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Bye Bye Winter Parking Ban

City Council eliminates annual parking ban in favor of switching to emergency notification system via blue lights.

It's been a long time coming for Ward 1 City Councilor Barry Osborne. Now in his 13th year on the council, he's lobbied his colleagues and city officials for at least the past decade to .

And Thursday night, he was finally successful.

The council voted unanimously to eliminate the annual parking ban with the intent of adopting a weather emergency parking ban instead that would utilize the blue light and radio notification system the city has.

Osborne said the former ban was "ineffective," only covering a relatively short window between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., and just a hassle for residents to deal with.

"Councilor Osborne finally made it happen, he's been fighting it for ten years," said Councilor-at-Large Michael Garabedian, who chairs the Municipal Safety Committee.

"I can't wait to vote yes on this," added Ward 2 Councilor Arthur Athas before the final vote.

Exact language and details for the new ordinance will be hashed out at a later date by councilors on the Municipal Safety Committee (likely within a month), but Osborne argued it was well beyond time to put an end to the ban, long a source of frustration to many residents.

Deputy Police Chief Martin Cohan said the equipment for the is still housed over at because the . That work should be finished within 30 days, however, and the equipment can be relocated then.

Given the relatively short time frame and already being nearly halfway through the year, Osborne said, he saw no problem with eliminating the annual ban in favor of a new notification system.

Osborne said he was confident the city would establish the new system in a timely manner with all the appropriate details in place for next winter. He added that the police do have the authority to tow vehicles that are causing safety hazards or impeding city operations anyway.

Both Ward 3 Councilor Rico Mello and Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz initially expressed concern at eliminating the ban with nothing to replace it now, but ended up voting for it anyway.

"It's not like we're eliminating it [the ban] in December, although he [Osborne] would," Garabedian said, smiling.

"It's eighty degrees outside right now, it's a good time to think about it," said Ward 5 Councilor David Gamache, who noted it was important to hash out the details on the new ordinance soon and try to anticipate any issues that might arise.

Cohan said police will utilize any and all means at their disposal to alert the public to a weather-related parking ban, be it because of snow or flooding, in addition to switching on the blue lights.

The lights -- there are 14 of them -- were purchased through a grant and installed at the city boundaries and highly trafficked intersections. A sign posted below each light directs people to tune their radios to 1640 AM when the lights are flashing to hear the notice.

Currently, the radio system is used in tandem with public alerts sent out via Nixle, Connect Ed, PATV or news outlets. Nixle utilizes social media, email and text messages to warn residents of things such as scams and road closures while Connect Ed is for school-related emergencies and uses email and phone messages.

Cohan said he personally has no opinion on one system over the other -- the message will still get out.

Director Robert Langley told councilors that, regardless of frustrations, the winter ban was generally effective in keeping vehicles off the street and out of the way of snow plows. He said snow removal during a storm can be a dangerous job and having cars on the street only exacerbates that problem.

Langley said he has spoken casually to his peers on the issue before and many of them actually wish they could revert to the parking ban.

Councilor-at-Large David Gravel said that given the technology at the city's fingertips, he agreed there were plenty of ways to alert residents in a timely fashion to a snow emergency. And if even after multiple methods of notification, there were still violators, he had no problem with the city towing cars and handing out fines to clear the streets.

"What I see is police wasting their time going up and down side streets when it's 64 degrees out," Gravel said, adding that the corresponding tickets are therefore a source of frustration to residents.

Cohan noted that with the lights system, the temporary ban could effectively be extended for as long as Public Services crews needed to clear the streets instead of just the five-hour window.

As for the pending details, Cohan noted the comparative snow ordinances in place in Salem, Beverly and Lynn, which all use blue lights.

He said Salem calls a snow emergency when two or more inches are predicted and likewise the city utilizes a number of methods to spread the message. Beverly and Lynn have similar ordinances which just go into effect whenever snow or ice are forecasted.

Cohan's suggestion was that language on the new ordinance give the mayor, police chief or DPS director authority to declare a weather-related parking ban whenever there is snow, ice or heavy rainfall predicted. And all efforts would be made to give residents no less than 12 hours' notice.

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