Earlier this spring, the blue sign shown above started appearing on parking meters in downtown Columbus. The sign notified parkers and passersby that Columbus was going to a meter-free parking world. Yesterday morning, as I walked to work down Gay Street, city workers were removing the coin-accepting tops of the parking meters from their metal stands and hurling them into the back of a pickup truck, where they landed with a clang. One of the employees at our firm noted that a parker had just put money into one of the meters before it was taken and unceremoniously tossed into the truck.

By the end of the day, a new parking kiosk and a new sign, shown below, had appeared in front of our firm. All of the parking meters were gone–with only their sad, lonely metal stumps remaining to remind us, probably forever, of where the meters once were.

Why is Columbus ditching the meters? The city’s Director of the Department of Public Service says it is part of an effort “to enhance the customer experience for on-street parking by adding greater convenience with better technology tools.” She adds: “A modernized system supports equitable access and turnover as our city—and curb lane demand—keep growing.” (I’m guessing that “curb lane demand” refers to desire for parking spaces.)

The city says that the new system will be simpler for parkers, who can identify their mobile pay zone using street signs where they parked, walk to the nearest kiosk, enter their license plate number and pay using a card or coins. I’m not sure why the city contends that this new approach is simpler than just dropping a few coins into a slot. And the new system will require people to remember their license plate number, which will predictably cause a number of people to double back to confirm their number, but there’s no fighting progress.

The article linked above quotes the city’s Assistant Director for Parking Services as saying: “For the City of Columbus, streamlining parking payment will require less maintenance, greater efficiency, and enable quick and accurate license plate recognition (LRP) enforcement to encourage access and turnover.” In short, it will be easier to ticket people who overstay their designated parking space period. If you’re parking in downtown Columbus, keep that in mind. And watch out for those sad metal stumps.

Scratch One Starbucks

This Starbucks at the corner of Sycamore and Third Street in German Village has closed. It’s fair to say that opinions are divided about that .

The coffee-obsessed Starbucks addicts are sad, of course. They’ll have to go a bit farther for their triple-spice grande cinnamon lattes and scones — but not too much farther, because Starbucks are ubiquitous in Columbus, and there are two other Starbucks that are only short walks and even shorter drives away. On the other hand, people who live in the immediate surroundings, like us, won’t be sorry to this particular Starbucks go. We might lose the so-called “Starbucks effect” — which associates Starbucks locations with higher home prices — but we’ll also lose litter, constant illegal parking by the coffee-crazed customers of the store, and lots of coffee-fueled traffic rattling through our neighborhood. And we’ve still got a nice homegrown coffee emporium, Stauf’s, that’s less than a block away.

The story around the neighborhood is that this Starbucks store, which seemed to be doing a brisk trade, was closed because Starbucks is transitioning to more of a drive-thru business model, and there is no room (fortunately) for a drive-thru set-up at this location. The drive-thru concept seems weird to me, and contrary to the whole coffee house concept in the first place — which, initially at least, sought to offer comfortable chairs and tables and friendly atmospheres that allowed customers to sit and chat and work on their laptops while sipping their cups of Joe. Now it’s grab and go and slug down your sugary concoction in the car.

This location won’t be vacant for long; a local shop that sells handmade soaps and lotions is moving from another location in our neighborhood into the former Starbucks space. And with the closure of the Starbucks those of us who walk the neighborhood won’t have to dodge the Starbucks zealots zooming around corners, mindlessly parking in no-parking spots rather than legal spots, and then backing up through pedestrian crosswalks without so much as a backward glance because they are just too important and rushed to proceed legally. I’m not sad about that.

Between The Lines

They’ve started a new campaign in German Village. The aspirational goal: to bring order and regularity in on-street parking.

Since we’ve been here, parking has been — to put it mildly — chaotic. Most houses don’t have driveways or garages, so street parking is a necessity. To complicate things, there are a few zones where stickers are required and non-stickered cars can get ticketed, but other areas are open for parking by anyone. The result is that people park where they can, which often means precious street parking space is wasted by yawning gaps between cars that nevertheless aren’t quite big enough to accommodate a car. When you’re hunting for a nearby parking space late at night, the not-quite-big-enough gaps and wasted spaces can be frustrating.

The new approach seeks to conserve and fully employ the precious street parking space. The city has painted corners like the one shown above to define specific parking spaces, and has also posted signs like the one below explaining the program and noting that people who flout the spaces can be cited with a $47 ticket. I can’t speak to whether people are reading the signs — I did, at least— but they do seem to be honoring the new spaces and parking between the lines. That will mean more parking spaces for us all.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that painting indicated spots on streets would spur parking compliance and end the Wild West parking atmosphere. If the price of achieving more parking spaces is simply the cost of a few cans of white paint and the wages of whoever painted the corners, German Village residents can reasonably wonder why this simple solution wasn’t tried before. But let’s not be grudging, shall we? A delayed solution is still a solution, and the new program shows the city is paying attention to the unique needs of our community. That’s good to see.

