Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vigilante Parking Enforcement

Madison parking scofflaws on the isthmus -- you're on notice. I'm a hair's breadth from taking the law into my own hands, and while I'm generally pretty mild-mannered, I'm as restrained as Adam "PacMan" Jones in a strip club with a bad case of the Mondays when it comes to meting out vilgilante justice.

I don't live on a main thoroughfare -- far from it, in fact. That the city chooses to clear the snow off our little half-block of a side street at all should be cause for the residents to celebrate, but the plow drivers are not exactly being greeted by a ticker tape parade.

When the city's workers make the right turn onto Castle Place, they're finding cars parked willy-nilly, with no regard for the snow emergency parking regulations designed to allow plow drivers to clear each road curb to curb over the course of two nights. And now, I'm worried the city is a few snowfalls away from writing off our street altogether.

Once again this winter, owning an automobile in the heart of Madison has not been a piece of cake. Digging out occasionally and braving the winter parking regulations is par for the course, a part of the price drivers pay for the privilege of being independently mobile in a city that offers decent public transit options anyway.

Except it seems our city is plagued with a bunch of clueless deadbeats content to let their automobiles accumulate enough snow around their bases to build a good-sized fort. It begs the question whether people who only use their cars once every couple of weeks should be allowed to keep them on the street.

Do I begrudge your owning an automobile in the heart of the city? Absolutely not. But do I take serious issue if you're not willing to invest the time and effort to get your two-ton hulk of rust and rubber out of the damn way so our city crews can do their job and make driving easier for everyone?

Let me put it this way: leaving your car buried up to the quarterpanels in week old snow where I can see it with two parking tickets stuck under the wiper blade is inviting me to huck a molotov cocktail through the window.

My case in point is the bucket of bolts, rust-on-gray mini-van some probable child molester left parked right in front of my house for two weeks in December. Never mind that the owner left it parked in the same spot through the heaviest periods of snowfall we've gotten so far in this outrageous winter... and two declared snow emergencies! Never mind that the piece of trash was taking up prime parking real estate right off my front door step. Never mind that I was re-infuriated at the owner's lack on decency every time I walked past, or even looked out my front window.

What irks me the most is that, whether the van was eventually moved or towed, the amassed snow around its base remains, melted down by the brief warm spell, then re-frozen into foot-and-a-half crags of ice that make parking there a virtual impossibility for every vehicle known to man save an Abrams tank.

I wish I could say what I just described is a rare scenario, but a drive through downtown Madison will turn up an identical case every thirty to forty feet. What's worse, if too many cars are parked on one side of the street when a plow rumbles through, oftentimes the driver will have no choice but to simply clear the middle of the street, leaving the snow to accumulate on the side where people should be able to park.

This results in drivers having to park closer to the middle of the road, and when a few of THEM don't move their cars to allow the plow drivers through, the problem compounds itself and the roads begin to continuously get narrower. It's only mid-January, but it's already so bad on my street that I watched a plow squeak a single narrow lane between the rows of cars parked on each side of the road this weekend, with mere inches to spare on either side of the blade.

If my road gets any narrower, it's going to be unplowable, and then I'll really be in a car-torching mood.

It's winter. This is Wisconsin. Checking up on the vehicle every couple of days and moving it if necessary is the owner's responsibilty, no exceptions. While digging a car out after a snowstorm is no fun, if we're to be able to drive on our damn roads, we need to work together with the streets department to ensure they can do their job. If the threat of a sixty dollar parking ticket isn't enough to motivate one to do so, being able to move an ambulance or a fire truck down the street should be.

So this is my call to arms. You're either with me or against me, and those who shun our cause of passable streets hold their own personal property forefeit.

From here on out, the rules are as such. Those who fail to comply with the snow emergency alternate side parking rules are subject to have their finish keyed and their windows egged. Failure to comply with the city's 48-hour street storage rule when there's a fresh layer of snow on the ground not only risks a ticket, but also broken sideview mirrors.

After the third day of abandonment, a heavy boot to the quarter panel becomes acceptable. If a car has been buried to its lugnuts in snow for four days, the radio antenna may be pried off -- likewise for the windshield wipers on day five, and the gas hatch or any spoilers and other such adornments on day six.

If a car is still buried in snow that's a week old, the use of heavy throwing or bludgeoning implements is strongly encouraged. I recommend beginning with smaller rocks, hurled at the side of the car at close range. If this doesn't drive the point home after several days, more drastic measures may be needed, including the use of a baseball bat to remove the sideview mirrors entirely and perform some major body work.

Eventually, you may find it cathartic to resort to lobbing bricks or even cinder blocks at the hood or through the side windows. Care should be taken not to damage the windshield, however, and there's a good reason.

You'll note that all the recommended methods of vigilante parking enforcement thus far do nothing to inhibit the violating auto's owner from clearing the snow off their car, firing it up and moving it to a more appropriate parking spot. Indeed, that's what we're trying to encourage here. A broken windshield, for instance, slashed tires or a sugared gas tank would only delay the process of clearing the parking spot for use.

But upon reaching the two-week mark following a snowstorm, if the car still has not been moved, it's fair to assume it's really and truly abandoned -- a public nuissance, a pile of refuse taking up space in the public right of way -- and it's every decency-conscious citizen's duty to blow it up.

As I mentioned earlier, a hurled molotov cocktail presents a simple-yet-dramatic way to torch an errant automobile without much risk of personal injury or exposure to police attention. Given the cover of darkness and a little time to work, it's also possible to pry the cover off the gas tank and use the reservoir itself as a source of fuel, given the ability to rig up some sort of improvised fuse like an oily rag.

Torching a car that's preventing city employees from clearing the road presents a trifecta of advantages. Once the flaming hulk of metal has smoldered and gone out, a city crew will inevitably arrive to tow it out of the street. Likewise, a burning car sets a noticeable, iconic example to other potential scofflaws on your street, and they'll think twice before violating the city's snow parking laws themselves.

Finally, the heat thrown off in the hour or two the car burns will quickly melt away the accumulated snow and ice that would otherwise render the parking space unusable. It's basically win-win-win... and a lose for the deadbeat that didn't think enough of their neighbors to just move their damn car.


Jessica said...

Last winter, the morons at the motel across from us took a plow and drove straight, dumping all their snow in front of my walkway, where I park my huge van to load kids in and out. It was HORRIBLE. I couldn't park there until April.
If they do it again this year, we'll have a molotov cocktail-making party together.

Anonymous said...

I no longer live downtown, but when I did I would spend HOURS trying to get my car out of the snow. And if I couldn't it would at least be OBVIOUS to anyone that looked that I had tried. The results of failing to get a car out would basically leave a perfectly clear parking spot, covered in ice--so at least there was no glacier barricading entrance to it when I finally removed my car.

I think you forgot several AWESOME tactics to getting the cars to move.

1. Stink bombs
2. A natural stink bomb (garbage for instance)
3. I believe a car with a broken window would make a wonderful safe haven for area wildlife...i.e. squirrels! Be sure to leave them plenty of food.

Dustin Christopher said...

Anon, I could hug you... The mental image of a snowy car with broken windows full of agitated squirrels almost made me drop my laptop on the floor, I was laughing so hard.

And you're right, the act of digging out does leave a clear parking spot... Yet another reason decent human beings do it.

Jess, the great thing about molotov cocktail parties is that they go so well with regular cocktail parties...

Ryan G. said...

"in a city that offers decent public transit options..."

Dustin, have you lived here very long? Or are you kidding?

If you're serious, when you find these "decent public transportation options", please let the rest of us know.

We haven't found them since the city instituted the Transfer Points for Madison Metro back in 1998.