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Good Luck Going Car-Free

By Joe Wessels · April 23rd, 2008 · Wessels
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Even if I wanted to give up the car lifestyle in Greater Cincinnati and, say, bike it, scooter it or just walk, all my options leave a little bad taste in my mouth.

With a scooter I could putter around town, Harley owners smugly grinning as they roared by me teetering along in the slow lane. Scooters get upwards of 60 miles per gallon, I'd think to myself, and are extremely quiet.

But Cincinnati has no built-in legal tolerances that help make owning one of these gas-saving vehicles a great experience. Take the parking space rule: one scooter to a space made for a car.

Put more than one in a parking space and everyone gets a parking ticket. Ditto if you want to park it on the sidewalk -- even if it's out of the way, next to a building or lined up with the curb. Doesn't matter.

So I walk. First the parking meters on the street in front of my house, where I park because I don't have off-street parking, need to go.

A neighbor suggested that our relative proximity to downtown -- I live in Over-the-Rhine -- would likely mean that workers in the central business district would then use the free parking to avoid paying for downtown parking.

How about a residential parking program where residents get passes displayed on their cars to avoid getting parking tickets? That's easy enough.

I headed down to City Hall and found that the city has one already, passed in 1981. Turns out no one has ever used it.

Why? It might have to do with the magnitude of red tape required to get such a neighborhood program started and the ease with which it can be reversed.

You get started by organizing a petition signed by 60 percent of your neighbors in the "affected" area. City officials will then count available on-street parking spaces and conduct two occupancy studies.

Then, if that all goes well, the city has to decide if the parking district will be big enough to generate enough parking permit sales to pay for an officer to patrol it. How many $30 permits does the city estimate it needs to sell to justify the program for one area? 2,620.

The kicker? All this work would be for nothing if 51 percent of your neighbors one day sign another petition saying they don't like the idea any more. It would end immediately, the ordinance states.

All this makes me wonder who spent all this time back in 1981 dreaming up such a useless program?

Coincidently, without anyone I know asking for the help, about nine months ago a city worker removed all the parking meters on one side of my street. I now see more downtown workers on my street than I did before, many with car keys in their hands.

I should stop them and thank them for the nearly $600 in parking violation fines I've racked up in my four years living in Over-the-Rhine, nearly all of them earned parking right in front of my house.

OK, forget the car. Let's ride a bike. Well, too bad, because this isn't a real bike-friendly town.

Racks on city buses are nice, but that's just one step. Bike lanes, where they exist, have this habit of disappearing without warning.

People have yelled at me from their cars, telling me to ride on the sidewalk. That's illegal, I want to tell them, but I'm already sucking on their car fumes before I get the chance.

"This city is really anti-bike," says Albert Pyle, the Mercantile Library executive director who sometimes rides his bike and other times his scooter from his West End home to his downtown workplace. "I feel safer on my scooter than I do on my bike."

He mentions, too, that bike lockers were removed from Fountain Square. Oh, and you can't ride on the square either -- and finding a bike rack downtown is just about as tough as finding a movie theater downtown.

Almost any government staffer, especially the policy makers, will tell you that making Cincinnati more scooter-friendly, bike-friendly or urban-resident-parking friendly isn't as easy as it seems. That might be true, but some things -- like changing rules for scooter parking -- could be done relatively quickly.

Other cities do it. So can we ... if we want to.


CONTACT JOE WESSELS: joe@joewessels.net


 
 
 
 

 

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