Usually suburban areas are unrestricted, except perhaps for the main thoroughfares and town centre (downtown) areas, where on-street parking is usually metered. In some towns there are parking regulations during rush-hours on major thoroughfares, where no parking is permitted on one or both sides of the street at certain times (this may also include streets with parking meters in town centres).
In winter, some streets are designated ‘snow streets’, meaning you mustn’t park there when snowfall exceeds a certain depth (shown on a sign), in order to leave the road free for snow ploughs.
In some streets, there are parking restrictions at certain times only, e.g. no parking between 9am and 11am Monday to Thursday. Some streets have signs prohibiting parking on certain days for street cleaning, e.g. 2am to 7am (offending vehicles are towed away), although times aren’t always shown. Parking may be prohibited overnight, e.g. 1am or 2am to 6am or 7am, in some areas. If you have visitors who must park overnight on the street, inform your local police.
In some cities, parking restrictions are indicated by the kerb (Americans spell it curb) colour; for example, a red kerb indicates no parking at any time, a yellow kerb may signify a limited truck loading zone, a green kerb a limited parking period, a blue kerb disabled parking only, and a white kerb passenger loading and unloading. No parking areas, e.g. at street corners, may be indicated by yellow lines. Always read all parking signs carefully.
Apart from the obvious illegal parking spots, such as across entrances and at bus stops, be careful not to park within ten feet (3m) of a fire hydrant, often indicated by a large gap between parked cars, as you’re liable to have your car towed away. Other restricted areas are in front of fire and ambulance stations and schools, often indicated by a red kerb, and on bus stops and taxi ranks, where you may stop briefly, but mustn’t get out of your car.
Reserved parking spots for disabled motorists are provided in most towns and cities. In all states, disabled residents are issued with special registration plates, allowing parking privileges in designated spaces close to all public facilities. Most cities provide free parking permits for residents.
You must always park in the direction of the traffic flow on the near side of the road. Often, parking spaces are diagonally aligned and ‘head-in’, which means the front of your car must be facing the pavement (sidewalk). If you’re used to driving small foreign cars (sub-compacts), parking an American monster, or worse, an SUV in a tight space can be decidedly tricky. When parking on a hill, always ‘kerb your wheels’, i.e. turn your wheels towards the street when facing uphill and towards the kerb when facing downhill. It’s also wise to leave the car in gear or ‘park’ and apply the hand brake. The following parking restrictions are in widespread use:
- No Stopping – Means what it says: no stopping at the side of the road.
- No Standing – You may stop only to pick up or drop off passengers or goods if you do it quickly. You must not leave your car in a ‘no standing’ area.
- No Parking – You may stop only to pick up or drop off passengers or goods. If you’re stopping for longer, the driver should stay in the driver’s seat so that he can move the car if necessary.
Parking on highways in rural areas is forbidden and you must pull completely off the road if you wish to stop. Overnight off-road parking is prohibited or restricted in many states for caravans (trailers) and recreation vehicles (RV) and you must use an official trailer or RV park.
Parking meters are common in most towns and cities, and usually accept nickels, dimes and quarters. In a small town centre 50 cents buys up to 30 minutes’ parking with a maximum permitted period of one or two hours (some allow three or four hours). There are often 12 or 24-hour meters (also called posts) at main railway stations, where parking costs around 25 cents for 1.5 hours. Don’t park if a meter isn’t working or a parking bay is suspended, as you can get a ticket. Meter feeding (i.e. inserting more coins once your initial time allocation has expired) is usually permitted unless there’s a maximum time indicated.
Parking attendants often ride around on three-wheeled motorcycles and chalk the tyres of cars parked in limited-period parking areas without stopping (except to write tickets!). Parking meters are usually in operation from 8am or 9am to 6pm or 6.30pm Mondays to Saturdays (except holidays); check meter times, as they may vary from street to street.
Parking regulations are controlled by city police and private companies, who are zealous, as they’re paid on a results basis and usually have quotas to meet. If you get a parking ticket, you may be given an envelope in which to post payment to the appropriate office. Payment must usually be made within 30 days to avoid incurring a penalty. Few states swap parking ticket information, particularly those without common borders, so if you receive an out-of-state ticket it’s unlikely that you will receive a summons for non-payment.
Some streets and areas are designated ‘tow away’ zones (often graphically depicted by a sign showing a red axe embedded in a car or a car being towed away). To collect your car from the pound, you must show proof of ownership, insurance card identity, registration document and your driving licence. The towing fee must usually be paid in cash before you get your car back, as towers don’t normally accept personal cheques or credit cards.
Wheel clamps (colloquially called the ‘boot’ or ‘Denver shoe’, as they were first used there) are in wide use. To free your car from this heinous (but effective) device you must go to the clamping station listed on your ticket, pay an unclamping fee and return to your car to await release (expect to wait at least an hour or longer during busy times). After a clamp has been on your car for a certain period, it may be towed away, when you will also be liable for towing and storage costs.
If in doubt about whether on-street parking is legal, don’t take a chance, but park in a car park (parking lot) or garage.
Private and municipal car parks (parking lots) are provided in most cities. Often waste ground is used, although car parks on waste ground aren’t as secure as purpose built parks (particularly after dark) and usually have rough surfaces. In most cities, garages provide daily parking for commuters. Cheaper garages can usually be found outside central areas a short bus or subway ride from city centres. Some cities have park-and-ride systems. Car parks catering for commuters have restricted opening hours and are usually closed overnight. Indoor and outdoor car parks are provided close to major airports, from where free transport is provided to and from terminals.
Often there are humps and bumps at the entrance or exit to car parks and garages, so drive slowly. When using a car park, be sure to use the correct entrance and exit. Sometimes spikes (guaranteed to rip your tyres to pieces) are laid to prevent customers leaving without paying. In some (usually outdoor) private car parks, you park in a free stall (space) and pay by poking the fee (usually a fixed daily or evening fee) in folded dollar bills into a slot on a board corresponding to your stall number. A ‘stuffer’ is provided to push bills through the tiny slot (whatever happened to the high-tech US?). Shopping centres (malls), banks, supermarkets, large shops and other establishments often provide free parking areas for their customers.
In cities, you may be required to make a purchase and have your receipt stamped, or free parking may be limited, e.g. to three hours. In suburban areas, large shops and shopping centres usually provide enormous and completely free car parks. If you remain too long or park after hours, you may be given a ticket or even be towed away. Different parking levels may be indicated by symbols, e.g. fruit or vegetables, to help you remember where you parked. Some car parks and garages provide valet parking (common at hotels and restaurants), with cars parked by attendants.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in America. Click here to get a copy now.