Towing in Baltimore City Requires Legislation

BCLexington StBWMI-07The south side of the 400 block of E. Lexington St. in Baltimore is designated a “Tow Away Zone” except for two curb-side EV charging spots. This came to my attention when a parking enforcement officer was examining the signs to determine if he had the authority to have a non plug-in car towed. The driver of that car received a ticket for blocking a charging station. I believe the officer said it was classified as a “code 99, all other parking violations” citation. I thought it was kind of odd that the two parking spots reserved for EV charging had become something of a safe harbor from the risk of an impound ticket in that area.

I asked the Parking Authority of Baltimore City why those EV charging spots are not included in the Tow Away Zone. They responded that there is no authorization in the Baltimore City Code providing for impoundment of non-EVs when they park in EV charging spots.

Image from Google Street View

There happens to be several spaces reserved for Zipcar parking on the other side of that same street. I went on Google Street View and saw that they have signs saying, “No Parking, Tow Away Zone, Reserved for Zipcars only” with a red arrow pointing toward the zip car spaces. It turns out that language was added to the law to allow spots reserved for car-share vehicles to be designating as an impound area. Here is the section of the Baltimore City Code that addresses the impounding area for car-sharing spaces.

§ 31-107. Car-sharing spaces.
(a) “Car-sharing program” defined.
“Car-sharing program” means a program by which an entity offers the use of motor vehicles to its members and patrons on a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week basis, charging for the use of these vehicles on a time-used basis.
(b) Impounding area.
Impounding areas include those locations on the streets, on public-metered parking lots, and in City-owned parking facilities that the Director of Transportation reserves for parking vehicles used in a car-sharing program approved by the Director.
(Ord. 07-607.)

It appears that the code will have to be amended in order to provide for impounding of ICE vehicles that block the charging stations in Baltimore City.

Howard County passed the first law in the state of Maryland to specifically allow for impounding of non plug-in vehicles that block a charging station. My council representative initiated that bill with my encouragement. Perhaps a resident of Baltimore City can contact their city representative and urge them to consider legislation to address this. I will be happy to help.


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Busted in Baltimore – Ticket for Blocking a Charging Station

BWMI-03aThis weekend I watched a Baltimore City Transportation Enforcement Officer give a citation to a gas car driver who had parked in a space designated for EV charging only. The ticket was for $32. Actually, they were lucky. If not for a quirk in the signage, they may have gotten towed.

On Sunday I drove my Think City EV to Baltimore to meet my friend Scott who drove his all-electric Nissan LEAF up from Silver Spring. I didn’t quite have a full charge when I started out but I planned to charge for an hour or two while we had lunch so I would make it back home with a comfortable margin. After getting together near Penn Station we decided to go to the Inner Harbor for lunch.

GEWattstationI suggested we head to the two curbside charging stations by the War Memorial Plaza near City Hall. I’ve used those stations several times and knew that parking there was free on the weekends. I looked at the GE Wattstation App on my phone and they were both “available” which meant that nobody was plugged in. I lead the way on the ten minute drive and when I approached the charging stations I saw a red Buick sedan that obviously wasn’t an EV parked in one of the spaces. A white car with a City of Baltimore logo on the side was standing behind the second, empty, charging space and I realized it was a parking control officer. I rolled down the window and mentioned that we had two EVs wanting to charge and he said he was trying to find out if he could have the car towed.

BWMI-01BWMI-07Scott and I squeezed our two cars into the remaining space and I plugged in while we waited to see what would happen. The officer explained that he was unsure which citation code to apply and was waiting to be advised. He showed us the sign that pointed toward the charging stations that read “charging electric vehicles only” and a sign above it that said, “tow away zone.” The problem was, there was a red arrow on the “tow away zone” signs pointing away from the EV charging spots. Apparently, the whole side of the street on that block was designated “no stopping, tow away zone” except for the two spaces next to the charging stations. This seemed odd.

The officer had requested a supervisor and was waiting for them to arrive when the driver of the vehicle showed up, wheeling a small cart, apparently returning from the nearby Farmers Market. When it was evident that the driver was about to leave and with the supervisor still en route, he quickly finished filling out the citation and handed it to the driver who then pulled away.

