Winter weather can be treacherous enough without motorists having to contend with it on their own properties.
The topography of parts of the Mt. Lebanon ward represented by Commissioner Leann Foster presents some particular challenges for residents.
“They have some very, very steep driveways, and when it is a bad snow event, they really worry, even though they have four-wheel-drive vehicles,” she said. “They’ve had situations where they almost ran into their own home or their neighbors’ home.”
Her comments came during the commission’s Jan. 12 discussion session, the primary topic of which addressed ongoing efforts to update the part of the municipal code that bans parking between 2 and 6 p.m. on public streets.
The applicable ordinance, adopted more than four decades ago, calls for vehicles to be removed from streets with the accumulation of more than one inch of snow, no matter what time of day or night. The objective is to allow public works crews to clear roads expediently.
“I realize the issue with the plows, and I think the residents do, too,” Foster said. “But it literally becomes a safety issue for them, personally.”
Police Chief Aaron Lauth acknowledged the concerns.
“That’s a difficult balance, because ideally, we would like the streets to be clear,” he said. “Occasionally, we’ll have a plow that will slide on the snowy, icy roads and take off a mirror of a car or crash into a car. So obviously, they present obstacles.”
He mentioned other issues, including the necessity of providing safe paths for emergency vehicles and clearing as much space on streets as possible so as to prevent snow from melting and then turning into ice.
“I think that ultimately, we have to figure out what’s safest for everyone and just try to balance that the best we can,” Lauth said.
Craig Grella, who has been spearheading efforts to revamp overnight parking regulations since his election to the commission three years ago, offered another viewpoint.
“Having a steep driveway almost, to me, doesn’t sound like a parking issue. It sounds like a personal property issue,” he said. “But it might be something we discuss a little bit more.”
One of the main points of discussion regarding overnight parking has been the granting of exceptions to allow vehicles on streets during proscribed hours without penalty. No such allowances are made for snowfalls.
Municipal manager Keith McGill said, from his experience, slick driveways have not tended to be problematic.
“That being said, I am sensitive to the fact that there are situations where we may have a resident who has some mobility limitations or other limitations that, again, could be considered on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “But to try to build a one-size-fits-all into the ordinance, I don’t think would be possible.”
For exceptions to the overnight parking ban, residents can apply online by listing vehicles’ license plate numbers and reasons for their requests. The system, though, has been subjected to some degree of abuse.
While valid reasons such as visiting family members and construction on homes often are cited, others have included the likes of “tree with acorns put dent in car” and “taking meds for diarrhea,” according to Grella. And one person listed the same excuse – “roommate’s girlfriend staying overnight” – 793 times, verbatim.
Among residents who make requests, though, Grella said about 93% of them are doing so 20 or fewer times annually. As a result, commissioners are considering a provision to allow up to 20 exceptions for a given license plate during a calendar year.
Certain areas of the municipality, especially on streets near the Uptown Business District, have a higher propensity for residents to ask for exceptions.
“Of the 300 different streets in the municipality that had overnight parking requests in the last two years, one street accounted for 12%,” Grella said, that being Shady Drive East.
He said concerns about the functions of public safety and public works, plus the aesthetics of the community, led to the original enactment of the ordinance, “and then, in general, the idea that our streets are considered public rights of way, as opposed to being parking spots for individual residents.”
Commissioners will continue to discuss further aspects of the proposed ordinance update before taking action.