No one likes to get parking tickets.
They’re expensive, inconvenient and can result in court and towing costs if not dealt with.
But when your car is also your home? Then, tickets can be downright dangerous.
A team of students, a professor and vehicle residency advocates teamed up to arm vehicle residents — and everyone in Seattle with a vehicle — with the information they need to avoid tickets and, should they get one, know how to deal with it.
The slim volume, bound in an eye-catching red, is important to help keep vulnerable people safe, said Bill Kirlin-Hackett, an advocate and member of the Scofflaw Mitigation Team. The team formed after the Seattle City Council passed a “scofflaw” ordinance, which allows parking enforcement to boot cars with four or more tickets.
“There are things to pay attention to,” Kirlin-Hackett said.
Parts of the city only allow paid parking for a few hours or require a permit to park for more than the allotted time. In places with meters, you need to move your car to another block rather than pay for additional time, and certain areas disallow parking at specific hours, with tow trucks and parking enforcement waiting in the wings for the careless.
It’s easy for people to get caught in the rules, especially if they don’t have access to the internet to do the necessary research. It’s even harder to find out how to deal with a ticket, said Karen Cheng, professor of visual communication design at the University of Washington.
“I thought it would be pretty straightforward: ‘OK, if you’re towed you can do this or that, or if you can’t pay you can do this or that,’” Cheng said. “There’s actually quite a lot of nuances.”
People can pay a ticket in full online or in person, do community service, sign up for a payment plan or request a fine reduction or mediation. Clarifying the methods and how a low-income or homeless person could access alternatives was complicated.
“If I don’t understand — and I’m a college professor — how can people in a great deal of stress navigate this?” Cheng said.
Cheng has been working with students on visualization projects about vehicle residency for a few years now. She began by talking to Graham Pruss, who got his Ph.D. researching the matter, and used the research as a way to instruct students.
This was a rare time that she used the same subject twice: first for students to visualize data about vehicle residency and then to create a tool for people who need to live in their cars or recreational vehicles.
In the case of the pamphlet, a team of students including Eli Kahn and Maya Flood took on the design and initial research. The end product is clean, easy-to-read and useful for anyone who has to park in the city of Seattle. It’s also responsive to the needs of vehicle residents: The cover was initially meant to be a soft pink, but the team landed on red to make it easier for vehicle residents to locate in the dark.
“We wanted it to feel approachable, not like you’re in trouble,” Kahn said. “There’s something special about having this designed object.”
The edges are rounded, the illustrations easy to understand and the information researched and verified with city departments and the courts.
“It’s not this statistical thing out in the public about them; it’s something catered to them,” Flood said. “A lot of the resources they have are not well-catered to and don’t have a sense of love and care.”
The project was funded through a paper company called Sappi. The company gives grants for “ideas that matter” and partners with nonprofits that work with designers. In this case, that was the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, although Cheng has worked with the company before on other projects.
That led to 5000 printed copies of the pamphlet. Some went to parking enforcement, some to homeless shelter Operation Nightwatch and some to Real Change.
Cheng is also helping to produce a brochure to help groups start safe parking lots, where people who live in their vehicles can stay unmolested. The rules and needs around that can be tricky, and many safe lots — mostly situated in faith communities — don’t accept RVs.
The work is important not only to help people experiencing homelessness, but also to teach students who may not have experienced homelessness or another hardship before.
“It’s also important, I think, that kids come to school not just to learn about design, but to become citizens of society,” Cheng said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Aug. 12-18, 2020 issue.