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Local Techie Invents App That Decodes L.A.'s Baffling Parking Signs 

Thursday, Sep 26 2013
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Michael Brouillet of Park Safe L.A.

PHOTO BY TED SOQUI

Michael Brouillet of Park Safe L.A.

Computer techie/consultant/aspiring actor Michael Brouillet, 32, moved to Los Angeles four years ago from San Antonio and didn't quite understand how this city rolls. In his first 18 months, parking enforcement officers welcomed him with $1,500 in parking tickets and late penalties.

Brouillet (pronounced as in crème brulee), says, "Los Angeles parking signs look like hieroglyphics. You need a doctorate in urban studies to interpret them."

He developed the Park Safe L.A. app so people can decipher the city's baffling parking signs, sometimes stacked three or four to a post, in a town known for its aggressive ticketing and towing — and its widely hated Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau.

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The app is based on a photo glossary of parking restriction signs — the driver locates the same sign confronting him. Text below the photo explains, in understandable language, what the city's sign really means and whether it's legal to park. With multiple signs, you must check each photo against the app — but you won't be left guessing.

"Parking tickets are a huge cash cow for the city," Brouillet says. "So the city has no impetus to make its signs less confusing. First of all, the city doesn't see these signs as a problem when many of them are comical, and secondly, it's a great revenue stream. Right or wrong, the city wants to tap into that revenue stream."

One photo featured on Park Safe L.A. shows three city signs screwed on a post in a school zone. The top sign states, "Passenger loading only 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on school days" while a sign below it states "Two-hour parking 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m." and the bottom sign warns "Tow away no stopping 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. school days."

So, in the twisted-pretzel logic of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT for those who've been ticketed with fervor), you can park there, you just can't stop or you'll be towed.

In many baffling L.A. parking zones, it would be far less maddening to be told when you can park, not when you can't.

Along Sunset Boulevard at Detroit Street in Hollywood, numerous posts display a quadruple sign announcing "Anti-Gridlock Zone" and "No stopping 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. except Saturday and Sunday" plus "1-Hour Parking Mon-Fri 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m." The fourth sign warns, "Tow Away — Temporary No Parking 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Saturday and Sunday."

Hilarious. Unless you have two kids or a seat full of work in the back and you're late.

LADOT spokesman Bruce Gillman insists he doesn't see the problem.

"Our signs are posted consistent with the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CA MUTCD) and the California Vehicle Code," he says via email.

Why should it also have to make sense?

"We frequently have multiple parking regulations (e.g., no parking during rush hour and time limits to encourage turnover in business districts) that require more than one sign," he adds. "The public is responsible for reading all posted signs and complying with the regulations in effect."

And if that wasn't perfectly clear, Gillman adds, "Painted curb markings are determined by the California Vehicle Code."

The Weekly reported on Aug. 22, in an article headlined, "Why Do You Hate the L.A. Parking Violations Bureau So Much? Maybe Because It Lies and Steals Your Money," that the city and LADOT's top bureaucrats are the subject of a class action lawsuit, Jeff Galfer, et al., v. the City of Los Angeles, et al.

Residents are outraged at such absurdities as parking tickets issued to people whose cars weren't in L.A. at the time of ticketing, and apparent official misbehavior, including an incident in which a woman parked her car hours before a furtive city crew erected a new sign that suddenly made her vehicle subject to towing. Which it was.

LVR International's Lia Reyes, a transportation consultant who has advised London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York and other cities on parking problems, says there's a reason for municipal ticketing aggression: When income and property tax revenue sank during the Great Recession, cities drummed up cash from bold parking enforcement.

"I don't know if (increasing fines and tickets) was a matter of survival for Los Angeles," Reyes says, "but the recession hit the city hard."

Reyes finds the Park Safe L.A. app "interesting" and says it "has a lot of good basic information because a lot of parking signs in L.A. can be very confusing. ... This app clarifies parking signs right away. It's helpful.

"Most drivers aren't paying attention to signs, and that's why they get a ticket," she adds. "I've never had a parking ticket in L.A., but parking is my business, so I'm diligent."

While researching the app, Brouillet also discovered California law CA22658, which covers rules regarding towing. It has to be one of California's better-kept secrets, so he included it in his app.

CA22658 states that if a driver coughs up half the money owed "on site," the tow driver must "drop" the vehicle right there and give the car back to the owner — not strand him or her in the middle of the night. Not drag the car off to a costly, distant storage yard reachable only by taxi or a friend you've woken up.

The L.A. Parking Violations Bureau is both the ticket giver and the adjudicator in L.A.'s lopsided system. Yet Brouillet discovered, as he fought his way through it, technical ways to fight tickets.

When it comes to towing tickets, for example, he says to make sure that the tow ticket "is filled out 1,000 percent correct. There are a number of time fields [boxes] they have to fill in, and each one has to be filled in. I had good success fighting tow tickets."

Park Safe L.A. also explains the opaque meaning of yellow, white, green and red curbs. Sure, red means no parking, but it also means no stopping. The yellow curb is for freight loading and unloading, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, for 30 minutes. But here's a great secret: Anyone can park on the yellow for five minutes, at anytime.

A white curb gives you five minutes, 24 hours a day. Green restricts you to 15 or 30 minutes, as marked, at nursery schools and convenience stores between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. To park at blue curbs, you must display a valid disabled placard or license plate. (Report abusers at 323-224-6581.)

Park Safe L.A. also debunks urban myths: "If you don't have a ticket on your car, don't assume you didn't get a ticket," Brouillet says. "I parked in a red zone and then saw the ticket lady coming, so I moved my car. ... She got my license plate and I got a ticket in the mail."

Another L.A. myth: free parking on Sunday. Not really. In many high-traffic zones, the meters now are live on Sundays.

Los Angeles is not "the worst" when it comes to incomprehensible parking rules. Parking consultant Reyes says several that vie for that honor include "Chinatown in New York City and any city in Japan."

But Brouillet has a friend who moved from here from New York, who could have used Park Safe L.A. "He ignored his parking tickets, like he did in New York City, and pretty soon the fines and penalties were over a grand. It adds up quick."

Brouillet critiques his app as good, not great. He's made it available via iPhone for free with ads, or for 99 cents without. As part of an ongoing upgrade, he plans to include among the app's image library "neighborhood-specific" signs that crop up only in treacherous areas such as Venice and Hollywood.

But his biggest goal, by year's end, is to add image-recognition abilities, so drivers can snap a picture of an unfathomable city parking sign and let the app analyze whether it's legal to park there. Then the driver can try telling that to the judge.

Reach the writer at davidfutch@roadrunner.com.

Reach the writer at davidfutch@roadrunner.com

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