Friday, February 27, 2015

streetless in Seattle

Remember Potlatch, about three weeks ago? Here's the letter I wrote to the Seattle City Council after I got home.
Dear Mr Rasmussen,

I am writing to you as chair of the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue I wish to raise.

I was a visitor to Seattle last week who got socked with a $53 parking ticket in my rental car through complete inadventence on my part.

It was Thursday evening, February 5. It was dark and raining, so visibility was poor, and I am a stranger, unfamiliar with the area. My wife and I went to have dinner at Kabul on NE 45th Street, recommended to us. There was no parking on 45th. I parked around the corner on Corliss, where there were several cars but also open spaces, and where there were no visible street lights.

Apparently there was also a sign indicating no parking in the evenings without a neighborhood permit, but if so, the sign was down the street, invisible in the dark and rain unless you were looking for it, which as a stranger I was not. Nor did the restaurant staff alert patrons to this unguessable restriction. (When the city of Oakland, near my home, expanded its parking meter hours until 8 pm without changing the signs on the meters, all the restaurants in the neighborhood I frequent posted big signs to warn their patrons.)

So was I ever surprised to find a parking ticket on my rental car when we returned, and even more at the steep fee for the crime of being unfamiliar with local restrictions poorly posted. I paid it, of course. What was I supposed to do? Request a hearing and pay hundreds of dollars in air fare alone to return to Seattle and throw myself on the mercy of the court, likely to be denied?

My only recourse is to protest the injustice of the law and petition for it to be modified, and so I turn to the City Council, which makes the laws.

I acknowledge that the city has every right to pass whatever parking regulations it likes, and to charge whatever fee it chooses.

But I beg you to consider that to ensnare and entrap visitors, unfamiliar with the details of your city's regulations, with poorly posted regulations hard to find in the dark and rain which are frequent in Seattle, enforced by excessive fines, is unwelcoming and gives your city a bad odor to visitors. It is the parking equivalent of a speed trap. It is unworthy of a great city.

If the motivation behind the parking restriction on Corliss is to free up spaces for residents, then inadequate signs invisible in the dark and rain aren't going to do the job as far as visitors are concerned. Nor will a large fine do the job, because any given visitor is unlikely to return any time soon. These regulations are aimed at local scofflaws who ought to know better.

It would be a kindness to direct parking enforcment officers to leave warning notes, instead of tickets with fines, on out-of-state and rental cars (surely there are ways to identify rentals) that have not already accumulated recent warnings. That would make it easier for us to follow regulations which we had no intent of violating.

It would be a further kindness to enclose the warnings or tickets on heavily rainy days in some sort of plastic bag. I had to spread the sopping wet envelope on my hotel room table for hours before it was dry enough even to extract the ticket; and all the adhesive was gone so I had to wrap the whole up in scotch tape before mailing it back. Surely in Seattle you are not unfamiliar with the effects of rain on paper?
And here's the reply I got a couple days ago.
This is Councilmember Rasmussen's Legislative Assistant, thanks for writing to share your recent experience in Seattle. I'm sorry to hear about the ticket and the bad impression it must have left to you and your wife of our city. Councilmember Rasmussen asked that I respond to you.

The Restricted Parking Zones in different parts of the City are designed to help keep parking available to residents in areas where there is heavy parking congestion. The intent is certainly not to ensnare or entrap visitors, and Councilmember Rasmussen expects that all signage should be clear to any driver what the parking rules are.

On behalf of Councilmember Rasmussen, I have taken two actions with different City departments to follow up on your experience:

1) I have contacted our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and asked them to look at the block on Corliss Avenue adjacent to NE 45th Street, and to see whether changes to the signage should be made to increase visibility.

2) I have contacted our Seattle Police Department and asked that they make sure parking tickets are weather-protected. I believe ticket officers usually do that by putting the ticket in a plastic sleeve when there is rain, but I will be sure to remind them to continue doing so, since it apparently wasn't done in your case. I have also passed along your comments regarding potentially giving warnings to out-of-state visitors for their review and consideration.

Thanks again for your very thoughtful letter, we do hope you come visit Seattle again soon and have a better experience the next time you park here.

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