Eau Claire motorists will need to pay close attention to which side of the street they park their cars at night, starting on Nov. 1.
Expecting it will improve safety in wintertime, the city has switched back to its old alternate-side parking rules that require people to only park along one side of streets from midnight to 7 a.m. for six months of the year.
“As a City Council, we need to keep this community safe,” Councilman John Lor said.
Changing the winter parking rules will allow plows to better clear snow off streets to their full width, ensuring that firetrucks and ambulances will be able to get to people’s homes when there’s an emergency, he said.
The council voted 8-1 — council members Laura Benjamin and David Klinkhammer were absent — during its Tuesday afternoon meeting to revert back to winter parking rules that had been in place until the city changed them in fall 2015.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle voted four years ago for the policy of only requiring alternate-side parking after snowstorms because she said it seemed like common sense at the time. But in practice, she said, people appeared to have trouble following the rules because they were not always in effect.
“What overrides common sense is human nature,” she said.
Among the reasons to change back, Emmanuelle said, is to prevent plow drivers from having to work numerous weeks without days off — as was the case during last winter’s record-setting snowfall.
Last winter’s brutal snowstorms exacerbated issues that had cropped up in prior years that were tied to the parking policy, according to a staff report that supported the change. In addition to its snow plow drivers, firefighters and police officers, the city also got support for the change from UW-Eau Claire and neighborhood associations near its campus.
Councilwoman Emily Berge reached out to neighborhood associations in the north side district she represents and said the majority of people she spoke with favored consistent winter parking rules.
While some enjoyed the convenience of only moving their cars around snowstorms, she said most found the rules too confusing.
“It wasn’t clear enough of when to park where,” she said.
Councilman Andrew Werthmann cast the lone opposing vote on Tuesday, citing how residents had complained in the past when alternate-side parking was enforced six months each year, even when there was no snow on the ground.
“My biggest concern this evening is we changed the law only four years ago for a reason,” he said Tuesday. “That reason was we were getting so many people contacting us on what they saw as unnecessary ticketing.”
Werthmann has said he feels the fines are unfair as they apply to people in older neighborhoods where they regularly park on the street as their homes don’t have garages or large driveways, which can include areas where low-income families live.
Though he didn’t introduce it on Tuesday, Werthmann said he is working on a proposal to lower city parking fines related to alternate-side parking.
Councilwoman Kate Beaton recalled getting a $30 alternate-side parking fine several years ago while she was a student at UW-Eau Claire and regularly parked on the street.
“It did cut into my grocery money for that month,” she said of the fine.
But last winter with the roads in her neighborhood congested with tall and wide snowbanks and cars parked on both sides, she found it difficult to safely get to her driveway.
“I live in a neighborhood that had clogged streets for an entire month,” she said.