Problems with people parking on sidewalks are not new to Tahlequah. Several years ago, a handful of local officials and dignitaries found themselves in an unwelcome spotlight when they repeatedly blocked sidewalk pedestrians with their vehicles, most of which were of the large, luxury-edition variety.
Sometimes, driveways aren’t long enough or wide enough to accommodate a family’s vehicles. And not everyone can afford a remodeling project to increase slab sizes – or even if they can afford it, they may have no space to relinquish for it. Nevertheless, parking on a sidewalk that runs past your house in a school zone can have especially serious consequences.
Recently, we received complaints from parents who live close enough to the Cherokee Elementary campus that their kids are able to walk to school. It reminded us of a similar situation several years ago involving what was then Central Elementary, and is now Central Academy, the alternative school.
In the current situation, as in the previous one, area residents are parking vehicles over the sidewalks in a school zone. This effectively blocks the young students in their treks to and from campus, forcing them to walk around the vehicles and out into the street. This creates a hazardous situation that could ultimately end in disaster.
One mother told us her 8-year-old child had almost been struck twice by vehicles on Goingsnake, and once by a vehicle backing out of a driveway. She also reported the worst offenders were what she believed to be “college fraternity boys,” who routinely have six vehicles in front of their group home – possibly just the residents, but they could be entertaining overnight guests as well. Another mother said her son, instead of walking into the street, had opted one day to traverse in front of the vehicle blocking the sidewalk. His attempt at safe passage bought him a tongue-lashing from a man who lived in the home, and who didn’t appreciate a 9-year-old trespassing on his property.
Blocking a sidewalk constitutes a violation of city ordinance. And during research for a story about this issue, Staff Writer Josh Newton learned that when violators are cited, the fine is only $5. This specific amount isn’t a part of any ordinance city officials could find, but apparently is a sort of assumed levy that’s been handed down for years – though not very often.
It’s likely that many people who block sidewalks do so for expediency’s sake, and simply have not thought about the danger to children who must walk behind their vehicles. But it’s important that they cease this practice, especially if they live close to an elementary school. They could park next to the curb on the street, where not prohibited, or even in their own yards. But they need to leave the sidewalks clear for the kids.
Mahaney says if someone calls in a report of an illegally parked vehicle, his officers will try to get the driver to move it, and lack of cooperation can result in a fine, as can repeat offenses. But since $5 is little more than an annoying swat on the wrist, a more punitive figure might help solve the problem.
The Tahlequah City Council should seriously consider increasing the general parking fines to at least the same level as used for handicapped-slot infractions, which is $50. That might encourage some careless drivers to think twice before blocking a sidewalk.
It might sound a little steep, especially to those with space problems. But isn’t the well-being of our little ones worth the price?