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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Facebook: Bob Hammerstrom at The Nashua Telegraph

    Hybrid cars have the priority parking outside the latest New Hampshire Liquor Store in Nashua.
  • Staff photo by David Brooks
    This sign, at the Stop N Shop in Hudson, is typical of "suggestion" parking signs sometimes seen at stores. They are not enforceable by police, but in some cases violators could be towed at the property owner's request.
Sunday, July 24, 2011

Signs marking specialized parking go green

NASHUA – For some people (by which I mean me), the most interesting tidbit to come out of the opening of the new state liquor store at Coliseum Avenue are the intriguing parking signs out front saying “LEV/Hybrid Vehicles Only.”

Can a state agency really limit portions of the parking lot to cars with certain types of engines?

Well, no – but also yes.

I say “no” because they can’t call the cops if you park your Hummer there.

No city or state laws exist that allow public parking to be limited to hybrids the way it can be limited to handicapped drivers.

“It’s not something that’s enforced by statute. It’s a suggestion,” Liquor Commissioner Michael Milligan said.

Then why install the signs? Because the U.S. Green Building Council said to.

The parking spots are part of the building getting its LEED gold certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an industry standard developed by the nonprofit council to prod building developers into using less energy when they’re being built and being used.

One of the ways to get points for a LEED certification is to give your customers incentives to consume less oil when they travel; hence, the parking signs, which are in green, rather than official red or yellow.

Milligan notes that the liquor store is the first in the state to have a bicycle rack, for the same reason.

But if the signs aren’t enforceable, do they accomplish anything?

This is why I also answered “yes” to the original question, because the liquor store could enforce them if it wished. The store can’t call the cops, but it could call a tow truck.

Most parking lots aren’t public rights of way, and while property owners have to meet handicapped-parking regulations and can’t discriminate by race, creed or color, otherwise, they’re free to distribute parking spots however they wish.

And they do. Strip malls have signs reserving various parking places for specific stores, Babies ’R Us has “Stork Parking” reserved for pregnant women, grocery stores reserve spots for families with children and so on.

None of those are enforceable by the parking police, but the property owners could have offenders’ cars towed if they wanted to – although if signs don’t say “violators will be towed,” they might be in for a legal battle.

Towing doesn’t happen often because businesses don’t really want to spend money to annoy customers. So, to a certain extent, all these signs are useless: We can ignore them without fear of consequence.

But they aren’t useless because they use the power of public shame to drive behavior.

Even though I’m not worried about getting a ticket, I’d park miles away before I’d be seen stepping out of my car in a spot reserved for expectant mothers.

Preferred parking for hybrid vehicles is spreading because of LEED standards, as well as the desire of some companies, such as Whole Foods supermarkets, to urge conversation (and look “green” in the process).

As the driver of a hybrid car, I approve. Not everybody does, though.

These signs are more controversial than preferred parking for pregnant women, because climate change is more contentious than motherhood. There is lots of argument online about them, and in at least one case – a Connecticut library – the signs were removed after people complained.

Here in Nashua, that “LEV” designation doesn’t help. I thought it meant “light electric vehicle,” which is basically a souped-up golf cart, but it actually means “low-emission vehicle,” and includes a long list of specially sanctioned high-mileage or alternative-fuel cars.

Since normal human beings don’t know what an LEV is, that dilutes the public pressure.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com.