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Posted on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

The audacity and inventiveness of Ann Arbor Art Fair parking

By Rich Kinsey

Ready or not, Ann Arbor, here it comes next week — the 53rd Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. There will be an abundance of sights, sounds, tastes and smells that only come once a year to the peaceful hamlet on the Huron. For those who work downtown through the Art Fair, there will be blood-pressure-spiking problem of parking and longer-than-normal lines at your favorite spots for lunch — a small price to pay for the arts and added commerce to the city.


The parking lot at the First Baptist Church was full in the afternoon of the first day of the Ann Arbor Art Fair in 2011.

Angela J. Cesere | file photo

In Ann Arbor, parking is for the most part enforced by the Community Standards Unit, which is an arm of the Ann Arbor Police Department. With parking at such a premium in the city, we should all thank our lucky stars that these men and women of the Community Standards Unit brave the elements and insults each day to do their job.

Parking enforcement is, as the late Jack Webb would say about police work in general, “an endless, glamourless, thankless job that’s gotta be done." Community Standards officers will have their hands full next week.

By this time next week we will all marvel at the inventiveness, audacity and, in some cases, disrespectful way in which visitors will jam their vehicles on the roadside, parking lots and lawns in the name of PARKING.

Ann Arborites will experience what I am told is an everyday occurrence in New York City, where car bumpers are used as springs for others cars to bump and ram their way into tiny parallel parking spots.

Some motorists need more than the normal visual cues while parking. These individuals need the tactile feeling of the bump of the obstacle they are parking near to know if they are close enough. Some officers refer to this technique as “parking by Braille.”

All manners of parking violations will be displayed next week in greater numbers than a normal week. The most dangerous parking violations are the ones that may cause a police officer to blow the dust off his book of parking tickets — police officers much prefer catching an actual criminal or traffic violator in person to hanging a parking ticket or towing an innocent inanimate vehicle.

To avoid the ire and a costly ticket from one of my brothers or sisters in blue, I offer an explanation of why some parking violations are just more dangerous than others.

For instance, double parking “just for a second” is both dangerous and illegal. It is dangerous because it causes traffic to come to a standstill in many cases. Worse than that it can cause spillback through the intersection behind the offending vehicle.

Spillback is a condition where traffic backs up through an intersection and thus blocks the way of motorists on the side streets even when the traffic signal changes. Spillbacks can domino backward in all directions and cause gridlock.

Double parking can thus cause huge problems. Double parking will usually draw an angry stare and gesture to “move it” from an officer passing an “occupied” double parked car.

The exception to this is if the officer sees that the double parking is to accommodate someone with a disability that needs help getting into the double-parked vehicle. Officers may even allow a delivery truck to double park for a moment if all the loading zones are filled on the street.

Barring those exceptions, if you double-park you will get a parking ticket and you might get towed. If you ignore an officer’s glare and gesture to move the vehicle and the officer makes it around the block to find you still there — you will probably be issued an “impeding traffic” traffic ticket, which has a stiff fine attached.

Tow away zones also will be strictly enforced. Tow away zones are there for a reason. For instance, you will always see them in front of theaters and music halls. Those are to allow for rapid egress in the case of a fire.

Other tow zones and “No Parking Between Signs” are placed where parked vehicles would not allow larger vehicles like delivery trucks from turning into or out of an alley or driveway.

Tow away zones are placed at intersections downtown to allow an unobstructed view of oncoming traffic. These tow zones are for emergency vehicle parking as well.

A close cousin to the tow away zone is the “No Parking On This Side of Street.” Those signs are place on narrow streets. Those streets are not wide enough for fire apparatus to pass if both sides of the street are parked full. Therefore, these violations are often issued. One car parked on the prohibited side of the street quickly becomes an epidemic during Art Fair.

Parking left to curb on a two-way street is another potentially dangerous violation that draws enforcement attention. For sharp drivers in a strange town, cars parked left to curb — especially near an intersection — panic the driver that they have entered wrong way onto a one-way street. Parking left to curb also involves driving left of center to get parked. It is an inconsiderate and lazy way to park.

