Automated parking monitors coming to Somerville after Davis Square pilot proves demand

Local News

A 67-day pilot program found that each no parking zone, including a bus stop, was obstructed by an average of seven cars each day.

The parking department in Somerville has installed camera-mounted SafetySticks to catch people parking illegally in the bus lane and crosswalk at Elm and Chester streets in Davis Square. When the sticks become live, parking tickets will be mailed to drivers. Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe

Automated parking monitors designed to collect license plate information are coming to Somerville following a pilot period in Davis Square.

The new devices will use cameras to help ticket illegally parked cars, enforce no parking zones, and keep pedestrians and bus riders safe.

During the 67-day pilot, the parking enforcers, called SafetySticks, were not able to collect data on drivers and their vehicles. However, time stamped information at each of the three SafetySticks showed that an average of seven cars per day parked in the area illegally, obstructing the bus stop or no parking zone there for anywhere from five minutes to 30 minutes.

“That’s pretty high. That means that there’s pretty much a good demand,” said Suzanne Rinfret, Somerville’s director of parking.

After the Somerville City Council approved the initiative last month, the three SafetySticks can now collect license plate numbers of cars parked illegally after a three-minute grace period. Rinfret said the three SafetySticks are placed near the corner of Elm and Chester streets in Davis Square, including one in front of an MBTA bus stop.

“There’s just so many different consequences when people do park illegally, and these type of infractions are very difficult to catch because typically they only are there maybe five to 10 minutes for the most part,” she said. 

Rinfret said that the cameras, which will be marked by a sign when the SafetySticks are operational, will hopefully be enough deter drivers.

“It’s going to change behavior. That’s what my gut feeling is,” she said. “That’s what I hope happens because obviously we want people to be safe and not park there, but we also don’t want to give tickets.”

After the grace period, a SafetyStick will take an image of the car’s license plate and send it to the parking department. Then workers will manually mail notices of tickets, Rinfret said. The City Council approved the order to issue tickets through the mail.

Katie Calandriello, the policy analyst and programs manager at TransitMatters, said the transit advocacy group has been following the implementation of SafetySticks, including potentially in Boston with the MBTA.

“We believe that buses and bus riders are a priority, and just parking in front of bus infrastructure or not enforcing the illegal parking just shows a blatant disregard for public transit and its users,” she said. 

Rinfret said next is organizing contracts and logistics with Municipal Parking Services, the company that produces SafetySticks, but her goal is to get the devices installed and operational by the end of the year.

The mailed notices of tickets have to be manually sent by five days to an in-state driver, or within 10 days for an out-of-state driver, Rinfret said. After installing the devices in Davis, the city will hold off on any additions throughout the city until it’s clear that the people tasked with mailing out the associated tickets can keep up with the automated systems.

“We’re going to walk before we run,” Rinfret said. “Hopefully no tickets are issued and we can put these in a lot of places, that would be great, and that would just change behavior.”

Manually sending the notices, as well as continued monitoring of the streets, means that parking control officers and their jobs are not affected by the automated change. Instead, the department can keep up with complaints of illegally parked cars in other areas.

“We get complaints, we go to the area, the car’s gone on site by the time we get there,” Rinfret said. “There are only so many parking control officers, and there are so many other places you can park illegally that people think that we’re stealth and in the bushes, we’re really not.”