by Benn Ray
It's a simple rule of etiquette that most of us learn before we even get to the Golden Rule, and it states:
Never discuss religion and politics in polite company.
Peanuts philosopher Linus expanded upon this in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, when he said:
"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people...religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin."
And American humorist Mark Twain underlined the futility of breaking this rule when he said:
"I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's."
Of course, I break this rule all the time.
I enjoy talking about things we shouldn't. I revel in political discussions. I often gleefully dive in to theological debates.
However, there is a third topic that should be added to this maxim that isn't the Great Pumpkin (I always thought that was covered under "religion" for Linus anyway), and it's parking. In fact, I'm quite sure this post will engender a certain amount of hate mail just for daring to suggest that no one should have the right to reserve public city streets for private use.
In terms of futile, emotional discourse, parking trumps religion and politics. I have been witness to the most rage-fuelled irrationality under the guise of parking conversations that even I, a person who gets a kick out of talking religion and politics, am somewhat hesitant when it comes to that topic.
Before I get too far into this, I should point out the reason I'm talking about it now is that there are a handful of residents in Hampden who are about to change the parking environment in the neighborhood for a long, long time.
If you are one of those residents, you figure what you are doing is for the better - at least for you. If you are anyone else in Hampden, Roland Park, Medfield and even Woodberry, then most likely you'll find it's for the worst.
TONIGHT - Thursday, June 19 at 6PM at at Keswick Multi-care Center (auditorium) (700 W. 40th St.), the community will gather to discuss new parking restrictions city councilperson Mary Pat Clarke has introduced via legislation that will create a Reserved Residential Permit Parking (RPP) zone within a two block radius around the Rotunda. The restrictions in the law limit non-permit parking (permits which you will be required to pay an annual city fee for, a fee subject to city increases at any time) to only 1 hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Make no mistake, these are some of the most draconian parking restrictions introduced in Baltimore city.
I understand as well as anyone that city parking engenders completely irrational attitudes. People begin to feel a sense of entitlement to parking on public city streets. They start to think in terms of "their space" even though such a thing does not exist.
I have seen homemade "Residents Only" signs designed to chase off anyone who doesn't live in a neighborhood. I have seen city parking signs "customized" by residents to provide themselves with parking at the risk of public safety.
I understand that after living for years in a low-density neighborhood, that when that density suddenly increases, one can begin to feel put out by these new "invaders."
I get hate mail from my bi-weekly Baltimore Messenger column whenever I even get close to suggesting that while a resident may feel they have a parking problem, Hampden as a neighborhood does not have a legitimate parking problem.
In fact, when I asked Jennifer Leonard, then Parking Planning Manager of the Baltimore Parking Authority if, by definition, Hampden technically had a parking problem, her answer was something akin to, "Well, if you are used to parking in front of your house on a regular basis and you can no longer do so, that may feel like a parking problem."
She had previously told me that a "parking problem" was defined as an inability to park within a 5 block radius of where you want to go. In other words, Hampden does not have what technically constitutes a parking problem. You may feel like it does, but that doesn't mean it's so.
I was even at a community meeting with Leonard and Mary Pat Clarke where the Parking Authority was proposing turning a series of overgrown lots behind Crisp St. into a real parking area. Outraged residents who feared losing "their" illegitimate parking spaces screamed at Leonard and Clarke and called them (and me) all liars and blamed everything wrong in their lives on the business district on the Avenue nearly a half-dozen blocks away.
I have been a member of the two Hampden Parking Task Forces over the years. The first one brought more parking to the neighborhood via Reverse Angle Parking (in itself a somewhat controversial solution). In fact, we could have brought even more parking spaces to the neighborhood by increasing it for blocks up streets like Roland Ave. - but there were a handful of residents who blocked it because even though it would give them more parking, it would also mean possibly more parking for customers of a certain area restaurant and, well, they would rather not have more parking than do anything that might benefit that business.
As a member of the current Hampden Parking Task Force, I've come to realize that our options to increase more parking in the area are severely limited. Increasing more parking via Reverse Angle Parking is perceived as dead from the start (see above). I was told by a city leader that we won't be abe to get the Charm City Circulator to come through unless we had a revenue-raising parking garage to pay for it. Meanwhile, although Hampden has been promised a parking garage since O'Malley was mayor, it's also become clear that the city has no interest in building one.
I've had irate people scream at me for publicly suggesting possible locations for parking garages. And frankly, I don't believe the neighborhood has enough density yet for a public parking garage to be sustainable.
