Rubin: Beware white stripes – the flat ones – in the D

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Beware of parking stripes.

There’s already a crowded list of things we need to be wary of, starting with dogs, falling rocks, icy bridges, hot coffee, forest fires, downed power lines, slippery floors and the occasional alligator.

Now comes parking stripes in Detroit — unless you’re a fan of $45 tickets.

Chuck Centivany of Farmington Hills found $45 worth of trouble when he eased his SUV into what appeared to be a parking space on eastbound Kirby Street, north of the DIA.

That latest alert comes unwittingly from Chuck Centivany of Farmington Hills, who was displeased to find a ticket on his Ford Expedition near the DIA last month.

It had been a lovely afternoon until then. He and his wife, Suzanne, took in the “Dance” exhibit at the museum, then drove around the block to the Kirby Street side to have lunch at Chartreuse.

He pulled into an open spot in what the city lists as Zone 202, fed the meter, went to lunch and had a burger.

“It was pretty good,” he says. So: still a lovely afternoon, for a few moments longer.

Then he saw the ticket — $45 U.S. dollars, for parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant.

In, he will tell you, a designated parking space.

“I just want to warn people,” says Centivany, 68.

He still likes the city just fine. Still likes the DIA. Still likes hamburgers. He paid the ticket within a day or two.

“But to me, it’s a set-up,” he says. “It must be a gold mine for them.”

Maybe so. But if it is, come to find out, it’s accidental — and now somebody needs to send out a painting crew.

The big questions

I should note here that I would not ordinarily write about one lonely parking ticket.

Parking tickets and Detroit have a long and inglorious history, though, and Centivany’s bad luck seemed like a good opportunity to ask a few questions.

Chuck and Suzanne Centivany met at Ford Motor Co., where both were executives. They’ve been married 24 years.

When I moved here in the ’80s, the city did a brisk business in what were known as “ghost tickets.” Parking enforcement officers would assign tickets to the wrong license plate number, or to a number they plucked from their venal imaginations.

Some poor guy in Ishpeming who hadn’t been south of St. Ignace since the Eisenhower administration would get a bill for a violation in Detroit.

He might have had six witnesses who could swear he was picnicking that day on Jasper Knob, but unless he wanted to drive to Detroit to argue a $20 fine, all he could do was write a check.

So here’s Question No. 1: Does that still happen? Anybody out there get a parking ticket in Detroit on a day you were driving through Des Moines?

And here’s Question No. 2: Does the city still lose money on parking tickets?

Two years ago, The Detroit News reported that Detroit was paying $32 to issue and process $30 parking tickets. It was the sort of thing that stood out when the city was bankrupt.

Now tickets carry a $45 penalty and many meters have been replaced by kiosks. Has it helped?

Yes, says Norman White, director of the municipal parking department. He doesn’t have dollar figures, but “that was the whole point,” and parking tickets are no longer a losing proposition.

Alas, white stripes are.

A space case

I went out with a tape measure and confirmed that 1) Centivany’s bumper was only 91/2 feet from the hydrant, and 2) it sure as heck looked like a parking space.

There was a 20-foot-long rectangle of cross-hatched lines in front of the hydrant, and the end of that rectangle appeared to be the border for a parking slot, with more clearly delineated spaces from there to Woodward Avenue.

But “we do not put stripes on the streets for parking,” White says, because they get obscured by snow and because the benefit of zones, kiosks and the ParkDetroit app is that they allow space for any car that fits.

“I don’t know why those white stripes are there,” White says.

Maybe the DIA striped Kirby Street in an attempt to be helpful. Maybe it was an obsessively neat neighbor. “We’ll have to look into it,” he says.

Meantime, ignore parking stripes, there and anywhere else in Detroit.

Make sure to keep a respectful distance from fire hydrants.

And if you see Chuck Centivany, buy him a burger with some of that $45 he saved you.