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Illegal parking in downtown Annapolis targeted

Parking enforcement officers soon will start using automatic license plate reading technology to enforce downtown Annapolis parking laws, especially along residential streets that require stickers.
Downtown residents have complained for years about lax residential parking enforcement, and those complaints have become louder since the city increased the number of 2 a.m. liquor licenses. Now city officials say they will act to keep residential streets quieter after bars close and open parking spots so that downtown residents can park near their homes.

"It's a quality-of-life issue for our residents," said Richard Newell, director of the city's Transportation Department.

The loud people coming and going from bars often violate short-term residential parking rules, he said. Stricter parking law enforcement, he said, will "bring some relief" to downtown residents who prefer less boisterous streets and have "the reasonable expectation" that they'll be able to park close to their homes.

The city began cracking down on parking violators this summer by keeping parking enforcement officers on the streets longer - until 11:30 p.m. or midnight.

The parking laws were never seriously enforced before, said Joe Budge, president of the Ward One Residents Association.

More than 2,500 parking citations were issued in August, bringing in $77,218. That's about 400 more parking citations and almost $20,000 more in citation revenue than in August 2010.

Those numbers are expected to go up again after the City Council's Sept. 26 approval of $90,000 for the Transportation Department to enhance parking enforcement via automatic license plate recognition, or ALPR, systems.

Newell said that within six to eight weeks, parking officers will be equipped with ALPR hardware and software costing $77,000. The remaining $13,000 will be spent on a new parking enforcement vehicle.

For years, the Ward One Residents Association has pressured the city to discourage noisy bar-goers from parking in residential districts. It strongly supports the new technology, which, Budge said, will allow officers to monitor parking more efficiently and quickly.

Like handheld ticket writers and red light cameras, ALPR systems are designed to make officers' jobs easier and safer, city officials said.

Bob Lehmkuhl, a city parking enforcement officer for 11 years, walks downtown streets from 3 to 11 p.m., chalking car tires and squinting through windshields.

Sometimes a sticker isn't in the right place, or the window is so dirty it's like looking into the Chesapeake Bay.

Officers using ALPR can store a license plate number or an image of the license plate - rather than chalking a tire and writing down the number - and determine how long the car has been parked. ALPR then lists any permits registered for the car, such as residential or handicapped, and any parking laws the vehicle is violating.

The officer can do all this without getting out of his car. Lehmukuhl, who often walks the narrow streets at night wearing a dark blue uniform and feeling invisible to cars driving by, said this will increase officer safety.

Finding a spot

Sean O'Neill, president of Annapolis Business Association, said increased parking enforcement is likelier to hurt employees of businesses than to discourage customers, who usually park in the garages.

The problem, he said, is not a lack of available parking, but lack of information on where people can park.

Unless the city installs more garage signs and sufficiently advertises services such as Park & Shop and the city bus system's Circulator service, then "this parking enforcement effort is not coordinated," O'Neill said.

The Circulator shuttle connects the three downtown garages: Park Place, Knighton and Gotts Court. The Circulator is free with a parking garage ticket; it costs 50 cents to hail a ride off the street.

The Circulator paved the way for stricter parking enforcement, city officials said.

"The reason we didn't take an unyielding approach previously is because we first had to come up with an alternative," Newell said. "We never wanted to appear anti-business."

Introduced in July, the Circulator is still in a six-month pilot phase.

Newell said the city is working on more aggressive marketing for garages and the Circulator, which should be developed soon.

But another major parking issue probably can't be fixed.

"There is parking available. People just don't want to pay to park," O'Neill said.
Annapolis Transportation Department
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