Bob Dyer: Cutting grass, clogging streets

By Bob Dyer
Beacon Journal columnist

Now here’s a man after my own heart.

Or maybe it’s a woman. Can’t tell from the signature on the snail mail, which was “L. Miller,” with no address or phone number.

I don’t allow readers to take anonymous shots at people or companies, and an “L. Miller” signature essentially makes the writer invisible. But he/she didn’t mention any specific companies, and his/her point is extremely well taken. In fact, I should have taken it myself.

So here goes:

“This time of year once more evokes an old, vexing question: Do private, for-profit service companies have a God-given right to obstruct all others, and all drivers, and to create a traffic hazard, by parking on streets in what are normally traffic lanes?

“Apparently they have this right, and it supersedes the rights of others to use their right-of-way, get to work on time, avoid frustration and put to normal use the streets they have paid for with their tax money.

“My reference is primarily to the hordes of ‘lawn care’ and ‘landscaping’ firms who do not see fit to park in their customers’ driveways or on their customers’ lawns when it is much easier and more convenient — for them — to just plop their vehicles in the street, usually without cones, blinkers or other warning devices, and the rest of us be damned.”

Mr./Ms. Miller goes on to bemoan the street-clogging ability of “the long, wide, screened-in monstrosities on which lawn-care firms transport their bevy of mowers, weed whackers, dirt blowers and chemicals.”

The writer correctly notes that lawn-care companies aren’t the only arrogant road-hoggers, with “HVAC, roofing, drain, cable and other types of services being just as guilty, if not as numerous.”

He/she forgot one additional ongoing annoyance: delivery trucks from FedEx, UPS, et al. Those guys act like they’re on a mission from God. “No Parking” signs don’t faze them in the least. They seem to believe that turning on their emergency flashers makes everything OK.

Why do they park in the street when they could just as easily turn into a driveway? Because that saves them a few seconds at every location, which means their rounds go faster, which means their employer makes more money — public safety bringing up the rear.

But at least delivery folks aren’t parked in the same spot for hours at a time.

Landscape trailers on the street aren’t always a big deal. But I’ve seen them parked on narrow, curved streets in front of houses with circular driveways. You can’t get your butt off the street in a situation like that?

“It’s an issue every spring and summertime,” says Michael McNeely, chief of police in Bath Township.

“Our practice is to contact the landscaper and ask them to move the vehicle off the roadway. It is prohibited unless they have a flagman out there — and I’ve never seen a flagman.”

If I saw a flagman with a grass-cutting crew, I’d faint.

“They always cooperate — some willingly, some not so willingly.”

So how did this practice become de rigueur? And how do so many companies get away with it day after day? Because for most police departments, even in the suburbs, this is a low priority.

The city of Stow has an ordinance that prohibits parking a vehicle weighing more than one ton on a public street unless it’s being loaded or unloaded. But landscapers aren’t exactly quaking in their boots.

“I don’t know if we’re going to start sending guys out for every landscape trailer that’s out there,” says Stow Lt. Jeff Film.

The department will take action if an officer sees a dangerous situation or gets a call from a resident, he says.

“Most of the time [when action is taken], it’s something like on the peak of a hill. ... We can do something about that if we deem it a hazard.”

Fairlawn police Chief Kenneth Walsh says his department will dispatch an officer whenever a resident calls.

“We send a policeman out and he’ll evaluate it, and if they’re in an improper location, we’ll have them move it. But generally we don’t cite them. ... We try to keep the businesses moving, too.”

Sometimes, even writing tickets has no impact.

Says Bath’s McNeely: “I started my career in Washington, D.C., and it didn’t matter what time of day, the UPS man would just park wherever he wanted. We would write and issue parking citations.

“I came to find out years later that they never paid those. And the city just turned their head to it.”

Improper behavior in Washington? Can’t imagine such a thing.

In contrast to Bath, Fairlawn and Stow, things are different in Hudson. (What else is new?)

Police Chief Dave Robbins says that, according to Hudson ordinances, parking a long landscaping trailer in front of a house is no different than parking a Mini Cooper.

“We don’t have anything that specifies what kind of vehicle it is,” he says. “It’s become more problematic to a certain extent in that the trailers have gotten longer and wider because of the equipment that’s being used.

“Sometimes, it looks like everybody is having their lawn mowed at the same time. But typically they’re in 25 mph zones, [where if] people are patient, they can get around.”

Robbins says he thinks the problem has peaked because “more and more people, with the economic downturn, probably are starting to mow their own lawns.”

Robbins says the topic comes up from time to time at city council meetings, but nothing has come to a vote.

Still, the topic has legs.

“We even have complaints from neighbors where, if [landscape companies] drive their mowers two doors down to do another lawn, the neighbors want us to cite those people for driving a slow-moving vehicle in a roadway or for being unlicensed.

“They’d feel better if they drove [the trailer] door to door, I guess.”

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com.


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