Is it Odd or Even: The Alternate-Side Parking Issue

Posted by Scott on November 9, 2020

(written by Carla Swerman, former Archives Staff; edited by Anita Taylor Doering)

Approaching winter weather in La Crosse means…alternate-side overnight street parking! Before drivers regularly carried smartphones, on their way home for the night they had to remember if it would be an odd or even day at midnight AND which side of the street was numbered odd or even. But what precipitated this contentious parking ordinance in La Crosse?

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A winter street scene in the 1000 block of Vine Street in March 1956.


Today we think of alternate-side parking as a way for crews to clear snow from city streets.  For the past two years, alternate-side street parking is in effect on La Crosse streets from 12:01 AM to 5 AM November 15-March 15, but it can also be enforced any time the National Weather Service predicts three or more inches of snow outside of those dates.  However, that was not the sole reason a council member offered up the first alternate-side parking ordinance over 60 years ago.

Post-World War II in La Crosse, like other cities around the nation, experienced a housing crisis and a baby boom.  By the mid-1950s, many small houses dotted the landscape outside of the city’s core and thus was born the suburbs. Another boom occurred which was ownership the automobile. By this time most families owned at least one vehicle.  As more people owned automobiles and worked and shopped downtown, driving a car rather than taking public transportation seemed attractive. This meant more automobiles on city streets overnight as well as during the day.

In 1957 Council representative Hubert J. Schleiter, a lawyer, admired the cleanliness of Milwaukee’s public streets and contacted officials there to learn about their parking rules, using them as a model for his draft of the first alternative-side parking ordinance.  Details included prohibiting parking for more than 60 minutes between midnight and 8 AM in the downtown district from Front to 7th streets and from Cass to Vine streets.

On all other city streets, during that same time frame, vehicles would have to park on the even side of a street on an even calendar day and on the odd side on odd calendar days.  The idea was that the ordinance would allow the street department to sweep or plow one side of the street one night and the other side, the next night.  Crews could then complete the work more safely, more efficiently, and more effectively.

While the city council anticipated a large turnout at a public hearing on the ordinance, not a single person showed up on September 10, 1957.  But, two days later, when the city council itself met, many aldermen objected to the ordinance and proposed several amendments.  At a November meeting, the council approved a modified ordinance that would make the even/odd parking effective from 11:59 PM to 6 AM each day and would exempt the months of June, July and August.

Two days later, on a Saturday afternoon, Mayor Milo Knutson vetoed the council’s action.  He contended that the ordinance would be difficult to enforce because the public would be confused by it.  Knutson also maintained that Schleiter’s proposal had been modified so much that it would not result in the desired benefits.  Still, Schleiter – and others – continued to advocate for alternate-side street parking.

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The La Crosse Public Library Archives is the official repository for historic city of La Crosse records and proceedings.  Mayor Milo Knutson’s veto, a letter of explanation, is part of the collection. La Crosse Series 17, Common Council Resolutions and Reports, resolution #12900.


By the following spring in April 1958, parking in the downtown district was limited to one hour between midnight and 8 AM. In addition, no vehicle could be parked on improved streets any longer than 24 hours.  Another year later, in May 1959 the city council approved year-round odd/even parking between midnight and 8 AM on two-way streets outside of the downtown district.  Enforcement began the week of May 31.  Residents were clearly caught by surprise when the traffic police issued 1,426 warning tickets between midnight that Monday and Tuesday morning.

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La Crosse Tribune, June 2, 1959, page 1


As reported in this June 2, 1959, La Crosse Tribune article, police issued 1,426 warning tickets the first night of alternate-side street parking.  This could indicate that some La Crosse residents were not aware of the new ordinance, some needed a better understanding of the ordinance, and some may have opted for a warning ticket in lieu of the inconvenience of moving a vehicle.

Despite numerous attempts to halt alternate-side parking during the summer months, citing an inconvenience and cost to unsuspecting tourists which made La Crosse look bad, the resolutions always seemed to fall short of overturning the restriction.   Finally, in November 1984, La Crosse residents voted 12,449 to 4,104 in an advisory referendum to limit alternate-side parking to May 1 to November 1.  The change went into effect in May 1985. 

Alt_Side_Parking_to_End_Trib_Apr_30_1985_p1_sized.jpg La Crosse Tribune, April 30, 1985, page 1


Although this April 30, 1985, La Crosse Tribune headline suggests the complete repeal of the ordinance, the truth is that vehicle owners at that time were still subject to alternate-side street parking for half the year.

To help alleviate parking problems in the UW-La Crosse area, the city council in September 2009 approved a pilot program proposed by first-year alderman Eric Schmidt.  Outside of snow emergencies, parking would be allowed on both sides of the street for the area bound by 22nd Street, West Ave., La Crosse Street, and Main Street. 

Council member Gary Padesky’s proposal in May 2016 to shorten alternate-side parking from Nov. 15 to March 15 citing the lack of any significant snowfall during this time failed, but in September 2017 was approved.  The council removed the original (1959) business district exemption from alternate-side parking in July 2017.

June 2018 brought about the ordinance that is enforced today - 12:01 AM to 5 AM rather than 1 AM to 6 AM from November 15-March 15, and can also be enforced any time the National Weather Service predicts three or more inches of snow outside of the window.

This history indicates that this controversy may not ever decelerate.  After all, as indicated by La Crosse Tribune articles throughout the ordinance’s 60+-year history, the arguments – good and bad – have stayed constant.