STREET SMARTS - Drivers may not understand continuous parking ordinance

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People shopping downtown will periodically return to their cars and find a parking ticket for violating the "continuous parking ordinance."

It is not always apparent to them why they were cited. "What did I do?"

Most parking violations are easy to understand, but a continuous parking ordinance deserves some explanation so we don't get surprised.

What is a "continuous parking ordinance," and why is it necessary?

I will explain it this way. Because parking spaces have an economic value to those who work and own businesses downtown, it is important to understand the reasons why the downtown business district is treated differently than other areas in town. We have businesses with competing interests vying for limited parking spaces. There are employers, employees, retailers, service providers, downtown residents and most importantly, downtown shoppers -- all of whom are looking for a place to park.

Before there was a continuous parking ordinance, those parking in the two-hour zone who knew they were going to be downtown for more than two hours would simply come out and move their car from one space to the next and start the two-hour clock ticking again. Many of these long-term parkers were business owners and employees.

That left fewer spaces available for shoppers, customers and clients.

Occasionally, business owners would call to complain that some people who worked downtown would take up spaces in front of their business all day. This also made it more difficult for the parking enforcement officer to keep cars moving in and out of the area.

To discourage this habit and to keep parking slots available for customers the continuous parking ordinance was passed. Specifically, this is how the ordinance reads:

10.13.040 Continuous parking

Where a motor vehicle is moved out of one parking place in a restricted parking zone in the downtown management parking area into another parking place in a restricted parking zone in the same block, or within the same public parking lot, within the restricted parking hours of the same calendar day, the two or more continuous parking in the same block or in the same parking lot shall be considered as one continuous parking. For the purpose of this section, "block" means that portion of a street or highway, including both sides thereof, lying between two intersections. It is the intent of this section to limit a vehicle to a maximum two-hour window of parking time in any one block. The time begins when the vehicle is first parked in the block. Thereafter, the vehicle has a window of two hours in which it may be parked in the block regardless of how many times the vehicle may leave the block during the maximum two-hour period of time.

The intent is to limit the time someone can park a vehicle in the same block or public parking lot to two hours on the same day. Long-term parking is provided in various lots adjacent to the downtown business district.

While this ordinance helps prevent abuse of the two-hour parking zone, it also has the potential to catch those who are unaware of this restriction.

For example, if you were shopping at a clothing store and later in the day decided to return a purchase, you should not park in the same block as you did earlier. When the parking enforcement officer makes a run through that block, vehicle license plates are recorded, and if that same vehicle shows up later in the day in that block a violation has occurred, and a ticket may be issued.

While this seems unreasonable or even unfair, it is the method available to prevent the greater problem of long-term parkers just moving their cars from one space to the next space, and the parking enforcement officer has no way of knowing what our individual circumstances are.

Available parking is critical to the vitality of businesses downtown, and that ultimately is good for us, so the continuous parking ordinance is one tool that helps to meet that goal.

Capt. Gary Bainter of the Walla Walla Police Department can be reached at gbainter@ci.walla-walla.wa.us or 524-4372.

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