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46 And Counting: Don't Park In The South Side's Safety Lane, Or You'll Be Towed

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
New signs reflect parking restrictions along Carson Street's public safety lane. Parking is prohibited between 12th and 17th streets from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The city has towed nearly 50 cars in the past two weekends since it started full-fledged enforcement of parking restrictions on Carson Street's new public safety lane.

The public safety lane restricts parking along a six-block stretch of Carson Street, between 12th and 17th streets, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Additionally, metered parking on the South Side has been extended until midnight.

Earlier this year, Pittsburgh City Council approved legislation that put in place more parking restrictions, including the public safety lane. According to Council President Bruce Kraus, who represents the South Side, the lane was a request from city police and fire officials.

“[They contacted] my office about the difficulty of first responders being able to get through that very narrow section of Carson and being able to respond in the event of an emergency,” he said.

According to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, the safety lane officially took effect March 17. John Fournier, director of meter enforcement and residential permit parking, said for the first five weeks, cars parked in the lane were only given a warning and ticket.

Pittsburgh Zone 3 police started towing cars two weeks ago. On the weekends of April  21 and 28, 46 cars were towed, including 26-year-old Nicholas Whitaker’s Buick Verano.

Whitaker lives in Coraopolis, but spends time on the South Side fairly regularly, going out for dinner or casual drinks a couple times a month, he said. But he was surprised when he finished dinner and found his car on the back of a tow truck just after 11 p.m. Friday night.

“It was awful,” he said. “No one expects to get their vehicle towed, especially because it’s in the South Side. The ... last year or two, it’s been free parking after [6 p.m.].”

Kraus said leading up to to the implementation of the safety lane, fliers were distributed to local businesses, placed on cars parked along Carson Street and new signage was erected to reflect the change. That signage was something Whitaker said he missed, since he was used to the previous parking rules. 

“It’s not something you really look at, since you’re so used to it being free parking [after 6 p.m.],” he said.

Reaction from some South Side businesses is mixed, but employees and managers at multiple bars, restaurants and other businesses did not want to go on record for fear of negative impacts to their businesses.

Nikki P., a bartender at the Smiling Moose who did not want to give her last name, said she’s seen a noticeable drop in business on Friday and Saturday nights since the new parking restrictions went into effect. She also lives on the South Side and said parking around her home has also been harder, as the Carson Street restrictions has pushed more people into residential areas.

“It’s impossible to park,” she said.

A manager at another popular bar and restaurant said he’s had trouble keeping employees because the cost of parking is too prohibitive.

With the new parking restrictions, Fournier said free parking at the Second Avenue garage downtown has been made available on weekends, starting at 6 p.m. on Fridays. Those who park at the garage can take the free Nite Rider shuttle until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, which stops at several locations on the South Side. 

Chris Braunstein, a bartender at Wingharts, said the new parking restrictions haven’t had much of an impact on his business or been much of a burden on employees. Braunstein, however, said that he has noticed patrons running out to feed the meter or checking their parking apps more frequently.

Whitaker got his car back after taking an Uber to the tow yard and paying $130. But he said after the experience, he won’t be rushing back to the South Side.

“Walking an extra five, six blocks, when you [used to] just park right outside or a block or two away from the restaurant -- it’s going to be a lot different,” he said.

Kraus said the goal, though, is not to tow vehicles and that he hopes South Side visitors will mind the new restrictions.

“We are asking for a voluntary cooperation for keeping those spaces unoccupied during that time, so that in the event of an emergency, public safety vehicles can respond,” he said. 

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.