Blocking a driveway also is an inconsiderate place to park a vehicle. It prevents the rightful owner or tenant from entering or exiting their own driveway.

During Art Fair one car might park with its tail a foot or two into the driveway and then some other equally rude driver will park with the hood a foot or two into the driveway, and voilá the driveway is blocked. I call this “conspiracy to block a driveway.” Both will have to be ticketed and towed. Private property parking complaints will also be a huge problem during the fair.

My own personal favorite parking ticket to write is blocking the sidewalk. If you have ever seen someone in a wheelchair, pushing a stroller or visually impaired try to navigate around a car blocking the sidewalk — especially in the winter — you will understand why I wrote those tickets.

One former Michigan basketball coach made the mistake of boldly parking his brand new red Mercedes convertible across the entire sidewalk on East Liberty by the old Lamplighter restaurant. The tow truck was just pulling away, I was just finishing the paperwork — ticket and impound form — and putting my car in drive, when the coach came out of the bar across the street. From my rearview mirror I saw him take a loving glance across the street looking for his new toy and bellow, “HEY MY CAAarrrr…..” Selective auditory dysfunction kicked in and I drove the paperwork to the station explaining to the shift commander the owner might be calling soon.

Be careful where you park next week, and remember PATIENCE is the word of the week during Art Fair.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbor.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 2:46 a.m.

I saw Bill Frieder get out of a Red Mercedes convertible with the top down once at Lovin' Spoonful. He got out, and locked the doors - while the top was down. I wonder if this was the same guy that got his car towed? Had it coming if it was.

Nick Danger

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

The city of Ann Arbor parking enforcement and Sakatrups should be ashamed of themselves. I understand the right to ticket those who park illegally but towing those who visit the city and spend money is overkill.I never understood the city's willness to reward towing companies for charging outrageous fees.It will cost someone upwards of $300.00 when towed 2 blocks..Shame on you


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 12:22 a.m.

"My own personal favorite parking ticket to write is blocking the sidewalk..." I can only add that it would be great if all AA parking enforcement people felt the same way, Rich. I'd bet that the most frequent violators are parking in driveways of what obviously are "student housing" dwellings, as well. For "college students" - that bunch seems to be the most careless & brainless (or is that "care free"?) bunch anywhere. Is there a way to properly file a complaint about driveway-blocking cars? I would never dial 911 for that kind of nuisance but there should be some way to alert parking enforcement about these scofflaws. I "hate" to interrupt anyone's beer-swilling fun but, hey, the world outside that student party is STILL THERE and must be recognized.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.

Rich mentions in his article the Community Standards Unit is for parking enforcement. To file a Community standards complaint you may either call (734) 794-6942, or e-mail


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

I love rich Kinsey's articles! Very well-written and entertaining!

Tex Treeder

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

Meh. I find the tone too often to be that of moral superiority, saving us from ourselves. "I'm just writing these tickets because I'm helping the handicapped." I know a fair number of cops and they like being the moral enforcers of society. It's not an attractive characteristic.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 12:11 a.m.

Gotta love all the Mercedes, Lincolns and Caddies that park in handicapped spots without any handicapped tags or plates. I'd love to have a dollar for every luxury vehicle that seems to think the rules don't apply to them, and, god forbid, they actually have to park in the lot and WALK to store like everyone else.......somehow these miscreants seem to avoid the tickets too for parking in a handicapped spot.........I wonder why. A lot of this goes on in front of Trader Joe's. I wish the cops would cruise by there more often, but it's off the beaten path. Some of the even more aggressive lux auto drivers double park in front of a store, blocking traffic, while they just run in and do their quick shopping, inconveniencing everyone else. I've seen this many times by Walgreens in the Huron Pkwy/Whole Foods strip mall. Must be nice to have your own rules!


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

I understand what you are saying...those dang 1%'ers...good thing the 99%ers NEVER do anything wrong or inconsiderate...


