In case anyone doesn't realize it, it often snows in upstate New York during the winter months. Sometimes we get a lot, sometimes we get a little. It happens every year.
The other thing that happens is that streets get plowed when it snows. In response, cities, towns and villages often enact restrictions or even bans on parking. These aren't new rules. In fact, some of them have been in place for quite some time.
So why is it that so many people turn into blithering idiots when the snow flies? Is it real stupidity? Is it plain ignorance? Is it not giving a rat's hind end about the regulations? Or is it a combination of all three?
Amsterdam is one of those cities that has winter parking restrictions, and yet every year, we hear huge numbers of complaints and concerns about the rules. I'm sorry, but it's not like the city hasn't had them in place for a long time. People ought to know how it works by now.
And it's not like the city doesn't advertise the rules every year. They're printed in the pages of this newspaper. They're advertised on the radio. They're posted on the city of Amsterdam website. Heck, they even get plastered over Facebook, the official news outlet of City Hall.
Yet, without fail, when the snows fly, no one pays attention. Cars are parked all over the place, making it nearly impossible for smaller vehicles to get through, let alone plow trucks or even more importantly, emergency vehicles. During the warmer months, I often take the back way into Amsterdam, coming down Locust Avenue. During the winter, I can't stay away from that street enough because I'd rather take my chances driving through a mine field than try to navigate that obstacle course.
Heck, we're now hearing complaints about parking problems on Guy Park Avenue, one of Amsterdam's widest streets. If people can't keep from gumming up that thoroughfare, then there really is no hope for humanity.
Amsterdam doesn't ban parking outright, which makes sense seeing as there are many homes in the city without driveways and garages. It also doesn't take three trigonometry teachers, an iPad, a calculator and Sheldon Cooper to figure out how the regulations work.
In case you need a crash course, here's how it works: On odd-numbered days, you park your cars on the side of the road with odd-numbered houses. On even-numbered days, the cars are supposed to be parked on the other side. What may confuse people is that the regulations actually run from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m., but it shouldn't be that hard to figure out. Today is Jan. 5. That means my car should already be parked in front of 123 Street Drive. At 6 p.m., I pry myself away from whatever stupid reality TV show is on, get in my car, and park it in front of 124 Street Drive, since tomorrow is Jan. 6.
How hard is that to figure out? A person with less-than-normal intelligence ought to be able to get that. Heck, even Congress couldn't bungle it. (OK, I'm stretching it here a bit).
Frankly, the city has been too nice when it comes to enforcing these rules. No one wants to run a thug-style government, but when it comes to the winter parking disaster that happens in Amsterdam every year, it's time for the city to drop the hammer and drop it hard.
Fortunately, the Amsterdam Police Department is hooked up with a state database that could make it very difficult for people to get out of paying fines if they get ticketed. The system is linked to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and if a fine isn't paid, it gets logged with the DMV, and anyone who owes money won't be able to register their vehicles until everything's squared up.
The city shouldn't stop there. It wouldn't be a bad idea to simply start towing cars without warning. People have been warned and reminded enough. During a Common Council meeting this week, 4th Ward Alderman Dave Dybas noted that during last week's major storm, 272 parking tickets were issued, but only two were towed. That number should have been a whole lot higher. Yes, it takes time and expense to haul vehicles away, but one would think the number of cars getting towed would decrease after people not only find themselves having to fork over money to cover the fine, but also to get their vehicle out of the proverbial impound lot, which also isn't cheap.
Often times, messing with people's cash is the best way to get them to pay attention.
When it comes to matters of public safety, being nice about it should be at the bottom of anyone's priority list. The Department of Public Works often gets blistered for the plowing that gets done, but does anyone stop to think that some of the side streets may be so crappy because those big trucks can't get around the vehicles parked on both sides of the road? That's not the DPW's fault. It's the idiots not paying attention who cause the problem.
But even worse, what happens if a fire breaks out and the trucks can't get there in time because of impassable roads? Or if a cop can't get to a domestic dispute in time to keep it from going really bad because the officer had to play real-life Mario Kart on city streets? Or if an ambulance gets stuck while responding to a medical situation where mere minutes, or even seconds, could be the difference between life and death?
Enough is enough. People need to get their heads out of their backsides and start paying attention, or the city needs to forcefully pull those heads out by fining people up the wazoo and towing their vehicles.
The rest of us who know the difference between an odd and even number shouldn't have to suffer because of someone else's stupidity.
CHARLIE KRAEBEL is the editor
of the Recorder and enjoys using
the word "scofflaw" when it comes
winter parking violators. Contact him