Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

A fine time: The ins and outs of parking violations in downtown Lawrence

Tickets most likely in 900 block of Mass.

January 28, 2007


For the record, Mary Graf doesn't get a sadistic thrill out of writing people parking tickets.

"I'm just doing my job," she said.

She doesn't get paid by how many tickets she writes. Nor does she hide behind a bush, waiting for someone's parking meter to expire, then jump out with a yellow envelope in hand.

People sometimes ask her if she'll pass up a meter that has just one minute left. The answer is "yes" - and she'll even pass by a meter that runs out while she's looking at it, as long as it was still valid when she first fixed her eyes on it.

"You don't backtrack," she said.

Graf is one of five full-time Lawrence parking control officers who patrol the downtown meters and lots.

Forgive Graf if she doesn't stop to debate once she's written a ticket. She's heard all kinds of excuses in her eight years on the job: "It just ran out a moment ago," "I was just coming back to feed it," "I'm from (insert Kansas town) and we don't have these there."

Graf said she simply can't go around voiding parking tickets once they've been electronically generated by the "tracker" that she carries slung over her shoulder - and she can't afford to get into arguments.

"I'd say the biggest challenge is not to respond," Graf said. "I tell people, 'Once it's on the car, it's yours.'"

Hot spots for tickets

Graf said sometimes people from out of town laugh when they see the amount they owe for a parking fine: $2. The amount rises to $10 if it's not paid in 10 days. By comparison, a parking violation in downtown Olathe costs $10 up front.

Joan Sereno deposits her parking ticket payment Thursday, Jan. 28, 2007, in the 900 block of Massachusetts Street.

Joan Sereno deposits her parking ticket payment Thursday, Jan. 28, 2007, in the 900 block of Massachusetts Street.

So where downtown are you most likely to get a ticket? The answer is the 900 block of Massachusetts Street.

The block contains the two meters that had more tickets issued at them than any other meters downtown in 2006: one, 16S, is in front of Ginger & Maryanne, 914 Mass., and near a US Bank ATM booth. The other, 22S, is in front of the Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Mass.

Ginger & Maryanne employee Allie Atwood said she wasn't surprised to see the parking spot near the store at the top of the list.

"I see (parking control officers) walk by all the time," she said. "I'm going to avoid that spot."

According to figures from Municipal Court, the 900 block of Massachusetts Street had 9,553 tickets issued for meter violations in 2006. That's about 1,400 more than the next closest block, the 700 block of Massachusetts, which had 8,149 tickets issued.

It's anyone's guess as to why the 900 block appears to have more tickets than anywhere else.

Some downtown employees rack up hundreds of dollars worth of tickets.

Abby Reust, 24, an employee of Wild Man Vintage, estimates that she gets about $40 worth of tickets per month. When she comes to work, she feeds the meter once, then takes her chances as the hours go by.

"There's no place to park for free, and it's hard to go out there every hour when you're busy," she said. "It's kind of like an extra bill that I pay."

Reust said she's not interested in buying one of the city's $192 yearly passes for long-term parking lots.

"I'd rather just pay the tickets," she said.

Rotating assignments

Graf said she didn't have any special insight into why one area downtown might have more tickets than another. She and the other officers rotate their assignments throughout the day; on a recent Thursday morning, she was patrolling the entire downtown area south of Ninth Street by herself, while two other parking officers patrolled meters north of Ninth Street and another officer patrolled two-hour lots.

A Lawrence parking control officer writes out a ticket Thursday morning at 11th and Vermont streets. Downtown, the 900 block of Massachusetts Street is the area where parking tickets are most likely to be issued.

A Lawrence parking control officer writes out a ticket Thursday morning at 11th and Vermont streets. Downtown, the 900 block of Massachusetts Street is the area where parking tickets are most likely to be issued.

At noon, she was scheduled to switch with another officer and move north of Ninth Street.

"If we didn't move, it would get pretty boring," she said.

Every six months, Graf gets a new pair of New Balance walking shoes issued by the city. She estimated that she walks up to eight miles per day.

The job can be physically taxing, especially considering that Graf has rheumatoid arthritis. She takes a shot every other week to keep her joints from swelling and aching.

