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The wild days of almost unchecked overnight parking on the streets of the capital city may be coming to a close as the Lansing City Council looks to ramp up enforcement and introduce paid permits by sometime early next year.
And that means local residents could soon be expected to pay a price for having curbside convenience at home.
“It’s not enforced like we would like it to be,” explained Mayor Andy Schor. “The best way to do that is to have more parking enforcement staff, but to pay for that, we want to do permits. I’m supportive of a permit system that pays for itself and however many staff that we can afford to bring on to keep this new ordinance enforced.”
The City Council’s Public Safety Committee will meet later this week to mull the passage of some fresh citywide parking rules that would put some added teeth into Lansing’s existing 2-5 a.m. street parking ban while still offering residents the option of a $125 permit that would allow them to keep their cars on the street all year long. The draft ordinance — which has been in the works for well more than a year — could pass through the committee Thursday, head to the City Council before Christmas and take effect as early as March 2020. But parking tickets can be a contentious issue. It’s pushing some to ask: Why bother changing anything at all?
Under the ordinance, Lansing prohibits street parking from 2-5 a.m. Enforcement, however, has been scarce. And many drivers don’t comply. Records show police only issued 743 tickets last year, down from 3,200 in 2017. Council Vice President Peter Spadafore said the ban is a “long-running joke” around City Hall.
“I don’t believe we should have a law on the books that we don’t intend to enforce,” Spadafore added. “To that end, and the way I see it, we have two options: We either ramp up enforcement or we repeal the law. I don’t really like either of those options, so we have a third option to rewrite the law and allow for some exceptions.”
Enforcing the existing overnight parking ban could be messy — and expensive. Many older homes weren’t built to accommodate multiple vehicles. More landlords are splicing properties into apartments without creating parking spaces for tenants. In some neighborhoods, the street is the only nearby option for parking.
An unyielding ban on overnight parking, as written in the current city ordinance, would give tickets to those who’ve parked curbside for years without issue and offer them no immediate alternatives. And besides, the city can’t afford to bring on an additional parking enforcement officer with just ticket revenue alone, Schor said.
“A lot of people want to be able to park from 2-5 a.m.,” Schor said. “Maybe they have visitors. Maybe they need the extra space. I support some type of an allowance there but we’d need to be able to keep it enforced.”
Eliminating the ordinance altogether also poses concerns. Fire Chief Michael Mackey said he hasn’t had problems navigating rigs or ambulances down overcrowded residential streets but officials are still concerned about access for other emergency vehicles and keeping streets clear for usual snow plow operations.
“We have these narrow streets around the city with people parking on either side of the road, and our snow plows and emergency vehicles just can’t fit past them,” said Councilman Jeremy Garza. “I know people who are upset about these permits, but I really have a hard time understanding that when 911 can’t get down the street.”
Added Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley: “There are some areas in the city that need some additional street parking. I recognize there’s a need, but my concern has also been about keeping the streets clear. Creating this new system allows for better regulation on who’s parking and ensures there won’t be too much congestion.”
In some neighborhoods, residents have also developed a sense of ownership over the spaces near their homes. They’re tired of seeing more and more cars lining up every night without the risk of a ticket. A new permit system — in theory — could help weed out some of the more obnoxious offenders and still allow for exceptions.
“We have these older homes divided into several units and there’s just no other place for them to park,” said Dale Schrader, president of the Walnut Neighborhood Association. “We need a system in place to properly police parking. It’ll get cars that aren’t supposed to be there off the street and give a chance to those who really need it.”
“I think we have to address the parking issue one way or another,” added Nancy Mahlow, Eastside Neighborhood Organization president. “There are safety concerns, but also some of these vehicles park there all day and all night and other cars just can’t get past them. There isn’t enough space on these narrow streets.”
Mahlow favors enforcement of the existing ordinance but recognizes that permits could be a fair compromise. Schor said it would also drive some extra revenue and allow him to budget for an overnight parking officer.
Plans call for annual overnight parking permits to be issued only to those determined by city officials to have a genuine need. Temporary passes would also allow for a limited number of overnight guests. Others should expect to wake up with a ticket on their windshield. “Either we do nothing with no assurance of any enforcement or do something that will help,” said City Council President Carol Wood. “The current system is not working. People are parking on the street and the Police Department cannot enforce the ordinance. By having a permit, it can be revoked if it’s not being used correctly.”
First Ward Councilman-Elect Brandon Betz, who takes office Jan. 1, said the existing ordinance — and the currently proposed permit system — is still inequitable and unfairly impacts low-income residents and “working people” with excessive fines. If he had a vote on the matter, he’d only push for a permitted parking system with income-based rates.
“I was elected to push bold proposals to make this city more equitable,” Betz added. “Working people should not be punished for living in housing situations that do not allot them a parking space.”
The draft rules still need to pass through the City Council, but officials said Parking Manager Chad Gamble would have discretion over which residents truly “need” an overnight pass. Wood said those with commercial vehicles and junk-filled garages won’t be given a pass to extend their driveways into the street; They needn’t apply.
The proposed permits would also only serve as a waiver for the city’s existing 2-5 a.m. parking restrictions and carry no additional parking benefits or exceptions to usual meter fees. Residents would still be required to vacate streets for snow plowing or other emergency situations as mandated by city officials or else risk losing their pass.