SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 1, 2013

Parking bans put to the test

Peabody tows 15 cars in first use of blue lights; 42 towed in Beverly

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — New rules for winter parking begin today in Danvers, but Peabody got its first sight of the blue lights this weekend, when officials said that overall, residents got the message.

Beverly, which has long had a snow emergency-only winter parking ban, saw 42 cars towed from Saturday to Sunday.

The weekend’s storm was the first test of a new snow emergency system in Peabody, during which 15 cars were towed, Peabody police Chief Robert Champagne said. Last winter, which saw little snow, Peabody and Danvers prohibited overnight on-street parking all season.

“So far, so good,” Champagne said about the new winter parking rules in Tanner City. “We towed 15 cars, and that was at the request of the DPW.”

Today, Danvers begins new parking rules as part of a pilot program to modify its winter overnight ban. Any cars parked on Danvers streets for more than an hour during a snow emergency face being ticketed and, if they interfere with the plows, towed. Otherwise, on-street parking is allowed during the winter. Danvers will rely on its community notification system to get the word out, and it plans to evaluate the program, which runs until April 1.

“I was out with the winter operations crew until 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning,” said Department of Public Works Director of Operations Robert Lee.

“As best as I can tell or hear, I only heard one call to police,” he said, and that was for a car that slid into the road during the storm. Danvers got 3 inches of snow.

“It’s just common sense,” Lee said, “when there’s a snowstorm, don’t park in the street.”

In Peabody, which this winter switched to a new blue-light system to alert residents of a snow emergency, some vehicles in the downtown area were ticketed and towed, but the mayor’s office did not receive any complaints.

“It was the first one we did since we changed it,” said Ward 1 City Councilor Barry Osborne, a proponent of the snow emergency parking ban, rather than an all-winter ban. “I haven’t heard a lot, so I hope it will be successful.”

Osborne said there was no way to tell if those who were ticketed and towed for violating the ban would also have done so had the former winter parking ban been in place.

Starting on Saturday at 11 a.m., the Peabody Department of Public Services issued the snow emergency, and Champagne and the deputy chiefs were notified. Police put out a text alert via its Nixle system, and Champagne said the department also used Facebook and Twitter to get the word out.

Blue lights were activated, and police placed yellow notification slips on vehicles parked on downtown streets, warning motorists to move their cars. Police issued five tickets on Aborn Street just after 2 p.m. and helped the DPW move parked cars early Saturday evening and Sunday morning. At one point, police were called to announce over a cruiser’s loudspeaker to move cars on Aborn Street and Aborn Place, with 10 parking citations issued.

Champagne said residents responded well to the notices and warnings. A technical glitch kept the notification from going out over the 1640 AM radio station.

“Fifteen cars is not bad for the first go-around,” Champagne said.

Beverly’s website announced in bold white letters on a red background an “active parking ban” starting at 8 p.m. Saturday and running for 48 hours. The city’s website gave locations of municipal lots where residents can park.

There was some confusion about the ban, however. At 4:27 p.m. Saturday, according to the police log, residents called to say that the hotline for the winter parking ban said it “has been canceled.”

Police contacted DPS Director Michael Collins, who told police: “It is in effect, and that the message should have been changed a couple of hours ago.”

Collins said the city relies less on the hotline than it does on the ability to call 14,400 households to announce the snow emergency. Blue lights warning residents to move their cars off city streets were turned on at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

“We are proactively calling everyone,” said Collins, who said the message was eventually changed. Since the department is not staffed 24 hours a day, and it was a holiday weekend, Collins said there was a delay.

“All these things are fluid,” Collins said. “It takes time.”

The way the city’s ordinance reads, if snow is predicted, a snow emergency is declared.

The Beverly police log states that by 4 a.m. Sunday, the police winter parking ban patrol had issued 66 parking citations, and 42 vehicles were towed.

“The first storm is always the worst,” Collins said, “especially since there was no parking ban last year.” That means it’s been two years since the city declared a snow emergency. Since most of the cars are towed from downtown streets where there are a lot of apartments, newer residents to the city may not be aware of the winter parking rules.

“Every year, it’s the same thing,” Collins said. “Everyone has to get used to it again.”

Collins said the city tries to be judicious about winter parking bans. However, Collins said that having an all-winter parking ban makes it easier for the plows to do their job. Once a snow emergency is lifted, and it’s daylight, cars park on the streets again, and the plows cannot go back and clear away snowbanks before they turn to ice.

“We have one shot to get it right,” Collins said.

Salem police yesterday did not report any problems with the snow emergency over the weekend.

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