Greater City Providence

Proposed Emergency Snow Parking Ban Ordinance

A car in Providence defying the last parking ban, and a car parked on the sidewalk to escape it

Dan McGowan tweeted the other day about a proposed Emergency Snow Parking Ban ordinance sponsored by City Councilors Correira and Taylor:

Here’s is the text of the proposed ordinance:

If, as a result of severe weather, the accumulation of snow and ice on the public ways of the City is expected to be four inches or more, causing or resulting in the parking of vehicles in a position or manner that may impede or prevent public works snow removal vehicles from properly clearing all city roads curb to curb, the director of public works shall implement a parking ban to begin two hours before expected snowfall and end four hours after snowfall has ended.

I’m not really sure what problem this proposal is trying to solve. As far as I can tell, the City has done a pretty good job of accurately implementing parking bans. Generally crews are out pre-treating roadways, a parking ban goes into effect as late as possible, and when the DPW feels they have a good handle on removal, the ban ends as soon as possible.

I feel this proposal is short-sighted for a number of reasons.

Who can accurately predict exactly when 2-hours before the start of at least 4-inches of snow is? “ZOMG! we’re all going to be buried alive!!!” forecasts that turn into a whole lot of nothing are not uncommon.

Do we really need a ban 2-hours before it even starts snowing? Why? Plows don’t plow until there is snow to plow, and often, plowing does not start until a while after snowfall begins. If we’re expecting a long duration snowfall, it does not make sense to be out plowing repeatedly when more snow is coming and streets just need to be plowed again. There is a need at times to keep up with accumulations, but that does not happen 2-hours before it even starts snowing.

I know a lot of business owners, especially restauranteurs, who in previous years have been angry about the City’s early call on parking bans. A ban goes into effect at 5pm, and the “ZOMG!” snowfall never materializes, or doesn’t materialize until much later, and the restaurants are out a night of business for nothing. To my knowledge, business owners have been pleased with the City implementing parking bans later recently, this ordinance would undue all that.

And what about 4-hours after? How many times do we get 4-inches of snow that turns to rain and we wake up to basically nothing on the streets and sidewalks? By ordinance the streets would need to remain closed to parking for 4-hours. Why take away flexibility and discression; what problem is this ordinance trying to solve?

Then there is the question of, do we even need a blanket snow parking ban policy at all? In Boston snow emergencies only apply to major arteries. Those major routes (think North Main Street, Hope Street, Broad Street, Charles Street, etc. in Providence) get a parking ban, while residential streets with permit parking allowed don’t.

Those residential streets get plowed, but not curb-to-curb, and people have to dig out their own cars. This does lead to the notorious spot-saving in Boston, but the city is cracking down on that.

We have residential on-street parking in Providence, which is a good thing because it allows us to build less off-street parking and pave less land for parking in our neighborhoods. However, if we force people off the streets during snow storms, that encourages people to maintain off-street spots.

I fail to see what problem this ordinance solves, if anything, we should be banning off-street parking less, not codifying to ban it more.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.

4 comments

  • A ban on major arteries AND bus route streets, which are not always major arteries, makes sense. And school streets. I believe this ban urgency has come up because the #92 bus and the #1 bus had to be detoured in our recent snow storm due to parked cars blocking some of the narrow streets they travel..

    I agree, maybe 2 hours into the start of the snowfall. And not all streets, just those I listed.

    As for parking on the sidewalk, as a walker I would not mind. I generally walk in the street after heavydsnow anyway and a car on the sidewalk would in effect make that sidewalk pre-shovelled. But if parked when the snow covers the sidewalk I’m not sure how that would work out.

  • Coincidentally, a press release about this ordinance was just issued by the City Council:


    City Council President Pro Tempore Correia and Councilman Taylor to Introduce Ordinance Calling for Emergency Snow Parking Ban Guidelines

    Providence, RI (March 7, 2019) – City Council President Pro Tempore Michael Correia, Ward Six introduced an ordinance at tonight’s Council Meeting that calls for implementing an emergency parking ban if the expected snowfall is four inches or more.

    “The current system is not efficient and is failing to ensure the safety of our constituents during and after snowstorms,” stated Council President Pro Tempore Michael Correia. “These bans are not being properly enforced resulting in hundreds of vehicles interrupting the plow trucks from clearing the streets. The Director of Public Works should call parking bans based on the severe weather report and not at the discretion of the Mayor’s Office. It is time to step up and deal with these issues that have been putting our constituents at risk.”

    This ordinance would allow the City to determine a course of action based on the predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Director of Public Works would act in accordance with the severe weather report to implement a parking ban that would begin two hours before expected snowfall and end four hours after the snowfall has ceased.

    “Currently, we have no set guidelines for when a parking ban is to be implemented,” stated City Councilman James Taylor, Ward 8. “Residents should not be left wondering if their street will be plowed curb to curb. When snow accumulation is expected to be heavy, cars need to be off the streets so that the Department of Public Works can properly carry out their duty.”

    The ordinance has been sent to the Committee on Ordinances for further review and comment.

  • The problem it is trying to solve is that some people think the most urgent problem of all is anything that might make them have to drive less fast.

    Every conceivable improvement in snow removal practices that would actually enhance public safety and convenience is stupidly ignored by this obsession with “curb to curb.” First of all, wherever there is room in the street for the snowpiles that is where they should be. Second, in current practice, most side streets are seldom plowed curb to curb even when clear of parked cars. What was the parking lane is now a snowpile so either there is no parking anymore or people park anyway so there is one less travel lane. Everyone would have been better off if the people who wanted to use those spaces had had to shovel their cars out themselves. Then we have the ace plow drivers who ream along at top speed with the corner of the plow right in the gutter throwing a graceful plume of soon to freeze solid slush onto the sidewalks that were just cleared. Then we have the practice of piling all snow from intersections onto the crosswalk ramps.

    What needs to change is the principle that it is best to save seconds of the plow driver’s time by doing things that cause hours of toil and struggle for pedestrians and the people who work to clear walkways.

  • I support something along the lines of what is proposed. For example, in Chicago, on a handful of key arterial streets there is a 3am to 7am parking ban every night, for the entire winter season. Then, on about 500 miles of main streets, there is a parking ban whenever there is a 2″+ snowfall. A huge issue here in Providence is the already narrow streets becoming impassable to buses and emergency vehicles for days after a snowfall. During the parking ban implemented during the snowstorm, the plows might do a fine job of clearing the roadway, but over the following days, the snow gets moved back into the roadway, usually by cars parking alongside the snowbanks and knocking snow down, forcing the next driver to park their vehicle further into the drive lane. All this week, RIPTA has been tweeting that the #1 and #92 are on detours because Hope, Thayer, and Ives are all too narrow for a bus because parked cars are too far from the curb. If key streets (bus routes most importantly) had a blanket ban on very late night/early morning parking, snow removal crews could return to problem areas and get the roadway back in usable condition.

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