Parking ticket enforcement after Sandy riles some residents

When Peter Goode walked out of his Hampden home about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, one of the first things he said he noticed on the wet and leaf-strewn street were parking enforcement officers apparently "looking for any type of violation they could find."

Given that the city had issued a travel restriction on driving for everybody but emergency personnel from Monday into midday Tuesday, the issuing of tickets struck Goode and other residents as unfair. He pointed out that many drivers had to get out of Sandy's path quickly, before they could find suitable parking spots in densely packed residential areas where parking is often tough to find.

"I don't think meter maids are really emergency personnel," Goode said. "I think that's just a way to nickel-and-dime people in the neighborhood because there's no where to park and they can't drive anywhere."

The city said it was enforcing its parking rules during the travel ban as a way to ensure that roads were clear for emergency vehicles.

"Illegal parking is illegal parking — blocking fire hydrants, parking in no stopping zones, and double parking — regardless if travel restrictions are in effect or not," said Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake "The city offered free parking in several garages near flood-prone areas during the storm."

Tickets were also reported in neighborhoods including Federal Hill , Mount Vernon and Patterson Park — many issued before the driving restrictions were lifted at noon.

"It totally surprised us. It's been the talk of the house today," said Katie Hamm, a Patterson Park resident whose neighbor got a ticket and who almost received one herself.

"I almost took an illegal spot, actually in front of my house," she said. "We wanted to see the cars, know they were safe, not getting hit by a tree or flooding if we parked closer to the water, and we thought, 'Well, we aren't going to get tickets.'"

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman with the city's Department of Transportation, said the ticketing was part of the city's emergency response.

"This is all about public safety, and yes, they are safety responders," Barnes said. "We're in emergency mode, so that's part of public safety. We want to make sure emergency responders always have access to where they need to go."

On Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Transportation announced that specific parking restrictions would not be enforced on Tuesday "due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy." The department said peak hour parking restrictions, street cleaning parking restrictions and parking meters would not be enforced on Tuesday.

Tickets given out in the city Tuesday morning prior to the driving restrictions being lifted were for a broad range of violations.

At 9:11 a.m. and 11:35 a.m., two vehicles were ticketed for being parked in loading zones along Park Avenue. At 11:12 a.m., another car parked on North Calvert Street was ticketed for expired tags.

Those who received tickets can appeal them, but Barnes said she didn't know whether the city's driving restrictions will serve as a valid excuse for violations.

"We have no authority to rescind or abate a ticket," she said of the transportation department. "That would be totally up to the courts."

City officials said they actually began restricting the types of violations they were enforcing at 3 p.m. Monday, issued no citations between 5 p.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday, and only issued citations for violations "that dealt with public safety" for the rest of Tuesday.

That didn't ring true to Sajendra Nithiananthan, a biomedical engineering doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University who said he received a ticket Tuesday morning after parking in a legal spot on Monday. Parking only became prohibited in the spot, a loading area for a local school, after the city's driving restrictions went into effect, he said.

"I would have had to ignore the instructions not to travel in order to move the car," he said.

Nithiananthan said he arrived at his home in the 700 block of Park Avenue about 6 p.m. on Monday and parked in a legal parking spot in front of a local parochial school.

At 7:30 each morning, the spot becomes a loading zone for the school during the daytime hours and parking is prohibited, but given schools were closed on Tuesday, Nithiananthan thought he would be fine parking there, he said.

"At the point I had parked, parking was allowed," he said. "And after that, the roads were closed as far as I understood, so I didn't move the car."

On Tuesday morning, he went out to assess whether his car was damaged and saw he had been issued a ticket for parking in a school zone at 9:13 a.m.

"First I was relieved that the car didn't have a tree on it, and then I was pretty surprised and shocked," he said. "It seemed pretty needless, because obviously I wasn't obstructing anyone from going into the school, because it was closed."

He was still considering whether or not to contest the ticket, he said.

"It may involve taking a day off to go to court," he said. "They don't make it easy."

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said a metered ticket was issued during driving restrictions in Baltimore. It was issued previously.

krector@baltsun.com

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