Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mugged By LA Parking Authority

[UPDATE Jan 28:  There are two followup posts:
January 2, 2015 and January 28, 2015]

I felt like I'd been mugged.  I was happily minding my own business, when the LA Parking Authority snatched $58 from me.

"The best way to make money is not to spend it."  That's a basic tenet I picked up along the way.  It doesn't mean you have to be a miser, but just don't spend money you don't need to spend.  And parking tickets are a good example of money you shouldn't have to spend.

So, I'm reasonably careful about parking.  Biking helps a lot, but I do use a car too.

People who knowingly park without putting money in the meter or who take up two parking places or park in a handicapped zone when their ego handicap hasn't been diagnosed, all should pay for parking tickets.

But this one feels more like entrapment.

We went to see the movie Wild.  After I got past the silliness of the early scene where she struggles to pick up her heavy pack, but then manages to walk with it for 5 miles, it got good.

We checked out some sale items in the mall, then got the car from the mall parking lot (there are three free hours) and decided to find street parking while we ate dinner.

Here's the scene of the crime:

1 (the numbers match the numbers in the satellite view above) - far right of the picture, is where we came out of the mall parking lot.

The view from the parking lot exit of the block we're going to park on.

You can (almost) see that there are 6 parking spaces.  It's a really short block.  We turned left out of the parking lot and stopped in the red space on the right of the Starbucks (2 on the map) so we could read the parking sign.  Basically, we wanted to know if we had to put money in the meter or not.

2.  Here's where we stopped when we got out of the parking lot to check the parking sign (2a) to see if you still had to feed the meters or not.

The sign (2a) says:  No Parking from 4-7pm on top.  It was just after 7pm
Below it says 2 hour parking from 8am - 4pm.

(I took this picture that night after we found the ticket and drove back to the scene.  The others I took the next afternoon when I biked back to see if there was a white curb where I parked or any other warning.)

So, it said that we didn't have to pay for the meter because it was after 4pm and we could park there because it was after 7pm.  We pulled out of this space and looked for an empty space.  There was one.  It was the sixth and last parking space on the block.  All the others were full.

3.   We were parked where that gray car is - the last spot.  As you can see, the curb is just cement and it has a parking meter like all the other spots.

Just to emphasize that the two spaces on the end look exactly like the other four on the block, this picture is from the middle of the block.  There are the three cars you can see in front and three behind.  There's also a truck parked on the corner beyond the metered spaces.

This picture is from where we were parked.  You can see that in front of us it is painted red.  And there's enough room for about two cars and that truck.

We got out of the restaurant and as we walked back to the car, I noticed the car behind us had a note or something under the windshield wiper.  We got in the car and drove off.  But then I noticed there was something under our windshield wiper.  Some ad I assumed and we stopped the car to get rid of it.  It was an envelope with the ticket inside.

What the hell did we do wrong?  J read it - "Passenger loading only 7pm-2am"  Huh?

So we went back and looked.   The car behind us still had the ticket on the windshield.  There was also a car parked in the space we'd been in.   So they didn't see the sign either.   (By the way, did you notice the sign in the picture above by the truck?  This picture is during the day and we were there at night.)

This sign was behind the car behind us.  When we walked from the car we saw the back of this sign.  You can see this also two pictures above that says "Kitche" on it.  You probably didn't notice.

There's also a sign at the corner, next to the tree in the picture with the truck.  Its arrow points in the other direction.

So two spaces with meters and no white paint on the curbs are reserved in the evening for passenger loading.  We didn't see this sign.  We'd checked the sign at the other end of the block which had a convenient place to pull over and look at the sign without blocking traffic.  And there are only six parking spaces with meters on the whole block.

But even if we did see the sign at the corner - about the distance of three or four parking spaces away as you can see in the picture with the truck - I don't know that I would have realized that it meant my space.  First, the sign is very far from where I was parked.  Second, the arrow points to a long area of red pained curb.  There's room for three or four cars to stop and let off passengers.  Why would they  take two more metered parking spaces in addition?

Could I have figured this out before getting a parking ticket?  Well, if I had walked to the end of the block and checked the sign and then checked the sign behind where I parked, I might have figured it out.  Or at least been concerned and considered moving to another spot.  I like to walk so it wouldn't have mattered.  But I've never seen a no parking sign like this that took metered parking spaces away at night.  Passenger loading spaces I know about are painted red or white or yellow.  I'd looked at the sign to see when you had to use the meter.  It told me I didn't need to use it after 4pm and the sign also told me I could park there after 7pm.

This feels like entrapment.  The signs are so complicated and unexpected that an ordinary person wouldn't know he couldn't park there.  Even a reasonably careful person trying to obey the law and avoid a ticket.   The car behind us didn't know either.  Nor did the car that pulled into our space as soon as we left.

Am I whining or is this legitimate?  I checked on line and found  an October 2014 article that says parking signage is such an issue in LA that the  city council is trying to make the signs more consistent and less confusing.
Los Angeles officials pushed forward Wednesday with two programs that target one of the city's most ubiquitous problems: finding a place to park.
During a downtown committee meeting, City Council members asked transportation officials to test a simplified street parking sign that could replace the classic red, white and green placards, saying that the current, sometimes towering stacks of notices can confuse drivers and unintentionally result in parking tickets.
And there are a number of online stories about confusing parking signs in LA.  Here are a few:

Does this mean I won't have to pay the ticket?  I doubt it.  After all, they're still ticketing people at this tricky no parking spot.  And my ticket was at 7:32pm which means they are checking it right after it stops becoming a "no parking from 4-7pm" zone.

My son turned me onto a book long ago called  "Turn Signals Are The Facial Expressions of Automobiles" by 
"It's coping with the technology of quotidian life that wears us down, of course. Norman (Cognitive Psychology/UC San Diego) reassures us that it's not our fault: It's design flaws. If it's broke, Norman knows how to fix it."
The book gives lots of examples of bad design, where the message and the use conflict.  I remember particularly the example of a door with a handle to pull, but the sign says push.

I doubt the sign designers and the people who place them on the street are trying to entrap us. They are simply making signs that reflect laws or regulations that someone has passed and now the sign folks are required to implement the rules with signs.  And because they are so immersed in the making of the signs, they think it's all obvious and people should understand.  We all, generally know what we intend and it's clear to us, even though it may not be clear to others.  But part of me wonders whether this is the parking equivalent to a speed trap.  A way for LA to get needed revenue.  At $58 a pop (and that seems to be the minimum level ticket) they can ring up a lot of money.  100 tickets would be $5800.  And they got two tickets right there in a couple of minutes.  And I saw two parking enforcement vehicles when I biked over there to take the pictures.

The "Turn Signals" book points out numerous situations where this sort of rote filling out of orders results in bad design and poor instructions.

[UPDATE Jan 28:  There are two followup posts:  January 2, 2015 and January 28, 2015]


  1. A parking ticket is a reminder that power is real as it is exercised. In your street level example, I think you've found what makes politics.

    And now for you, it is what contemplates and becomes, action.

    Best of luck to you, Steve.

  2. Thanks Jacob.
    Tailher1 - You're harsh! I'm not saying I didn't violate the rules. I'm just saying that it's not easy for people to know what the rules are and obey them. On this block it was musical parking spaces. If you ended up in the last two, you were out. People should not have to be detectives to follow the rules. And even the City Council seems to agree.


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