Left in the cold: Frustration over Concord’s winter parking bans continue

  • Pamela Glines of Tilton stands beside her car holding her police documents and parking ticket on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, the morning after it was towed in Concord. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pamela Glines of Tilton drives away from Patsy’€™s Auto Body and Alignment on Thursday, the morning after her car was towed in Concord. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Pamela Glines of Tilton drives away from Patsy’s Auto Body and Alignment after retrieving her car on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, the morning after it was towed in Concord. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Above All Collision Center in Concord is seen on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Thursday, December 28, 2017

When Pamela Glines walked out of Riverbend Community Health at 4 a.m. Thursday and saw the Toyota Camry she’d been driving was missing, her first thought was that it had been stolen.

Glines, of Tilton, works overnight at the mental health center as a peer support specialist. When she went into work Wednesday night, the skies were clear, the air was cold, and no snow was expected. She didn’t know the city of Concord had enacted a winter maintenance snow removal parking ban.

By the time she was back in the driver’s seat of her car, it was 8:30 a.m., and her checkbook was $220 lighter, thanks to a $100 parking ticket and a $120 towing fee. She’d been up for almost 22 hours.

“They told me, ‘Oh, we put it up on the website,’ but nobody told me,” Glines said. “And anyway, how am I supposed to know? I don’t check Concord’s website – if anything, I check Tilton’s.”

Glines wasn’t alone Thursday morning – the city of Concord towed 12 vehicles during Wednesday night’s winter maintenance parking ban and issued an unknown number of citations, according to parking enforcement supervisor David Florence.

Wednesday night’s parking ban was the fifth parking ban the city has called due to snow and snow removal operations enacted this season, but it’s already exceeded two-thirds of the number of tickets issued last season. At least 189 $100 tickets had been issued this month, with the bulk of those resulting from a Dec. 23 citywide parking ban, according to Florence. As of Thursday morning, at least 76 vehicles had been towed.

Numbers provided to the Monitor did not include a Dec. 14 winter maintenance parking ban called by Concord’s general services department. The number of citations stemming from Wednesday night’s parking ban were not available.

Last year, the city issued 300 tickets in relation to a winter parking ban, for a total revenue of $30,000, about 11 percent of the $274,205 generated by parking violations last fiscal year, according to city data. That figure does not include late fees.

The city and the towing companies it contracts with agree upon a towing rate during the fall. This year, the towing rate is $120, plus $60 if you want to get your car outside of operational hours, according to city documents. If you don’t fetch your car the first day, there is also a storage fee of $50 per day. That money goes to the towing companies.

In addition, any parking ticket that goes unpaid for 10 business days doubles in price, and quadruples after 20.

For Glines, as well as others who park in Concord and fall victim to the ban, the situation is frustrating, and expensive. A single mother of three, Glines said she makes $14 an hour at Riverbend and is a full-time student at NHTI.

“I mean, I can’t afford this,” she said. “I mean, if I’m from Concord and I knew what was going on, sure, I get it.”

Glines said she was particularly stung by the lack of notice she got about her car’s towing, saying she was the only car parked outside Riverbend at the time and that her parking ticket stated the owner of the vehicle was “unknown.” She said the building does have parking out back, but she likes to park out front because she has a lot of supplies for work.

Glines wasn’t the only one caught off guard in the past week.

Lisa Cahill, a North Main Street resident, wrote in an email that she moved her car under the Storrs Street parking garage on Dec. 23 because she knew there was a ban. The garage overhangs a section of the street, and she was confident her vehicle wouldn’t impede snow removal.

When Cahill returned to the spot the next day, she wrote that she observed no snow or ice around her car, but still had a ticket.

“I certainly understand the need for people to recognize the importance of not prohibiting snow removal, but ... when no precipitation can fall under a parking garage I fail to understand WHY 2 days before Christmas I was issued a $100.00 parking ticket,” she wrote.

And Craig Greenman, a member of the city’s board of ethics, questioned in a Monitor letter to the editor published Thursday whether the ban was just after his neighbor was towed on Dec. 23, costing her $280.

“In order for a law to be just, it must be publicized. A reasonable person who doesn’t know a law exists shouldn’t be fined for breaking it,” Greenman wrote. “On many winter nights in Concord, we see cars on the streets; how was my neighbor to know that last night was different?”

Some question whether the city can do more to alert Concord motorists of the impeding ban.

Concord utilizes email alerts residents can sign up for, and makes efforts to publicize the bans on its websites, on social media and through media outlets. They also try to publicize that parking in the city’s garages is free when the ban is in place.

Other New Hampshire cities, like Portsmouth, use similar strategies. In addition to aforementioned efforts, Portsmouth utilizes folding signs that warn motorists of an impeding ban. But it’s still not enough to deter all motorists, Portsmouth Public Works Director Peter Rice said.

“It’s a nightmare sometimes,” he said. “It’s one of the most challenging aspects of winter maintenance.”

Florence noted that during this season’s parking ban, the city’s garages have not been full.

Residents aren’t the only ones frustrated by the situation. Chip Chesley, the city’s general services director, said the city tries to give people as much warning as possible.

Planning for a parking ban begins the day before an expected snowstorm, when General Services has to decide how many people to schedule for snow clearance. City policies dictate that a ban must be called no later than 4 p.m. on the day before its enactment.

But it can take some time to develop enough confidence in how the weather is going to react before a ban is called, Chesley said. A false alarm can have consequences.

“A parking ban is going to be disruptive to some folks who rely onstreet parking,” Chesley said. “We try to stay away from situations where we’re calling parking ban for flurries.”

And scheduling a snow removal ban is also tricky. Chelsey said he tries not to disrupt downtown businesses, and the workers who plow – often the same workers who remove snow – need a break before continuing to work, he said.

There is a possibility that more measures will be taken to warn motorists of bans in the future. The city’s strategic parking plan includes a Capital Improvement Program item in fiscal year 2023 to install 24 snow beacons across the city that would blink when a parking ban is in effect. Similar measures are used in Manchester and Nashua.

But it will be some time before the Concord City Council decides whether beacons should be used. And Chesley said he is skeptical of their usefulness.

“I think the city does a remarkable job of notifying people of parking bans,” he said. “If you’re sitting inside, watching the game, you’re not going to see the lights. But your phone is in your pocket, and the message goes right to you. It’s a pretty powerful tool.”