BANGOR, Maine — Eighteen vehicle owners became very familiar with Bangor’s overnight winter parking ban and its ramifications Thursday night and Friday morning.
At least one of them thought he was avoiding any possible fines, violations and towing issues when he drove his car to First Street to park along the side of the street.
But when the sun came up, his car was gone after being towed by Bangor police to make room for public works snow plows trying to keep the streets open during Thursday’s winter storm.
While the city’s parking policy has been tweaked a bit over the last few years, it remains fairly straightforward. Still, some people are caught unaware or get confused by what’s allowed and what’s not.
When told there was a parking ban Thursday night for downtown Bangor, the downtown resident went o nline to the city website to find an alternative area to park his car. One of the two alternative parking sites for downtown residents — the lower level of the Columbia Street parking deck — was full and the other — Pickering Square parking garage — closes at 9 p.m.
He decided to park his car on First Street, since it was outside the restricted area highlighted with a red border on a map on on the city website.
The man’s car was towed and he received a ticket for a combined $80 in fees and had to miss the part of his workday to get his car out of the city impound lot.
“When I spoke to the police, the dispatcher told me that the red zone map they post on their site is not only confusing, but pretty much irrelevant because all bans are city wide,” the man wrote in an email sent to the BDN. “Thus, no one can park on the street anywhere in the city.”
Dana Wardwell, Bangor’s public works director, said that’s essentially true. The map the man checked applies only during non-storm, non-parking ban periods.
“The parking ban, which is in effect from Nov. 1 through March 31, prohibits people from parking vehicles on the streets between midnight and 6 a.m.,” said Wardwell. “A few years ago, we created new rules for the downtown management parking district because people who live downtown complained about a lack of parking. Now they can park overnight as long as there’s no parking ban in effect.”
When there is a ban, the lower level of the Columbia Street parking deck and the underneath area of the Pickering Square garage have been set aside as alternative parking for downtown residents. But that didn’t help the downtown Bangor resident on Thursday night.
“I understand where his [the e-mail writer’s] confusion came from. He was looking at that [map] as definitive, no matter what the situations are,” said Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow. “It’s not the first time we’ve heard that complaint, and I am going to meet with staff to see if there’s a way to clarify how we present that info better.”
Conlow said the city currently publishes parking ban information and alerts on the city’s website — www.bangormaine.gov — on the city’s public TV access channel and in press releases.
“It’s challenging because we have different layers of rules for different things,” Conlow said. “Downtown we put signs up with automated reader boards, but again, if you’re outside the downtown parking zone, there are also odd-even restrictions for street parking depending on the date.”
The date of the month determines which side of the streets people can park on during the winter parking ban months.
“On odd days, you can park on the side of the street with the odd-numbered addresses, and on even-numbered days, vice-versa,” said Bangor police Lt. Tom Reagan, who confirmed that 18 vehicles were towed Thursday night through Friday morning in Bangor.
Police can tow cars for two different violations: night parking after midnight and blocking snow removal.
“If there’s a storm, or there’s snow removal going on, the ban is in effect,” Reagan said. “We try to get registered owners a heads-up as much as possible, and we typically do not tow cars unless public works calls, but if they call, we tow them.”
Reagan made reference to a little-known state law that allows police to write tickets to people who park in the street in front of their houses even if they have available parking space in their driveways.
“That’s one of those rules we would probably never write anyone a ticket for, but it’s on the books,” he said.
No matter which rules are in effect, one thing supersedes them all: A parking ban, whether for a storm or for snow removal, means no parking on the street — anywhere in Bangor.
“That’s all null and void anytime it’s snowing out,” Reagan said. “Common sense is if you’re parked in the street during a storm, you’re going to get towed.”