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

Sure it's an inconvenient pain in the butt to thousands of inconsequential Ann Arborites, but Art Fair is all worth it, folks. Divinely inspired masterpieces like those at the Art Fair are hard to find, especially since the Ski-Ball stands and the Dunk-A-Clown are shut down at the State Fair. I understand there will be wonderful Day-Glo beach balls this year, and intricately trimmed Chia pets. Don't forget to tell the boss about them when you are late for work.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

"From my rearview mirror I saw him take a loving glance across the street looking for his new toy and bellow, "HEY MY CAAarrrr….." Selective auditory dysfunction kicked in and I drove the paperwork to the station explaining to the shift commander the owner might be calling soon." Protect and serve.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

I've tried using the park-and-rides for Art Fair in the past. Just not enough volume - they seem to want to wait until the buses are full. Which might save them some money in the short term, but turns customers off in future years. I'm afraid I'll be out there searching for street parking myself next week. Never easy, but I eventually find something legal. If you want to catch a bunch of people using handicapped spaces without a permit, go to any public school at pick-up time.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Haw. It gets harder every year but I still have a whole list of free or low cost parking places that are almost always available even during art fair. All within a 10 minute walk of downtown. (really, all those half price 10 hour meters are still usually available in the mornings) But I won't be using them this year because the bus service has gotten convenient enough that it is actually easier for me to take AATA.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 3:27 p.m.

I got an idea who owned the red Mercedes.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 9:49 p.m.

Check above, it was a basketball coach, not a football coach.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

You mean the coach who yelled, "Hey, my CARRRRR!"?


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

Park at Angell school, which you can access from Washtenaw (down that long driveway). You can walk out on South University. Parents and kids volunteer to staff the lot, and the money is much-needed and used for school programs...


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

That and ride the bus. It's so easy and so worth it during Art Fair.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

Happily, Ann Arbor is not New York, not even during Art Fairs. There is adequate supply of parking here, just at a higher cost than we're accustomed to paying. Because parking becomes a commodity, laws of supply-and-demand will take effect; Republic Parking and the DDA will be happy to allow you to pay for their spots, but better, park with the Boy Scouts on Washtenaw, or one of the campus clubs doing fundraisers.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

I'd bet that the arm of the AAPD that writes parking tickets hasn't lost any resources during the recession. It's always been one of their top priorities. How much extra money will Sakstrup's make during the fairs?


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

Jack Webb ? as in Jack Webb Chevy ?


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

What about the supply/demand trick the parking overlords play by placing orange bags over several meters which don't seem to need it -- i.e. when there is no special event or construction in the area?


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

Must be a convenient coincidence that the removal of the orange bags happens 24 hours later. How about 15 hours later instead? Like say, O, 6pm, when 99% of construction should be over. After 6pm it's interesting that meters don't have a charge, but guess what, the structures still charge after 6pm!


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

So, that's how that works. And why so many spots go unused (but paid for). Sure would be nice to have a better system.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

As a user of the bagging service I can tell you that it is not the fault of the contractor that the space sits empty, marked. if I need a space for loading and unloading for a job downtown for more than a few hours, I will pay to bag a meter to avpid the possibility of an EXPENSIVE ticket. But the bags are put on the night before at 3 am and removed 24 hours later, so there will be times when the spaces sit empty. I don't think it is a parking conspiracy. But don't park there! That cement truck might be right around the corner, and that spot is paid for and reserved for a reason, often long in advance, and I am sorry to say you will be towed.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:14 p.m.

Go to Pioneer High School and take the shuttle. So I have to spend a couple of bucks for roundtrip ticket and a few minutes bus ride -- better than $30 or more for a parking ticket by AAPD. It is the best way!!


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

Isn't there free shuttle from Briarwood Mall parking lot?

Ron Granger

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:09 p.m.

Air is a funny thing. When cars are parked without authorization on private property, the air has a way of escaping from the tires. I don't know how it happens, but it happens a lot during art fair.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 12:04 a.m.

Another little recognized phenomenon affecting cars parked carelessly so as to completely block sidewalks is Hyper-fragile Taillight Bezel Destruction. Vehicle owners should be warned about this - parking your car ON a sidewalk is like dipping the pretty red plastic covering your taillights into liquid nitrogen: they become so fragile that they bust into pieces spontaneously (or with just a little help from frustrated, fist-swinging pedestrians, lol!).

