Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Takin' care of business

At around 8:15 this morning I passed a pedestrian strolling down Lincoln Street. Dude looked at me, held up his Budweiser tall boy and shouted, "The businessman riding his bike to work!"

Well, I've have worse things yelled at me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cars gone wild!

Aaron Naparstek has a fascinating post on his blog about a "parking squat" held in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The concept is fairly simple. Squatters feed the parking meter, set up lawn chairs and small tables, then simply hang out and enjoy the space until the meter expires. According to Naparstek, the purpose of the squat is to challenge "the idea that the vast majority of a crowded city's street space -- its public space -- is best used for the storage and movement of private automobiles." And it looks like the squatters had a great time.

Here in Savannah, the parking squat is a little different. You might even call it a reverse parking squat. In our local version, a motorist claims an area of public space such as a sidewalk or crosswalk to support "the idea that the vast majority of a crowded city's street space -- its public space -- is best used for the storage and movement of private automobiles."

In downtown Savannah, most parking squatters eventually attract the attention of the city's Parking Services department, but outside the National Historic Landmark District (and even some places within it), motorists can squat without fear of receiving citation. Meanwhile, these squatting cars create a nuisance for most pedestrians and, for citizens with sight or mobility impairments, they constitute a real danger.

I've decided to document these parking squats in a series I'll call, "Cars Gone Wild!"

If you zoom in on this photo, you'll see from the tag on the bumper that this car's name is Centipede. Like a lot of older model Dodge Neons, Centipede is feeling a little under the weather these days and doesn't have the energy to drive around searching for parking space in this neighborhood on the east side of the historic district. A nice resting space on the sidewalk is just the place to for a weary car to relax and await its next assignment. Hope you feel better soon, Centipede!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Voice of the People

I wonder how many newspapers have gripe lines like the Savannah Morning News feature called "Vox Populi." There's the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "The Vent," which has been around for at least 10 years now. Most Vox contributions sound to me like recycled sound bites originally hatched on talk radio, but sometimes they are wonderfully random. For evidence, I submit these to shining examples from the last couple days:

"Does anyone remember the old peanut man who had a house on Skidaway with a peanut field right behind it? He sold peanuts on his front porch."

"I went to the hospital recently with acute diverticulitis and the doctor accused me of being a drug seeking person. Fortunately he named a pill I had at home so I went home and took that. I'm glad I didn't have something more serious. Doctors, don't assume everyone is a drug addict."

Still, if we filter out wistful nostalgia for peanut men and accounts of digestive ailments and pill naming, we can sometimes catch a glimpse of the bees residing in Savannah's collective bonnet. An installment last week featured two sentences that tell us pretty much all we need to know about how locals view the increased cost of motorcar operation and the viability of bicycling and walking as possible alternatives. Here it is:

"When are we going to get sidewalks and bike trails for when we can no longer afford to drive cars? How else are we to get to work, church and the grocery store?"

This comment conveys two central ideas. First, it represents the view that bicycles belong on trails and not on city streets. I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he or she is advocating sidewalks for pedestrians. However, comments screamed from passing cars at many of my cycling friends (but never at me, for some reason), suggest there's very good chance he or she expects cyclists to use these sidewalks. Second, it's a classic example of the kind of hyperbolic statement frequently deployed by Vox Populators, who figure things have gone too darn far. Here's one I just made up:

"I had to wait so long in my doctor's waiting room, next time I'm bringing a tent and a sleeping bag."

Of course, my impatient patient isn't really going to take camping gear to his next checkup. Nor is the Vox Populi contributor actually suggesting that people will walk or ride bicycles as gas prices rise. Clearly something must be done before the situation declines to such a grim point. The idea of walking to work is preposterous. Riding a bike to a grocery store? Don't be ridiculous. There must be an intermediate solution that's less crazy. Like driving around in golf carts!

Despite an endless parade of newspaper and television stories about high gas prices, I detect few changes in the behavior of my fellow citizens. Large SUVs are still left idling curbside for indefinite periods. Fuel-wasting aggressive driving remains popular among motorists of all demographic groups. Clearly gas prices are failing to cramp our styles.

On the other hand, yesterday I was a part of miniature bicycle traffic jam. Our convoy was led by an older gentleman on a cruiser with twin wire baskets on the back. Next was the rarest of all cyclist species: a commuter, dressed in office attire with a messenger bag slung across his back. And me. We were all in a pack, heading north on Lincoln Street, just a couple bike-lengths separating each of us. At Gwinnett Street we were joined by another cyclist who veered onto Lincoln and headed south against traffic. He was riding a creaky mountain bike that looked like it had spent about twelve parsecs in the cargo hold of a Jawa Sand Crawler (they guy sort of looked like he'd been in there, too). He weaved in and out of parked and oncoming cars as we cruised by.

For that one block, cyclists outnumbered motorists by a factor of four to one! I figure gas prices will have to get a whole lot higher before this becomes the norm.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Desperate to stay behind the wheel

South Carolina's The State newspaper reported yesterday that State Rep. Todd Rutherford has ditched his BMW in favor of a golf cart for his daily commute to work. The Democrat's motivation, according to the story, is to avoid paying high gas prices. He started using the golf cart during the Great Hurricane Katrina Gas Price Spike of Ought Five.

Seems like a pretty smart fellow, taking advantage of a South Carolina law that permits daytime golf cart operation on secondary roads, as long as the cart is not driven more than two miles from a home or office. And that's the part that gets me: Rep. Rutherford lives a mile and a half from his office. Why isn't he riding a bicycle? Or even walking?

The photo and biographical information posted on his Web site indicate that Rep. Rutherford is my age or younger. Unless he has a physical condition that necessitates use of a motorized vehicle, why does he constrain himself to a golf cart when he could surely get to work under his own power? Could it be the heat? I have it on good authority that Columbia can be one of the hottest places in the known universe. Nope. High today should be around 89 degrees.

I think this might be the problem:

He said its only draw back is its lack of speed. He drives to the side to keep from being run over.

If he's worried about being hit in "his caution-yellow E-Z-GO," imagine how people on bicycles must feel! I appreciate this lawmaker's dedication to conserving fuel, but with such a short commute, I encourage him to leave the car and the golf cart in the garage. If I can do it, why can't he?