THE PROBLEM -- Parking rules around Baltimore's stadiums are so confusing that even parking enforcement agents sometimes interpret them incorrectly.
THE BACKSTORY -- Regina Minniss called Watchdog after getting a ticket for parking in a restricted "stadium event area" even though there was not a stadium event that evening.
She received the ticket about 8 p.m. Oct. 22 in the 100 block of E. Hamburg St., near a sign in Federal Hill that states: "Notice, Stadium Event, Restricted Parking."
But Minniss, a real estate agent who has worked at a Federal Hill office for 27 years, said she wasn't aware of anything going on that night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards or M&T; Bank Stadium.
"My interpretation is, when there's a stadium event going on, you cannot park here because it's restricted, and you will be towed," she said. At other times, she understood that she could park in such areas.
Minniss went to court to contest the citation Jan. 31.
The confusion apparently arose from the street sign itself. The top half in red type lays out the parking rules for stadium event days: "Tow Away Zone," with parking prohibited for non-neighborhood residents on such days from 7 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and 2 p.m. to midnight Sunday.
The lower half of the sign, in green type, explains that there is two-hour parking allowed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. It continues "Area 9 Permit Holders Excepted."
The parking enforcement agent who wrote Minniss' ticket told Baltimore District Judge H. Gary Bass that he understood the sign to say there was no parking allowed, except for residential permit holders, from 7 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and from 2 p.m. to midnight Sunday, whether there was a stadium event or not. Violators would be towed on stadium event days and ticketed on other days.
According to a recording of the court hearing, the judge agreed that the signs were confusing and reduced Minniss' $42 fine and court costs to $10. Minniss didn't protest.
"I figured I better take my blessings and run," Minniss said. "But I was determined to understand the sign, not just for me but for anyone."
In fact, Minniss' interpretation was correct - not the parking enforcement agent's. The rules posted in red are in effect only during stadium events such as Orioles or Ravens games, said Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's Department of Transportation, which includes parking enforcement.
Part of the confusion stems from the variety of parking rules in effect in the residential parking areas surrounding the two stadiums, each established after discussions with the different neighborhood associations. For example, no one but residents are allowed to park on the street in Otterbein at any time, she said.
After this situation, the department is retraining parking enforcement agents to make sure their interpretation of the signs is accurate, Barnes said.
"We certainly do not want to give people tickets when they are not warranted," Barnes said. "This particular case has prompted us to ensure that our parking control agents have the same correct, consistent interpretation of what the signage is reading."
The Transportation Department's traffic and safety divisions are also working with the Baltimore Parking Authority, which oversees the city's residential parking permit program, to develop clearer language for these signs, Barnes said.
But as Judge Bass asked in an interview, how do you know when there's an event scheduled at the stadiums?
The Maryland Stadium Authority posts information about activities at the stadiums on its Web site, www.mdstad.com. Information about events is also shared in community association newsletters.
A person who believes he or she has received an incorrect citation should dispute it through the court system, Barnes said.
Minniss will follow that advice. On March 3, she got another incorrect ticket under similar conditions. She definitely plans to contest it. "This time I'll take the article with me," Minniss said.
WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Kenneth Unitas, chief of the transportation safety division, 410-396-1945; and Felicia Oliver, chief of the traffic division, 410-396-6905.