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L.A.'s signs of madness

L.A.'s signs of madness
Parking signs on Cherokee Avenue north of Hollywood Boulevard are complicated enough to defy even the most careful scrutiny. “They’re using the signs to confuse consumers,” says Joshua Wattles, an attorney.
(Gale Holland / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood boulevardier Joshua Wattles was taking his daily constitutional along the Walk of Fame when he stopped to point at a pole bristling with parking signs.

“It’s predatory signage,” said Wattles’ companion, whom he called his “ghostwriter.”

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“It’s gotcha signage,” Wattles said, turning to his friend. “How’s that? Is that better?”

“No, predatory signage,” the friend corrected him.

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The two men were talking about the confusing and contradictory parking signs proliferating in our city. They’re part of a catalog of parking loony tunes I’ve been tracking in my column.

They call them “totem-pole” signs, but totem poles are a snap to interpret compared with some of these monsters.

Stacked four to a pole, the signs detail parking hours and meter time limits on different days, preferential parking for residents and other restrictions that sometimes seem mutually exclusive.

Some signs are so complex, you need an Excel spreadsheet to sort out the options.

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Like these on Cherokee Avenue near Hollywood Boulevard:

Tow-Away No Parking Any time (arrow pointing left)

Tow-Away No Parking 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. (arrow pointing right)

2-hour parking Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (arrow pointing right)

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“They’re using the signs to confuse consumers,” said Wattles, an attorney. “It’s all about their quotas.”

As the city points out, the demand for curb space has exploded in recent years, with night life and traffic busting out in once-sleepy parts of town. Restrictions have followed suit; hence, all the signage.

“Some locations are a confluence of these different demands and we have a responsibility to inform the public of these restrictions, which may require 3 or more signs,” city transportation spokesman Jonathan Hui said in an email.

But why language that reads like it came out of a statewide manual, as further interpreted by engineers and bureaucrats, which is where the sign text comes from? And why are key words like “except,” “daily” and “Sunday only” in such tiny letters?

Hui said the text size is regulated by the state.

We all groaned when the long-established 8 a.m.-to-6 p.m. parking meter hours were extended to 8 p.m. But in some places the cutoff is 9 p.m., or 7. Some streets ban parking during weekly street sweeping hours while others do not have sweeping at all.

My favorite head-scratchers are the signs with arrows pointing in opposite directions. You have to swivel your head back and forth to figure out what’s what. Pretty soon you’re dizzy: Where am I again?

Racing to meet a friend for dinner, you’re not going to start a Socratic dialogue with yourself when confronted with multiple signs. You’re going to read until you see something that seems to say you can park, then hop out. Greg Savelli, head of the parking enforcement group for the city, admitted as much.

“It all depends on how much time they spend reading the sign,” Savelli said in a voice mail message. “Oftentimes they get to something that says it’s OK and don’t realize there’s something that says it’s not OK.”

That pretty much sounds like the definition of confusing and contradictory. Certainly Michael Brouillet thinks so.

Brouillet has an iPhone app coming out later this month called ParkSafeLA to help drivers read L.A.'s confounding parking placards.

“I have a bachelor’s in computer science and a master’s too, and I thought I was pretty smart, but I was getting tickets where I thought I was parking legally,” Brouillet said in a phone interview.

Brouillet, a Texas transplant to Hancock Park, said the parking sign hieroglyphics are particularly tough on newcomers like him. One time he found a spot near the very hot Library Bar downtown, but was flummoxed by the signage. So he asked a guy getting out of a Porsche for help.

“He looked very Hollywood. I figured he knew all about L.A.,” Brouillet said. “He looked at the signs for a minute, then said, ‘I’ll be honest, I don’t know,’ and walked away.”

Hollywood is pretty much the worst place for crazy parking signs. Running up against one of the run-on signs there is like getting “War and Peace” when you were expecting a haiku.

And God forbid you slow down to try to read the signs before parking. I tried it the other night on Vine Street north of Sunset; drivers cut around me, their horns shrieking.

“You’ve got to study ‘em like for a test,” Nikita McMillan, 34, a Long Beach nurse, said as she prepared to jump on a tour bus on Hollywood Boulevard. “There’s too much going on. “

McMillan said she’s also baffled by all the painted curbs — red, green, blue and white. The parking restrictions are supposed to rev up turnover so more people can get to restaurants and shops. But even business people are getting nailed by curb color confusion.

Travis Eichensehr, manager of the Geisha House, said he got a ticket unloading stuff in front of his own Asian-fusion joint. The city, without warning, had repainted the curb yellow.

“I yelled at the meter maid the entire time,” Eichensehr said. “‘Now you’re just maliciously taking $60 out of someone’s pocket.’”

Los Angeles is not the only big city suffering from parking sign fatigue. In January, New York City Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick unveiled new parking signs limited to a Twitter-worthy 140 characters maximum.

“There were signs that were simply indecipherable to any New Yorker, visitor, or even me, a lifetime resident,” Garodnick said in a phone interview.

But at least one critic thinks New York’s signs are still confusing. Glen Bolofsky of Parkingticket.com, whose company helps drivers fight tickets, argues that all parking signs should be rewritten to national standards. Or how about replacing them with an LED text display that tells you in real time you’re good, or headed for a ticket?

“How about a yes or a no? Or a check mark or an X?” Bolofsky suggested.

Misreading a little sign can have big consequences. Cherish Chen of Silver Lake and a friend once parked in front of a Hollywood hot spot with a damaged parking sign out front. Their car ended up being towed.

“It cost almost $500 and we had to walk two miles to get the car,” she said.

Chen now avoids Hollywood unless free parking is handy.

gale.holland@latimes.com


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