September 20, 2019
Hancock Latest News | Larry Lord | Bangor Metro | 'Mount' Katahdin | Today's Paper

Maine cities think about chalking tires after court rules it’s unconstitutional

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
A Bangor police parking enforcement officer chalks tires on Exchange Street in this 2011 file photo. Bangor has since done away with chalking tires as a way to enforce the city’s parking limits, but a ruling this week in a federal court in Michigan that the practice is unconstitutional has other Maine municipalities considering whether to consider alternate enforcement techniques.

After a federal court in Michigan ruled Monday that it’s unconstitutional for cities and towns to put chalk marks on tires to enforce parking time limits, some municipalities in Maine may be looking into alternative methods to enforce parking limits this summer.

Some larger cities in Maine such as Bangor and Portland enforce parking limits throughout the year, but for many smaller towns in Maine — especially along the coast — the availability of parking becomes an issue only during summer months, when the annual influx of millions of tourists and seasonal residents generates congestion along Route 1 and many downtown Main streets.

Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier said Tuesday that he plans to look into alternatives for enforcing the city’s two-hour downtown parking limit before summer traffic appears in earnest.

He noted that the ruling does not prevent the city from continuing to chalk tires but that he doesn’t want to continue using a method that unhappy motorists now will be more likely to challenge. Monday’s ruling only applies to the four states covered by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Without question, it is inevitable to me” that there would be more contested parking tickets this summer, Moshier said. “We’re going to explore alternatives.”

Moshier said implementing a paid parking system, such as what Bar Harbor plans to do next month, can be an expensive prospect, and Ellsworth would not generate enough revenue to justify the cost. The city employs a high school student every summer to chalk tires in time-limited spaces downtown and, in collecting between $2,500 to $3,000 each year, just about breaks even.

“We bring in very little revenue from parking enforcement in Ellsworth,” he said.

Moshier said he plans to present options to the Ellsworth City Council sometime in the next couple of months and to let the seven-member council decide which one to pursue.

“We will continue to enforce timed parking unless we are told otherwise,” he said. “I’m confident we can come up with an alternative.”

Bar Harbor is one town that already has found an alternative, though it set out to do so well before Monday’s federal court ruling.

The Mount Desert Island town plans next month to implement a paid parking system that provides no free parking anywhere downtown — timed or otherwise — for anyone except local residents and those who work in the area. The goal of the new paid-parking plan, Bar Harbor officials have said, is to reduce summertime congestion in the scenic village and to generate revenue that it can use to fund other traffic-related projects, such as developing satellite parking lots or making improvements for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

Other municipalities in Maine that chalk tires to enforce parking limits, either seasonally or year-round, include Orono, Belfast and Rockland.

Rockland police Chief Chris Young said Tuesday that the department’s traffic officer will continue to chalk vehicles because the ruling does not legally affect Maine.

“At this point in time we do not plan on changing our enforcement practices,” Young said. “I’ll be taking a wait and see approach.”

Bangor chalked tires for decades until last September, when the city rolled out a new system that uses a vehicle equipped with mounted cameras and special computer software. The vehicle, leased to the city by Republic Parking and staffed by a Republic employee, the city’s parking management company, makes hourly loops around downtown. It scans the license plates and tire valves of each vehicle with a specially equipped camera, noting the plate number of the vehicle and the position of the valve, in order to see if it’s been moved. The new system costs the city around $31,000 per year.

In central Portland, the city uses a meter system where motorists pay for parking and then display receipts in their windshields, but it still chalks tires as well, according to city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin. The meter system generated $1.9 million in revenue for the city in 2018, but the main tool for keeping tabs on the time limits is to chalk tires, she said.

The city also has an app motorists can use on their phones to pay tickets and to keep track of how much time they have left at their parking spot — which, Grondin said, has reduced the amount of revenue the city generates off violations.

If the city decides not to chalk tires, so as not to violate anyone’s rights, it probably would take note of the location of a pressure valve on a tire to determine whether a car has moved or not, she said.

“We have no immediate plans” to change methods, Grondin said. “Should we have to comply [with a court order], that’s what we would look at first.”

BDN reporter Lauren Abbate contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Portland had done away with tire chalking. It has not, according to a city spokeswoman.


Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like