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Learn the Madison winter parking laws to avoid tickets and tows.

7 Madison Winter Parking Tips You Must Know When it Snows

Winter is here, and with it comes snow, wind, ice, and if you’re not careful, parking tickets. You need the rules and regulations for Madison winter parking, as well as strategic tips and valuable resources to help you park safely and ticket-free.

In this post, we’ll provide you with a complete overview of Madison winter parking, including:

So put on your parka, pull up the boots, and let’s jump into the winter parking scene!

(Check out our quick overview video, then read the rest of this post for details!)

Madison Winter Street Parking Rules

Snow Emergency Zone

First, you need to identify if you’re in the Snow Emergency Zone, which is the downtown Isthmus (see map below). The only time you have to deal with alternate side parking is during a Declared Snow Emergency.

Snow Emergency Zone

Alternate Side Parking

From November 15 – March 15, every day regardless of whether conditions, everyone who lives in Madison but isn’t in the Snow Emergency Zone has to park on the same side of the street.

On even-numbered days (i.e. December 12, 14, etc.), park on the EVEN house numbered side of the street between 1AM-7AM.

Image courtesy of the City of Madison.

(Image courtesy of the City of Madison)

On odd-numbered days (i.e. December 11, 13, etc.) park on the ODD-numbered side of the street between 1AM-7AM.

Image courtesy of the City of Madison.

(Image courtesy of the City of Madison)

Pro-tip: You’re parking for tomorrow, not today! Note the alternate side parking is in effect from 1AM-7AM. If you park at 10PM on January 10, you should park on the ODD side.

Park for tomorrow, not today!
Madison Parking Tickets for Not Following the Rules
Where Do I Park on a Street Where Parking is Restricted to One Side Only?

If parking is restricted to one side only, 24 hours a day, then alternate side parking rules do not apply.

Declared Snow Emergency for Madison

A Declared Snow Emergency occurs when snow accumulates or is expected to accumulate to 3 inches or more. The Emergency is declared so that plows can move up and down the streets. Here’s what you need to know:

Unless you are in the Snow Emergency Zone, a declared Snow Emergency really doesn’t change any rules. However, it does raise the citation for violating alternate side parking rules, so be sure to pay extra close attention if a Snow Emergency is declared.

Free Parking During Declared Snow Emergency

There is free parking available between 9PM and 7AM in the cashiered sections of city-owned parking garages. According to the City of Madison:

City of Madison Parking Resources to Keep You Informed

The City of Madison has a great website to keep you informed of any changes, or if a Snow Emergency is declared. These are some other great resources to help keep you informed, some of which even send notifications directly to you.

7 Tips You Must Know When It Snows

7 tips for snow.

Ok, we’ve given you the rules. Now let’s distill them down to 7 tips you must remember when the white flakes fly.

1. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Find Parking

Most car owners living in the downtown area aren’t aware of how tight parking can get. As a result, they put this off until the snow really starts to fly. This puts you at the mercy of availability, and you might not be able to get something close to where you live.

2. Check to See if Alternate Side Parking Applies to You

As mentioned above, Madison also has alternate side parking restrictions citywide, regardless of the weather conditions, from November 15 to March 15. However, there is a Snow Emergency Zone in the downtown area (see map below) in which alternate side parking restrictions don’t apply to these streets unless a Snow Emergency has been declared.

3. Be on Alert for 3” Snowfall or More

Madison declares a Snow Emergency with snowfall accumulations of 3” or more. Alternate side parking rules will kick in for a minimum of the next two nights for people in the Snow Emergency Zone. The city declares when it becomes necessary to plow all residential streets.

A Snow Emergency must be declared prior to 9PM if it’s to take effect for that night; check the City of Madison parking resources to see if you have to move your car. The city also notes that if conditions warrant, a Snow Emergency can be declared to last beyond 48 hours.

4. Be Aware of the Parking Tickets and the High Price for Alternate Side Fines

If a Snow Emergency has been declared and you haven’t moved your car, expect a fine of $60 plus a $65 towing fee. Ouch. If you violate alternate side parking when a Snow Emergency hasn’t been declared, the fine is $20. If you get towed, you’ll have to call the Madison Police Department at 608-266-4170 to locate your car.

