A street sign on a section of Cumberland Avenue in Portland's Parkside neighborhood, near Deering Avenue, essentially prevents residents from parking overnight Tuesday-Wednesday twice per month. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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Most residents of the Portland peninsula know finding a good parking space is one of life’s biggest headaches.

Nabbing a well-located spot on the street is tough on its own. But it’s complicated by a sometimes confusing street-cleaning policy and signs that prohibit parking in certain areas depending on the day because of street maintenance.

Now, after a winter with little snow, some residents are wondering if their streets are being cleaned frequently enough to warrant the parking regulations.

Bayside resident Nicole Taylor last week said her neighborhood is “such a mess” that she doesn’t want to walk her dog on her street anymore.

Dead leaves and litter in an empty parking space along Mellen Street in Portland’s West End where it’s obviously been a while since there was any sweeping, leaving some residents fed up with parking restrictions. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

“I have found so much gross stuff,” Taylor said. “Chicken bones everywhere he could choke on, broken glass, masks everywhere, and old food he tries to pick up and eat.”

She has lived in her apartment for nearly two years, she said, and never sees or hears the street sweepers cleaning at the time the signs on her street say they are supposed to be there.

She is tempted, she said, to “stay up all night” to find out if street maintenance is happening, and also claimed to have seen two street sweepers going down her street recently “in the middle of the workday” despite signs that say the maintenance would be done overnight.

Amberly Larkin, a former resident of Munjoy Hill, echoed Taylor’s complaints. She said she was ticketed more than once for not moving her vehicle on the posted street sweeping days, but didn’t think the streets were ever cleaned.

Munjoy Hill was among the cleaner areas observed during a recent drive around the city April 9. In parts of the West End, especially in Parkside, clumps of dead leaves mixed with cigarette butts, discarded food, broken bottles, and soda cans lined the curb in empty parking spots.

According to the city website, the street sweeping season typically begins in late March or early April and ends in December. City Hall spokesperson Jessica Grondin said via email April 7 that the city had been sweeping downtown streets for approximately two weeks because the weather was conducive.

Alternate-side parking

Portland has eight street sweeping machines, which can be tracked using a GPS tool on the city website. Peninsula residents, however, are required to move vehicles off their streets on alternating days from Oct. 1 through May 31. 

For instance, on one section of Cumberland Avenue where parking is only allowed on the odd-numbered side of the street, sweeping is scheduled between midnight and 7 a.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, which means parking is prohibited overnight on the Tuesdays before.

On streets where parking is allowed on both sides, parking is prohibited on the odd- and even-numbered sides of the street on different days and at different times.

In neighborhoods like Parkside, this means people are unable to park on their own streets twice per month, and must compete with their neighbors to park nearby.

The city website states these rules are necessary due to “street sweeping, catch basin cleaning, snow removal, etc.” But street sweeping does not occur in the winter, and Portland only got enough snow to warrant a snow ban twice last season.

Department of Public Works Director Christopher Branch said parking requirements cannot be changed based on “what (the city) might have for a winter in March or April based on what went on in January or February.”

Branch said there are other communities that require parking on either odd or even sides of the street depending on the week, and Portland does it “basically once every two weeks.”

When the city receives enough snow to warrant plowing, city residents must comply with temporary parking bans, which require them to move their cars off streets but allow them to park overnight in city-owned garages and parking lots.

On nights when peninsula residents need to move their cars for scheduled street maintenance, however, they are not permitted to park in city lots or garages for free.

Branch said the reason the maintenance rules persist through the winter is to accommodate snow removal that keeps streets wide enough for emergency vehicles.

If parked cars are present during snow removal, Birch said, they will be towed. In the past, if a car has been present during street sweeping the city also has it towed, although for the past year the city has only been giving out tickets for that offense.

Birch also said the COVID-19 pandemic has made street maintenance more difficult, because more people are working from home. That means more cars are parked on streets, which can prevent sections of streets from being cleaned.

This year’s Department of Public Works budget was reduced 6.7 percent. The portion specifically allocated to the streets was cut 3.7 percent to nearly $1.7 million, a reduction of more than $60,000.

The city said last November that although street sweeping had been happening since Oct. 1 during the pandemic, “lack of compliance” had compromised performance. The announcement elicited online responses criticizing the parking restrictions and street maintenance schedule.

Portland resident Barbie Whitten wondered if street maintenance could be conducted during the daytime rather than overnight since people like her who get home late have an “incredibly difficult time finding a place to park.”

Meg Dyke said the increase in people working from home meant there was “nowhere to park.” She also noted that the signs regarding parking restrictions are confusing, and said she usually circles her Parkside neighborhood for 30 or 45 minutes to find parking.

She added that even when people move, “no one comes to sweep,” and she could not remember the last time she saw a street sweeper.

Julia Finkle said she has lived in the same neighborhood for five years and has never seen or heard streets being cleaned. She moves her car as far as a half-mile away to comply with parking restrictions, she said, and walks home through “dark, unlit neighborhoods.”

She called the parking penalties a “greedy extortion of Portland residents that cannot afford off-street parking.”

“It’d be one thing if the streets were cleaned, but they’re not,” Finkle said. “It’s infuriating.”

Branch said street operations were scheduled to change from winter to spring procedures on Sunday, April 11, which means beginning this week DPW would be able to start hitting areas “a lot more aggressively” with the street sweeping machines.

“That’s when people are really going to start seeing the sweepers out at night,” he said, “particularly in the areas where we have the parking restriction.”