Tag Archives: traffic

Parking Place

Old cities are being suffocated by cars. And I am not just talking about the huge volume of traffic flow. When a city such as ours – built in the 18th century for horses and carriages, and which then expanded, in the 19th century, with modern public conveyances like trolleys, an elevated line, subway and trains – has its 21st-century residents hell-bent on having a four-wheeled vehicle per capita … well, where are they all supposed to go? America is big, but cities have limits. Especially old cities. For a time, in the 20th century in this city, there was a belief that the resident of each house had an unofficial ownership of the space right in front of his/her property, for the purpose of parking. At that time, there was usually just one car per household. Now, it is per adult.

Certainly, for an 18th-century rowhouse, nothing but a Smart car would fit across its breadth. But, even for 19th-century rowhouses, most cars are longer than the distance between party walls. And if you put four to six people of driving age in one rowhouse … well, their four to six cars will take up the entire block. It is a mathematical thing and a spatial thing. And, usually, a rental thing.

What’s a neighborhood to do, especially those permanent residents who leave for work and return in the evening to find no parking spaces on their entire block, possibly for several blocks? Students, sometimes six to a house, have had their vehicles parked most of the day, since they have only one class to go to, and a big SUV to get them to and from it. The scarcity of street parking was making it difficult for homeowners to live here, the curbside space was bursting at the seams. Finally, someone in our neighborhood did something about it: permit parking.

Recently, I awoke to the sound of drilling, and within an hour or two, there was a fence-post-like array of street signage up and down our three contiguous blocks, on the curb-parking side. “2 HR Parking 8 am – 6:30 pm, Mon thru Fri, Except Permit Parking 15.” Additionally, “No Stopping Anytime” signs were placed at a certain distance from the corners. This is a so-full-up area that every conceivable space is used, including sidewalks, if they are not cordoned off in some manner. I look out my windows now, and through the trees I view full-frontal red, white and green signs. And they are large. The funny thing is, though, that most of the difficult parking is at night, not between 8 am and 6:30 pm. But maybe the idea is that the hour or so at the tail end of the “controlled time” is enough to give the permanent residents a chance at a space, if they move quickly. Although, if someone was clever, they could begin parking their non-permitted car at 4:30 pm and be good to go for the night.

My straight-across-the-street neighbor came home one night, after the signs were installed, and said, “Yippee, I can park right in front of my house again!” I asked if he had obtained a permit and he said that he had, and that it cost only $35. Many of the students renting on our street have out-of-state plates and I wonder if they can obtain a permit. Maybe that is the point. Otherwise, it is just a small reminder that they don’t control these blocks. To me, this is more of the theater of city life. I and a few of the residents on our side of the street have driveways – a luxury item in these mean streets. So, the advent of permit parking doesn’t affect us one way or the other. Obviously, it pissed off a number of residents enough to make them happy to pay for the likelihood of a parking space.

Suddenly, a few months into this, someone came out and changed the signs to, “2 HR Parking, 7 pm – 7 am, Mon thru Sun.” Obviously somebody figured out the uselessness of the original timeframe.

I can’t say I enjoy looking at all the signage, nor do I enjoy looking at all the cars lined up nose to butt with about four inches between, resembling metallic sausage links. From space, the parked cars solidly lining the steep hilly streets must look like multicolored guardrails, or some sort of low-cost version of housing.

So, where is the placeness of neighborhoods if they become parking lots? You might think that any new housing that appears would have to confront and solve the problem of parking, or, at least, not contribute to it. Somehow on our street, three new houses were built on a lot big enough for one and, yes, they have garages. Unfortunately, the garages are not big enough for the new owners’ cars. So the result is that there are now seven additional cars seeking spaces. And the space required for the seven cars is, by measurement, greater than the space that the three houses inhabit. And so it goes. 

