Illegal parkers around stadium find themselves in a real fine mess

THE BALTIMORE SUN

While the Ravens were clobbering the Browns yesterday afternoon at M&T; Bank Stadium, the city was busy towing fans' cars, which cost $240 - up sharply from last year's $52 - to retrieve.

According to the Baltimore Department of Transportation, the specter of increased fines had the desired effect of cutting down on illegal parking in residential areas during games.

Only 41 vehicles were towed from noon to 5:30 p.m., drastically lower than the average 200 to 300 vehicles moved during each Ravens game last year, said Adrienne D. Barnes, a department spokeswoman who was at the Fallsway impound lot yesterday as cars trickled in, slung behind tow trucks or on flatbeds.

"I feel it's been successful," Barnes said of the $240 charge to cover the ticket, towing and impoundment fees and an additional $5.50 or $15.50 fee depending on if the driver pays for a vehicle with a debit or credit card. Cash is also accepted but not checks.

"Hopefully we can have this kind of thing [fewer towed vehicles] going on for the rest of the season. We hope they can go even lower, down to zero," Barnes said.

Another change from last season is that cars illegally parked in Baltimore residential areas - including the Federal Hill, Otterbein, Barre Circle, Ridgley's Delight and Sharp-Leadenhall communities where residential parking permits are required - during Ravens games are impounded instead of just relocated around the stadium, as was done last year.

Those whose cars were towed made their way to the lot in taxis or on foot. Some said they didn't know they'd parked in illegal areas, or said there weren't any no-parking signs where they stopped.

"I'm definitely going to court," said Fred Schneyer of Owings Mills. He said the area where he parked, near Greene and Pratt streets, was improperly marked.

"The whole block where I was wasn't marked," except for signs saying parking was only prohibited from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. during events, he said.

His ticket was written at 2:09 p.m., he said.

"I wasn't in violation of anything," he said.

Barnes said the city posted signs throughout the communities, contacted season-ticket holders about the change in policy and launched a media campaign.

"I'm liking Baltimore less and less by the minute," said Stacy Bilo, a Baltimore County teacher originally from Ohio and now living in Ellicott City, who wore a Ravens jersey and attended the game with her fiance from Towson.

At first when she couldn't find her car, she was nervous that it might have been stolen, she said, and then she was "furious" when she found out she had to pay such a large sum to retrieve her car.

"I'm a teacher," she said. "There goes my first paycheck."

Yesterday's game ultimately cost Bilo and her fiance more than $300: game tickets were $30 apiece, beer $7 each, a $7 cab ride, money to call from a pay phone since her mobile phone was in her car - and then there were the citation, towing and impoundment fees.

The new policy is only in effect during Ravens games. At other times, the previous $52 fine will apply.

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