How Can I Fight City Hall?
October 18, 2010 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How can we keep the police from giving out arbitrary and illogical tickets on our block?

I live on the 400 block of Lincoln Avenue (between 4th and 5th) in Alameda, CA. It's technically a two-way street, but it's practically a one-way street west-to-east because the only way to come in to the block from the east is to make a sharp turn (almost a U-turn) from Marshall Way (the diagonal street). You can't drive straight onto the block coming westbound on Lincoln Avenue because the main flow of traffic goes onto Marshall. You can't turn left onto Lincoln going northbound on 5th, and you can't turn right onto Lincoln going southbound on 5th.

Consequently, nearly everyone on the north side of the street enters Lincoln from the west (4th Street) end and parks on the north side facing east. (A few people at the extreme east end of the block park facing west.)

The police occasionally (once every couple of months or so as far as I can tell) will give someone a ticket for parking on the wrong side of the street. My wife got one a couple of months ago, and our neighbor just got one.

How can we get the police to stop giving people tickets when there's a clear community practice to park facing east? It's arbitrary and unfair to randomly give one person a ticket, but I don't want to bring that up because then they'll just give tickets to everyone. How would we go about getting the street converted to one way?

My wife also got a ticket for blocking our driveway. I've never heard of anyone getting a ticket for blocking their own driveway. Also, most of the homes on the blocks were built in the '20s and the driveways are too small for modern cars so hardly anyone actually parks in them.
posted by kirkaracha to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As far as the blocked driveway ticket, I'd definitely dispute that one. I doubt that they'd actually ticket you. One of the great parts of having a driveway in a city (philly here) is that you can park in front of it! Guaranteed parking spot!

For the other parking problem, I'd talk to your local representative. They can be really helpful with small stuff like that.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in San Francisco and don't know Alameda details, but I bet this applies there as well. You can block your own driveway all you want, but you can't block the sidewalk. I don't know if your driveway is large enough to park in it without blocking the sidewalk. The idea is that it's dangerous to the disabled; picture the sidewalk blocked and someone who is blind or who uses a wheelchair trying to get around the car.
posted by zachlipton at 11:05 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, talk to your local city/county representative. Oakland PD got into a bunch of trouble earlier this year for ticketing people in the flats for parking wrongs that they didn't ticket people up in the hills for.

You may also want to form some sort of neighborhood committee that will meet with your local rep/local zoning/traffic folks to make it so on your street, at least, the kind of parking you all do is explicitly okay. Good luck!
posted by rtha at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2010

I live in Chicago, and several months ago I got a lot of tickets (sometimes a couple in a week, then none for a while, then a few more sporadically) for having expired tags. The tags were not expired. I have no idea what they stick in the doughnuts up here, but whatever it is makes half the ticketing staff complete morons.

Since it kept happening so often, I made up a standard letter to contest it with and just changed the date/ticket number each time. Get a ticket? Print out a letter and pop it in the mail. I have never had to pay for a single ticket I have contested.

It doesn't solve the overall problem, but it removes the problem of having to think about it every time it happens.
posted by phunniemee at 11:17 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is what local political action is all about. Chances are it will take a few hours of work start to finish but you will get the I DID IT feel after. You need to call your local Traffic manager, for you it looks like (Traffic - General Alan Ta 749-5921). Tell him your situation and then ask him to survey the street. With a little luck he will handle it. Or he will be able to tell you why it is the way it is.

I am currently on a quest to have a stop sign removed that my dad had put in. He asked for speed bumps and they gave him a stop sign at the wrong side of the street. So I get to explain that the neighbor that asked for the sign was my dad and that it slows me down for no reason. On a non related topic, if anyone wanted to know where a good stop sign to steal is Memail me.
posted by Felex at 11:51 AM on October 18, 2010

I would suggest CALLING city hall and speaking with your traffic manager or your city councilperson. You may even get the street changed to one-way.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2010

I'm not clear on the "blocking our driveway" ticket - were you parked in your driveway and also partially in the sidewalk? Or were you parallel parked on the street blocking your driveway? As it happens, doing either will net you a ticket in my area (Metro Detroit). However, Detroit police have also been documented (as in photographed) writing tickets to legally parked vehicles and then crumpling up and throwing the hard copy of the ticket on the ground. (That brings a whole "littering" aspect into the picture, but when the department is that corrupt, why pick a nit?) The point of doing that is, the person to whom the ticket was originally issued never receives a hard copy and only later gets an overdue ticket/court appearance notice in the mail (based on the carbons in the officer's ticket book). What the city banks on is a large percentage of people won't bother to investigate/recall back to the date in question and say "I wasn't illegally parked" and will just pay the ticket. Their second bargaining chip is that a lot of folks who do realize that they were not deserving of a ticket are either unable or unwilling to take a day off of work to go and sit in court all day to contest it and will simply pay the fine instead. (This practice has been written about in the local press and confirmed by city officials.) Long story short, if you receive any sort of questionable parking ticket, take the time to contest it either via mail (preferably certified, so that you have a record) or in person. I'm sure that Detroit is not the only city to count on the unquestioning compliance of citizens in order to generate revenue.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:59 AM on October 18, 2010

Response by poster: On the blocking our driveway ticket, our car was parallel parked on the street, not on the sidewalk at all.

