NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The return of spring inevitably brings with it complaints about potholes and parking. And while the potholes may be aggravating, a "winter parking ban" in April continues to puzzle and frustrate motorists.
Even though the streets are clear, anyone parking on the roadway overnight will get a ticket.
At the request of Mayor Thomas Bernard, the City Council voted Tuesday to amend the city's parking ordinance to shorten the winter ban by two weeks. It also voted on the mayor's recommendation to end this year's parking ban on Thursday.
Next year's parking ban, and for years afterward, will end on April 15 — an easy to remember date since it's also Tax Day and is often Patriots Day.
"This is something I did last year with the support of the council to lift the parking ban early in recognition that we have had a fairly good stretch of nice weather, that the extended forecast looks for the next 10 days or so to be promising, which takes us in to late April, " the mayor told the council, adding that he could enforce a temporary ban should the weather turn bad.
The ban runs from Nov. 1 to April 30 and prohibits parking on the street between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. It was instituted to keep cars off the road so snowplows can do their job.
But it can cause problems in a downtown area built pre-automobile and designed to house workers within walking distance of their employment. The number of cars on the road nowadays can make it difficult to find parking in some areas.
"I know there are people who have struggled because they don't have their own parking or driveways and have had to find parking when this ban is in effect," said Councilor Marie T. Harpin. "I think it's a very good idea."
This latest ordinance was adopted in 1988. It may feel restrictive, but it's better than the city's 1938 ordinance that banned all overnight parking everywhere in the city and severely restricted daytime parking to certain times and streets.
"In 2018 and 2019 this administration proposed that the City Council authorize the mayor to supersede the above provisions and to lift the winter parking ban prior to the April 30 date. I propose setting the annual end date of the all night parking ban as of April 15," wrote the mayor in a communique to the council.
It's rare to get a storm in April. There was the storm that hit the Northeast on April 4, 1975, and dumped more than a foot of snow and a few minor "April Fool's" storms, one of which fooled everyone in 2011 by not appearing. Last year, the parking ended on April 16 — and a few inches of snow fell three days later.
Still, the parking bans — at least in recent years — have tended to be terminated early by the mayor's office. In 2012 it was lifted on March 20 and in 2016 on March 22, and in 2015 on April 8. The average snowfall for the Berkshires is about 2 inches total for April.
Councilor Rebbecca Cohen asked what prompted the mayor to consider shortening the ban by two weeks. Bernard said it's because the last two years he's asked to lift it in the middle of April.
"Since that seems to be the place where it is making the most sense," he said. "Even if we get snow in April, it tends to be fast-moving and doesn't stay around for a particularly long time. ... I think it provides more reliability for residents to know there is a fixed date other than an annual float."
Councilor Jason LaForest asked if there had been consideration of eliminating the seasonal parking ban altogether and simply declaring weather emergencies as needed.
The mayor said there had been some but not in depth and his preference at the moment was to leave the seasonal ban in place.
"I think we have enough weather conditions that having something consistent is appropriate," he said. "There are other communities that have a blue-light system or just a regular snow declaration. We could explore that."
The ordinance also states the mayor can institute a parking ban on declaration of "a state of emergency." Bernard asked the council to amend that to "weather emergency" because of the changed way the state and federal government use "state of emergency."
"Such a declaration has significant legal and reporting requirements, including notification to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), as opposed to a snow or weather emergency, the conditions for which are established at the local level," Benard wrote.
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