Ticket Masters: What the Heck—the City is Finally Taking its Gay Street Parking Signs Seriously

In my ongoing effort to provide my readers with the most up-to-date insider information on parking downtown, I will advise that ticketing at the reconfigured spaces on Gay Street has officially begun. I received my first one last week. I would like to claim that this accomplishment was executed solely for your benefit, or in the interest of science. But the fact of the matter is that I parked my car and forgot about it.

I mostly leave my car parked a garage downtown and either hop the trolley or walk back and forth to work. It's simpler and cheaper that way (my employer pays for a spot in the garage). But that afternoon, I had an errand to run that required driving, and decided to stop in afterward at the Downtown Grill & Brewery for a pint before going home. There was an open parking spot, conveniently just down the block. A bit later, as the sun set on that lovely and crisp fall afternoon, I was admiring the new displays in the Mast General Store window as I cheerfully strolled right past my car without a second thought, and went home. Habit, it turns out, is not my best friend.

The next morning, I found a soggy orange citation on the windshield. With an $11 fine, it's far from my worst infraction. But at least it was legitimate. And, fortunately, my car was exactly where I left it. Over the past decade I've done much worse. From my years of experience, I could have already advised that you should avoid parking on Gay Street overnight on the nights before the Rossini Festival, or the Knoxville Marathon, or (and this one's important) in any space that is designated "For Police Vehicles Only." (I blame my significant other of the time for that last one. She's the one who actually parked it there.) But in all fairness, if you've determined that I've had one too many, and you think you should drive, you probably shouldn't take my advice on where to park, either. It's worth mentioning that the staff at the city's impound lot is very helpful. But I suggest you simply take my word for it rather than finding out firsthand.

That's all water under the bridge though. The real news is that the parking environment downtown appears to finally be changing. After years of signage along Gay Street that touted a variety of free parking options, none of which were particularly enforced with any consistency, the city posted new, uniform, designations early this year that created a zone for two-hour free parking from Summit Hill to the river, noting that enforcement would be seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to midnight. And then nothing really changed.

The first press release in February was entitled "New Parking Hours to Take Effect This Month on Gay Street." But not really. Then in March, another announced that "The City of Knoxville will begin enforcement of Gay Street's new parking hours March 11." Yawn. Then came September, when a final press release declared that "New Gay Street Parking Enforcement Begins Sept. 15." The last one carried the additional announcement that the city had contracted with the Public Building Authority to provide enforcement (though tickets wouldn't actually be issued until October 1). Perhaps they should have added "No, really! We mean it this time!"

Sure enough, at the beginning of last month, PBA's (jackbooted, chalk-wielding, thugs) uniformed personnel began earnest enforcement of parking along Gay Street. Since then, I've watched almost daily as these newly empowered officers have dutifully patrolled the street, chalk-marking the tires of would-be scofflaws, timing their stay, and issuing tickets to those who dare transgress against the Law. This is happening well past the spotty hours KPD used to ticket (my citation was issued at 9:47 p.m.), and I've seen them patrolling on Saturdays (though rumor has it they still aren't working Sundays). For the first time in years, the city seems to be taking its posted limits seriously. Beyond that, there's some anecdotal evidence that there's been a significant uptick in enforcement of the commercial zones that dot the downtown landscape. And I gather towing is occurring more frequently in those instances.

The result has been twofold. First, a lot of people who were used to ignoring the hollow warnings of the previous signs have begun to acquire tickets for doing nothing differently than they have been doing for years. That is to say a lot of residents and downtown employees have gotten a lot more tickets lately. Second, for some unexplainable reason that no one can understand, there seems to be a lot more empty spaces available along Gay from Summit Hill to the river these days. Which, of course, made it very easy for me to find a convenient parking space on Gay Street just last week.