Graf, of Lawrence, has two grown children - a son and a daughter - and four grandchildren. Before working for the city, she owned a housekeeping business.

For every frustrated driver who gives her a dirty look, there are many others downtown who give a friendly wave or call out, "Hi, Mary." After all, Graf, who is originally from Eudora, grew up coming to Lawrence to "shoot the square" - cruise Massachusetts, Iowa, 23rd and Sixth streets - with her friends.

"What I love the most is seeing old friends," she said.

Getting off the hook

In a one-hour period Thursday morning, Graf wrote 30 tickets. She watches not only for expired meters but also for expired license tags. When she sees a violation, she records details about the car on her handheld tracker - color of the vehicle, model, tag number, body type - and makes sure to check whether it has a handicapped tag before printing a ticket.

"Uh-oh. They have an expired tag," Graf said as she wrote a ticket for a car that had last year's annual parking pass hanging on the rearview mirror. "They're also a habitual violator, so they know the ropes."

Habitual violators are people who get six tickets in a 30-day period. Under city code, the person gets a $50 fine in addition to the sixth ticket - but lately the city hasn't been writing the $50 tickets. A ruling last year in municipal court found such fines to be unconstitutional because they involve two tickets for the same offense.

"We've instructed the parking officers not to write tickets for habitual parking violators until we can get the ordinance off the books or fixed in some fashion," city prosecutor Jerry Little said.

As she stopped in front of Wheatfields Bakery about 10:30 a.m. and started writing a ticket on a sport utility vehicle, a man came running out and said he was just about to leave.

He got lucky; Graf hadn't printed the ticket yet.

"I would have been totally within my rights to finish that ticket," she said afterward.

Has Graf ever received a parking ticket in Lawrence?

"I'm afraid so," she admitted.

Parking ticket breakdown

Parking fines generate between $240,000 and $290,000 per year for the city, representing a sliver - roughly 0.2 percent - of the city's budget, which was $130.2 million last year.

Overall, 96,739 parking tickets were issued in 2006, up slightly from 95,690 in 2005.

Of those tickets:

  • 38,946 were issued at meters along Massachusetts Street.
  • 13,385 were issued on New Hampshire, Vermont and Kentucky streets.
  • 12,585 were issued on cross streets such as Ninth and Eighth streets.
  • 9,363 were issued in metered parking lots.
  • 4,426 tickets were issued in parking garages.
  • 18,034 tickets were issued in nonmetered parking lots, or no meter was listed on the ticket.


jonas 10 years, 9 months ago

Well, with the constant drain, maybe she can't ever get $192 together at one time to buy the yearly pass. Of course, if you park as little as 5 minutes away from downtown on one of the many streets, you would not have to pay anything at all.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 9 months ago

She is also occupying potential customer space.

KS 10 years, 9 months ago

It's still cheap to park in downtown Lawrence. I have seen garages in big cities that want $5 per hour. Don't violate the meter and you don't get a ticket. If you get one, pay it and get on with life. Pretty simple.

Nikki May 10 years, 9 months ago

I was thinking the same thing, she should park further away and walk. $40 a month is quite a bit. And from the sounds of it, they are TRYING to do the habitual offender thing. That will up the price in a huge way.

RightinLawrence 10 years, 9 months ago

It stinks that you have to pay to park to go to the post office. Additionally, the meters don't always register the coin you put into the slot. It is quite a racket. I had to go to the downtown post office to get a passport, the only place in town to get one. With the screwed up meter, the wait in line, etc. I plugged over $1.50. There is something wrong when I can't even go to the public post office with out it costing that amount of money.

I even told Mary that it hadn' t registered my change...she asked for the meter number. But, with the delay in line I couldn't risk it. I suppose I shouldn't have stressed it and just planned on paying the $2 ticket. Down town parking stinks! It's fine if you are just walking and window shopping. But, when I have limited time and just need to run into Francis Sporting Goods to pick up some baseball turns into an hour long ordeal. Very frustrating!!!

gaiapapaya 10 years, 9 months ago

The post office has free parking spots in a parking lot on Vermont street, just north of the doors.

