Update: 2:45 p.m.: Snow emergency ends at midnight
The City of Omaha is ending its snow emergency designation at midnight.
The city stopped ticketing people who parked contrary to emergency snow restrictions at noon.
But city crews expect to be plowing streets until about noon Saturday.
Austin Rowser, the city's assistant street maintenance engineer, said they'll mostly be doing cleanup and widening driveable roadways.
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Leo Velasquez is being told he needs to park across the street, and he is dubious.
“Even though there's a sign?” he says, gesturing to a “No Parking” sign on the north side of Howard Street near 32nd Street.
“It's a snow emergency,” replies Tracy Schonberner, a city employee who writes parking tickets.
For the first time Thursday, Omaha began enforcing rules that restrict where people can park in a snow emergency, and confusion ensued.
Violators were subject to $50 fines. As of 9 a.m. Friday, the city had issued about 500 tickets.
Austin Rowser, assistant street maintenance engineer, said Friday morning that city officials were considering when to lift the snow emergency, as crews continued to clear snow and ice-covered streets.
Velasquez, 30, who lives in this neighborhood just west of Dewey Park, is still not convinced that Schonberner is right. He has good reason — just about none of his neighbors is parked on the correct side of the street, the side that says “No Parking.”
For the record, the correct side Thursday was the north or west side, with the even-numbered addresses. Today, it's the opposite. If you are east of 72nd Street, you should park on the south or east sides, because today is an odd-numbered day.
Otherwise, you risk a present from Schonberner's ticket book.
Velasquez pulls his minivan around to the other side of the street, still eyeing the sign and the narrow gap between his car and the illegally parked.
“There's a lot of cars (that go) down this street,” he said.
“Yeah, I know,” Schonberner said. But he doesn't make the rules.
Velasquez walks into his house and avoids the $50 parking ticket that his neighbors will find when they walk outside.
The parking restrictions came about in 2009, when people complained that their streets were not being cleared quickly after a Christmas Day storm.
So it was decided that people should all park on one side of the street each day during a declared snow emergency, allowing workers to plow the other side of the street better and faster.
“This is a restriction that was put in place because folks were telling us they wanted this,” said Scott McIntyre, Omaha's street maintenance engineer. “They need to work with us and be part of this thing.”
The city distributed the rules through news media, fliers and on its website.
But there was still the question of no-parking signs. (If the no-parking sign has an arrow, you still can't park there. If it doesn't, you can park there while the snow emergency is in effect.)
The city will continue to ticket people who park on the wrong side of the street. Towing of rule breakers begins today.
McIntyre said he wants motorists to move their cars after the opposite side of the street is plowed — before or around midnight, rather than later the next morning, because plowing continues overnight.
“That could (be) done by 9 p.m. It could be 11,” he said. “Obviously we're not going to go out there and ticket people on a technicality.”
McIntyre said it's mainly residential streets that are left to plow in the mornings. He said the heavy, wet snow with this storm poses more problems than lighter, fluffy snow.
“Because it's such a wet snow, it was very heavy, and then, when temperatures dropped, it became a heavy snow that's more difficult to plow.”
He said the city's snow-removal equipment was “really tested” by the heavy snow.
“We've had the usual problems with hydraulics breaking, lights breaking and electrical problems. The machine shop is open 24 hours and working hard to keep everyone running,” McIntyre said.
Meanwhile, Schonberner will be delivering parking tickets to those who don't follow or know the rules.
When Matthew Zegers, 32, walked outside about 3 p.m., he noticed that Schonberner had just left a ticket on his hood.
Zegers has been living in the area since 2004 and has always parked on the side of the street without the “no parking” sign. So he was puzzled why he got a ticket.
The ticket itself yields few clues about where to park — it just says the offense is “emergency snow parking.”
Zegers' neighbor down the street, Elizabeth Hanks, exited her house just in time to stave off a ticket from Schonberner, who said he gives people leeway if they're preparing to move their vehicles.
Hanks didn't know about the rules before, but she planned to move her car.
“I'm happy to do my part,” she said.
Road crews clearing streets downtown
World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole contributed to this report.
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