Parking Passions And Passive-Aggressiveness Placards

It’s the holidays.  We try to love our fellow man — except when they stink at parking.

What is it about parking that stirs the passions so profoundly?  Perhaps it’s because parking is such a simple, commonplace, communal activity that we take it for granted, and when someone violates the basic societal norms that have long governed the parking process it shakes the foundations of our world in deeply infuriating ways and suggests that we may live surrounded by clueless, self-absorbed idiots.

Whether the disturbing scenario involves going to a crowded parking lot and seeing that some jerk’s bad parking job has effectively taken up two of the precious spaces, or parking at a meter and returning to find that the kind people parking in front of and behind have left you no room whatsoever to maneuver out of your spot, or shoveling out your standard parking place after a huge snow storm, marking the spot, and then returning to find it occupied by someone else’s car, bad and inconsiderate parking tends to fuel rage.  And often the only meaningful outlet for the inward rage is a pointed, passive-aggressive note that can be hilarious to those of us who are only passing by.

Some years ago, BuzzFeed carried a story that displayed 40 great passive-aggressive parking notes.  There’s even a website called passiveaggressivenotes.com that collects choice examples of anonymous signage in which angry people try to change the behavior of the thoughtless people in the world.  And passive-aggressive signs aren’t limited to America; Richard and I saw the sign accompanying this post on our visit to Paris a few years ago.  The lesson for those of us with passive-aggressive tendencies is:  always have pen and paper handy, because you never know when you might see some jerky behavior that needs some gentle correction.

Looking For New Parking, More Than 20 Years Later

I’ve parked in the same parking garage on East Long Street in downtown Columbus for more than 20 years — until today.

IMG_4906Tuesday night a colleague and I were walking out to our cars when we were approached by a guy who asked if we were monthly parkers.  When we said yes, he said that city inspectors had, apparently without advance notice, posted a small sign declaring that the parking garage was unsafe.  The colleague and I looked at each other and shook our heads in wonderment at this news, because the structure has always had a distinctly aged, rusted, ramshackle, crumbling character to it.  But the price for a monthly spot was very affordable, our expectations were adjusted accordingly, and we had hadn’t noticed any sudden drop in parking quality.  So we shrugged and drove home.

Yesterday morning when I pulled into the garage news vans were out front, broadcasting about the city’s action.  I parked there anyway.  Why not?  I’ve paid for my spot for this month, and I had nowhere else to go.  But when I walked to the garage last night cheap white plywood barricades, with blood red danger warning signs from the City of Columbus Department of Building and Zoning Services, were placed across the entrance — giving the garage an even more decrepit, condemned feel.  Clearly, parking there is no longer an option, unless you want to feel like a squatter.  I think I’ll pass on that.

So, after two decades of not giving parking a second thought and driving to my garage on autopilot, I’ve got to figure out where to park my car.  Of course, so do all of the hundreds of other people who parked in the same garage.  Suddenly, in a downtown area where surface lots are ubiquitous, parking is at a premium.

The Value Of A Buddy

This morning I will drive in to work, as I always do, and park in my spot in my parking garage, as I always do.  My “parking buddy,” the Yankee Cavalier, will do the same.  We both park in the same, elongated parking spot in the same garage.

Our parking garage is a throwback.  Unlike more modern structures that have only individual parking spaces, our aging garage has “buddy spaces” — spaces big enough to accommodate two cars.  Buddy space parkers give each other the spare set of keys to their cars.  If I get to the spot first, I’ll back all the way in, and then the Y.C. will park in front of me.  If I have to leave before he does, I’ll need to use that spare key to move his car, pull my car out, and then back his car into our joint space.

The Y.C. and I have been buddy parking for more than 20 years — longer than some marriages.  The garage has been sold from one conglomerate to another, and still our buddy arrangement prevails.  We’ve exchanged the keys for a number of new cars and alternative cars, and I’ve sat in the driver’s seat of Y.C.’s rig, moving it just a few feet and then backing it up again, countless times.

Sure, it’s not perfectly convenient, but a buddy space is cheaper than a single-car space, and those savings have added up.  During our 20-plus years of buddy parking, I’ve saved about $5,000 that otherwise would have gone into the coffers of some impersonal company.  For that kind of savings, I can endure a little inconvenience — and I also appreciate the useful reminder that even small monthly savings can, over the course of a career, accumulate to a significant sum.

Yes, the Y.C. has been a very good buddy to have.