MANCHESTER, NH –The line was four deep in front of the trailer at Derryfield Park. This time of year, the adjacent parking lot doubles as the city’s impound lot. It’s where cars that violate the overnight parking ban are towed during snow emergencies.
On Dec. 29 the city declared its first snow emergency of the season. Those who were signed up through the Department of Public Works got text and email alerts around 1:30 p.m.
The white stuff translates to plenty of green stuff. All told, it was a $21,120 night – $85 per vehicle to the tow company, and $25 per tow to the city.
Dan Hardy was among the 192 people who didn’t get the memo. His car was towed to the lot. His brother, James, gave him a lift to pick it up.
He wasn’t mad about it.
“I parked on the right side of the road. I just didn’t think there was a snow emergency. I mean, there was only a few inches of snow,” said Hardy.
He had the day off from his job at UPS on Tuesday, and so he didn’t leave the house. Otherwise, he would’ve seen the flashing strobe lights on top of traffic signals activated across the city whenever there’s a snow emergency.
“It was my own fault,” he said, as he scraped the frost from his windshield.
Adam Perron was there with a friend from Massachusetts, whose car was towed from outside his apartment on Country Club Drive. This is his first winter in Manchester.
“I just moved here in July, so I didn’t know. Actually, they almost towed my car this morning, too. It’s kind of confusing. If you park in the street you get towed by the city. If you park in the lot you get towed by the apartments,” Perron said. “There’s no real system. It’s kind of irritating. Even in the future, I wouldn’t know where to put a car if someone came to visit me again. At the least, I thought maybe there would be a first-time warning. But no. It’s 110 bucks, cash.”
A resident of Washington Park was there to get her car. She was aware of the parking restrictions, but considered herself mostly a victim of bad luck.
“I was up at 4 a.m. because I have a little 2 ½-month old baby. I put him back to bed and moved my car to the front. Then I went back to bed. My husband, who is up early for work, went out to get the ice scraper out of my car. But there was no car there,” she said.
Her apartment complex requires residents to move their cars to the street between 6-8 a.m., after city plows have cleaned up, so the lot at the apartments can be plowed. Her car was among those removed.
“It’s just hard when you have a baby. You can’t leave him, and you don’t want to take him out – it was just bad luck, and now I have to pay the price,” she said.
Ali Mohamed, who lives on Wilson Street, also had to pay the price. He just moved back to the area from Missouri. He paid $11 for the cab ride and the $110 for the tow, which put a hurtful dent in his wallet.
“I forgot all about the snow emergency parking. It’s hard, to pay $121 just to get my car. I was working, but just lost my job,” Mohamed said, turning the key on his minivan to help get the defrosting started while he started scraping his windshield.
Sangam Gurung, a biology student at Plymouth State College, was there to get his car. His dad gave him a ride.
“I’m home on winter break,” said Gurung, after paying the $110 dollars for his car which was towed from Sullivan Street sometime before midnight. “I found out it got towed last night. I came home from a friend’s house and it was gone. I tried to call someone to get it back right away, but they said I had to wait until morning.”
Jessica Stanfield stepped up to the window and asked if her car might be there, even though she already had a hunch it wasn’t. She’d been trying to track it down for the past 3 hours.
“I’m missing my car, but I don’t think the city has it. My car got towed from Washington Park, and the place that’s supposed to have it isn’t answering the phone,” she said.
A woman on the other side of the trailer window named Stephanie, an employee of one of the tow companies, told Stanfield her car was likely in a lot off Candia Road, operated by Alpha & Omega towing, which has an office on Maple Street and a tow lot on Sinclair Avenue.
“This isn’t my first time. They got me last year, too. I just want to get my car before they try to charge me for another day,” said Stanfield.
A man from Conant Street was next in line. He said it’s frustrating for him because there is no designated lot on the West Side.
“I had no place to park. Apparently I was supposed to drive around all night to find a spot,” he said. “I have to go to work later on today, not yet, though. We’ll see how long this takes.”
