Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cycling in the parking lane

Motorists parking in bike lanes is not a Savannah-specific occurrence. In fact, I've learned that in New York City public officials are assigned special placards that allow them not to park not just in bicycle lanes, but on grave sites, in the living rooms of private residences and on top of pedestrians.

It's really not such a big deal to move a couple feet into the lane to avoid a stationary car. Still, I become a little angry when, on my way to work, I encounter motor vehicles parked in Lincoln Street the bicycle lane. My trouble is I can't ignore the fact that this is the only pavement marked lane in all of downtown Savannah. There are plenty of places to park, but only one bike lane.

As I passed the white Chevy Tahoe parked in the bike lane just south of Anderson Street this morning, I turned to face the woman at the wheel. She seemed to be quite happy sitting in her car listening to music. We made eye contact. I pointed to the "bike lane" and "towing enforced" signs located about 10 feet away from her windshield. Then I pointed at the pavement. Then at my bike.

Then she looked at me like I had lost my mind.

Hers was absolutely the correct response. After all, if it wasn't OK to park in the bike lane, the police officer driving the marked patrol car, which rolled past her about a minute before I did, probably would have stopped and said something. It's clear I'm the one who needs to get with the program.

I used to call the police non-emergency number to report cars parked in the bike lane. Sometimes I heard a sympathetic voice on the other end of the line. Too many times, though, I was met with a different response: "A bicycle is parked in the what now?" Even when I repeated that a car was parked in the bike lane, I'm was treated as if I called to report a squirrel in the tree outside my front door. The dispatcher understood what I was saying, but there was no corresponding recognition that a car parked in a bike lane was a problem.

Lest anyone think I'm bashing the cops, I'm not. It's just that enforcing parking regulations just doesn't seem to be in the job description. In the National Historic Landmark District, creative parking techniques will eventually attract the attention of Parking Services. But outside of the historic district, I'm convinced cars can remain unlawfully parked indefinitely.

For instance, within a three block stretch of East 49th Street I saw four cars parked on or otherwise blocking sidewalks on a recent evening. This does not include the cars parked on the tennis courts at Savannah Arts Academy (Why does this parking lot have nets on it?) or the motor scooter that had been stored on the sidewalk near the intersection with East Atlantic Street for weeks.

Another example: On the northeast corner of Anderson and Habersham streets, the crosswalk is connected to the sidewalk via a slightly sloped ramp covered in textured brick. What's the purpose of this? Could it be to allow a person in a wheel chair to transition between the crosswalk and the sidewalk? Perhaps it makes it easy on older folks who have a hard time making it over the curb?


This feature marks the spot often occupied by the right front tire of the illegally parked Roberts Furniture delivery truck. I guess it's handy for the driver. When he feels the tire drop into that depression, he can be certain that the cab of the truck has completely blocked the crosswalk. There's no guesswork involved!

The City of Savannah has recently mounted and vigorous and well publicized anti-blight campaign. According to recent news coverage, inspectors are especially interested in old jalopies languishing in residents' front yards. Here's a snip from a recent Savannah Morning News story:

"People should know by now that parking a car on the front lawn is against city law, the inspectors said."

Luckily for these people, parking a car in a bike lane or on the sidewalk or even on a public school tennis court is permitted.


Fritz said...

I've tried shaming these scofflaw parkers by taking photos of their illegally parked cars, but it doesn't seem to work that well.

Jamie said...

This all goes back to what I tend to beat into the ground (and what the heck, it's never too late to beat a little bit more). If the police would actually enforce all the traffic laws, instead of only enforcing the ones that they like personally, then bike-friendly cities would be the norm. Unfortunately, that's not the case.