DOWNTOWN — Record numbers of drivers could have a rude awakening Sunday morning when the city's annual Winter Overnight Parking Ban starts.
That's because the ban begins on a weekend this year, just like it did last year when far more cars were towed on the first two nights of the ban than during any year since 2007, including many revelers out for a night at the bars. While city officials couldn't say for sure, they believed the two-day opening total was a record number.
But this year there could be even more unhappy drivers, city officials acknowledge, for two reasons:
• With the ban starting at 3 a.m. Sunday, at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, many visitors from out of town might be unfamiliar with the prohibition on parking on 107 miles of arterial streets, which runs till 7 a.m. daily from Dec. 1-April 1. The ban is a precautionary measure in case the city needs to plow the streets after a snowfall, but it remains in effect even if it doesn't snow.
• The city started offering free parking at metered spots in most neighborhoods on Sundays earlier this year, which has led many people to simply leave their cars parked from late Saturday to early Monday, many business officials said.
In recognition that many people could be caught unaware of the ban this year, crews began posting flyers on cars parked on the restricted streets last week. The department also launched a Twitter account Wednesday, and its first tweet alerted folks that "Snow happens!" and to be aware of the ban starting Sunday.
"We are reminding motorists to refrain from parking on these critical routes, especially people who are visiting Chicago and may be unaware of the restrictions," said city Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams. "Motorists can easily avoid having their vehicles towed by checking signs and following the posted restrictions."
Drivers who make the mistake of violating the Winter Overnight Parking Ban will get hit with a $60 parking ticket, a $150 tow fee and $20 per day in storage fees.
Historical parking ban tow data from the city shows more cars are towed on weekend nights than during the week, but the first night of the parking ban always starts off with a large haul of towed cars.
The 604 cars towed on the first two nights of the ban last year were almost twice the number towed on the same two nights in 2011. But tow trucks still hooked up 326 cars the first two nights in 2011 and a similar 342 in 2010, according to the Streets and Sanitation department.
Overall, the total towing numbers for ban violations throughout the season has been trending up over the past five years. The 2012-13 season saw a total of 9,784 tows, a 6 percent increase from 2011-12 and a 40 percent increase from five years ago when the city towed just 6,692 cars.
The huge jump resulted in at least $2.25 million in revenue generated last season from towing and storage fees and ticket fines.
But Department of Streets and Sanitation spokesperson Molly Poppe says the ban is not about making money for the city, but to make sure plows can remove snow from major city streets as quickly and efficiently as possible.
"We're not doing it to generate revenue for the city," Poppe said. "That's never our main purpose. As you can imagine when cars are parked on critical streets and snow piles up, it really affects the flow of traffic. There's an operational reason for the winter parking ban."
Towed vehicles will be transported to city Auto Pound #2, located at 10301 S. Doty Ave., or to Auto Pound #6 at 701 N. Sacramento Ave.
If you think your car has been towed, call 311 to confirm it, city officials said.