by Thomas Day
The weekend before this year’s Ride to Work Day, I enjoyed lunch with Andy Goldfine on a beautiful spring day in Duluth. As usual, we got wrapped up in a discussion about motorcycle parking, inspired by stuffing three motorcycles into a single parking space near the restaurant. In most cities, putting more than one scrawny motorcycle in a metered space is a serious crime, regardless of the fact that a half-dozen bikes might reasonably fit in that space.
The parking meter turned 70 in 2005. As you might have guessed, it was invented by an evil Oklahoma “genius” named Carl Magee. (I would have guessed his name would be “Magoo,” but I was wrong.) The constitutionality of parking meters has been challenged several times with several conflicting conclusions. The economic effect of meters has been successfully challenged by surburban malls all over the country and it is depressing that this evidence has been ignored for more than 50 years. A simple modification of the rules to reflect modern vehicles and to encourage downtown activity is long overdue.
For example, San Francisco and much of California have no bridge tolls for motorcycles during rush hour. Motorcycle parking is permitted on sidewalks in many areas. Multiple bikes in a metered space is permitted. At municipal ramps, motorcycles pay a lower rate than cars. Of course, the state allows filtering and lane-splitting. San Francisco is a famous motorcycle destination and the city enjoys substantial income from motorcycle tourism.
The U.K.’s most congested city, London, is even more liberally inclined toward cycles and scooters. Two-wheeled vehicles are granted free parking city-wide, free access to bus lanes, and receive a pass on the access fee cagers pay to get into the city’s center. When public transportation is on strike or downed by terrorists or power grid failures, cyclists of all sorts are the only people still able to freely move about to get the city’s business done. In fact, cycles are a critical part of traffic planning in practically every major European and Asian city.
The motivation behind parking space laws is financial, since parking meters provide an obvious income source for the city. The more spaces they can meter, the more work they generate for themselves, the more “jobs” they create, and the more buildings they need to build to house themselves. With that limited worldview, parking meters make sense. A drive through downtown St. Paul (and most major city downtown areas) after 5PM or on any weekend will demonstrate the flaw in that argument. If you can find any sign of life in the city during those time periods, avoid it. It could be a zombie, vampire, panhandler, or a a lonely, pissed-off metermaid. The only “safe distance” is a long distance.
An alternative parking plan could be one that encourages social and economic activity in the city. All of those empty municipal parking lots and spaces could be used to park vehicles which could be used to transport people and their money near downtown businesses. The more vehicles, the more people and money. Crazy, right? Why would a city try to mimic the tactic that suburban businesses used to draw customers away from cities?
With motorcycles, if more than one vehicle is in a metered space the administrative problem is who gets the ticket when the parking meter expires? If this is the toughest decision a mayor and city manager have to deal with, why are these full-time positions? The solution is simple. There are two alternatives:
1. When several motorcycles are occupying a space with an expired meter, ticket them all. Any moron cheap and lazy enough to depend on “the kindness of strangers” to pay for his parking deserves a $25 parking ticket.
2. Ticket the vehicle closest to the meter, equating proximity with responsibility. This would create opportunities for strategic parking tactics adding to the downtown adventure. Sort of like a mini-low-speedtheme park attraction, with the participants trying to find ways to legally park within the boundaries of the space and furthest from the meter.
The other problem is limiting the number of vehicles in a space to allow for safe and uncomplicated access and exit of the space. I offer the following suggestions:
1. A maximum of four (4) motorcycles, parked with the rear tire against the curb, in a parallel parking space.
2. Two (2) motorcycles backed into the space and staggered with sufficient space from the parking lines to allow unrestricted clearance for adjacent vehicle doors and space for movement around the motorcycles for both riders.
3. While we’re at it, I can’t think of a good reason why a pair of Smart cars, Suzuki Altos, or Kia Souls can’t share a parallel parking space with the same rules that might apply to motorcycles. If they can provide each other with enough room to exit the space, why not? Encouraging efficient small cars would be a benefit to the city and the world.
Obviously, a smarter option is to absolve cycles of parking meter obligations altogether. Encouraging the low energy, low real estate usage, high mobility characteristics of two-wheel vehicles is the smart, modern tactic for any city trying to solve congestion and economic problems.