Motorists frustrated by inconsistency on towing

City's street signs, practices vary

February 22, 2010|By Liz F. Kay |

Ryan Boddy was following instructions.

After back-to-back snowstorms, Boddy dug out his wife's car on Calvert Street in Mount Vernon, a snow emergency route. Posted signs state cars would be towed from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on the east side of the street, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the west side, so he parked it on the east side the morning of Feb. 11.

Still, he walked out a few hours later and found the vehicle had been towed.

Boddy said he understood that this was an unprecedented storm and "it makes sense that they wouldn't have this down to a science." However, "if they lived up to the signs on the streets, it would have been infinitely better," he said.

Boddy was among many who say they were frustrated by the city's towing, ticketing and inconsistent enforcement of parking bans on snow routes. Some, like taxi driver Kenneth M. Batson Sr., want to know why some cars were impounded while others remained buried well after the storms.

Batson, assistant safety supervisor for Yellow Cab Co., said taxis were towed from Fulton Street in West Baltimore and other neighborhoods. However, vehicles that had not been shoveled out since the first storm were left on St. Paul and Calvert streets as well as Eastern Avenue in East Baltimore. Lanes were reduced on these streets as a result, impeding traffic.

"The ones that were sitting there for a week that had 40 inches of snow on them? They didn't mess with those," he said.

Streets with the heaviest traffic volume are designated as snow routes, said Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. When city officials activate the snow emergency plan, drivers are asked to remove vehicles from designated routes to facilitate snow removal.

However, during Phase II, cars on snow routes can be towed during the posted hours. Barnes said they announced that Phase II went into effect at 6 p.m. Feb. 5, through local media, 311 and the department's snow page, www.396snow .com. However, Barnes said that they did not start relocating cars until late evening the next day.

A total of 1,614 cars were towed from Feb. 5 through Feb. 17, according to the Department of Transportation. Some were ticketed and impounded if in lanes where parking is restricted during the morning and evening rush hours. Tow trucks relocated other vehicles off snow routes into spaces elsewhere within neighborhoods, Barnes said.

Other cars were towed when their drivers abandoned them or got stuck in the massive accumulation, she said. Barnes said the department was investigating why cars were cleared from some streets yet might have been left buried on others.

Boddy said he was not ticketed and he was able to retrieve the car from a lot under the Jones Falls Expressway without a fine. But city officials should be aware that neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon and Midtown-Belvedere have limited parking even in good weather, he said.

Barnes said the Transportation Department re-evaluated the snow routes about six to eight years ago. At that time, the city installed new signs on either side of some streets, alternating hours when towing would be in effect to give residents more parking opportunities.

But those signs did little to help Kamala Mallik-Kane and her husband. She happened to be standing near her front door at the right moment on Feb. 12 to thwart towing of her vehicle.

She and her husband had dug out their Toyota RAV4 on Roland Avenue the day before but she spotted a tow truck moving cars at 4 p.m. - despite the signs that said parking was barred from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on their side of the street.

Mallik-Kane said she called 311 and was told the hours were irrelevant - she was incorrectly told that during Phase II drivers are not allowed to park on any snow route. Her husband was able to move their car to the parking lot of the Poly-Western complex.

She said she had expected that the towing would be followed by significant snow removal, but plows cleared only about two more feet of roadway - not the entire parking lane, she said.

"It seemed for all that time they were coming, they never did anything to move the snow out of the parking lanes," Mallik-Kane said. "It all seemed kind of pointless to me ... for what greater snow removal end, I'm really not sure."

Barnes said residents need to check news broadcasts for information such as warnings about towing.

"People should have been thinking about where to move cars off these routes, especially when every meteorologist was forecasting a big storm," she said.

Barnes also said that city officials conduct debriefings after events like these storms to evaluate their response.

In snowier cities such as Chicago, storms serve as a learning experience, said Matt Smith, a spokesman for that city's department of streets and sanitation.

"Every time Chicago's been hit with a historic blizzard, as uncomfortable as it's been, we've learned from it and modified ways to do things, so next time would be different," he said.

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