The Universal Notebook: The perils of parking in Portland

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While attending the First Friday Art Walk earlier this month, I got a $25 ticket for parking in a no-parking zone on Oak Street in Portland. I must say, I got no sympathy from my lovely wife Carolyn:

“You saw the no-parking sign. You parked there anyway. You got a ticket. And you’re complaining about it?”

As I explained to her, there didn’t seem to be any obvious reason for a no-parking zone – no fire hydrant, no driveways, no businesses. So I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything if I parked there for a few minutes while I ran into a gallery before it closed. Anyway, why would anyone be ticketing at all after 7 p.m. on a Friday night, right?

Wrong.

Until the economic downturn, Portland had an enlightened approach to parking tickets. Drivers could get one ticket forgiven every six months. But in the money-starved second decade of the 21st century, the city decided it needed the estimated $500,000 in parking ticket revenues it was giving away.

I’m not sure Portland was getting a half-million in good will from its ticket forgiveness program, but I do know I appreciated not having worry about getting towed or booted. And I also know a lot of people rarely if ever go into Portland because it’s such a hassle to park. I have no sympathy for them.

I go into Portland several times a week and I’ve never failed to find a legal place to park – until now. Usually, I just drive around a widening block once or twice and something opens up. People will go to the mall and happily park the equivalent of three city blocks away from the stores just because parking is free and they can see their destination.

My biggest complaint about parking in Portland – until now – is cheater meters that eat your first quarter without registering the 15 minutes you just purchased. Happens to me at least once a week. When I complain about it, I am told to report the offending meter. That’s the only way the city knows a meter’s battery is running low. Oh, really, maybe checking batteries would give the meter men something to do that is actually useful.

By early fall, Portland will be piloting its first 10 to 15 multi-space meters, mid-block pay-and-display machines that will accept coins or credit cards. I can only begin to imagine the perils of giving your credit card numbers to a parking meter.

When you get a parking ticket in Portland, you also get a handy-dandy parking ticket blue map showing 37 downtown parking lots and parking garages. Like most people, however, I have an aversion to parking garages. In the first place, it’s just wrong to drive a car inside a building. But, more importantly, parking garages are dangerous. Nationally, close to 40 percent of muggings and assaults take place in parking lots and garages. Then, too, parking garages tend to smell like urine, serving as they do as the public toilets the city doesn’t have.

Upon inquiring about the no-parking zone at the foot of Oak Street, a very nice gentleman in the Portland Parking Division explained to me that Oak Street was probably too narrow to have, as it does, parking meters on both sides of the street, but that the city’s traffic engineers had only designated the foot of the street a no-parking zone because they felt the hill was too steep for cars to park in winter. They didn’t want cars sliding down into Cumberland Avenue.

But – I got this ticket on June 3. When was the last time we had snow on the ground in June?

See, honey, I was right. There is no good reason for a no-parking zone at the foot of Oak Street – unless, of course, there’s snow on the ground.

Now, can I borrow $25?

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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