Nothing, absolutely nothing snuffs the smoldering ember and ready tinder like agreement. Today, down in the hearing r0om of Boston’s Office of the Parking Clerk, Lou ground out my fire — quickly and pleasantly.
First, I confess that it was only a $15 ticket. On the other hand, it clearly had a handwritten (sidewalk) by the OTHER box, the traffic enforcer had checked. Expediency said to pay the damned $15 and go about my business. However, as you see in the accompanying picture, I had a case.
We arrived home at dusk to find the city paving bullies had posted sudden notices on the lamp posts that our cars had to be gone from 7 a.m. the next morning or they’d be towed. That’s not the way paving notifications are supposed to work, but the paving guys had been goofing on us for months.
We moved the sedan and the van and parked on Southbourne, next to the incredibly steep hill. That line on top is the sidewalk. The tiny strip at the bottom is what the road folk apparently call a pavement edging. It’s not a full curb. It just sort of keeps the dirt and rocks from tumbling onto the asphalt.
That sidewalk is about six to seven feet high and five or six feet north of the street. The ticket clearly had a handwritten (sidewalk). Cue indignation.
I took a couple of digital pix like this illustrating:
- That the sidewalk was inaccessible, particularly to my wife’s Dodge Caravan. A V-8 Hummer might be able to go up a 40-degree or steeper hill, but…
- The stone edging she allegedly parked on wasn’t even a full curb. In fact most of it was also largely covered by plants and dirt. In most places, the exposed stone on top was from 0 to 1.5 inches wide.
The ticket for an expired meter is $25, blocking a hydrant is $75, parking in an HP-DV plate zone is $120. This was $15, but I just couldn’t do it.
I went to the city site and found the well-hidden PDF file of parking regulations. Then, I composed a two-page letter (four with the two most illustrative pictures) and sent it in as an appeal with the ticket.
A month and change passed and I heard nothing. Penalties kick in for tickets not paid in 21 days, so I called. The clerk looked it up and said I’d get a form letter soon saying it was being “held administratively.” That meant they were denying my brilliant defense. Egad.
When it came, it set a 9:30 a.m. appeal time today. Bring evidence to convince them.
I was in for far more than a penny and armed for harrumphing battle. Plus, I revisited my letter, looked at all my related images, and rechecked both the city regulations and the state definitions.
Fascinatingly enough for those who park in Boston:
- There is no fine or violation for parking on a pavement edging or even a full curb.
- The fine for parking on a sidewalk is on the city ticket form at the rate of $40.
- The regs define sidewalk on page 3, as That portion of a street or highway set aside for pedestrian travel.
- At the bottom of page 32 of the regulations with all the BOSTON PARKING FINE STRUCTURE (in order of severity) is All Other $15.
- The regulations do not mention pavement edging, but do cite curbs. However, there is no fine for parking on just a curb, unless it also obstructs a handicap ramp ($50).
I knew I was still in the right, but I had to shine even brighter in my presentation. That overly vague All Other is bureaucratic brilliance. Depending on who’s writing the tickets and who’s hearing any appeals, that could pretty much mean anything they wanted. I suppose they couldn’t get away with fining you $15 for parking on a discarded loaf of bread, but maybe they could.
Crackpot note: I’ll send a letter to the mayor and John Tobin, my district councilor. That line has to go. I’m sure it would not stand a challenge but it is too nasty and indefinite as is. Define those other types of violations!
I was ready to lose this one, but still make my statement. My ember was glowing.
I arrived with my manila folder. I had a scanned copy of the ticket, printouts of the eight relevant pages of the regulations, my letter with the two best images to illustrate how terribly wronged I had been, and the notice of the rejection and my shot at appeal.
About 15 years ago, I had gone to court over a traffic ticket and was kind of experienced.
One night, I was driving with my family and got pulled just north of the Casey overpass (Rte.203 by Forest Hills). My elementary school son was in the front seat. The cop said I had run the red light. I never do. I didn’t that time. My son constantly monitored my wife and my driving and he also announced to me and then to the cop that I had not. The cop wrote the ticket anyway and similarly to this parking ticket, I was not about to accept that.
