The motorized metal gate at the St. Paul Impound lot slowly squeals open, and lets one car escape. It's Feb. 27, the day after the last big snowstorm hit the Twin Cities. Eileen Totus is here to pick up her car.
Totus, who moved from Minneapolis to St. Paul last month, knew St. Paul had declared a snow emergency. But she didn't realize she was parked in a tow-away zone.
"There were no signs posted indicating it was a snow emergency route," Totus said.
St. Paul doesn't have "Snow Emergency Routes." That's a Minneapolis thing. In St. Paul, they're called "Night Plow Routes."
"We begin snow emergencies with a night phase, which begins at 9 p.m. on the night a snow emergency is declared," St. Paul public works director Bruce Beese explained.
They ban parking on about half the streets in the city and plow them. Those are the streets with signs that say "Night Plow Route," like the one where Totus parked.
"Then at 8 a.m. the next day, all day routes are plowed. And that's about the other half of the city streets, and they're all unmarked," Beese said.
"If you want to call theirs a two-phase plan, ours is a three-phase plan," said Mike Kennedy, who is in charge of plowing in Minneapolis.
Because the Minneapolis plan has three phases, it's more complicated to explain.
On the night of a snow emergency, Minneapolis plows all the streets marked "Snow Emergency Route." The signs are red. Cars parked on these streets will be tickets and/or towed.
Starting at 8 the next morning, you can't leave your car on a parkway. But you can park on the freshly plowed snow emergency routes. You can also park on one side of non-snow emergency routes -- the side with odd-numbered houses on it.
And the day after that, they finish up by plowing the odd sides, so you can't park there. But the rest of the city's streets are fine.
"St. Paul's takes a little bit less time to complete, but one of the advantages to ours is our doesn't impose as big of a burden on people to find a place to park," Kennedy said.
The theory behind the Minneapolis plan goes like this: More time means more parking spaces are available at any given time during the snow emergency. More parking spaces means people are more likely to follow the rules. And that means the city can do a better job plowing.
"We like to feel over here that, while perhaps our plan maybe takes a little bit longer and there may be some disadvantages, the advantages to the plan allow us to end up with a little better quality product," Kennedy said.
St. Paul's Bruce Beese disagrees.
"I don't think that's a fair characterization," he said. "We're using the same kinds of equipment and we're plowing in the same way. And, by the time you get out to that second day or that third day, [Minneapolis has] got residential streets that are getting packed down, and you really wouldn't see much of a difference between the two cities."
Both Beese and Kennedy do agree on this -- it would be better if the two cities had the same rules.
"There would be a huge advantage," Kennedy said.
"If we could some day get to doing things exactly the same way, it would be easier for citizens in both cities to understand," Beese agreed.
But it costs money to change systems. Minneapolis looked at it a few years back and estimated new signs alone would run about $1 million. And at this point, both cities seem to think their way is the better way.
But as he stands in line at the Minneapolis impound lot, Andrew Verden is ambivalent. His car has seen the business end of both cities' tow trucks.
"When your car gets towed, it doesn't really matter whether you're in St. Paul or Minneapolis when it happens," Verden said. "It stinks. You still have to stand in line. You still have to wait. It's still an inconvenience. And that's what we get for living in Minnesota."