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A $52 fine for displaying a parking permit on the wrong side of the dash? | COMMENTARY

Robert Bunch of Bolton Hill in Baltimore is protesting a $52 fine for displaying a city-issued parking permit on the passenger side of his car's dashboard
Robert Bunch of Bolton Hill in Baltimore is protesting a $52 fine for displaying a city-issued parking permit on the passenger side of his car's dashboard(Dan Rodricks / Baltimore Sun)

Does any Baltimorean of sound mind think that someone who displays a residential parking permit on the wrong side of his car’s dashboard should be fined $52 by the city?

I don’t think so. And I’m neither going out on a limb nor taking a big leap with that.

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The city has an unreasonable rule, and if I were Mayor Jack Young I’d see that the rule be dropped, and before the weekend if possible.

Have I rushed to a conclusion without hearing the argument for such a rule?

No. I have examined the evidence, and I am responding merely to Mr. Robert Bunch’s plea for common sense. The plea reached me in the most polite way, and with a Scottish accent, but that’s not why I have picked a side in this.

A minimal capacity for logic and reason would send anyone to the Bunch camp, which is the camp of earnest citizens.

Robert Bunch lives with his wife, Dr. Anne Marie Lennon, and two dogs in Bolton Hill. In addition to paying thousands of dollars in property taxes each year, they annually purchase from the city two residential parking decals for their cars and two visitor passes, the latter for use when they have company or a contractor at their Park Avenue rowhouse.

Bunch recently bought a car. His old car had a parking decal, and it could not be removed and transferred to the new car. So Bunch reached for one of the visitor passes, a clearly-marked blue placard, and placed it on the dashboard of the new car in front of his house.

Alas, Bunch was not as diligent as rule-makers in city government demand. He left the visitor pass on the passenger side of the dashboard.

Can you imagine such callous disregard for the civil order?

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The instructions are explicit: “This permit must be displayed on the driver’s side of the dashboard.”

So, of course, a parking enforcement agent issued a citation for “improper display.” The fine: $52.

Now, stand with me in front of Mr. Bunch’s sedan. You see the windshield and, just inside, the dashboard? The width of the dashboard is about four feet. So, if one displays a visitor permit on the passenger side, about three feet from where one is instructed to place said permit, one must pay $52 to the city of Baltimore.

What’s the explanation for this rule? I asked around.

Peter Little, executive director of the Parking Authority of Baltimore City, said: “Many years ago, parking enforcement, which is part of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation’s safety division (and is not part of the Parking Authority), requested that we (the Parking Authority) include a regulation on residential visitor permit use requiring that the permit be displayed on the driver’s side of the vehicle’s dashboard. We then put that regulation on the back of each visitor permit. I cannot speak for BCDOT regarding why that request was made to add that regulation.”

Marshall “Toby” Goodwin, chief of BCDOT’s safety division, offered this explanation to Bunch by email: “The officers are trained to walk on the driver’s side of the vehicle to ensure we observe the decal/permit while patrolling the 48 [residential parking permit] zones in the city.” Bunch also heard from Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello: “When you purchase and pick up your permits, you sign a document indicating that you have read all of the rules, including this one. From an operational perspective, this would create significant challenges for DOT, as their officers currently walk in the street, not the sidewalk, as it is standard protocol to have any type of permit on the driver’s side.”

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Did he say “significant challenges”?

The enforcers walk in the street, not on the sidewalk, and therefore — what? It’s an inconvenience to allow their eyes to roam two or three feet to the left to see that a visitor’s permit has been displayed on the dash? They won’t walk a few steps to examine the permit on the passenger side? They won’t stick a little note under the wipers: “Please make sure your visitor permit is displayed on the driver’s side,” or something to that merciful effect?

“It’s a ridiculous scenario existing only to fill the city’s coffers and alienate residents,” says Bunch, who moved to Baltimore from Scotland 11 years ago with his wife, a Johns Hopkins physician and professor of medicine. Bunch has renovated properties in Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon, and he’s overseeing improvements to the couple’s home on Park Avenue. He says he and his wife love Baltimore, problems and all, and they enjoy life in Bolton Hill.

But the citation for “improper display” stuck in his craw. “I realize this is a small matter compared to the larger issues in Baltimore city,” he says. “But … a law that penalizes citizens like this is beyond common sense.”

No one likes to deal with parking in the city. No one likes to look for parking or pay for parking, and everyone hates paying parking fines.

And yet we all understand why there are restrictions and rules. We grumble about them, but go along with them — as long as they are reasonable, and they mostly are.

But the enforcement of this particular rule is not reasonable. Mayor Jack Young should make short work of it.

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