BWMI-06Scott was finally able to park next to the charging station and plug in.

BWMR-02-08-19-2013 crop2
Previous tow away zone sign, Aug. 19, 2013

The supervisor arrived a few minutes later and explained that before the charging stations were installed about a year ago, that entire side of the street was a tow away zone. By inserting the two parking spots for curb-side charging, it left a hole in the designated tow-away zone. If a driver stops on that side of the street outside of the charging spaces, they could get a major fine and get towed away, but if they block the charging stations, they’d get a smaller fine and won’t be towed.

One of the reasons that I picked the War Memorial charging stations is that I’ve been researching them for a “Featured Plug In Site” post here. I learned that they were funded by a settlement of a legal action between the Maryland Department of the Environment and a local company over alleged violations of air pollution requirements. The settlement agreement required the company to install two electric vehicle charging stations in Baltimore with a total value of at least $60,000. The goal of the consent order was to encourage usage of electric vehicles as a cleaner mode of transportation to improve the air quality in the Baltimore area as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials at ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 27, 2013
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials at ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 27, 2013

As I stood there with the parking control officer who was trying to figure out if he might be able to tow the vehicle, I was mindful that there was $60,000 worth of charging equipment that we could either abandon to the gasoline car or stick by and claim for the electric vehicles for which they are intended. One of the reasons for placing the charging stations at the War Memorial Plaza was the high visibility in order to demonstrate that there’s an EV charging network that drivers can depend on. If we didn’t plug in there, the only car that people may have seen there that day would have been a gasoline one. That sends the wrong message.

BWMI-02 BWMI-09I’d like to mention that the Baltimore City Transportation Enforcement Officer and his supervisor were professional, polite and helpful. I especially noted the compassion with which he treated the driver who received the citation. Nobody enjoys getting a ticket and it must be a difficult job to have to write them. Thanks, Baltimore City Department of Transportation Parking Enforcement, for doing a tough but necessary job.


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Is Graffiti the Right Response to ICEing Problem?

ECO-01eI got an unpleasant surprise when I stopped by the charging stations at the Columbia Association Athletic Club yesterday. When I looked down while plugging in my car, I saw red spray painted lettering on the concrete and asphalt that spelled out “ELECTRIC CAR ONLY” in crude graffiti-like style. I became angry when I saw this. The spray paint had the look of vandalism except that the message appeared to reflect the frustrations of EV drivers that are often being “ICE’d” at that location.

The natural assumption is that an EV driver took matters into their own hands and spray painted the parking spots in an attempt to keep out vehicles that don’t plug in. That makes the EV community look bad in my view. No matter how frustrating the ICEing problem is, that is not the way to handle it. I hope it turns out that there is some other explanation for the red paint, but the perception is likely to prevail that an EV driver is responsible with all the negative implications that go along with that perception.

CA-CRV01I’m not saying that ICEing is not a problem there either. In fact, I think it is a big problem and I’ve been asking the Columbia Association for more effective signage ever since they installed the charging stations there. When the Columbia Association responded that the lack of enforceable legislation was a reason they would not place signs to reserve the spots for EVs only, I lobbied the Howard County Council for a law. After a lot of work from many people, Howard County now has that law. But the legislation requires a sign that meets certain standards in order to be effective and enforceable.

CA-sign01There is a question if the current signs used by the Columbia Association meets that standard. They certainly do not seem to be effective because gas cars are still parking in the spots. I have brought this to their attention and have asked officials from Howard County Government to help them determine the proper sign to use. All we can do is wait for the proper regulatory signs to be installed by the Columbia Association. That is their job, we must let them do it.


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Anti-ICEing Law Hits a Snag at Maple Lawn

The decision to erect official parking control signs that make the “anti-ICEing” laws in Montgomery and Howard counties enforceable is entirely up to the private property owner. The management of St. John Properties at Maple Lawn in Howard County have decided, after some consideration, that they will not be putting up signs at this time. It is their assessment that signs are “not needed” and they don’t think ICEing is a problem.

