ST. ALBANS CITY — The city council made a warm decision this past week for winter parkers here in the city.
The council carried a motion scrapping the city’s automatic winter overnight parking ban in favor of a new beacon alert system that will notify residents when to move their vehicles for the public works plows.
The automatic winter parking ban traditionally goes into effect from mid-December until the end of March, according to Marty Manahan, the city’s public works director.
Drivers parked overnight on city streets during that time get a warning from the St. Albans Police Dept. If they don’t move their vehicle, the SAPD issues a ticket.
The ban ordinance allowed the public works department to have these violating cars towed, even if it wasn’t snowing, although Manahan said the public works department traditionally avoids towing cars unless necessary.
But now the city plans to install beacons on central downtown streets notifying residents when the public works team will be out and about plowing, and therefore indicating when residents should park their vehicles off the street so the plow trucks can get by.
It’s a common problem for the public works plows. Manahan used the example of a driver on Isham Avenue who consistently parked their vehicle on the streetside last winter, preventing the public works plows’ safe passage.
“We were always getting calls saying, ‘Hey, you haven’t plowed Isham yet?’” Manahan told the city council. “Well, we aren’t going to risk damaging our equipment, and their vehicle, just to get by, especially on a hill section like that.”
Manahan said the city put signs on Isham Avenue warning residents not to park on the street during the winter. He said that seems to have solved this particular problem.
When it comes to general winter parking bans, Manahan said, “For the most part, the only time you really need it is when you’re getting a lot of snow and you’re out there plowing.”
Right now the city plans to put warning beacons on North and South Main, Fairfield and Lake streets, with another in the vicinity of Kingman Street.
Manahan said the city could put beacons on additional streets over time after councilor Jim Pelkey suggested beacons on Upper Welden and Upper Newton streets for increased visibility.
But as for deciding where to put beacons, “It’s a slippery slope,” Manahan said, “no pun intended.”
If you see that beacon flashing, it means the plow crew is headed out — and you need to park your vehicle off the street or risk towing.
“We don’t want to tow cars,” Manahan said. But he also said it’s necessary in cases like a vehicle parked overnight in front of a downtown business. He said vehicles go in and out of that space so often the plow team can’t get in there to plow for days.
“You end up having a frozen pile of snow there for a week until you’re able to get in there,” Manahan said.
Manahan gave the council specifics about the public works towing system after noting significant social media discussion about the city’s winter towing.
Manahan said public works rotates through a list of towing companies. The chosen company tows a vehicle in question to the public works department until the vehicle’s owner pays the tow bill, which Manahan said is about $100.
Manahan stressed that vehicle owners aren’t charged for storing the vehicle, not even in a case in which someone waits a weekend to pick up their towed vehicle.
Mayor Tim Smith asked Manahan how public works would get the word out about towing times to residential neighborhoods, given the concentration of beacons in the central downtown area. Manahan said the public works department will mainly use social media.
“Hopefully common sense would prevail,” Manahan said, “that if it’s snowing out, they see our trucks out plowing, that they would get vehicles off the street.”
Manahan said the public works team doesn’t mind residential neighborhood drivers parking on Messenger or Brainerd streets during these times versus parking on tighter hillside streets, so long as they move their vehicles within 24 hours, allowing the plow team to come back through.
“Our concentration is going to be getting this downtown cleaned up,” Manahan said.