Madeleine Borthwick

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.



Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

My favorite was in the 70's when an acquaintance told me that her car had been towed during Art Fair. When I asked if it was legally parked, she looked at in amazement and said "No, but I'm a Townie"

Madeleine Borthwick

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Townie, Schmownie. she deserved to get her car towed.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

Here are some common practices in Italy: A line of cars parked right over the double yellow line in the center of the street. Only half a space available along the curb?. just pull straight in, leaving a foot or so between the front of your car and the building, not enough car hanging out in the street to get harpooned. Americans haven't gotten that imaginative, at least around here.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Please, stop; just writing it down is encouragement enough.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:19 a.m.

Lots of revenue will be generated by parking enforcement tickets. That alone should put the city in the black with the budget. The annual Art Fair is a real money maker for the city. The only downside is all these construction areas will create more back ups. Oh well, the event comes and goes and the following week, normalcy will return.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

You didn't mention all the non-disabled drivers parking in handicap parking spaces. We have stopped coming into town on the weekends for events because of this, we do not blame the police department for lack of enforcement they are spread thin as it is.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 12:56 a.m.

@Erik Gable: Trust me, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt when I go down my mental checklist. Nobody wants to cause a problem that's totally uncalled for. If you look like you're managing "just fine," then you don't need it. I know what "just fine" looks like when I see it. If you're mustering incredible inner strength, I congratulate you: do the right thing and share your triumph with an individual who really needs it. Otherwise, there's a better-than-not chance you don't need the pass, and you're abusing the system (consciously or not).

Erik Gable

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

@GoNavy, many physical disabilities are not easily perceived by the naked eye. You may not think they're "real disabilities," but a person with lung disease or some other chronic condition can be just as legitimately disabled as a person with obvious visual signs like crutches or a wheelchair. And if adding handicapped spaces for them creates a few mild inconveniences for me -- an able-bodied person who's perfectly capable of walking, running or jogging across a parking lot as many times a day as I need to -- I'm perfectly fine with that.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

@ LAEL: If you are not PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED, which would be something that the average person would be able to observe , then you do not need a handicapped sticker. Being "short of breath" does not count, unless you can be seen lugging around an oxygen tank. Regarding your surgery, to me it honestly seems like you didn't need a tag. Exhibiti 1: The fact that NOBODY could tell that you were injured. Let me say this: We all have some pain, in some form, in our lives. I played soccer last night and my ankle really hurts. In fact, the pain could be characterized as "excruciating," but (like yourself) I keep it to myself. Do I need a handicapped tag? It would be nice to park so close, but I'd rather leave the spot for a truly disabled individual. There are far too many individuals out there who abuse the system. I call people out daily when I see a perfectly ambulatory (my criteria for "disabled") individual walking out of their car, in a handicapped spot, and managing perfectly fine. People need to call a spade a spade when they see it.

Dog Guy

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Lizard, you don't seem upset about the disabled drivers who park in OUR spaces.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

LAEL I understand your point. I don't usually make any judgments about people just from observing them. I do, however, know for a fact that the abuse takes place and is not that uncommon. I've never confronted a driver or called in a tag. I just wish there was a way to enforce use of handicap spaces only by those with handicaps. I know it is not practical, just wishful thinking.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

I agree. Im my family there is someone with lung disease. She has a handicapped tag because she can't walk long distances, especially in hot/humid weather. Although she looks totally fine getting out of the car, by the time she reaches the door it's becoming harder for her to breathe.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

@craigjjs This isn't to say that tag abuse doesn't happen, but you can't always tell why someone has a tag. I had a temporary tag for a a few weeks before a knee surgery. I looked like I didn't need the tag, but I could only walk a short distance without excruiating pain. I got nasty looks and nasty notes on my car from people who didn't know me and my situation - they just passed judgement based on what they thought they were seeing. I know how frustrating it is to hunt for a handicap space, so when I do see someone park in a handicap space without a tag or plate, I call it in.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

I agree, but how about all the cars with handicap tags, but no handicapped driver or passenger? These plates are abused far too often. It's the person who is handicapped, not the vehicle.