by Benn Ray
Unfortunately, being aware of the situation doesn't necessarily make it go away.
For example, I'm aware of how crazy, illogical and downright incorrect it is to look at public city street parking as private parking. I know, intellectually, that I do not have a right to a parking space. I do not pay for one. I am in no way promised one. But that the same time, there is a spot across the street (because in front of my house there is Restricted Residential Parking which means during the week I can't usually park there) that is "my spot." That doesn't mean I have a sense of entitlement and that if I come home and "Tweety Bird" (which is what I call the short blonde woman who drives the yellow Honda) is parked in that space, as she often is, that a vehicular rage washes over me (although I may wag my fist and yell "Damn you, Tweety Bird!" in a self-mockingly as a way to acknowledge my irrational response). But when I come home and get "my spot," I do feel a minor flush of elation - of victory.
But it's easy to see where irrational attitudes toward parking can spiral out into crazy land. For example, one time when I lived in a different neighborhood and I came home from work early, the only parking space available on the block was in front of my next door neighbor's house. Several hours later that evening there was a knock at my door. It was my slightly annoyed neighbor who asked if it wouldn't be too much trouble for me to park "in your own space in front of your own house" (which had eventually opened up) and not in "her space." Instead of explaining how insane this conversation was, I looked at her in disbelief and said, "Okay, give me just a second and I'll go pull my car 12 feet forward."
There is a red Ford truck that is illegally parked in front of its owner's house which I drive past twice a day, every day. The house is at the end of a block of rowhomes, and right next to it is an alley and next to that alley is a convenience store. At some point, the city came out and expanded the "No Parking" region so that people coming out of the alley or the convenience store lot could actually see oncoming traffic without having to nose out into it. Unfortunately, this means the red Ford can't be parked directly in front of the last house on the block. While it could still be parked close, like in front of the next to last rowhouse on the block, that clearly isn't good enough for the red Ford as he is always, ALWAYS parked on the illegal side of the "No Parking" sign (which is the side directly in front of his house), and I have never seen him ticketed. Not only does this negate the point of expanding the "No Parking" region but it makes exiting the alley and the convenience store lot (both things I've done), a little dicier.
In Hampden, along the Avenue, I remind my fellow merchants all the time to not park at meters because when you do it actually negates the point of having metered parking. Metered parking exists to not just generate revenue for the city, but it also exists to encourage turnover. In fact, we found back in the early 2000s, that when we would do free parking days - people would leave their vehicles in those metered spots all day long (usually merchants, employees and area residents), and it would create more parking problems for people coming into the neighborhood. Yet I see it all the time, business people who think they are entitled to leave their vehicle in the parking space in front of their business all day long, every day. Generally, as a business community, we all know who these merchants are.
Yet despite this, there are still merchants (especially a handful of more ideological ones whose libertarian sensiblities are somehow offended by regulated parking), who think they are exempt from this arrangement.
Even worse is the abuse of the "Loading Zones." There are a number of business owners who feel like, again, they are entitled to park in front of their business. And in front of their business, there happens to be a loading zone, so they leave their trucks there all day long. Because of the timing of the loading zone, they are less likely to get ticketed and, presumably, they feel like they can fight the more expensive ticket if they do get one by saying they were loading stuff into their business. But what happens then is that the delivery trucks who have a legitmate use of those loading zones can't access them, so they illegally double park to make deliveries (frequently to the very business who blocking the loading zone) and create traffic problems in the neighborhood.
Residents have their own ways of irrationally dealing with parking.
If you've ever driven down Cold Spring in Evergreen, you may notice some people with yard signs that say "No Loyola Parking." This is clearly the act of residents frustrated with the inadequate parking the institution is providing for its students. It is also completely bogus.
Public city streets are simply that. Public. They can't be restricted on a regular basis to give preferential parking to one type of person over another.
One easy way to spot unofficial parking restrictions (as in they don't legally apply so ignore them) is if the notice is posted on private property. In fact, every time I drive down Coldspring and I see someone with a "No Loyola Parking" sign in their yard, I want to park there.
