After the snows come the tows

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2010 - 11:23 PM

Despite mighty city efforts to publicize parking bans, lots of people still spent Sunday at the impound lot.

Neither Twitter, nor phone calls, nor fully forecasted snow could keep some Twin Cities residents from the impound lots Sunday, following Saturday's messy snowfall.

Hundreds of residents who'd missed snow emergency alerts -- or gambled by ignoring them -- lined up to retrieve towed cars, a day after the emergency parking restrictions were trumpeted by traditional news media, automated phone calls, websites and even posts on supposedly ubiquitous social media sites.

So what didn't work?

Shelli Kargela of south Minneapolis said she got the call, but didn't listen through to the end, when the ban on parking on her side of the street was announced.

Ismail Noor, who lives on Park Avenue, said he didn't get a phone call and so was towed -- for the third time in three years from the same spot. His suggestion?

"They need to put signs on the buildings."

The failure to reach people is just as frustrating for city officials, who have ramped up their efforts with Twitter and Facebook postings

"We're doing a much better job of reaching people who want to know [about snow emergencies]," said Mike Kennedy, the Minneapolis street maintenance director. "But with 250,000 people trying to park on the streets, there still are people who just don't care. Still at the same time, it's what people demand. People want the streets cleared and we've got to move cars to do it."

Visitors and newcomers are always caught unawares, he acknowledged. But because only about 5 percent of violators actually get towed, ignoring the restrictions can be an attractive risk in neighborhoods where enforcement and towing aren't as aggressive as they are, say, around the University of Minnesota or Uptown.

Getting the word out

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul aggressively announced their snow emergencies Saturday.

Minneapolis cranked out automated calls to 100,000 phones, as well as 38,000 e-mails and posts on Twitter and Facebook. St. Paul did much the same, and both cities also alerted traditional news media, which also prominently reported the parking restrictions.

Twitter ended up offering a quick study in public perceptions of snow emergencies. Some argued they are a way for cities to pick the pockets of unsuspecting visitors or preoccupied residents; others demanded that even more violators -- "jerks," one Tweet called them -- be towed.

A $200 mistake

In Minneapolis, 1,047 cars were towed away Saturday night and into Sunday afternoon; 577 owners in St. Paul earned a date at the impound lot by Sunday afternoon. Both cities were still hauling away cars through the day. The snow emergencies followed days of forecasts of deep early-season snow.

But nearly $200 in tickets and towing charges was a rude surprise for Hugh Brown of Red Wing, who'd come to visit friends near the University of Minnesota, found their driveway blocked by some downed phone lines and parked on the street, unaware of snow emergency rules. Same for Kevin Roble of Brooklyn Park, who along with his friend Mike Samson of Maple Grove said they found the Minneapolis streets only wet Saturday night, so never dreamed a snow emergency might have been in effect while they were visiting a friend. They said they thought because the snow had stopped falling a snow emergency was unlikely.

In the dark

Towed cars weren't the only storm hangover for metro residents. Just under 16,000 Xcel Energy customers in the metro area were still without power Sunday evening as crews repaired damage from Saturday's record snowstorm.

The number was dropping fast, though, and a spokesman for Xcel said Sunday afternoon that the "vast majority" of customers will have power by the end of Monday. Altogether, about 200,000 customers across the metro area lost power because of the storm; the most in the dark at any one time was about 70,000 Saturday evening.

St. Paul's snow emergency ended Sunday night. In Minneapolis, parking was banned on the even sides of non-snow emergency routes (generally, side streets) until 8 p.m. Sunday or until that side of the street was clearly plowed. Beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, the situation will flip: parking will be banned on the odd sides of non-snow emergency routes.

The Twin Cities' official snowfall total of 7.7 inches at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Saturday was a record for the date. The snow contained .98 inches of water -- the most precipitation to fall on the Twin Cities in a single day since Sept. 23 and the most on any November day since Nov. 24, 2001.

The heavy snow fell in a band from the Iowa border into the Minnesota Arrowhead, which has been extremely dry in recent months.

Road fatality

John H. Kennedy IV, 24, of Minneapolis, was killed Saturday night when his vehicle was struck by another car along Hwy. 60 in Blue Earth County, where 6 to 8 inches of snow had fallen through the day. The State Patrol said a passenger was injured; the driver of the other car was not hurt.

Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report. Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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