Parking police using chalkless technology

chalk marked on tire by policeNorthwest drivers are finding it harder to dodge today's roving "meter maids" who hunt urban parking offenders.

That's because the old shell game of "check for chalk, move the car" has gone high-tech.

I once was one of those transient parkers. After commuting by Metro bus for years, for a time I drove to PEMCO's Seattle headquarters and snatched free parking each day on nearby side streets.

2 hour parking signProblem was, it was temporary parking. Every two hours I had to dash outside and check my tires. If I found a telltale chalk mark, I'd shift my car to another open space.

That would be more challenging in our region today. Technology now enables "electronic chalking" for catching parking violators. It's used in places like Ballard, Kirkland, Pullman, and Wenatchee, which implemented the AutoChalk system in mid-January.

Instead of an officer marking tires with chalk, AutoChalk scans vehicles with digital cameras, lasers, and GPS to identify violators. Officers can collect full data while driving past parked cars at up to 30 mph, enabling police to make more passes through parking zones.

Despite that techno-enabled efficiency, Wenatchee police chose AutoChalk largely to solve a related parking-enforcement problem: labor and industries claims.

meter maid scooters parked at curb"Our officers carried long 10-pound sticks to reach out to chalk tires," Capt. Edgar Reinfeld said by phone today. "We'd get L&I claims from repetitive stress injuries – hyperextended wrists and elbows. We explored chalkless marking in response to that."

The new system also alerts officers if it matches a license plate with a stolen vehicle. Just last week, Wenatchee police found a stolen car while looking for parking violators, so the new technology already is paying dividends.

While researching a parking-enforcement solution, Wenatchee police made another interesting discovery.

"People complained there's not enough parking," Capt. Reinfeld said, especially downtown workers who want to park near their businesses. "But our study revealed only 78% of available parking is ever in use.

"We learned those people simply won't park more than 100 feet away," he said. "They could walk a block or a block and a half and find spaces. It turns out we have adequate parking, after all."

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