Over in Hampden, on Wellington, residents took it upon themselves to construct a "Residential Parking Only" sign and fix it to a light post (pictured above). Just a general rule of thumb here, but legitmate street parking signs aren't made with labelmakers.
Also, in both of these signs, there are no outlined means of enforcement. If the signs were legitmate, there would be a notice as to how the city would be able to discern between "Residential" parking and non-residential parking - as in some kind of permit.
But that's part of the genuis of signs like these - they don't have to be legitimate (or even well thought out or realistic looking) to work.
The average non-resident who is looking for a parking space is most likely not very familiar with where they are parking. If they see a sign like this, a cautious driver, even with suspicions, would say, "Why risk it?" and move a block over. Plus, there's no telling that if a resident is irrational enough about public parking to create and post exclusionary signs, what other things they may do to one's vehicle should you not listen to them.
On the block where I live, we have Residential Permit Parking on one side of the street, and unrestricted public parking on the other. I've lived in this house for almost 10 years, and I've never gotten a residential permit. In fact, I'm not even really sure how, and I've never taken the time to figure it out.
So on weekdays, from 7AM to 7PM I can only park in front of my house for 2 hours. Since I don't generally leave the house before 9AM, that means during the week, I have to park on the unrestricted side - along with almost all of my other neighbors who, like me, have never bothered to get permit stickers. But, of course, I sometimes can't park on the unrestricted side, so I park on the restricted side and either forget or have no place to move the car later. This ends up costing me a little over $150 a year. The point being, that on my block, we have restrictions on one side of the street and a very small minority of residents take advantage of it.
Some may argue that I should just take the time to buy a parking permit. My response to that is that I don't really think I should have to and while that may be the pragmatic response, the behavior of me and most of my neighbors suggest there is some sort of flaw in convenience and accessibility.
Restricted Residential Permit Parking isn't free parking - you're paying the city to park. And you don't have any control over rate increases.
And what's more, it doesn't fix the problem.
The best way to look at parking is to think of the cars as fluid. They will move around areas of resistance and settle where they can. So if one block has restricted parking, cars will just park on the next block over where the parking isn't restricted and now you have twice as many vehicles trying to park in a smaller space which creates more problems for neighbors on that block which in turn motivates residents to enact more Residential Parking Restrictions which in turn creates more problems. It essentially creates a cycle of parking problems for a whole neighborhood until the whole area is residential permit parking which can strangle a business district with finite metered parking and no parking garage.
We have convenient models we can look to here in Baltimore - like Federal Hill or Canton (which has recently moved to get rid of its Residential Permit Parking because it creates more problems than it solves) - to get a sense of what's in store for neighborhoods who enact, on a large scale basis, Residential Permit Parking.
Ever since I first moved to Hampden in 2000, there have been complaints about parking problems. Having lived in Fells Point and Mount Vernon for years, these complaints have always surprised me. If you can park within a two block radius of where you want to go, I've always felt, then you don't have a parking problem. But parking attitudes are as relative as they are irrational.
Years later, I become involved in the Hampden Parking Task Force to help find additional parking in the neighborhood, which we did. And one way we did it was through reverse angle parking. This type of parking would generate several additional spaces per blocks that wished to participate. In order to participate, we had to collect signatures from a majority percentage of residents.
Unfortunately, there were some blocks who simply refused to participate. Even though it meant they would get more parking for themselves, they didn't want to participate because it meant it could also benefit a local business whose owner they had a longstanding beef with. Talk about biting off your nose to spite your face...
Over the years in Hampden, parking density, along with all other kinds of density (especially residential, were single family homes who may have had one car are now multi-family units with multiple cars), has increased. I still wouldn't describe Hampden as having a parking problem, but again, as I've said, it's all relative.
Tonight the Hampden Community Council is hosting a meeting on the parking situation in Hampden at 7PM at the Hampden United Methodist Chuch (3449 Falls Rd.).