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Richfield's pilot program aims to ease burden on residents during snow emergencies

The city of Richfield's pilot program aims to ease the burden for residents who do not have access to off-street parking during snow emergencies.

RICHFIELD, Minnesota — The city of Richfield is taking a different approach to snow emergencies in an effort to reduce disparities when it comes to who is being ticketed/towed. 

Last winter, the city launched a snow emergency parking pilot program which it has continued this season in an effort to gather more data. 

The pilot program changes the threshold for declaring a snow emergency from two inches to four inches. It also gives residents safe zones where they can park for 24 hours during a snow emergency without fear of getting ticketed or towed. 

"In the past, the message had been talk to neighbors and family and whoever you can to find a place to park. We never had a real legitimate answer and through this pilot program, we do. I'm not going to say it's perfect, but it is an option right now," said Chris Link, deputy public works director for the city of Richfield. 

Initially, it was a one-year pilot program but then last winter the city only declared one snow emergency. This winter, Richfield is already up to four which will help them gather more data to consider whether or not to make the changes permanent. 

"It's our residents that rely on street parking. They don't have a garage, maybe they live in an apartment building where they have to pay for a garage stall and that's not available to them. We've got areas of town where there are multiple apartments," Link said. 

Renters are more likely to not have access to off-street parking. According to the city, based on U.S. census data, their renters tend to be people of color and lower-income.  

While no two snow emergencies are the same, more than 100 cars can be ticketed during one winter event. 

"The ticket and actually the tow, also. Then you start talking about time. I have to go find where my car is and I have to get it out of an impound lot. So that just adds to the financial burden," Link said. 

When the threshold for declaring a snow emergency was at four inches, the city would typically see anywhere from eight to 12 snow emergencies per winter. 

"Through the program, I think it's safe to say we have lessened the amount of occurrences," Link said. "I do have questions... is it still the right thing to do? The other things that come into play... what are our pavements going to look like... in the spring? Are we going to create more potholes because there are more cars on the road?"

Link said the city still plows the streets, even if it's for just over an inch of snow. But a snow emergency allows them to clear the street from curb to curb. 

Richfield has designated spaces on the east and south sides of the city as islands or refuges. In total, 392 parking spaces are available on Cedar Avenue and 78th Street for a total of 24 hours after a snow emergency is declared. After the parking period has expired, any vehicles that remain are subject to a ticket and tow. 

"With four inches, and if there's cars on the road and we have to go around them, those are some pretty major piles. Especially now as we've gotten more snow and the roads have narrowed a little bit. Those piles of snow are farther and farther outside into the roadway," Link said. 

Link added, "Again, it's a pilot program. It's not perfect but we're trying."

Once the winter is over, Link said the city will go over the data and most likely present it to city council in August. From there, it will move forward with a plan for the next snow season. 

More info on winter parking and snow plowing in Richfield can be found, here

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