Mayor of Sarasota and Parking Division manager cite safety concerns if bill is approved
The mayor of Sarasota plans to address with state Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota a bill Steube has filed that would prohibit a local government from citing a driver who has backed into a parking space in a public garage.
Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie told The Sarasota News Leader in an Oct. 30 telephone interview that she had discussed with the city’s Parking Division manager the potential detrimental effects the legislation could have on city operations.
Although she said she could not provide a time frame for when she plans to talk with Steube, Freeland Eddie added that the matter “is a priority.”
Filed on Oct. 2, the bill specifically would prohibit “a county, municipality, or other local governmental entity from adopting or maintaining in effect an ordinance or a rule which has the effect of prohibiting a driver from, or authorizing the issuance of a citation to a driver for, back-in parking a motor vehicle in a parking space located in a parking garage.” It also would void any such ordinance or rule in effect as of July 1, 2018, when the law would go into effect if approved by the Legislature.
On Oct. 25, the bill was referred to the Senate’s Community Affairs, Transportation and Rules committees.
In an Oct. 3 email to City Attorney Robert Fournier and other top city administrative staff, Mark Lyons, the City of Sarasota’s parking manager, wrote that if the bill became state law, it would mark “significant intervention with the City’s ability to self-manage as it deems necessary.”
The same day, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown responded by email, “This is an item on which I am sure our Commissioners can speak to Senator Steube since he is the bill sponsor. He has challenged the Commissioners to meet with him to discuss any bill which we find problematic.”
Lyons explained to the News Leader in an Oct. 25 telephone interview that safety is a primary concern.
About 70% of the parking spaces in the Palm Avenue garage are angled, Lyons pointed out. People tend to drive in the wrong direction under existing circumstances in that garage, he continued. If someone backs in, he said, that would position the vehicle to exit against traffic, which would lead to even more problems.
Safety, he stressed is “something that is very important to us.”
If someone backs out of a parking space, Freeland Eddie told the News Leader, he or she is “forced to be a little bit more careful.” People who back in, she added, may be inclined to drive faster, which also poses safety concerns.
Prohibiting people from backing into spaces in municipal lots and garages “is a common practice in cities across the United States, Lyons pointed out.
The city has had complaints about the prohibition on back-in parking at Bayfront Park, he continued, adding, that area sees “a lot of heavy use.” Moreover, Lyons noted, travel lanes in that parking lot are narrow.
Yet another concern at Bayfront Park is the number of visitors who spend time there, because they are unfamiliar with driving around there, Lyons said. “It’s not a typical parking area.”
“There is such a diversity of users in these [city parking facilities],” Lyons pointed out. “Lack of continuity of flow and how you park” increase the potential for dangerous situations, he said.
Steube’s bill, Lyons pointed out, has “no consideration about safety issues.”
One other reason the city prohibits back-in parking, he noted, is that because the State of Florida does not require license plates on the fronts of vehicles, it is more time-consuming — and inefficient — for Parking Division staff and Sarasota Police Department officers to determine whether plates are valid if they have to get out of their cars to do a visual check. For example, Lyons said, if 600 vehicles were in an area and 25% to 30% of them were backed-in, it would take a lot more time for personnel to make certain the license plates were valid.
“A lot of times, [police officers] are looking for stolen vehicles,” he added.
Finally, Lyons explained, the issue is yet another that tries to take away the rights of local governments to govern their jurisdictions.
City commissioners, too, have voiced concerns — especially over the past year — about legislative efforts to interfere with “home rule.”
“It’s so far-fetched,” Lyons added of Steube’s bill, questioning whether it even will get a hearing in committee. “I think it needs to be looked at very carefully.”
Municipal leaders will not be the only ones concerned, he pointed out, as “a large contingent” of universities and airports also will be fighting the prospect of the bill’s passage.
The senator’s view
When the News Leader contacted Steube’s office for comments, legislative aide Alex Blair explained that the impetus for the bill was “a combination of constituent input and personal experience.”
Essentially, Blair continued, Steube sees back-in parking “as an unnecessary thing to regulate.”
While Steube is aware of protests about the legislation from a safety standpoint, Blair said, Steube “hasn’t seen any numbers or data” that support those arguments. In fact, Blair added, it would seem much safer to be able to pull directly into traffic after having backed into a space. “You certainly have a better view [of other vehicles].”
Blair added that Steube had sent a letter about the bill to the chair of the Senate Community Affairs Committee in regard to an initial hearing. The chair of that committee is Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.
“We’re looking for a House sponsor, as well,” Blair said.