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Doug Clark: Beware the new parking meters; no cheating

Sun., Sept. 25, 2011, midnight

In the latest attempt to keep shoppers at NorthTown, city officials have brought back diabolical high-tech parking meters to the downtown business core.

Say what you will about Spokane’s knucklehead officials, but at least they’re consistent.

They never let a little thing like failure keep them from repeating a crappy idea.

Flash back to six years ago.

The city’s attempt to foist these Seattle-style debit/credit card meters on the downtown met with a universal reaction.

As in everyone hated the blasted things.

See, Spokane isn’t like Seattle. We’re a more glacial-paced burg, a place of potlucks and potholes and crackpots who derive pleasure from the simple joys of life.

Like parking downtown, for example.

Some drivers will cruise the streets for days just to find that lone spot with a few minutes left on the meter.


Well, those days are over with this new-and-improved system. A solar-powered, centralized overlord meter oversees multiple parking spots all at once.

How does it work? Who do you think I am, Stephen Hawking?

All I know is that once you plug in your parking spot number, you can buy up to 90 minutes. When the time expires you must relocate like an evicted tenant.

Sure, we have rules now about staying too long in one spot.

But to be blunt, the current system is easier to cheat. And when you think of how the city’s always screwing us, what’s so wrong with that?

I don’t know why parking is such a bugaboo around here, but it is what it is.

I run into Spokane Valley residents all the time who never venture into downtown Spokane.

The reason is always the same: fear of parking.

They’ll look at me with a semi-crazed gaze and say something like:

“Last time I wuz downtown was back in ’86. Me and the missus did a little shopping and when we went back to the car there wuz a ticket on the windshield.

“And I know as God is my witness, there wuz still TIME ON THAT METER!”

The point is that the more draconian the city gets with parking, the more these parkaphobes will stay away.

For the time being, nine new meters have been placed in a limited area, mostly near River Park Square. They are supposedly on a trial run through March.

We all know what that means. If the new meters can carve a little more meat off our bones, they’ll be here to stay.

But do we really need a better form of larceny?

Spokane’s current parking meter Mafia is without question the most coldly efficient part of local government. This is due to a couple of reasons.

First, Spokane meter workers are all former KGB and CIA assassins.

Second, before each meter is installed it is adjusted to run at least five to 10 minutes fast.

So why fix it if it ain’t broken?

If you ask me, Spokane needs these newfangled, French-made, $7,500 meters like we need two-term mayors.

But I’m an open-minded guy. I wanted to see these things for myself. So on Friday I washed my ’87 Jag, filled up the twin gas tanks and motored downtown to give the new meters a whirl. As luck would have it, I found a vacant spot on Post right next to Banner Bank.

I jotted down my parking spot number in my notebook (3076) and wandered north to the automated meter gizmo.

There I met Renee Beal, who was trying to buy time for her spot.

Her first attempt to stick in her card met with failure. Ditto a second swipe. Third time was the charm.

Then she punched and repunched a bunch of buttons, finally getting her max 90-minute rental fee.

“I can’t even send emails,” she said, while laughing sarcastically. “This is going be great.”

I learned a lot watching Beal’s struggles. So my time buy suffered only five or six miscues.

Martin Hawk was testing the fire standpipe on the building next to the meter. He told me he doesn’t like the new meters either because he’s one of those guys who always looks “for the one that has a little time.”

This city should be giving parkers a break, not looking for new ways to gouge them. How about establishing free downtown parking on Saturdays?

Council members could raise money for necessities like the “Dirty Cop Defense Fund” by holding buckets and ringing bells like the Salvation Army does during the Christmas season. Finally our elected officials would have something meaningful to do.

At any rate, I long for the old days when parking meters worked like big mechanical wind-up egg timers.

The best thing about those things is that they worked just as well with Canadian coinage, which back then was worth half what ours was going for.

Well, even I could do that math.

I started buying rolls of Canadian quarters from my bank. Then I’d go out and feed the near-expired meters all over downtown.

The city manager practically levitated when I wrote about what I was up to.

I still plug meters for strangers even today. Especially when there’s a parking ticket stuck to the windshield.

I imagine the heated calls to City Hall from drivers who are in a lather about getting ticketed while there was still time on the …

I’m a parking meter terrorist. Join me.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at

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