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Where Can You Get A Wheel Cramping Ticket In San Diego? (Hint: Almost Anywhere)

A car's wheel is cramped toward the curb in Mission Valley, Oct. 23, 2018.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: A car's wheel is cramped toward the curb in Mission Valley, Oct. 23, 2018.

GUEST: Claire Trageser, investigative reporter, KPBS News

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More than 1,000 parking tickets a month are written in San Diego for drivers who didn't "cramp their wheels," or turn their wheels toward a curb when parked on a hill. That's according to data from the San Diego Police Department of all wheel cramping tickets written between 2015 and 2017.

San Diego's parking rules say tickets can be written for cars parked on a hill with a slope of 3 percent or greater, whether or not there's a sign telling drivers to cramp their wheels. Problem is, a 3 percent slope doesn't look like much of a hill.

Sarah Linke learned this the hard way when she was visiting Old Town with her parents and had the good fortune of finding a parking spot. It turned out traffic regulations that day definitely cramped her style.

"We had parked here on this street and didn't see any signs when we parked," she said, pointing to what looked like a very slight hill. "We came back to the car and had a ticket. And then we looked to see if there was a sign and there was a sign way at the top of the hill, but it wasn't even within sight."

Map: San Diego Wheel Cramping Parking Tickets (2017-2018)

Parking tickets given for wheel cramping in the city of San Diego in 2017 and 2018.

To know whether a hill has a 3 percent slope, Officer David Ramirez with San Diego's Police Traffic Division said they use some familiar tools: a 4-foot level, a tape measure and some middle school math. He demonstrated how it's done.

Ramirez gets a nice even level, the tool held horizontally, with one end touching the higher ground. Then he measures the distance from the other end to the lower ground, 1.25 inches. Those are the two sides of a right triangle and the slope is the rise over the run. Or in this case, 2.6 percent, so not the 3 percent slope required to cramp your wheels.

He usually only measures slopes when investigating traffic collisions. Ramirez said police don't normally take this measurement when writing wheel cramping tickets. But he insists those officers are still on the level.

"If anyone is going to be writing tickets for not cramping wheels on the slope, then they have already done their homework," he said. Police already know which streets have slopes of 3 percent or greater, so they know where to write tickets, he said.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

San Diego Police Officer David Ramirez demonstrates how to measure the slope of a road, Oct. 24, 2018.

But that may not always be true.

Justin Palmer, the founder of AJP Consulting and an expert in Geographic Information Systems mapping, or GIS, created a map of all the points where wheel cramping tickets were written. There were more than 40,000 between 2015 and 2017.

Then he compared that with a map of elevations and slopes and found that about 10 percent of the tickets may have been written where they shouldn't have been.

"Most tickets are written in areas that have a slope greater than 3 percent," he said. "But it did come out in the data that close to 10 percent or maybe even a little over 10 percent of these points could have potentially been written in slopes less than 3 percent."

But it's a little tricky to say this for sure. For one, Palmer's maps weren't perfectly precise. He created them using elevation data downloaded from SANDAG but had to choose whether to measure the change in elevation over 30 meters, 10 meters or 1 meter. It became sort of a Goldilocks situation, where 30 meters was too big and 1 meter was too small, but 10 meters was just right.

Photo credit: Justin Palmer, AJP Consulting

Three maps created by Justin Palmer of AJP Consulting show wheel cramping tickets in Bankers Hill that fall within and outside of areas with 3 percent slopes.

Another issue was the precise locations of the tickets.

A wheel cramping ticket is supposed to be based on the slope of the exact location of where you parked your car. But a police officer when writing a ticket might not put down the exact address—sometimes she'll just write a nearby intersection or the entire city block.

I went out with Palmer to test out some of the points he'd found for tickets that might have been written unfairly. At one spot in Clairemont near Mesa College, we found that the ticket's address was at a point that was completely level, so the driver should not have needed to cramp his wheels.

Just 20 feet down from that spot, the road began to slant at a greater than 3 percent slope. So, if the driver was actually parked there, he would have needed to cramp his wheels.

But that 3 percent slope really didn't look like much. It was a barely perceptible hill.

After reviewing the data, Palmer said his biggest takeaway is you should really always cramp your wheels to avoid a ticket, especially when parking in areas like downtown, uptown and around colleges where police are more likely to write tickets.

Sarah Linke, who already learned this wheel cramping lesson, said she won't make the mistake again.

"Even if I'm on the slightest of hills, that I don't even think would qualify, I just cramp my wheels because I don't want another $65 ticket," she said.

Reported by Kris Arciaga

More than 1,000 parking tickets a month are written in San Diego for drivers who didn't "cramp their wheels," or turn their wheels toward a curb when parked on a hill.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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