Perspective: Baltimore parking tickets are taking my French onion soup money, and it’s my fault

Parking fines a fact of life as spaces become more scarce

Published on: January 09, 2023 6:00 AM EST|Updated on: January 12, 2023 10:24 AM EST

Baltimore offers travelers and residents alike a wide variety of activities to explore within its city limits, but the local parking authority makes parking tricky. When you’re looking for parking, expect to compete with a high volume of people who are also looking for the most popular spots.
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Recently, near my home in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood, the city completed a traffic-calming project that has made me anything but calm — at least when I can’t find parking.

It’s really a beautiful effort. There’s an aspect to it that is using marked curb extensions to narrow the lanes and reduce the amount of extra pavement available to drivers. It makes people slow down because it feels less safe to speed. It also helps prevent cutting corners — even though the transit buses can’t help it — and it gives pedestrians some extra space for safety.

This kind of project is needed in Remington, which has so much pedestrian traffic to nearby shops and homes. But there’s another aspect of the project that I’m personally peeved about. Two of the worthwhile and potentially lifesaving extensions — the bump-outs — take up what were two of my favorite parking spots.

I’m all for change-making. I just wish I had my old spots back.

I tried to park in the topography-inspired pavement art commissioned by the Greater Remington Improvement Association when the project was brand new, and got a parking ticket — another flipping parking ticket. I may or may not have what will remain an undisclosed number of parking tickets past due in our precious city. Another covert but mammoth amount of moolah or portion of my modest freelancer salary over the years is already in the care of city government.. Sigh.

This all really makes me wonder why the city hasn’t upgraded from those little white hoopties the parking enforcement officers ride around in with the official yellow city emblems on the side. Surely, with the money they’ve legally shaved off nearly every one of my (and your?) paychecks over the years, they could afford gargantuan Hummers by now. OK, it’s not 2006, so maybe Teslas. The city of Baltimore has 529 public charging station ports, so why not?

Because of parking tickets, traffic light patterns and fluctuation of gas prices, my relationship with wanting to drive in Baltimore has gone from loving and eager to a very fake pouty and hateful. But when it comes to parking tickets, I really only have myself to blame. I’m just bad at parking. I like to plonk my car any- and everywhere, and I grew up very spoiled in Baltimore County with parking pads and private lots galore.

Yes, I was a county girl. But I’m a city gal now. I know I’m not the only one frustrated with parking in the city, as I’ve driven friends to the impound lot several times and heard stories of them fighting parking tickets on Zoom hearings. Apparently, they’ll usually lessen your fees at Zoom court. Maybe I should try that. But hey, luckily, we don’t live in D.C., with its confusing, seemingly contradictory parking signs everywhere.

Baltimore’s parking infrastructure really isn’t all that baffling, but the numbers on their annual report for 2021 are. Baby, just tell me where my money went.

Parking is pretty straightforward here in Birdland. In 2021, the Parking Authority installed 830 pay-by-plate meters, where you do not need to return to your car to display the receipt on your dash to avoid getting a ticket. At my age and with my generational placement as a millennial, I’m definitely a creature of convenience and a fan of upgraded tech. I was really happy not to have to skip back across the street or a block away in order to confirm that I had paid the meter by placing that thin white-and-yellow slip gingerly on my dash for easy viewing. My tickets significantly lessened this year.

If you’re a hardheaded Baltimorean like me and still don’t know where you’re going wrong despite the city’s valiant attempts to simplify things for us, here’s the parking down-low. But it’s really not down-low because it’s super public knowledge.

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If you don’t pay the parking meter, you get a ticket. If you do pay the parking meter but get too caught up in rousing conversation eating the French onion soup with duck confit at Duck Duck Goose in Fells Point (delectable), and it slips your mind to feed the meter again, you get a ticket. If you park in a bus lane that’s a BIG ol’ ticket, and if you leave your hazards on while double-parked on Charles Street near Aloha Baltimore to pick up a possibly very severely botched order of Mexican-ish fare at Chipotle, guess what? You get a ticket.

If three tickets go unpaid, you get a boot — a big, rusty yellow and very embarrassing boot that you get to take off and return yourself to conveniently located spots in the city. Don’t ask me how I know. And you might get that ticket for speeding in the mail later, too, so slow down.

I’m really betting on Gov.-elect Wes Moore and his promises to focus on efforts to improve mass transit to improve the lives of the people who rely on it the most. I mean, the light rail is great for getting to an occasional O’s game, but it’s not particularly great with getting folks to work on time every day and neither is the subway, with its frequent maintenance issues and one-track delays. Don’t get me started on the buses. Really, don’t get my mother started on the bus system. All she wants to do is get her Boars Head lunchmeat and plain Utz chips in peace.

We really shouldn’t forget about those teens who don’t have a family car or parents from cities where driving is an absolute necessity. It’s really something to think about. When you’re a hopeful teen driver you have no idea of the absolute horror that is parking tickets, tolls, E-ZPass fees and garage fares ahead of you.

It can get easier, though. I’ll admit that I have some favorite parking spots in the city (that I won’t tell you about), and while there’s been a bit of trial and error, there are some things I can really appreciate, like texting to park through third-party applications such as Premium Parking, which usually gives you the first hour free. Maybe we should shift into a Baltimore City text-to-park system.

I eventually plan to pay my parking tickets because they only increase the fees when you don’t pay. As angry as I want to be about my parking arrears, or as much as I want to yell at the parking enforcement officers in Baltimore when I see them ticketing my or other cars in every neighborhood, they’re just doing their jobs, just as traffic calming is doing its job.

You’ve got to give it to the parking enforcement officers: They’re pretty diligent — annoying as heck, but diligent and highly efficient at ruining my day.

My only real concern about the roadway improvement project is the upkeep. It was done in August 2022 and already has a lot of scuff marks and broken and near-broken bumpers. But I digress. I love my neighborhood and public art. I love the people in my neighborhood and want them and visitors to be safe more than I want my parking spots back. I either have to get better at parking, finding parking and paying meters, or find new creative ways to get soup money — a small and worthwhile price to pay.

Alanah Nichole Davis, a writer and alumnus of Maryland Institute College of Art, works as a freelance communication and design consultant. She lives in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood with her family.

Deletes language which incorrectly indicated that the Parking Authority of Baltimore City handles parking ticket writing and enforcement.