10/9/07

Parking in Pikesville - Or how our merchants screwed up Reisterstown Road

Let's play a DVD on the history of that very useful machine, the automobile, and let's review the subject of "parking".

Automobiles first began to appear on city streets in the early part of the twentieth century. At that time, automobiles were playthings reserved for the affluent, like John D. Rockefeller, as yachts and private airplanes are reserved for Bill Gates today. And as expensive toys, these "cars" were relatively rare. The common folk would walk or ride a horse, if they could afford that. When one of the landed gentry would travel by car, and then arrive, the car was simply left at the side of the road. The walkers and horse riders could see the rich man's car, be jealous and covet, and still continue on their way.

Later, with Henry Ford's Model T, cars became affordable by more and more people, and thus became more and more numerous. Roads, that in the horse era had been only dirt paths, were paved to handle the increase in automobile traffic. Still, with paved roads, the socially and morally approved place to park the car continued to be the side of the road.

Fast forward the DVD. Today, we continue this practice, to park our cars on the side of the paved street. Sure, some streets have parking restrictions. But for the most part, drivers righteously expect to exercise their legal right to just stop the car on the side of most any road and get out. This quaint custom of car parking on street sides is held over from those early automobile days when cars were rare and owned by the wealthy, and streets were unpaved. Thus, we continue today. Stop DVD.

I am thinking of Reisterstown road in Pikesville, for example. Now, everyone who has been in Pikesville will know that Reisterstown Road is the main drag. It is approximately 44 feet wide throughout the town, and the road is marked with two driving lanes in each direction. An engineering analysis of Reisterstown Road reveals two driving lanes in the north direction and two driving lanes correspondingly in a southerly direction. Driving in a northerly direction, and passing the golf course, entering Pikesville proper, I see that the right lane in occupied by exactly three cars, parked in front of a famous Pikesville eating establishment. This arrangement forces the two lanes of northbound traffic to merge into one, slowing down progress.

But wait, there is more. Someone up at the head of the line decides that he must turn left at that point, where the three cars are parked, right at Sherwood Avenue. In this situation, all of the drivers in all of the cars must stop and wait at Sherwood Ave. for Mister Left Turn. And Mr. L.T. needs to wait for a break in the seemingly unending parade of southbound drivers to end. It is very much like a automotive southbound replay of the Exodus of Egypt. As I sit behind the row of cars waiting for Mr. L.T. I am wondering about these right lane parkers, and what birthright the parkers of the cars blocking the right lane might think that they have in impeding my forward progress. Mr. L.T. will eventually make his left turn. But the parked cars seem to be permanent fixtures to Reisterstown Road right lane. I have a message for Mr. Parker. Hey, guys, there is space in the back of the famous Pikesville restaurant for parking your car. I happen to know, and I want to make you aware, that the restaurant owner pays good money to the county government authority for the privilege of owning that parking lot property in the back of his restaurant. He pays a whopping property tax on the parking lot. Unfortunately for me as a northbound driver, the same county government authority has marked the right lane of Reisterstown Road as a parking lot, and reserved the right lane for those drivers with weak knees and flabby thighs who find it too much trouble to walk the extra fifty feet from the restaurant parking lot. Alright, for the sake of argument, maybe it is really seventy five feet from the restaurant parking lot. Whatever. So, Mr. Parker, in order for you to save those few steps on your dainty feet, hundreds of people are inconvenienced. Ask yourself, it all this worth a pastrami on rye, with mustard and a pickle on the side?
At this point in our discussion, while Mr. Parker carelessly enjoying his sandwich and Mister L.T. looking for his lost love on Sherwood Ave, let's call on our colleague and good friend, Doctor Traffic Engineer, Ph.D . He has a German accent, a goatee, and Einstein hair.
Me: "Hello, Dr. Traffic."
DT: "Hello. What can I do for you today?"
Me: "Well, we have this situation on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville ."
DT: "Yes, I am aware of that."
Me: "Doctor Traffic, tell me, is there a solution?"
DT: "Perhaps. But you have to remember, before you can have a solution, you have to be sure that you have a problem."
Me: "What? Of course there is a problem. You just said that you are aware of the situation."
DT: "Yes, there is a situation, and in your eyes it is a problem. But from someone else's viewpoint, perhaps things are the way that they want."
Me: "How's that?"
DT: "For instance, the Pikesville business owners. If drivers can stop and park right in front of their businesses and shop, that is a benefit to business. And if this situation also performs the function of slowing traffic so the other drivers can look in the business windows and maybe decide to stop and buy, that is also a benefit."
Me: "So you are saying..."
DT: "...that the situation that you describe as a problem, is exactly what the business owners on Reisterstown Road want."
Me: "Oh. I never thought of that. OK, and thank you, Dr. Traffic Engineer."
DT: "You're Welcome."
That explains a lot. It's ironic how one's understanding of a situation could change when one takes the time to view the situation from another point of view. Yes, Dr. Traffic, you are right. It is the business owners on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville who want to allow parking on the road in front of their businesses, and who also want to slow down the traffic to a crawl and a standstill. It all makes sense now. How silly of me to think that the county government would plan a road that would perform the optional road function of moving traffic along. The vital and important purpose of Reisterstown Road is to bring cash carrying customers to the few existing commercial businesses located there in beautiful, central Pikesville.
But let's bring back Dr. Traffic for one more question.
Me: "Dr. Traffic, let's say, in an imaginary world, where roads are primarily designed to move traffic efficiently, how would you change Reisterstown road in Pikesville"?
DT: "That's easy. I have, after all, a Ph.D. in road design and traffic. So, here is the imaginary, ideal plan. First, no parking at all on the road. All business have plenty of parking behind the buildings, and public parking is available. Second, change to only one lane northbound and only one lane southbound."
Me: "One lane? But now you have two lanes, and it is slow. Won't it be even slower with just one lane?"
DT: "That is, I mean, one unimpeded lane in each direction. From the current two lanes northbound, change to having only one lane northbound. Same thing southbound. Then, you have room in the middle of the road for a designated lane for left turns, north and southbound. And on the sides, north and southbound, you have half a lane remaining, which will be designated as a bicycle lane."
Me: "So in this imaginary design, you will be able to drive completely through Pikesville, unimpeded by left turners and parkers. You will also be able to ride your bicycle safely through the town."
DT: "Correct!"
Me: "Thank you again, Dr. Traffic."
DT: "You are welcome, again."
Well, Dr. Traffic has come through for us again, with an idea for our town that will make our lives easier, or at least, less difficult. Obviously, this will never happen. Or, alternatively, I do not expect this to happen anytime soon.
Next week: How I hate "Customer Parking Only" signs, and how
Pikesville businesses should cooperate for their common benefit.

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