Baltimore to fine parents $250 for double-parking at school drop-offs

Double-park near a Baltimore school? There's a new fine for that.

Matt Hornbeck, the principal at Hampstead Hill Academy, has tried everything to end the persistent double-parking outside his Canton school — a problem he says leads to traffic jams and jeopardizes student safety.

The school has put up signs and added parking. He sometimes directs traffic himself. Lately, Hornbeck has considered taking photos of double-parkers to shame them in the school newsletter.

"There are intense traffic problems at drop-off and pick-up," Hornbeck says. "It's not safe for kids despite having a great crossing guard. We've had limited success correcting the problem."

The Baltimore City Council is seeking to change that. On Monday, the council voted unanimously to impose a $250 fine on any motorist who "impedes" the flow of traffic near schools during peak morning drop-off and pick-up times.

City law was written to accommodate people who sometimes briefly double-park to quickly bring in groceries or run other errands. Thus, current law allows city officials to write a $100 ticket to a double-parked vehicle only after an officer observes the violation for 15 minutes and has issued a written warning.

The council bill, written by Councilman James B. Kraft, eliminates the warning and increases the fine for the practice near schools during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up.

"Sometimes there are three or four cars double-parked," Kraft said of Hampstead Hill Academy. "Sometimes people are trying to pass three or four parked cars. It's a mess. Once the tickets start to get written, it will get people's attention. Long-term, it will reduce the numbers."

Kraft's legislation applies to blocks that abut or are directly across the street from a kindergarten, elementary or secondary school during the hours of 7 to 9 in the morning or 2 to 5 in the afternoon on school days. The law also allows an officer to write a ticket without first issuing a warning to vehicles blocking traffic in snow emergency routes during rush hour.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said she intends to sign the bill into law. It could take effect as early as next month, when students return from spring break.

Pedestrians are rarely injured in school zones. Baltimore has averaged less than one such injury per year since 2009. The statewide average over the same time is seven injuries. Still, double-parking contributes to significant worries in Baltimore, said William Johnson, the city's director of transportation.

"Drivers frequently double-park in front of schools and block traffic, endangering children by requiring them to dodge uncontrolled parked and moving vehicles to get to their rides," he wrote in testimony supporting the bill. The city's transportation enforcement officers are "unable to enforce most double-parking violations under current law," Johnson wrote.

City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said the issue isn't limited to Kraft's Southeast Baltimore district. Her Northwest Baltimore schools experience the same issues, she said.

"We have parents and faculty double-parking, going into the school and coming back five or 10 minutes later," she said. "We have to get the word out. I don't want anyone to get a ticket, but I don't want them to double-park."

Baltimore's suburban neighbors say they sometimes have traffic issues around school pick-up and drop-off times, but their problems are not as pronounced — in part because they often have newer schools with more room for the cars.

Anne Arundel County schools spokesman Robert J. Mosier said he recalls Davidson Elementary recently had a problem with cars lining up into traffic, but school officials "alter traffic patterns" to address such issues.

"Our schools do a really good job of communications with parents with regards to arrival and dismissal procedures for students," he said.

Mychael Dickerson, spokesman for Baltimore County's public schools, said that district has tried to address traffic problems by designing schools to accommodate the modern, car-dependent lifestyle.

"We have some congestion issues in some of the older neighborhood schools, and there is really not much that can be done," Dickerson said. School engineers "have done a superb job in designing new schools to keep parents and school buses in their own dedicated loops."

Representatives in Harford and Carroll counties said they were not aware of any significant traffic issues at their schools. Howard County schools did not respond to a request for comment.

At Hampstead Hill, parents said they were supportive of the new law.

Cathy Geleta, 51, who's had four children go through the school, said she hopes police begin a mass ticket-writing campaign as soon as the law goes into effect. She said she parks her car nearby to walk her children to school.

"Baltimore City could make millions of dollars," she said. "People come up with all kinds of excuses, but they're just lazy. I'm surprised no one has gotten run over."

Geleta said she believes the new law could make a difference. "If they get fined, I think they will stop doing it," she said.

Hornbeck regularly includes messages in the school newsletter that emphasize "we want people to park their cars a couple blocks away and walk their kids to school," he said.

"All but about 20 or 30 people do that," the principal added. "If they get a $250 ticket, that's on them."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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