A fine mess in the quiet zone
Hospital visitors are plagued by parking tickets, Citizen investigation reveals
On a sunny spring afternoon, Virginia Baelde emerged from the Ottawa Hospital’s General campus with plans to treat herself to lunch. The Winchester woman had just undergone a chest X-ray to confirm she was recovering from the severe respiratory attack that had left her in an induced coma for three weeks. hornets are preying on sick people and She was feeling better, and looking fortheir families — and effectively driving ward to a hamburger.
up the financial cost of falling ill. But after the short walk from the hospi-
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Baelde said. tal to her car, Baelde found a ticket for
“What about seniors or people on penparking in no-parking zone. Faced with
sions? How can they pay that much?” the $45 citation waving in the breeze
The street on which Baelde parked is from under the windshield wiper, her
called Lynda Lane, a narrow stretch of lunch plans evaporated.
road through a field across from the Gen“It sure sucks to be me today,” she said
eral campus on Smyth Road. It ranks wearily.
among the most-heavily ticketed in the Every year, thousands of other hospital
city, the data show. visitors reach similar conclusions. A Citi-
More parking tickets are issued along zen review of City of Ottawa parking
the 600-metre run of road than any other ticket data shows a substantial percent-
single block in the entire city, save for the age of tickets are issued at or nearby the
heavily trafficked stretch of York Street city’s major hospitals. And hospital visi-
east of Sussex in the Byward Market and tors, staff and patients like Baelde get
a section of Queen Street downtown. stung the most.
Since 2000, more than 20,000 tickets Like nowhere else in the city, the inten-
have been handed out on Lynda Lane, sive ticketing around hospitals shows the
with total fines and late fees bringing in conflict between the needs of drivers for
more than $700,000. affordable parking and the rights of resi-
At the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus dents who live nearby.
on Carling Avenue, the Hornets are just To some, the city’s parking officials are
as busy, making Ruskin Street on the merely enforcing the rules put in place
north side of hospital the city’s fifthby city council to keep traffic near hospi-
most ticketed block. Melrose Avenue, tals moving and to protect the surround-
which runs along the east side of the ing communities. To others, the green Civic, ranks sixth.
The parking ticket data were obtained by the Citizen through the Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy Act.
The data show that of tickets issued during a one-year period ending last November, about 12 per cent fell within 500 metres of a hospital.
Many of these are tickets for illegal parking on hospital property, issued by the hospital’s security staff. The city collects 50 per cent of the paid fee to process the citations and the hospital keeps the other half.
But most of the tickets around hospitals — such as those on Lynda Lane — are written by bylaw officers on city streets. This revenue goes entirely to the city.
There is little mystery to why so many parking citations are issued so close to health-care facilities. Hospitals face a parking crunch from the heavy human traffic of staff, patients, their families and friends.
The Ottawa Hospital logs more than 800,000 patient visits annually, says director of communications Allison Neill.
They compete for 5,869 spots in the hospital lots. Parking for most staff is provided in lots off-site, to give patients the best access to the spots, she says. “Staff at the hospital put patients first.” Neill says 375 additional spaces will opened in coming weeks.
Still, the lots run by hospitals tend to be expensive. The Ottawa Hospital charges $3.50 per half hour, to a daily maximum of $13. (Discounted weekly and monthly passes are available.) Some patients or relatives who come to the hospital regularly can’t afford the steep fees and instead seek street parking nearby.
“It’s a kick in the ass for nothing,” said Ryan Cavers, an unemployed 25-year-old labourer who was ticketed on Lynda Lane in April while he was taking his pregnant wife for an ultrasound. “Apparently, they don’t want people parking there.”
On the west side of the street, drivers can park legally for up to two hours, but the east side, next to a construction site, is classified as a no-parking zone during the day. Nearly three times as many tickets are written on the east side.
The high total may be caused, in part, by confusion. Vehicles with physical disability permits can park legally on the east side, perhaps luring others who see those cars and assume parking is allowed on both sides.
“I didn’t notice the sign until I came back,” said Carole Helmer, who was tagged on the east side while making one of her daily visits to see her father, who was sick with cancer. “There is hardly any parking in the parking lot of the hospital and you get a ticket,” she said. “It’s sick.”
Susan Jones, director of bylaw and regulatory services for the city, says the rate of tickets around hospitals simply reflects the heavy traffic they attract. “It’s not different than a school, a university or a hospital or any kind of high volume
area. People will choose not to pay and then park there.”
City Councillor Peter Hume says the bylaws on Lynda Lane must be enforced to prevent hospital staff from using the street as their own parking lot.
“We have to balance off the need for people to park with their ability to park and their ability to park safely,” he said.
Parking enforcement officials say that unless time limits are enforced, hospital staff will arrive first and monopolize the spots, leaving nowhere for patients and visitors to park.
But Hume says he’s empathetic to patients and visitors caught between scarce street parking and expensive hospital lots.
“The more important question is for the Ottawa Hospital,” Hume said. “Why is it that parking is so expensive that it drives these people into the community?”
The hospital reviews its rates annually to ensure they are in line with those charged across the city, says Neill. “Any of the revenues are invested in patient care. It does make a huge difference.”
Parking in the streets north of the Civic campus is an ongoing annoyance for residents. People visiting the hospital use up much of the street parking and increase the already heavy traffic as they look for spaces, says Alayne McGregor, president of the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association.
“They cause a huge amount of disruption to the neighbourhood.”