North Dakota reconsiders 70-year ban on parking meters

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 07, 2017 4:21 PM
North Dakota reconsiders 70-year ban on parking meters

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — When an angry farmer was ticketed for not feeding a parking meter, he launched a one-man crusade that made North Dakota the nation's only state that bans the meters on all public streets.

Now the governor is quietly trying to end the nearly 70-year ban in hopes of revitalizing downtowns, and the farmer's granddaughter is fighting to uphold her family's legacy.

Howard Henry, who grew wheat near the town of Westhope, a few miles from the Canadian border, received the fateful ticket in the 1940s in Minot. He quickly concluded that parking meters were mechanical bandits that were unneeded in a wide-open state.

By reintroducing meters, Gov. Doug Burgum and his allies in the Legislature hope to encourage more parking turnover, leading to more sales for businesses and more tax revenue for communities and the state.

If Henry were still alive, he would be "very upset," said his granddaughter, former state Sen. JoNell Bakke of Grand Forks. "He'd be ready to go out and do another initiative. He was so passionate about this and everything he did."

Meters were outlawed in 1948. The ban withstood court challenges. When the Legislature repealed it in 1951, Henry led a successful referendum to reverse the decision.

"He made it a populist thing and urban versus rural," said Burgum, a Republican and onetime software executive turned philanthropist who helped rebuild the downtown of Fargo, the state's largest city, with a population just over 100,000.

The state Senate has endorsed legislation that would allow communities to install parking meters on their streets if they choose. The proposal is awaiting action in the House.

GOP Sen. Jessica Unruh, from the tiny town of Beulah, said her community does not need any meters, but she sponsored the bill because she was asked to do so by the state Transportation Department at the request of Burgum, who kept his support of the bill mum until The Associated Press asked about it.

If the ban is repealed, Bakke said she will lead another effort to prohibit meters in her grandfather's memory.

Parking meters are allowed on state or private property, and some of North Dakota's colleges have them in parking lots. Instead of using meters, many cities enforce parking limits by chalking vehicle tires.

The state's two biggest cities, Fargo and Bismarck, have long supported repealing the ban, even arguing once that chalking tires can cause shoulder and elbow injuries for enforcement officers.

Orlyn Wanstron, who owns Bismarck Barber Shop on the city's Main Street, said it's probably best to leave parking meters in North Dakota's history.

"The downside I see is people running out filling the meters to keep their parking spots," Wanstrom said. "Then you have to pay people checking the expired meters, and that will be more costly for the city.

"They got rid of them for a reason," he said.

Henry, a Democrat, gained statewide recognition for defeating the meters, but he failed to parlay the achievement into elected office, losing bids for governor and Congress, despite crisscrossing the state and dropping campaign leaflets from airplanes. He was elected to the state House but died during his term in 1971.

Bakke, also a Democrat, said her grandfather obtained a parking meter that had stood along the Minot street where he got that long-ago parking ticket while chatting with a fellow farmer on the sidewalk. She now keeps it in her living room as a reminder of her feisty relative.

"He just didn't feel it was right to have to pay to park and shop in North Dakota," she said. "And I don't either."