snow bans, it's easier to fight against that, Collins said.
"It would be great to have the luxury of going out night after night and cleaning up. And if it's an abnormal winter like this, we could do other work on the roads," he said. "I know it's inconvenient (for residents), but in a way it's almost easier because you know you have make arrangements (to park off the street) and you're not scrambling at the last minute."
Last year, Peabody purchased 14 blinking blue lights, similar to those used in Salem and Beverly, which alert residents to tune into 1640 AM to hear important alerts. Those would be used to notify residents if the city moves to an emergency snow ban, along with automated phone alerts, Nixle (a public alert system) and cable access.
That technological capability was always missing before and kept the police, fire and ultimately the council reluctant to change the ban, even as it came up for discussion year after year.
"Now that we have those mechanisms in place, we don't need (the snow ban)," Gamache said.
In Danvers, Marquis is devoting his attention right now to next year's town budget, but he will have more information about costs, logistics, pros and cons in the summer, he said.
"Public safety is the foremost consideration," he said.