PRINCETON — Finding a place to park can be a pain, especially during the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping season. But Princeton City Parking Enforcement Officer Cathy Douglas says that’s never a reason to break the law.

She is on a 15-year mission to keep city fire lanes clear, hydrants available in the event of emergency and parking spots open on rotating basis along Princeton’s public streets.

“The whole city is two-hour parking, whether there’s a sign there or not,” she said.

For the record, there were 43 two-hour parking signs the last time Douglas counted, but she said the rule still counts, even if the motorist misses a sign.

Parking problems are a routine issue during Princeton City Council Public Safety meetings, but the topic doesn’t typically become a hot button of public concern. A recent campaign to keep fire lanes clear changed that, as more and more motorists began receiving $25 parking tickets from Douglas and a team of Princeton Fire Department personnel concerned their crews might not have access to a burning building in the event a blaze broke out.

“It’s against the law to park in a fire lane, period,” Douglas said, showcasing the matter-of-fact adherence to the law that has kept her enforcing parking rules for more than a decade.

She’s such a stickler for the code that she even had it ready to read Tuesday, reviewing the portion that declared it illegal to stop, park or leave standing any motor vehicle in a portion marked as a fire lane.

“You cannot sit in your car and wait for somebody to come out, even if you’ve got 10 packages to mail at the post office,” she said.

Most of Princeton’s parking rules carry a $25 penalty with a $10 fee if they’re past-due in payment. Some, however, are cause for a heftier fine.

For example, anyone caught parking illegally in a spot designated for handicapped customers will face a $200 fine.

Other rules Douglas highlighted this week included:

• It’s never OK to park where the curb is painted yellow. Douglas said the yellow stripe exists for a reason, most often because city officials have deemed a stationery car there a safety hazard.

• Motorists looking to parallel park should always park along the side of the street and in the direction they’re traveling. Douglas explained that excessive maneuvering and obscured vision upon entry and exit of a parking spot on the opposite side of the road create safety problems for both the original driver and those in the oncoming traffic.

• Parking is prohibited within 15 feet of a fire hydrant.

• Motorists are legally required to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.

“They have the right of way,” Douglas said.

• Overnight parking is not allowed on Mercer and Main streets, primarily for street-cleaning purposes.

• Loading zones are reserved for commercial vehicles such as UPS, FedEx, Schwann’s and more, unless they’re marked for customer loading, such as Kroger’s yellow-striped zone immediately outside the front door.

• Although it features a school, the veteran parking enforcement officer emphasized that Mercer Street is not a parent loop for Mercer School.

“They need to pull over to the side and let their children out. I have a lot of parents who want to stop in the middle of the road and let their kids out for school,” Douglas said. “It’s Route 20, and it’s very busy.”

She suggested parents driving their children to class at Mercer School pull onto Douglas Street at the side of the school, where they can more easily and securely stop and let their children exit the vehicle, right onto school property.

Douglas averages writing roughly 100 parking tickets per month, though some are much busier.

Her job at times makes her unpopular.

She’s been accused of being racist, despite the fact that the driver of any given vehicle wasn’t present as she wrote a citation. Another angry recipient of her tickets once told supervisors Douglas was stalking her simply to write a citation.

“There’s a man taking me to court now because he was parked in a loading zone, and he said he’s an ambassador for Christ,” she said.

Despite the arguments she hears daily about the city’s parking code, Douglas said there’s a simple reason she enforces the regulations.

“It’s the law. That’s the main thing. We have laws for a reason, and it’s safety,” she said.

For more information, contact Douglas at Princeton Police Department by calling (304) 487-5000.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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