The city of Cambridge never ceases to amaze me. Specially when it comes to its asymmetric approach to traffic and parking violation enforcement. Often when driving through Cambridge, I've been witness to countless traffic violations, ranging from cars speeding or running red lights or stops signs to cyclists riding on sidewalks or riding the wrong way on a one way street to pedestrians jaywalking. Yet enforcement of these traffic violations by the city has been, unfortunately, sporadic and ineffective, to say the least.
Conversely, the enforcement level of parking violations is in a league of its own. Here, curiously, the city applies rules and regulations in a ruthless and efficient manner that verges on the point of absurdity. Just when you thought you'd figured out how to comply with all the different parking rules and how to parse all the ambiguous parking signs to avoid being ticketed, along comes yet another obscure and obsolete parking regulation that defies any logic and rationality.
Case in point: Municipal Parking Lot on Bishop Allen Drive behind the Harvest Cooperative Supermarket. To much of my surprise, I got ticketed there after 6pm. Not because I didn't feed the meter -- it's free after 6pm -- but because I backed into a parking spot. How could this have happened? Well, inadvertently, I had overlooked a poorly displayed sign that reads:
Head-On Parking Only (watch video)
As it turns out, I'm not the only one scratching my head in disbelief. While googling for the meaning of Head-On Parking, I came across a post from another, equally perplexed, citizen who got ticketed for the very same reason and couldn't figure out why. As someone in the comments section notes, a possible reason for banning Back-Up Parking could be to allow for license plates to be read. In my opinion, this doesn't make sense since front plates are required in Massachusetts by law. Moreover, there are two municipal parking lots further down the street on Bishop Allen Drive where Back-Up Parking is allowed.
So, I asked two parking meter attendants, as they were making their rounds, if they could enlighten me. Neither one of them had a clue. Finally, I called up the director of Parking, Traffic and Transportation of the city of Cambridge, Susan Clippinger. She gave me the following explanation, and I'm paraphrasing: whenever parking meters are positioned in the center of the parking perimeter sidesthere is a danger for people hitting them when backing up.
Why, then, one might ask, were the parking meters positioned in such a way in the first place? And why do citizen's have to pay for parking lot design flaws? Why hasn't it been fixed? I have a sneaky suspicion that there is a certain unwillingness on the city's part to fix something that generates easy revenue. Unfortunately, the aggressiveness of parking enforcement is looking more and more like a regressive taxation scheme to shore up the city's budget. Cambridge doesn't seem to be an isolated case, though. Recently, the Somerville Voices Blog launched an initiative to fund an investigative reporting project related to Somerville's Parking Tickets. Maybe we should do the same here in Cambridge. I'm sure there are plenty of Cambridge neighbors who are willing to share their parking ticket stories.