Back-Seat Driver

Think you didn’t deserve that parking ticket? Here’s why you may be right.

Smart meters in Sacramento can send a signal telling drivers if a spot is empty.
Smart meters in Sacramento can send a signal telling drivers if a spot is empty.

Two downtown Sacramento visitors report they got parking tickets last week under mysterious circumstances. They paid the meter. But when the came back to their cars – with what they thought was plenty of time to spare – the meter was back at zero, and there was a ticket on the windshield.

How is that possible?

The short answer is that the meter malfunctioned and accidentally reset itself. The city’s new “smart meters” are equipped with sensors that detect when a car arrives at the parking spot, and when it leaves. It’s likely that the sensors at those meters accidentally thought the cars had left, and zeroed themselves out. City officials said Friday they were exploring the issue.

It’s an unusual but not an unheard of problem. In San Jose, the city embedded the sensors in the pavement, then discovered that large trucks passing on the street sometimes caused enough vibration to confuse the sensors into thinking the parked car had left.

Sacramento’s sensors are in the meters, making truck vibration an unlikely cause. The city is working on adding technology that will allow parking enforcement officers to know, via handheld machines, when a meter has been fed in case the meter reads zero when it shouldn’t.

The new sensor technology is a double-edged sword for parkers. On one hand, it means any extra time on the meter gets erased when a car leaves, so the next parker (often) doesn’t get to benefit with some free meter minutes. (On occasion, you may find a meter with time still on it. There is a complicated reason for that. Count yourself lucky.)

In the next few months, though, the sensors are going to provide a very interesting benefit for drivers. The city plans to introduce a smartphone app this spring that will tell you where empty street parking spots are – based on constant messaging from sensors.

That way, parking chief Matt Eierman says, on busy days, drivers don’t have to circle blocks looking for parking spots. Their app will show them which blocks are the best bets.

If you think you wrongly received a parking ticket, it’s good to call the city’s 311 help line right away. Even if you don’t, you can go on the city parking division website and fill out a form contesting the citation. To find it, just Google: “Sacramento city parking tickets.”

UC Davis’ ‘stack’ parking

Normally, only about 23 percent of the UC Davis campus population drives to school in a car. The rest ride bikes, walk or take Unitrans buses and other transit.

But the heavy rains this winter have pushed more people into their cars. The student population has increased as well. The result: a campus parking crunch. Drivers are showing up at their favorite garage or lot and finding it full.

As a stopgap, starting this Monday, the campus will create a “stack” parking program at two lots. Cars will be parked in tight clumps. Drivers will leave keys with attendants. The program will add a couple hundred new parking spots. Officials say they might continue the program in the spring quarter, if needed. (Information is on the UC Davis TAPS web pages.)

Meanwhile, the university has hired a consultant to brainstorm ways to get even more students and employees out of their cars.

$2 million sidewalk? Placer says no way

We wrote last summer about pedestrian dangers along Highway 49 north of Auburn where sidewalks just stop, leaving pedestrians to blaze dirt paths, or worse, walk on the highway shoulder. That resulted in the deaths of two teens hit by an errant driver near Locksley Lane.

Placer County is trying to rectify the situation, but it’s been tough. Last summer, the county put out bids for a company to construct a sidewalk on the east side of Highway 49 from Bell Road to the crosswalk at Education Street. They calculated it would cost $1 million. Only one company bid, though, asking $2.2 million.

Placer officials canceled the process, and made calls to other contractors to find out why they hadn’t bid. Several said they were busy, but would be free this spring. So Placer has relaunched its effort to get a sidewalk built. Officials say they expect multiple bids, and are hoping for them to be in the $1 million range.

If it works out, Placer hopes to have crews out by spring.

Alta road washout

Placer County has other road issues. The county last week agreed to build a $3 million bridge over Morton Road, which washed out a month ago in heavy rains, leaving residents in a secluded area near Alta briefly stranded.

The county has been shoring up a winding and dangerous dirt back road to allow residents in and out. The hope is for a quick fix by June.

Historic Hornblower

Sacramento has basically ordered Hornblower Yachts to have a “historic” vessel offering dinner cruises on the Sacramento River by May or risk losing its concession deal with the city.

The river was the first real freeway to Sacramento, in the 19th century. But it was more than that, city historian Marcia Eymann said. Docked ships held hotels and restaurants, and even the city jail. Some are now sunk in the river muck.

The river, in fact, is technically part of the Old Sacramento historic district. So a dinner cruise in a historic vessel makes sense. But what does the city mean by “historic”? It really hasn’t specified. Eymann said the city would like a paddle wheeler.

A Hornblower spokeswoman said the company is committed to fulfilling its agreement with the city, but “sourcing a historic vessel is a difficult search as there is limited inventory.”