Actually, the process to pick up a car is pretty quick and seamless. You wait in line if there is one, step up to the window and tell them what kind of car you have. Then, you hand over the $110 in cash, initial the tow slip, find your car and then go through a final checkpoint, where your initialed tow slip is checked against your license plate, just to make sure nobody tries to sneak out without paying. On Wednesday, a Manchester Police officer had arrived to check exiting cars.
Manchester Police Lt. Jamie Gallant was on duty Wednesday morning at the police station for his first citywide snow emergency.
“I understand the first one of the season is always big,” said Gallant.
He explained that most people call police when they first discover their car is missing – some want to report their car stolen, but most people just want to know where to go to get their cars back.
Jay Davini is Manager of Street Operations for the city. He said 192 cars is high for a night of towing. Last year’s high during a snow emergency was 135.
“There are some places where the need for towing is chronic – the inner city is always a challenge, there are always cars parked on Pine and Chestnut. Spruce Street is a direct ambulance route to the Elliot, and we tend to find cars on both sides of Spruce, so not only are they in violation of the snow emergency but also the city’s odd/even ordinance,” Davini said.
The thing is, everyone wants the same thing, says Davini. No towed vehicles, no car-clogged streets. But inevitably, cars are left where they shouldn’t be, and that slows down the plowing process.
As for the challenges of some of the more winding and narrow thoroughfares, the city aims to use the right equipment on the right streets – a plow with no wing is used in tight areas so the streets can be properly cleared without getting hung up.
Davini also acknowledges the other persistent challenges, including the fact that there’s no dedicated lot on the West Side to safely park unlike the East Side, where the Victory and Pearl street parking garages are free to residents.
“There was one West Side resident looking for a place to park. I suggested a school parking lot, as long as they were out by 7:30 a.m. That’s not always going to work. But in this case, school is out of session and students are on vacation. Normally, we do need to get those lots plowed, so you can’t say that parking will be available during all storms in school lots, but this time it was,” Davini said.
In general, school lot parking needs to be coordinated with the city’s Parks & Rec department, which oversees school parking lots, he said. He suggested contacting city parking manager Denise Boutilier about other options on the West Side.
Boutilier was unavailable Wednesday, and several calls made by Manchester Ink Link to her office went to voice mail.
Davini said it’s too early to know how the city’s newly adopted parking program is working out – this year the even/odd parking is coordinated according to the month, rather than day of the week. That means cars will be parked on the odd side of the street for the entire month of January, which could pose new challenges for the Public Works plows.
“The season just started, so it’s hard to say how it’s working out. But it’s conceivable that in order to get one side of the street plowed, we may have to call a snow emergency – even if it’s not snowing – just to clean it up,” Davini said. “That’s going to depend on the timing of the storm. As long as we can clean the street, curb to curb, it’s not an issue.”
Davini was hesitant to grade the city’s plow drivers after the first snow emergency of the season.
“I hear from people on both ends of the spectrum, those who are happy and those who aren’t. As with any first storm of the season, there will be issues. We find more equipment breakdowns during that first storm because, until you get out there and start pushing a load and using the salt conveyors, that’s when you’re really testing a piece of equipment,” Davini said. “And we did have some of that this time around.”
He also noted that the nature of this storm, which was heavy on the sleet and freezing rain, also makes it a challenge to clean up.
“Those conditions have a tendency to pack, so we have to get salt on the road quickly. Obviously we concentrate on the main roads, then go to side streets. I’ll let my customers be the judge of how we did,” Davini said. “We try to be efficient about removing cars from the road, and we do our best to get every street plowed. Tuesday there was a lot to deal with. There were a lot of cars to tow, and the lot was full. There’s only so much we can physically accomplish, and obviously there were some cars that didn’t get towed. We just ran out of time.”
⇒Click here for everything you need to know about winter parking
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