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Madison quietly passed on enforcing much-loathed alternate-side parking rule amid COVID-19 pandemic
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Madison quietly passed on enforcing much-loathed alternate-side parking rule amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Just in time for it to make no difference at all, the city of Madison on Tuesday acknowledged that it didn’t enforce its alternate-side parking rules this winter.

During winter months, Madison and other municipalities in the region require people who park overnight on the streets to park on the odd-numbered side of the street on odd-numbered dates and the even-numbered side of the street on even-numbed dates.

In Madison, the rules are in effect from 1 to 7 a.m. citywide from Nov. 15 to March 15, but only apply in the Downtown area — where there’s less on-street parking — when there’s a declared snow emergency. Their point is to get people used to parking on only one side of the street per night so if there is a big snowstorm, snowplowing crews can fully clear one side of the street one night and the other side the next.

Violations mean a $20 ticket, and in recent years the city has handed out upwards of 20,000 of them during the four-month ticketing season. That number fell by more than half from 2016-17 to 2019-2020, or from 13,868 to 5,903, but dropped to zero in the winter parking season just ended.

The reason, according to parking enforcement supervisor Stefanie Niesen, should be familiar by now: COVID-19.

With the onset of the virus a year ago, Madison suspended some parking restrictions as a way to ease the burden on neighborhoods and businesses with limited parking.

But Niesen said the decision to forgo alternate-side parking enforcement — agreed upon by department heads in the police department and the Streets Division — was made because enforcement relies on a stable of 11 seasonal employees who couldn’t be properly interviewed and trained when most city staff were working from home and trying to follow social distancing and other local restrictions.

“Because of the pandemic, it was really just kind of a carryover from 2020,” Niesen said. The question was “what is the safest thing to do right now?”

That said, the city never formally suspended the rule and made no announcement that it wouldn’t be enforced, Niesen said. Why? The same reason it is enforced: to keep the streets clear should the city get a big snowfall.

Madison Finance Director David Schmiedicke said that prior to the pandemic, revenues to the general fund from parking violations totaled about $5 million annually, with about $500,000 of that coming from alternate-side parking tickets.

“Actual collections in 2020 dropped to approximately $2.6 million, with more than 55% of those revenues collected in the first quarter prior to implementation of the public health restrictions,” he said in an email.

Other municipalities, including Middleton, Verona and Fitchburg, did not forgo enforcement of their alternate-side parking ordinances, but they rely on regular police officers to hand out the tickets.

Niesen said motorists shouldn’t get used to the ticketing reprieve in Madison. Barring some other cataclysmic event, the tickets will fly again next winter.

“I don’t want people to think this is the norm,” Niesen said.



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