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August 10th, 2005 Adrian Chen | News Stories
 

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

It was the best of parking meters, it was the worst of parking meters.

     
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IMAGE: CHAD CROWE
When solar-powered parking pay stations popped up on Portland sidewalks three summers ago, residents examined them with a wary curiosity befitting alien artifacts.

A handful of Portlanders wrote annoyed letters to The Oregonian, but most seemed to accept the machines' benevolence. Now, jump forward to 2005 and New Orleans, where similar circumstances have generated a scene worthy of War of the Worlds.

The city of New Orleans installed the same green, electronic, "smart" parking meters on its streets this summer. But upset residents are making it clear the meters are as welcome in the Big Easy as crabs in a French Quarter brothel.

A group of New Orleanians sued the city last month to remove the meters, saying their "ultramodern" aesthetic doesn't mesh with the historic French Quarter.

"They're much too large and the color is much too garish," says Stuart Smith, one of the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit goes beyond an ugliness argument to contend the new, electronic meters are illegal because city code requires parking meters to be "mechanical" (Portland code has no such stipulation).

Smith and company want refunds on all parking tickets from the new setup. And one plaintiff is demanding that the city pay him $250,000 because a meter blocks his driveway.

Neighborhood groups are crusading against the meters and the lawsuit has created a quagmire. "It's a big 'ol mess," drawls Kenneth Waguespack, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

It was a different story in Portland, where there were no quarter-million-dollar lawsuits, no concerted opposition and no incensed citizens' groups (other than one creative vandal commenting on the stations' phallic character by altering a handful of them to look like giant, erect penises).

The transition went "better than we expected," says Ellis McCoy, Portland's parking-operations manager. "Given that single-space meters have been around for 50 years, I was surprised that people adapted."

 
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