5. Master Alternate Side Parking With 4 Words: Always Park for Tomorrow

The restrictions apply to early morning hours, so think about what the date will be after 12:00AM. For example, if it’s November 20 at 8PM and you want to park your car, adhere to odd side parking (it will be November 21 from 1AM-7AM, when alternate side parking takes effect).

6. Consider Temporary Parking for the Winter Months

If the entire street parking scene sounds daunting, you can rent temporary spaces from the City of Madison or private owners (think landlords, developers, local lots). Options can be flexible, and all depend on availability. Rates are significantly higher if you rent a covered space, but it can really be worth it (especially if you hate scraping your windows every morning).

7. You Can Gamble During Snow Emergencies

If you want to roll the dice and only park in the city garages during a storm, that’s an option. However, you could be in a bind if all the spots are taken. City garages do have monthly rates as well.

Other Survival Tips For Outdoor Winter Parking

Ok, those are some tips on how to figure out the downtown parking scene. Here are some additional insights on how to make the best of a bad situation – parking your car in the frigid outdoors.

Prevent De-icing

If possible, park your car facing east, so the morning sun will defrost your windshield for you. It will save you a few extra, bone-chilling minutes otherwise spent scraping.

If that doesn’t work, get a spray bottle and mix 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water. Spray it onto the windshield to prevent the ice from forming.

You could also get a piece of cardboard, cut to the size of your windshield, and put it on overnight. It will prevent the glass from icing over.

Keep the Wipers Clear of an Icy Windshield

Lift the windshield wipers overnight. That way they won’t freeze to the windshield along with all of the ice. Or put a sock over the wiper blades at night so they won’t stick to the glass in the event of icy conditions.

You can also apply rubbing alcohol to the blade to keep it from sticking to the windshield.

Watch Out for Frozen Door Locks

When your door lock is frozen, heat your car key with a match or lighter, then slide it in slowly to melt the ice. You can also blow on the lock through a drinking straw, or rub the lock with hand sanitizer.

Prevent Frost Build-up and Windows From Fogging

Open a window just a little bit. This prevents humidity and allows hot air to escape, preventing a frost build-up on the inside, too.

You can also fill a stocking full of kitty litter (clean kitty litter) to absorb water, or run the air conditioner in the morning to take the humidity out of the air

Use a Chalkboard Eraser to Clear a Foggy Window

When the windshield fogs up in winter, don’t clean it with your hand. Instead of leaving smudges and streaks, pack a chalkboard (or dry-erase board) to wipe clean.

Keep Snow Removal Items in the Car

You never know when your car might get snowed in. Keep a scraper, a snow brush, and a shovel in the car. We also found this funky little tool called the Scrape-A-Round. Check it out.

You might also consider a bag of rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter to put under your tires in case you get stuck. And always keep an extra set of mittens, hat, scarf, socks and a blanket in the car for emergencies.

Prep Your Car for Winter, Too

Ok, we’ve got you covered on winter parking in Madison. Now here are some additional auto tips for prepping your car for these ridiculous conditions. Some of these are courtesy of

Keep Your Battery and Charging System in Top Shape

Cold weather can reduce a battery capacity by more than one-third, so be sure you have the battery, alternator and charging system in tiptop shape.

Maintain Your Windshield Washer System

Keep the fluids filled and new wipers on the blades, as you’ll undoubtedly be using them often to keep the snow, slush and salt off the window.

Carry Emergency Gear

Every car should be equipped with gloves, boots, blankets, a shovel and a flashlight, just in case you get stuck.

Once You’re On The Road

Hitting the road

At some point, it will be time to hit the road. We may sound a bit like your Dad, but here are some top tips from AAA:

Drive and Brake Slowly

Avoid rapid acceleration and deceleration. Slow and steady wins the race. Accelerate slowly to gain traction on snowy roads, and a slow deceleration will avoid sliding. It takes longer to brake and speed up on snowy roads, so budget your time accordingly.

Get a Feel for Your Brakes

As you’re driving in the wintery conditions, apply the brakes once or twice when you’re alone on the road so you can test the braking conditions. You’ll get a good feel for how fast you can truly travel.

Avoid the Spin

Whether you’re moving from a dead stop, or driving up a hill, don’t spin your wheels and slam on the gas pedal. You’ll get nowhere fast.


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