Ala. city goes high-tech for parking violators


By HANNAH WOLFSON
Birmingham News

MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. — If you ever try to get around the parking time limits in Mountain Brook's commercial villages, watch out.

The city's Police Department is preparing to switch to a high-tech system that uses digital video to catch parking violators, and moving to another spot on the block won't work anymore.

Police Chief Johnny Stanley said Mountain Brook is the first city in the metro area to use the system.

The city bought the equipment from AutoVu Technologies for $65,000 at the recommendation of planning and traffic consultants hired to design a master plan for the commercial villages.

One of the most frequent complaints in public planning sessions has been the lack of on-street parking and the abuse of the twohour spaces in front of shops, especially by store employees.

''I've been here more than 32 years, and there's been a parking problem since I've been here,'' said Mountain Brook Police Capt. Clay Gilmore.

Parking control officer David Spraggins said that even while testing the new system, he has noticed employees are parking less often in spots for shoppers and using the spots they've been encouraged to use instead.

''It's fantastic,'' he said. ''This here will make you tell the truth.''

 

Spraggins' parking control scooter has been outfitted with cameras and a GPS antenna. The cameras scan license plates and software compares them to make sure cars haven't been parked too long in one spot.

A computer inside the cab tells Spraggins which spots are designated for two-hour or 30-minute parking; eventually, loading zones, handicapped spaces and other parking areas may be added.

A long blue cable on the dashboard is plugged into an outdoor loading dock at the end of each day to send the pictures to the city's server, where they can be saved for court cases or other records.

The system still is being tested and could go into effect this summer.

Before that happens, the City Council must amend its parking ordinance and post new signs. Because the software tracks not individual spaces but ''block faces'' - that is, both sides of a street between two intersections - drivers no longer will be able to move their cars just a space or two to avoid the two-hour limit. If visitors leave a time-restricted space, then return within two hours, they may not park on the same block.

The City Council expects to consider the ordinance May 14.

When ticketing begins, firsttime violators will receive a warning notice explaining the new law, said City Manager Sam Gaston. Brochures describing where employees should park may be distributed to area merchants.

WHAT'S HAPPENING

Mountain Brook is moving to a new parking technology that will require a change to ''block face'' parking in areas of the commercial villages with two-hour parking rules.

WHAT IT MEANS

The new system looks not at individual spaces but at the entire block - both sides of the street between two intersections - as two-hour parking. An ordinance under consideration would require a two-hour gap between parking on any block, even in different spaces.

FOR EXAMPLE

Say you park in front of Crestline Bagel on Church Street at 9 a.m., then leave at 9:20. If you need to return to Crestline Village again before 11:20, you may not park on either side of the same block of Church Street. Or, if you park in one space for two hours, then move your car, you must move it at least a block away. 

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