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Having a Car In The City Is A Pain In The Ass

Badass Johnny Cash commenting on the parking situation in Baltimore.

This guy I read about in the Baltimore Sun had his car towed from the Federal Hill Library parking lot.  He was with his disabled mother and infant daughter, which is probably why it made news. Granted, he probably should have known how the system works (if a space is too good to be true, then it probably is), and tow truck drivers will jump you like starved sharks going after raw seal meat if your fender even encroaches on a restricted space. $300 bucks for an hour of parking and the privilege of visiting the awesome impound lot. I’m pretty sure they have complimentary coffee there to make it worth your while.

And people get so crazy over their parking spaces in neighborhoods.  Yelling at each other and making themselves and other people miserable fighting over an 8x20ft piece of asphalt.   Then the parking tickets. I accumulated about 15 after living here for only 2 years when I had a car. After awhile I started to wallpaper my refrigerator with them. Then if you want to go shopping or out to eat but don’t want to drive to the county, parking is expensive downtown and you may get your windows busted in transitional areas like Station North (JH knows what I’m sayin).  Oh yea, my car got keyed and broken into on several occasions.  Plus insurance is expensive in the city and the whole tag/plate/registration DMV BS is an afternoon from hell.  Man I loved the road trips out of town on a whim but keeping a car here just sucked.

But it’s not all roses going car free in the winter.  Now my face freezes when I’m on my bike and I’m surrounded by The Plague as people cough all around me on the bus, but I can take it.   With the money I save by not owning a car, I can take an around-the-world vacation in 2012. I’ve been using Zipcar more frequently as the weather gets colder, and once the Green Line of the Charm City Circulator starts up I’ll have another commuting option.

So my point is this;  the ticket officers, tow companies, and petty criminals are vultures eying up your car every time you leave it unattended in Baltimore. To you, it’s your transportation and status symbol. To them, it’s a sweet little goody they can make a buck off of.  I’ll gladly take some cold weather in exchange for never having to stare into the cold eyes of a tow truck driver or take a car to the repair shop again.

**Check out what Hoboken is doing about their screwed up parking situation.

Why Rush Hour Parking Restrictions Don’t Work

For the love of God just let the people park.

While walking  from the Canton Promenade to Starbucks, it took me 5 minutes to cross Boston Street.  My bad – I was jaywalking. And sure, I could have walked half a mile to the nearest crosswalk at O’donnell or Hudson, but my pride got in the way.  Also, when you’re at the Canton Starbucks, those crosswalks look really really far away (they’re actually about 1600 feet apart).  I’ve seen 80 year old men with canes cross mid-block on Boston, so I thought, if they could do it, so can I.  There are two issues here.

  1. Boston Street probably needs a mid block crosswalk somewhere between O’donnell and Hudson Street. With all that retail, a grocery store, and a Starbucks (my sweet sweet love), there are plenty of people who live in the condos on the other side of Boston, or who exit the Promenade, and say “Damn, those crosswalks are far. I’ll make a run for it.”
  2. I was trying to cross at 5pm. This means eastbound traffic flies because two lanes are open instead of one due to peak hour parking restrictions.

Opening that one lane of traffic maybe saves 1 or 2 minutes of travel time if you’re in a car.  So awesome.  What peak hour parking restrictions also do is encourage highway-like speeds on neighborhood streets, discourage business patronage, and make life a pain in the ass for nearby residents who don’t have sufficient parking. Not to mention the fact that all it takes is one illegally parked vehicle to throw the whole scheme into chaos. I’ll also throw in the kitchen sink and say it makes biking during peak hours more difficult.  I’d rather get doored than get hit from the back by a speeding car. And finally, let’s throw in the bathtub and say that peak hour restrictions preclude the installation of bump outs, the fashionable street adornment which make pedestrian crossings safer and streets greener.

“But Mark” you say, “you’re supposed to discourage driving. We should make parking more difficult.”.  In certain situations, I disagree. I am against engineering decisions that provide benefits to vehicular traffic at the expense of other modes and neighborhood livability, and this is a great example. And especially in this economy, businesses need all the customers they can get, even if they arrive by Hummer.  Though Howard Street wasn’t hurt by light rail, it wasn’t helped by a lack of auto access. I would be remiss if I didn’t state my opinion that peak hour parking restrictions hurt businesses on Charles Street as well.

And just like one way streets, peak hour parking restrictions seem to be for the benefit of drivers who want to get the hell out of Baltimore as fast as possible after they get out of work. Why should we sacrifice livable streets, commercial vitality and quality of life for our residents just for the sake of shaving a couple minutes off  someones exodus to the suburbs? What’s the hurry, drivers?  Park your car and stay awhile.

Greater Greater Washington has an excellent article describing Chicago’s effort to eliminate peak hour parking restrictions on 225 of their busiest blocks.

**Update: Check out a run down of research done on the benefits of on-street parking at Planetizen.