Hyde Park – fair is fare?

Did you know that the world’s first parking meter, known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, was installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City in 1935? The parking meter was the brainchild of a man named Carl C. Magee, whose invention immediately spawned intense debate over the pros and cons of coin-regulated parking. Indignant opponents of the meters considered paying for parking un-American.

During the Great Depression, city revenues dwindled. However, with the adoption of parking meters, a reliable new source of municipal revenue was found.  By 1944, American cities were generating some $10 million annually from parking meters alone. Soon after came meter maids, who, because they were paid less than police officers and could focus exclusively on parking offenses, further increased city revenues.

All of a sudden, cities recognized “minor parking violations” as a whole new source of income. According to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, parking tickets generate roughly $185 million a year. “That’s even though ticket-writing declined last year by five percent while booting of vehicles rose by 10 percent,” the department said.  And now, thanks to Mr. Magee, the “parking battle” has taken on a life of its own.

For instance, the following is a list of parking, standing, compliance, and other violations that can be issued to your vehicle for failure to meet legal requirements as of April 2014: “No standing, parking or other use of bus lane,” “No parking/standing on bicycle path,” “No parking outside diagonal markings,” “No parking/Special events restrictions,” “No parking 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. snow route,” “No parking within 15′ of fire hydrant,” “No parking/street cleaning,” etc. Unfortunately the list goes on.

Speaking of street cleaning – it just doesn’t seem fair when the sign posted says “No Parking from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for street cleaning,” and the street is cleaned at 10:30 a.m. Once the street is cleaned, how is it that a car can still be ticketed? Makes every bit of “cents” to the city of Chicago.

After talking to several Chicago attorneys the consensus boils down to this: “You can probably beat this ticket in court, but the signs still say ‘don’t park here,’ so don’t park there. Remember, the city is more eager than ever to write parking tickets, so motorists need more tools than ever to avoid them.”

Writer Neil Gaiman once said, “The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don’t. This is how the Law is made.”

Yeah, okay Neil. So how do you get around confusing signs like the one below that may be considered Chicago’s ultimate in complexity for a no parking sign? Are those bullet holes?

This sign is probably why Chicago finally switched to the upper case letter reminder system. Unfortunately, Chicago isn’t the only city with illogical “no parking” signs. Check these out.

No parking – visualize being towed (San Francisco)

Warning – the last car to park here is still missing (Queens, NY)

No parking – except for automobiles (Austin, TX)

10 minute limit for parking – violators will be crushed and melted (Pittsburgh)

It is not in your best interest to park here (Denver)

No parking, no hunting, no fishing, no nothing (Sante Fe, New Mexico)

Stupidity is not considered a handicap (L.A.)

Five minute parking – violators will be executed (anonymous)

No parking – no understanding at any time (New York City)

Don’t even think of parking here (Detroit)

No parking; no kidding (Phoenix)

What part of no parking don’t you understand? (Las Vegas)

Most of us are not going to resort to the tactic displayed by Paul Newman’s character in the movie “Cool Hand Luke” where he is arrested for cutting parking meters off their poles one night during a drunken fling…but we certainly want to.

However, the greatest armor we Americans have right now is that we can complain and complain and complain again until we are heard. Don’t like the signs? Complain. Don’t like illogical rules of the road? Complain. Don’t like who is in office? Complain by voting. Complex (read: absurd) parking rules, restrictions and regulations are now an integral part of modern life and landscape.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain about them.


JoAnn Fastoff Blackman is a long-time Hyde Parker and an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction books. Her various blogs have focused on environmental issues in and around Chicago. HPChamber Speak will appear periodically addressing issues impacting Hyde Park’s business community.