Where does it end? In New York City there are these parking elevators that stack cars up several stories high in a confined area, maximizing air-space parking on a small footprint of land. Also in NYC, there are high-end apartment buildings with indoor parking – right on your own floor! Here’s a thought: When the cities get maxed out, hire big-wheeler auto-transport trucks to carry muliple vehicles around and around, circling through the city streets until they are called or texted to bring the car to your door. A new kind of carryout. The streets would be clear but the diesel fumes would kill everyone, so there would be no need for cars anymore. And no need for permit parking in residential neighborhoods – since there would be no residents.

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The Yield Sign: Give Way. Speed Up.

Our world is dotted with signage. Daily, we are bombarded by advertising, street, warning, directional and traffic signs – all in place to attract our attention and give us instruction of one kind or another. I have had a lifelong fascination with the “yield” sign. Back in my 4th- or 5th-grade classroom, our teacher asked if anyone knew what the word “yield” meant. Now, I was not one of those kids with a persistently raised arm, but I decided to give it a go. I was clueless as to what its definition was and I probably had never used the word before, yet alone heard others use it in conversation, but I deduced its meaning based on my observations of how people behaved wherever yield signs were posted. I answered, “Give way.” This was a significant moment for me in the powers of observation and deductive reasoning.

The yield sign originated in Tulsa, Oklahoma, based on a collaboration between a traffic engineer and a police captain (Rice and Riggs) around the mid-20th century. Originally it was a keystone shape in yellow and black and, over the past sixty years, has changed into a triangular target design in red and white. The thinking behind creation of a yield sign was that often a full stop wasn’t required, but rather a cautionary slowing and merging, especially where a less busy “feeder” street intersected a busier “collector” street. Yield signs became de rigeur on highways and expressways at the points of one-way intersections, such as on-ramps. Always found at points of convergence where one fork has precedence over another, they create a kind of road hierarchy.

If you asked a child of 9 or 10 now what yield means, based solely on observation, they might likely guess, “Speed up.” That is the interpretation so often expressed by drivers faced with the triangle. So, who’s place is it to give way? Obviously, it is still the one with the yield sign, the one entering the flow of traffic. For those who have never experienced traffic circles, they operate in pretty much the same way – entering traffic slows (or stops, even) for the traffic already in the circle. Of course, on highways there is an unstated courtesy of the car in the slower flow lane to move over to the left, if it is safe to do so, to accommodate the newbie entering on the right. But that is not always possible or sane to do, depending on traffic volume. And it is not the law, in contrast to the stated yield sign.

As cars have been made more adept at reaching 60 mph in 10 seconds or less, is it mainly for the purpose of breaking the laws of yielding the right-of-way? Americans don’t like to yield – they like others to yield to them: their land, their labor, their property, their sense of self. Apparently, on the roads, too, letting others yield is the preferred method. No one wants to give an advantage to anyone else, and it is reflected daily on the road as the yield signs are ignored. I guess the question is: Why do we still have yield signs if they mean nothing? Granted, they are one of the most attractively designed signs on the road and I would hate to see them disappear. Moreover, we still do need the yield sign – maybe even more so today than in the kinder, gentler, more naive times when it was devised. The problem comes in when drivers choose whether to obey them.

A place can be a point of convergence, or a choice (in this case, both); and a sign is a wayfinding device or an enforceable rule: the physical manifestation of a law that is supposed to protect us from our worst selves. Yield signs, for me, have a kind of placeness, marking a juncture, acknowledging crossing paths, suggesting union, showing that there are others in the world and that, sometimes, you must surrender, slow down and merge. The yield-sign lesson that day in grade school, perhaps, had that element, too – of learning to give way, not only when traffic merges but maybe in other situations as well. These days the message seems to have lost its meaning. Or maybe the problem is that no one knows what those red-and-white triangles mean. And, too, it reminds me that it is not only a traffic-control device but also a moment of understanding and reason, a place of awareness and the artful grace of acquiescence. Too bad not every driver had that moment in the classroom.

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