My wife sent in a dispute with a check, but the whole thing is rigged because the people you appeal to are also the people you make the check out to. (She didn't want to take a day off work to go to court to protest the tickets.)

I'm sure that Detroit is not the only city to count on the unquestioning compliance of citizens in order to generate revenue.

Alameda is pretty notorious for giving out chippy tickets, like 27 in a 25. Especially when the 25 MPH limit is ridiculous, like on major streets with two lanes in each direction.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:17 PM on October 18, 2010

The law is, you can't park facing the wrong direction. The law is, you can't park in front of a driveway (any driveway, including yours). The police are paid to enforce laws, not to debate their fairness (though I'm sure they have their views).

I doubt you're going to get anything useful out of fighting. Maybe you can start the process to get the street legally changed to one way. I can only imagine that's a lengthy (and expensive, for the city) process. But trying to stop them from enforcing the law, however arbitrary and illogical, is not likely to be very productive.

I also doubt you're going to get the driveway law changed. It seems a fixture so many places, and I imagine an exception for the owner isn't there because of the enforcement/proof headaches.

That said, if you show up at court--who knows? Maybe the judge/city will mitigate it somehow.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:18 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I used to live just a few blocks from their (Haight & Fifth), and when I parked too many cars in the driveway, a neighbor told us that there's a blind person who lives on this block, and they have a hard time finding cars parked across the sidewalk with their cane (which goes under them). So if you are parked across the sidewalk in the driveway, it could be it's even the same blind person who either is complaining or whose neighbors are complaining on their behalf.

Otherwise, though it's illegal to block a driveway, I haven't heard of anyone being ticketed on it unless someone complains. Also: If you leave your car parked on the street in the same place for more than three days, it may be towed. This happened to a friend's car (which is a long story mostly because of all the hassle involved) . So consider squeezing into your driveway!
posted by aubilenon at 12:30 PM on October 18, 2010

Response by poster: On the blocking our driveway ticket, our car was parallel parked on the street, not on the sidewalk at all.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:15 PM on October 18, 2010

Talk to some neighbors, start a neighborhood association, and get the the street made 1 way.
posted by theora55 at 3:34 PM on October 18, 2010

The police ticket people who park illegally. Although it may be more convenient for people to park on the wrong side of the road, it's still not legal to park that way. I would assume this is because of problems that would be encountered if emergency vehicles had to come in (just the first reason I could think of).

I understand where you are coming from with the argument, "But the whole community does this!"

However, it's the same argument as when you are caught speeding and say, "But I was just going with the flow of traffic!"

Still illegal, you still broke the law.

You *may* actually win a case or two if you take this to court simply because police officers cannot always make it out of their schedules to show up in court for small offenses like parking violations and so the charge will get dismissed. It's pretty iffy; depends on the officer.

But mostly you will be seen as someone who is annoyed because they have been caught, which is honestly the situation, and you are almost certainly going to end up having to pay the fine.

Now, if you want to change the law, you can try to do that by running for local office, dealing with traffic management at city hall, etc. And that would be beneficial to your community. So if you are really concerned with anyone getting a ticket, and not just annoyed when it is you or your wife having to pay, then I say go for it and fight city hall.
posted by misha at 3:35 PM on October 18, 2010

I don't understand how the person writing the ticket is supposed to know that you are blocking your own driveway and not someone else's.
posted by soelo at 3:37 PM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

In San Francisco, as far as I know, you get a ticket for blocking a driveway if the person whose driveway it is calls to complain. You will probably get towed, too. But no complaint, no ticket/tow. If you're parked in your own driveway and blocking the sidewalk, you can get ticketed (but that is far from a sure thing; I live half a block from a hospital, there are always cops nearby, and I've never seen anyone on our street get a ticket for blocking the sidewalk when they park in their driveway).
posted by rtha at 4:08 PM on October 18, 2010

Although it may be more convenient for people to park on the wrong side of the road, it's still not legal to park that way. I would assume this is because of problems that would be encountered if emergency vehicles had to come in (just the first reason I could think of).

Also people unconsciously use the way cars are parked as a marker of the direction of a street.

If you are not familiar with a neighborhood, and you make a turn into a block and see cars parked on what to you is the wrong side of the road, you might think "Oh shit, this is a one way street and I must have missed the sign" and then you hurriedly back up, make a u-turn or whatever. Definitely impedes traffic and makes people unsafe.

(At least that is what I did when I visited Seattle and thought just this until I realized that this either isn't against the law there or isn't enforced - either way, it can be dangerous)
posted by xetere at 5:06 PM on October 18, 2010

Call up your local City Planning department and ask if there's a way to get the road changed to a one-way street. It may be impossible, it may be possible if you get a petition signed by everyone who lives on the street.
posted by that girl at 7:05 PM on October 18, 2010

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