Pa. City Cracks Down On Saving Parking Spaces
BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) – The day of reckoning came quickly Tuesday for hundreds of Bethlehem residents who spent hours shoveling snow from a parking spot in front of their homes and claiming the territory with a plastic lawn chair or recycling bin.
Before many had a chance to object, city maintenance workers hustled to clear streets of the eclectic markers used to save parking spots.
On one trip near the historic downtown, it took only 20 minutes to fill the bed of a city dump truck with piles of chairs, plus an ice-encrusted bench, a child’s lamp and a set of Volkswagen hubcaps.
Jon Rice, a Bethlehem maintenance worker, said he doesn’t dawdle during such roundups. A few years ago, he said one man became so angry he flashed a gun and yelled threats. Now, city crews won’t go out unless they get a police escort.
“I’m calling the mayor’s office!’’ one woman shouted at the workers on East Union Boulevard. “I worked hard to shovel out that spot! You can’t do that!’’
After what seems like a month’s worth of snow left city streets across the valley clogged with mounds of it, it’s no secret she and many others regard the spots they shoveled out as theirs and theirs only. And it can get ugly.
A Bethlehem couple was charged Saturday with disorderly conduct when they allegedly cursed at a neighbor for taking a parking spot they had shoveled out.
But it’s illegal in Bethlehem to put out chairs or garbage cans or anything else on the streets, and enough people complained that the city took action Tuesday, said police traffic Capt. David Kravatz.
“We know this is sacrilegious to move these items, but they just aren’t allowed,’’ Kravatz said. “Enough is enough.’’
As the crews wended their way Tuesday through Bethlehem streets, most residents showed their support with a thumbs-up or honk of approval as they drove past. One man on Maple Street stood at his doorway and clapped and waved at the crew, shouting his thanks.
Bethlehem is not the only city that has resorted to clearing the spots.
The last time it was tried in Easton, where saving spots is also banned, the phone lines in City Hall lit up with complaints, said police Chief Larry Palmer in an e-mail.
“It didn’t go over very well and we have not done it since,’’ he said. Allentown crews have long cleared streets of items marking parking spots. Residents in Allentown are prohibited by ordinance from marking their clean spaces.
City workers have not yet started picking up any of the markers, but would consider it if they noticed an increase in complaints, said Richard Young, director of public works. Most of the complaints right now come from residents who claimed a parking spot only to have a neighbor move the marker and park in it, Young said.
“A lot of people use recycling bins,’’ Young said. “When the crews go around picking up recycling, they will grab those. But in general, we don’t remove the stuff.’’
While Bethlehem crews have cleared streets in the past, Kravatz said, he was unsure of the last time they did. Bethlehem police Commissioner Stuart Bedics said in an e-mail that Tuesday’s sweep was done to prevent spats between neighbors.
“It’s important to remember that parking on city streets is open to the public and there has to be a time when they become public once again,’’ he said.
Under Bethlehem ordinances, police may cite residents for placing a garbage container on the street. On Feb. 2, police cited Frank Korpics, 41, after an officer asked Korpics to move a recycling container saving a spot near his Thomas Street home. Police issued the citation when Korpics put the bin back on the street after being told to remove it.
The citation carries a $23 fine, Korpics said. To fight it, Korpics said he’d have to pay $50 and was still undecided whether he would. He said the practice of saving spots is a “way of life’’ on the South Side.
“I think this cop was trying to make a point, but it’s ridiculous,’’ Korpics said. “For the most part, it’s common courtesy and people will respect that.’’
On Tuesday morning, Bethlehem maintenance workers were on their second truckload of items when they were stopped by one man on Garrison Street.
Scott Dollak approached the truck and asked, “Hey, man. Can I have my cones back?’’ He gestured to two orange construction cones wedged in the pile of rubble on the truck. “Those belong to my work.’’
Bethlehem police officer Ken Jones told Dollak if any items were on the street, crews had to collect and discard them.
Dollak, who lives at 53 E. Garrison St., said he understood the crews were only doing their jobs, but didn’t agree with the roundup. He said it’s a timeless tradition to mark your spot.
“Everyone, everyone does it,’’ Dollak said. “I feel when I shovel out my spot, I worked for it. Why should someone else get to use it?’’
Dollak later rescued his cones from a city parking lot along E. Market Street where crews were dumping items. By 10 a.m., the jumbled pile was already spilling out from a concrete barrier. The workers surveyed the pile stacked high with dozens of recycling containers – at a cost of $10 each – storage bins, a wooden clothes-drying rack and a metal step stool.
“We will do this until the end of our shift this afternoon,’’ Rice said with a sigh. “It’s going to be like this all day long. It never stops.’’