Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton’s Public Safety and Transportation Committee Talks Winter Parking Ban Issues at Wednesday Night Meeting

Newton’s Public Safety and Transportation Committee discussed winter storm parking and accessibility issues surrounding the city’s overnight winter parking ban at its meeting Wednesday night. 

“A number of the committee members in our most recent discussions about overnight parking bans expressed an interest in trying to make the system a little fairer or a little more accommodating of people with various needs,” Ward 5 Councilor-at-Large Andreae Downs said.

Newton’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator Jini Fairley said the parking ban presents an obstacle for individuals with disabilities, as they may not be able to walk to a municipal parking lot or could need quick access to their car in case of an emergency during the night.

Currently, individuals with disabilities must contact Fairley at the start of every winter to secure accommodation to park on the street. Fairley, however, said people do not always remember to reach out to her.

“Unfortunately, some of them don’t remember to get back to me at the beginning of the next winter, and they get tickets, and then they get in touch with me again,” Fairley said.

Fairley suggested reducing the hassle for individuals with disabilities by automatically exempting those with a valid disability placard from the parking ban.

“It would be, I think, a better system to allow those who have a disability with an RMV placard or plate to … not have to be called a reasonable accommodation, instead be an exemption or exception,” Fairley said.

Sergeant Peter Wade, however, said this change would present a challenge to the officers on patrol who would have to check the vehicles for placards.

“As we know, snow getting on windshields, frost, leaves in the fall time—the officers are not able to see handicap placards that are hanging from whether it be the rearview mirror or on the dash,” Wade said.

Ward 4 Councilor Chris Markiewicz echoed concerns regarding the enforcement of parking ban exemptions for those with disability placards.

“I’m 100 percent with Sergeant Wade,” Markiewicz said. “I’ve said this before—we don’t have that many patrol officers out in the city at any point in time anyway. And, you know, their primary job in many cases is as first responders.”

Regardless, the committee agreed that it should eventually craft a more accommodating system for the winter parking ban.

“I wholeheartedly support getting this right for anyone with a disability who has this need,” Ward 1 Councilor-at-Large John Oliver said. “I’m also very sensitive as to how we facilitate managing or policing the program.”

Downs said that while the committee was not voting on any legislation regarding the issue that night, the discussion proved helpful in planning a resolution for next winter.

“I think [Fairley’s] main need is to have it better publicized, which would be possible if it were a more formal program,” Downs said.

To understand the feasibility of allowing those with disability placards an exemption, Downs said that she would confirm the number of individuals in Newton with RMV-issued disability placards. 

The committee also discussed allowing individuals with parking permits to keep their cars in city-designated parking lots during winter snow storms. 

“People buy overnight parking permits if they don’t have a driveway or somewhere else to store their car and are allowed to park in municipal lots,” Downs said. “And then we have a snow emergency, they have nowhere to put their car because you’re supposed to clear your car out, that gives our crews time to clear the lot.”

Newton’s Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Yeo proposed moving the designated parking lots to other areas of the city, where plowing would not be as urgent.

“As we discussed … we’d be willing to talk about more remote parking lots, maybe some of the larger parking lots, even [if] that presents a whole bunch of challenges,” Yeo said. “It could be much further away from their homes and present logistical challenges.”

Ward 3 Councilor-at-Large Andrea Kelley highlighted the importance and urgency of addressing the issue and mentioned looking at surrounding towns for ideas.

“One thing I would suggest we look at when we do that is how our neighboring towns—for instance, Waltham and Needham—are able to provide parking in their municipal lots and manage the plowing the next morning,” Kelley said.

The committee will have to wait until next term to propose legislation to address parking ban issues for the next winter season.

December 9, 2023