And now we have additional density pressures via several development projects - specifically, The Rotunda. I can understand perfectly well the frustration of neighbors who must tolerate a temporary period of time when vehicular displacement is the result of a large construction project. The key word here, though is "temporary."
Then there's the Hopkins problem right next to the Rotunda. Since Johns Hopkins University has taken over the under-used-for-years, former Zurich building and started using it again, well, more people have begun to park on the surrounding streets. It becomes all the more frustrating because the former Zurich building has its own parking garage, but Hopkins' policy of charging its employees to park in its garages encourages them to utilize the ample free street parking instead.
But what a minorty of neighborhood residents are trying to do is put up "You are not welcome here" signs around the neighborhood (a la Federal Hill) and reserve, for 24 hours a day, their own private parking, and they want to pay for it (even though they won't be guaranteed that space they believe they are entitled to).
And should they succeed, then what typically follows is not a solution to parking congestion - it's more Residential Restricted Permit Parking. It's more parking congestion.
"We warn people that creating a permit-parking zone is not going to eliminate a parking problem," said John Holden, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Revenue, which administers the parking zones. "It's just going to push it onto another block. You see a domino effect where if one block goes into resident parking, another block goes as well." [Chicago Tribune]
According to Baltimore city, the requirements to participate in RPP are:
1. 60% of households sign on to participate
2. The Community Association of the neighborhood must be supportive of the effort
3. At least 10 (nearly) contiguous block faces (each side of a block) must participate.
4. Non-residents creating a parking problem in a neighborhood.
The problem with this issue is residents didn't get 60% of households to agree to participate. Also, as far as I know, no community association has officially sanctioned this effort. If you take a look at the proposed diagram above, there are not 10 contiguous blocks participating. And finally, by the Parking Authority's own definition, there is not yet a parking problem in the neighborhood, as most cars are able to park in under 5 blocks of their stated destination.
Fortunately for these residents, there are two ways to restrict the public's access to city street parking for the sake of residents. If you can't get 60% of households to sign on to your petition, you can try to get your local city council representative to draft custom legislation for you.
And unfortunately for the rest of the neighborhood, this is exactly what city councilperson Mary Pat Clark has done. [Download Parking1 .pdf]
Also according to Baltimore City, the goals of the RPP program are:
1.To protect residents against unreasonable burdens in gaining access to their residence
2.To reduce hazardous traffic conditions
3.To promote clean air
4.To preserve the quality of life in the general community
It certainly doesn't look like Clarke's legislation accomplishes any of the stated goals of RPP. It's designed to simply protect public city streets for a handful of residents who can afford it to have private, reserved use.
So, because of these residents, other residents will be expected to pay to park on what was once a free city street. They are also expected to not have more than two guests at any time if they do register for the RPP (unless they want to go through the trouble of requesting extra permits). This makes things like dinner or birthday parties and backyard cookouts problematic for those who don't wish to pay for parking.
And visitors who then come into the neighborhood will be greeted by "You Are Not Welcome Here" signs by way of 1 hour only parking for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
But the worst part is this won't just effect the blocks that get the permits (which this scheme seems to acknowledge by adding the "Permits eligible but not posted" green dotted zones)- because the cars that were previously parking there will still need to go somewhere else - so they'll just park at the next available block over.
Even Canton, not a neighborhood known for its progressive attitudes toward transportation, has realized that RPP is a mistake that creates more parking problems than it alleviates.
“Parking became remarkably better for people living in the area,” [Mike] Beczkowski [the parking area representative for the neighborhood] says. “But it got worse for others out of the area.”
Therein lies the rub.
“The analogy was like a blown-up balloon,” says Darryl Jurkiewicz, president of the Canton Community Association, made up mostly of people living outside Area 43. “If you squeeze one end, it inflates the other end.”
People living just outside the tiny new parking zone suddenly faced even more parking headaches than they had before. [Baltimore City Paper]
The problem is that because a city councilperson is introducing this as legislation, it gives residents opposed to RPP, who could very well be a majority of the neighborhood, very little recourse. My experience with the city council is that when a council person introduces legislation for their district, the rest of the council reps tend to vote in favor of it out of an understanding that that council person who introduces such legislation knows what's best for their neighborhood. Even in the cases when the councilperson is wrong.
So what can you do? You can gather your neighbors and come to this meeting tonight and voice your concerns. In addition to that, you should also send Mary Pat Clarke a letter letting her know how opposed you are to RPP and why.
If you want to be able to continue to park in Hampden, and you don't want to have to pay for it or to limit your friends from visiting you, you need to show up at this meeting.