I showed up at the West Roxbury Court, which is in JP and has been for a long time, with sheaves of paper, including a detailed hand-drawn map to illustrate how the officer came from an angle that would have made it impossible for him to have seen the traffic light.
The court scene was like the military triage in Alice’s Restaurant with “all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly-lookin’ people on the bench there” — DUI of alcohol and other drugs, slugging cops, concealed weapons and on and on.
I wheeled in with our baby in a stroller, and carrying a briefcase of documents. They called me and I stepped to the table and began unloading my supporting papers. The judge spoke before the proceedings formally began to ask what the papers were. I said that I intended to show that the officer could not have seen the location, that I had maps and related material, and that I was sure that because the location was perhaps 100 yards away, the judge himself was likely already familiar with the site.
He paused, smiled…”Case dismissed.”
I can’t know whether my preparation was actually wasted. I’m sure that he was in no mood to hear a long-ranting middle-aged guy with more serious tickets and charges pending. I have to wonder if I had shown up with any 60 pages of paper and said the same, I would have won.
In Tom’s Palace
Today, that All Other still had me nervous, but I was counting on the sidewalk in question being high and wide away, there being no fine for parking on a curb or pavement edging, the spirit of the sidewalk parking regulation being to keep pedestrian walkways clear. Even if they somehow wanted to argue that this dirt and plant covered edging was part of a sidewalk system, the narrowness of it coupled with the precipitous hill meant it was not suited for feet, wheelchairs or strollers anyway. I thought I was clean in letter and spirit.
However, with years of dealing with petty bureaucrats and other literalists in Boston, Manhattan and other cities, I thought they could arbitrarily make up a violation and I’d lose anyway.
The train in was much faster than I figured, so I arrived at 9 for the 9:30 hearing. I checked in with the clerk at window 224-K (she looked disturbingly like a much younger, much less weathered Maura Hennigan). It must have been a slow day. She looked at my letter and said to have a seat, I would be number 1.
Maybe two minutes later, a 20-something man opened the door and called “Number 1.” He led me to room 3.
He said he was Lou. The “informal” hearing as he described it was still pretty formal, but mercifully brief. I signed my rights document, raised my hand to the simple “Do you promise to tell the truth?” oath, and heard that if I didn’t like his decision, I had to file a civil suit to appeal.
The hearing took less time than the prologue. I was out of there within 10 minutes from “Number 1.” I showed him the photos, explained where the van was, and made my multi-point pitch.
Not only was it quickly obvious that he believed me, but he also said that he couldn’t figure out why the officer would write (sidewalk) on the ticket. There was a place for that with a checkbox. In other words, an illogical ticket that showed the officer was not thinking clearly was all that would have been necessary. Say it with me, overprepared again.
When it became clear he as dismissing the ticket, I did the social thing and said that I knew it was only $15 and didn’t want to be a jerk about it. Then he made my morning by saying, “You’re not being a jerk. He was being a jerk.”
He handed me a one-page report with an Action Code 83, dismissal, with the comment, “Respondent convinced me ticked was invalidly issued.”
It was a lot of time and effort over a little bit of money, but the parking orks I figured on meeting weren’t there. I felt a lot better walking out than into City Hall.
Tips from the Recently Victorious
I’m not a lawyer and don’t even play on in community theater. However, I think I have learned:
- If a parking ticket is crazy, you have a good shot at getting it dismissed.
- It is a pain in the neck or other body part to do this.
- A detailed, well argued letter may or may not get it dismissed.
- If you have to go into a hearing, it’s your wits on trail along with the facts.
- The ticketing officer does not show and the only prosecution is the information on the ticket.
- You are presumed guilty of the regulation violation.
- You should look at the regulations, which may convince you that the ticket is invalid or you blew it and should pay the fine.
- If you simply like contention, this is good, cheap sport, and at worst you don’t have to pay more if you lose the hearing.
- Visuals can help — relevant photos and drawings.
- The hearing officer is certain to have a highly tuned B.S. detector. Don’t try to fake it.