Blocked streetcar raises questions about tight spaces between tires and rails downtown

TUCSON, AZ (TNN) – An SUV parked in a legal space, but parked in an illegal way, held up not just any traffic downtown Tuesday.  It blocked the modern streetcar.  And it has happened before.  How it should be handled raised questions.

"Well I think the amount of time it takes to get a tow truck here and move it, they were really hopefully that they would find the driver in that amount of time. I mean, it's certainly an issue they're going to have to deal with moving forward," said David Fregonese, CEO of The Chicago Music Store on Congress just west of 6th Avenue.  The SUV was parked in front of the store.

"The back tires were substantially over the line. If I was a car driving by, regardless of the street car I would have had to most likely go into the other lane to get around this vehicle," said Margo Susco, owner of Hydra, across the street from where the SUV was parked.

But the streetcar can't change lanes.  Supervisors searched for the vehicle's driver for almost an hour.  A goal of streetcar testing is to prevent problems like these or at least know how to handle them in the long run, from better markings and signage, to removing street parking spaces, to towing vehicles when necessary, and when to make that call.

"We're currently working on ordinances regarding the streetcar, and that very well may be one of the issues that we're discussing. But right now, there's nothing in place for that specific situation, so it's a case by case issue now," said Tucson Police Sergeant Chris Widmer.

"We have a few instances where they're actually parked in areas that fall our track but we don't have the proper signage up at this point. And we're working through that right now," said Sun Link general manager Steve Bethel.

The driver of the SUV received a citation for a parallel parking violation for $188.  After the SUV cleared the space and the streetcar's path, another vehicle parked in a way that might have posed a problem once again.  But this time the driver was told to re-position the vehicle.  Merchants will be watching closely.  While they hope that the streetcar is a success and is safe, they do not want their customers to lose street parking.

"It's going to be a benefit and I really think there's probably a couple of simple solutions they probably will try, prior to, making sure that the public knows where the cars need to be parked," Fregonese said.

"I think that it's something that will probably be able to be dealt with by proper signage, maybe better painting of the lines. But it's also just going to have to be up to people to just follow the rules and be a little more aware of what's going on," Susco said.

Bethel said that Sun Link should have more clear-cut options to review with the city in about a month.  Passengers are expected to start riding the streetcar this summer.

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