Eau Claire is considering a switch back to its old wintertime parking rules after five years of a policy intended to be more flexible has led to confusion, fines and poorly plowed roads.
Last winter did set a record for snowfall in Eau Claire, but officials say that the winter parking rule changes from 2014 were already causing issues.
“Last winter certainly exasperated the issue but we had problems before that,” said Jeff Pippenger, Eau Claire’s community services director.
Currently the city only requires odd-even parking after declaring a snow event. Cars can only park along one side of the street from midnight to 5 p.m. for three days so plows can clear snow off of roads.
However, not everyone would hear or heed media reports, signs, emails and social media posts warning drivers when the rules were about to go into effect.
“That was the biggest complaint, that they would not know,” Pippenger said.
Last February was the roughest for drivers with a record 53.7 inches of snow falling that month — a little over half of the entire snowfall for a record-setting winter in Eau Claire. During that month, Eau Claire police ticketed 2,678 cars and had 373 towed for violating the parking rules in effect to help plows clear streets, according to a report prepared on the proposed policy change.
In addition to confusing drivers, the current rules also allowed a shorter window for plow trucks to thoroughly clear off streets after major snowfalls.
“We have had major problems with keeping our streets widened up because we only have 72 hours to do that,” Pippenger said.
School buses, firetrucks and police parking enforcement jeeps having tight squeezes or being unable to drive through streets that became narrowed by snowbanks and cars parked on both sides last winter, based on photos included in the report.
Under the current rules, there also is no time for police to post warnings on cars parked on the wrong sides of streets before issuing a ticket, Pippenger said.
Due to the problems linked to the 5-year-old plowing rules, the City Council will be asked next month to vote on switching back to winter parking rules Eau Claire used before 2014.
Those rules put odd-even parking in effect from midnight to 7 a.m. from Nov. 1 until May 1.
The proposed ordinance change also would give the city’s Community Services Department the ability to postpone enforcement if there’s no snow in fall or lift the rules early if there’s a warm spring.
Before suggesting the city switch back to the old rules, Pippenger checked with UW-Eau Claire as people often park on streets near campus and in neighborhoods with student housing.
The university was open to the change after seeing the same parking problems the city noticed last winter.
“We think that there had been some confusion especially given the difficult winter we had regarding those restrictions,” Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations said.
Both university administrators and student government have backed the switch back to the city’s old winter parking policy.
“We do support a change back to the traditional odd-even rules,” Rindo said.
The city’s fire and police departments also gave their support for reviving the old winter parking ordinance.
Changing the winter parking ordinance will be introduced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which means it won’t be up for a public hearing or vote until meetings scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8.