It’s that time of year again — time for the winter parking ban. From November 27, 2011 through April 1, 2012, no vehicle can be parked on the street for more than one hour between 1 a.m. - 6 a.m. Last year, the town’s web site read, “The Department of Public Works needs to have the streets clear of any parked vehicles in order to perform street cleaning, catch basin clearing, and the removal of snow and ice from the roads.”
I would be very surprised if the first two activities are done every single night of the four months that the parking ban is in effect. And when the town declares a snow emergency, all cars must be moved off the street anyway to allow for snow removal; I would think this would suffice. So why must cars be banned from parking on the street for this entire time?
I have a problem with the winter parking ban, and street parking bans in general. I realize some towns have even more strict parking rules, such as Brookline where overnight street parking is banned year-round. These rules make no sense to me. Not everyone has access to off-street parking. Where are all the cars supposed to go?
For homeowners with driveways that can accommodate all of their cars, this is probably barely a blip in their radar screen, as it would rarely affect them. It could be an annoyance if the household included a member, or members, who were not amenable to going out to move their cars at an inconvenient time so someone else could get his car out. But for many renters, the winter parking ban goes beyond the category of annoyance into that of a hardship.
I would imagine that those who rent in an apartment building are allocated a parking space along with their rental, though they may not get more than one space to accommodate more than one car in the household. Watertown is home to many two-family houses, some with a third apartment inside, and these are residents for whom the parking ban would most likely cause hardship.
Today, many households have at least two cars, and many driveways in town cannot accommodate all of the cars owned by residents of the entire house. A good number of driveways cannot accommodate two cars side-by-side, which means cars have to be parked one behind the other. Even if the number of cars can squeeze into the driveway, it is not practical for people from two different households to share the space because one cannot count on the appropriate driver being available to move his car to allow another car to exit. Because of this, a landlord often will not make the driveway available to her tenants.
Several years ago I went to a meeting — I think it was the zoning board — and one of the items on the agenda was a man asking permission to build a second driveway on the other side of his house. He wanted to do this to accommodate his tenants’ cars, which he could not do in his current driveway. The board turned him down, saying that it would take away green space in the area. Ironically, he had studied his property and said he’d found allowances so that the project would not diminish the green space. (He also lived about a block away from a park, a good-sized area of green space.) They still turned him down.
Tenants with no driveway access often have no choice but to park on the street. Some folks may be able to find a space to rent nearby, but I would be surprised if there were all that many spaces available, and that’s an additional expense that may not be affordable. The town does offer some off-street parking areas to residents in the winter, which is a good thing, but there are several problems with that as well. First, I have no idea if there are enough available spaces. They may be at a distance too far from someone’s residence, or too far for someone to comfortably walk alone at night. These spaces aren’t available until 7 p.m., and a person has to remove her car by 7 a.m. (by 6 a.m. during a snow event if parked at a school). Depending on a person’s situation, this might not be a practical solution.
Though I currently own a house, I am very sensitive to the issue of tenants and parking because I spent many years as a renter who had to park on the street (though not in Watertown). Living like that is not easy, with a winter parking ban only adding to the misery.