The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rethinking Parking Policy for Smart Cars

Tiny cars may force cities to rethink parking

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Smart cars, the teeny tiny two-passenger vehicles that have long attracted the attention of Americans visiting Europe, are starting to show up on the streets of the Bay Area, where they're likely to smash head-on into parking regulations designed for larger cars.

Just 8-feet, 8-inches long - about 3 feet shorter than the Mini Cooper - Smart cars can squeeze into just about any parking space. That's sure to make them a hit in San Francisco. But whether they can wedge themselves into a system of parking laws designed for much larger vehicles is going to be the bigger challenge.

In Europe, where more than 800,000 of the little cars have sold in the past decade, drivers often park perpendicularly - with their noses or tails to the curb - between parallel-parked larger cars. But in California, that violates a state law that requires cars to have their right tires within 18 inches of the curb unless parked on the left side of a one-way street, in which case the rule applies to their left-side tires.

Smart cars, manufactured by Mercedes and originally designed by Swatch, are marketed with the idea that they can be parked anywhere. But that's not yet the case. Smart, which started taking orders last year, started releasing cars to customers in late January. According to Ash Zaki, a Smart representative in San Francisco, about 100 will be delivered by the end of May, but "you should start to see a lot more of them over the next few months."

A full-scale invasion of the pint-sized cars will force cities and counties, which set most parking laws in California, to rethink those policies, said Matt Nichol, a transportation planner in Berkeley.

"If these things sell in any kind of reasonable numbers, we're going to have to deal with it," he said.

Nichol said that while Berkeley has created smaller parking places in some areas for small electric vehicles, it has not yet contemplated how to handle Smart cars and other ultra-compact cars in development.

Likewise, San Francisco has not yet developed any special policies for micro-cars.

That means that while Smart cars cannot park perpendicularly on city streets, they can park two to a marked space as long as they both fit within the lines and allow room for each other to maneuver, said Kristen Holland, spokeswoman for San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency. The same goes for metered spots - as long as someone pays the meter. And if it expires, she said, both cars can be ticketed. The same law applies to motorcycles.

Smart USA spokesman Ken Kettenbeil said the company has just started talking with some East Coast cities about Smart-friendly parking policies. He declined to name the specific cities.

"It's going to be a lot of work because each city has its own policies," he said, "but we've started."

Joseph Alioto Jr., an attorney and candidate for San Francisco supervisor, is one of the city's first Smart car owners. He said he'd love to be able to legally park with the nose or tail to the curb, and said he would, if elected, back an ordinance making that possible. But until then, Alioto said, he's still able to pull into just about any parking place - even between driveways in crowded neighborhoods.

"Parking is probably the funnest part of the car," he said. "My wife wants to put together a photo album of the tight parking spots we've been able to squeeze into."

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