Teapot9 10 years, 9 months ago

I wish Chicago was $5 an hour to park. That would be a steal. I think its worth the $2 to park illegally, frankly the cost is a joke. Never having been to New York but hearing about the costs there, I could only imagine what a parking garage pass would cost since the taxes are in excess of $50/month.

delta77 10 years, 9 months ago

Let me just say, every KU student is envious of 25 cent an hour parking and $2.00 tickets. Our tickets are $20.

Emily Hadley 10 years, 9 months ago

"There's no place to park for free, and it's hard to go out there every hour when you're busy," she said. "It's kind of like an extra bill that I pay."

There is PLENTY of free parking near downtown, and if you park in the parking garage, you can pay $1 for the whole day. You can buy a pass to park there that is even cheaper if you work every day. The meters off of Mass (like the lot at 10th and Vermont) are 10 hour meters and they are much cheaper. (If even THAT is too much, you can park free on 10th, Kentucky, or Rhode Island and be at 10th and Mass within a minute.)

Many downtown businesses discourage their employees from parking in the prime spots intended for CUSTOMERS. If you want your business to make money, don't take your customers' parking spots!

I love riding the bus or my bike downtown, because you have no worries once you get there. You either get to relax until you are dropped off within a block or two, or you can bike right up to the door.

Danielle Brunin 10 years, 9 months ago

Meter maids eat their young! Just kidding, I know they're just doing their job. The ladies downtown are pretty understanding from my past experiences.

kugrad 10 years, 9 months ago

What is the policy when the meter is broken and shows no time at all? They are electronic meters with LED type "screens" showing the time. When the meter dies, there are no numbers of any kind. THere is no way to tell if $ is put in or not. No time shows. Can I park there or will I get ticketed?

I think that, instead of property tax increases, the city should put meters in West Lawrence, where businesses escape having their customers share the tax burden. Ditto for South Lawrence. Require new big-box businesses to install meters in their lots. Charge for parking at the recreational parks like they do in the center of town. If it will keep property taxes down, it is a good deal.

MadAsHell 10 years, 9 months ago

240-290k per year? Why bother? That barely covers the staffing and capital overhead of the whole system!!

moosejeffries 10 years, 9 months ago


shirinisb 10 years, 9 months ago

2 things.

1) Quit being angry that you have to walk a block or two every day. Metered parking is supposed to be short term for people who are in a hurry, not for employees that have a good 8 hours before they will need to leave again.

2) Quit being critical of doing their job. If more people did their job like this officer, the world would be a decent place.

Melissa Kounelaki 10 years, 9 months ago

kugrad: If there are no numbers visible at all on the meter, no ticket can be written since the parking control officers also can't see if there's a time violation. A reminder also that meters do have to be 'fed' on Sat. but parking is free everyday after 5pm, and on Sundays and on holidays. I often see people preparing to pay on a Sun. of in the evenings and I try to tell them that if I'm passing by. It's good to see Mary's still at it.

MoreNewsPlease 10 years, 9 months ago

Doesn't hide behind a bush waiting... that's a joke. I pulled up to a meter and didn't have change so I went into the coffee shop I parked in front of to buy something and get change and when I came out to pay the meter... there was a ticket on my car. Less than 3 minutes. Honestly... come on. No one feels sorry for you because you have a job that makes everyone hate you.

Melissa Kounelaki 10 years, 9 months ago

Seriously, with having to walk about 6 and half hours a day and cover a certain area in a determined amount of time, the PCOs do NOT have time to wait for meters to expire, nor do they care enough to ticket "that one car". You were simply unlucky one day.
And some people do have sympathy for those who have sucky jobs--you're just not one of them.

Nate Poell 10 years, 9 months ago

Bad luck, MoreNewsPlease. That's all. You just parked in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's happened to me, too. Frustrating, sure, but in the end it only costs $2, and it certainly doesn't mean that you were ambushed. Reaching a conclusion like that just means you're paranoid.

Kat Christian 10 years, 9 months ago

Even though the ticket fine is $2 I still feel crappy getting one. But I look at it this way. It my town, I live here, $2 isn't going to bust me and I deserved it but the big thing it's helping the downtown. The money has to come somewhere. I just try not to get a ticket.

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