In a sweeping proposal aimed at ridding streets of illegally parked cars during rush hour, the O'Malley administration is creating new tow-away zones on more than 40 commuter routes across Baltimore.
Over the next seven months, tow-away signs will appear along 90 additional miles of streets - a 257 percent increase from the 35 miles where motorists are warned they may be towed.
To help with enforcement, the city will deploy 16 privately owned tow trucks to complement its four.
Officials hope the crackdown will ease traffic bottlenecks, thereby discouraging commuters from taking shortcuts through neighborhoods. And though they stress that the point is not to fatten city coffers, the program is expected to net $800,000 in its first year.
"We're not in it for the money," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "We're in it to make a more livable city, one where you can actually leave for work and arrive on time."
The first street to be added is a stretch of Harford Road, which is on O'Malley's route to City Hall. (City officials call it a coincidence, though the mayor quipped, "Maybe they are trying to impress me.")
The Department of Public Works is using an administrative order to expand tow-away zones, but City Council approval is required within six months. O'Malley's staff has briefed the council on the changes and expects solid support.
On some streets, the new restrictions will apply to just a few blocks. On others, several miles will be fair game for tow trucks - for instance, on Greenmount Avenue from North Avenue until it becomes York Road, and on York north to the Baltimore County line.
Presently, parking or stopping is prohibited in the new tow-away zones during rush hour, generally from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. But the $20 tickets meted out for no-stopping violations have not succeeded in clearing streets for the morning and evening commutes.
City officials hope a new triple-whammy - a $32 fine, a minimum $125 towing charge and the hassle that goes with being towed - will hit home. Officials expect the city's revenue to "decrease very rapidly" after the first year, said Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher.
O'Malley said he knows what a single illegally parked car can do to the flow of traffic.
"I've come down sometimes in the morning and called in a car parked on the road," he recalled. "Meanwhile, everyone on their way that morning was delayed by someone who inconsiderately left their car in a major corridor."
"Basically, it was pretty well-received, especially since a lot of council people complained about cut-through traffic and pedestrian safety problems," said Michael E. Rice, head of Public Works' Bureau of Transportation.
The first restrictions will take effect Monday on Harford Road between Glenmore Avenue and Harford Avenue.
The expanded towing zones are likely to enrich private towing companies, which will have a financial incentive to cart off scofflaws. Rather than buy trucks and hire drivers, the city will contract with eight tow companies that are used by the Police Department to clear roads after accidents.
The city will pay these companies $70 or $77 per tow, depending on where the car is parked. That amount will come out of the initial $125 towing fee the city will charge car owners. (After 48 hours, the owner faces an additional $15-a-day charge until the vehicle is claimed at the city impound lot at the Fallsway and Bath Street downtown.)
But Rice, the Bureau of Transportation head, emphasized the "savings" for city residents: increased safety for drivers and pedestrians, the ability of emergency vehicles to reach their destinations quickly and enhanced employee productivity from having more workers arrive on time.
PROPOSED IMPOUND STREETS
The Department of Public Works is proposing an expansion of Baltimore's tow zones, areas that now are confined primarily to downtown streets. Under a plan sent to the City Council, the following streets would become tow zones:
Street Name Side Limits
East 32nd Street North side Harford Road to Hillen Road
East 33rd Street Both sides Ellerslie Avenue to Hillen Road
Aisquith Street West side 20th Street to Ensor Street
Belair Road Both sides Brendan Avenue to North Avenue
Biddle Street Both sides Gay Street to Cathedral Street
Boston Street Both sides Fleet Street to Conkling Street
Caton Avenue Both sides Frederick Avenue to City Line
Charles Street West side Coldspring Lane to Overhill Road
Charles Street West side City Line to Wyndhurst Avenue
Charles Street East side St. Paul Street to City Line
Coldspring Lane Both sides Dolfield Avenue to Harford Road
Conway Street Both sides Interstate 395 to Light Street
Cooks Lane Both sides City Line to Edmondson Avenue
Druid Park Lake Drive Both sides McCulloh Street to Interstate 83
Ensor Street Both sides Harford Avenue to Orleans Street
Erdman Avenue Both sides Harford Road to North Point Boulevard
Falls Road Both sides City Line to 36th Street
Fayette Street Both sides Fallsway to Broadway