MLcones01Also, the orange cones that they have been diligent in keeping in place, were gone on my last visit to Maple Lawn. The cones have been an effective deterrent but they are very inconvenient to get out and move, especially in a drenching downpour as I’ve had to do several times there. The cones have also reportedly discouraged some EV drivers who thought the charging stations were off-limits to everybody.

The manager told me that the cones were a temporary measure to “train” people not to park in the charging spaces. They said that they plan to leave warning notes and perhaps tow, presumably under Howard County trespass tow statutes.

MLnote01Notes have been tried at that location under a different manager in the past. That effort was not successful.

Predictably, there was an SUV parked in one of the charging spots last night.



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Signs Planned for Columbia Association Charging Stations

New signs expected in the near future.

Good news in the effort to maintain access to charging stations in Columbia, Maryland. Jeremy Scharfenberg, the Energy Manager at Columbia Association says that based on the recent action by Howard County Council, the Columbia Association is currently working to implement new signage at all five EV charging sites that they operate.

The design of the new signs is said to have been completed and to be consistent with the signs currently posted at charging sites run by Howard County. They expect to have the signs implemented in the near future. This is a welcome development! Thanks Jeremy.


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Whole Foods Market Columbia Spots Reserved

Plug-In Only Symbols Painted at New Whole Foods Columbia Charging Stations

After being open for several weeks, the Columbia, Maryland Whole Foods Market has marked the parking spaces in front of their two charging stations with a green and white square designating the four spaces for plug-in vehicles only. There have been reports of regular gas cars parking in those spots which was to be expected before when there was no indication that the spots were reserved. Before the spaces were painted, I actually observed a number of shoppers begin to park there and upon recognizing the charging station, back out and park elsewhere. I’ve even had someone go back to move their car so that I could charge.

WFMc4From what I understand, the delay in getting the spots marked was due to rules in this particular location that had to be satisfied. Perhaps there were Columbia Association covenant approvals that needed to be obtained, I’m not sure.

Example of regulatory sign necessary for parking enforcement.

One thing I’m glad to see is that the painted squares are visible even before turning into the spots. Right now there are no signs at the front of the spaces but I have talked with the store manager and explained the new Howard County law and the requirement for official regulatory signs in order for the parking ordinance to be enforceable.

Some electric vehicle drivers that I’ve spoken with didn’t realize that both the Montgomery County law and the soon to be effective Howard County ordinance require a certain kind of sign that conforms to specific standards generally outlined in the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Just because there is a charging station, even if it has a sign saying it is a charging station, doesn’t necessarily mean that non-plug-in vehicles can be ticketed for parking there under the new county laws. It will be interesting to see if the green painted symbols alone are effective at discouraging gasoline-only vehicles from parking in front of the charging stations. If you see any that do, let us know via Twitter.


“Towing Enforced” Charging Station Signs at Mosaic District

Seven Charging Stations at Mosaic District in Falls Church, Virginia

I drove my EV to the Mosaic District in Falls Church, VA earlier this week and saw that the signs at the charging stations are a little bit different from last time I visited. The words “towing enforced” were added to the bottom of the simple black and white signs that designate, “electric car parking only while charging.”

MOMs Ford Fusion Energi
A Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid charging at MOM’s Market in Mosaic District, Falls Church, VA.

When I was there about six months ago, I spoke with one of the security guards who told me that they were proactive about keeping non-electric cars out of the spots reserved for charging. If an ICE car is observed in a charging spot, he said they put a warning notice on the car and will tow it if it is not moved in a half-hour.
When the Mosaic District first opened several years ago, the charging stations had no signs at all and were frequently ICEd. I called the General Manager and talked with him about the need for signs. He said that he wanted few signs in the garage to fit with the minimal design aesthetic. He told me he was counting on common courtesy to keep people from parking at the charging stations. I argued that many people won’t even know what the charging stations are without a sign designating them. He agreed to monitor the situation and post signs if they saw it becoming a problem. Of course, it was a problem and the signs went up. Now, with the added warning about towing, the signs will get even more respect.