Amblin' Alameda: The parking minuet

Amblin' Alameda: The parking minuet

Morton Chalfy

Parking is tight in Alameda, but I didn't have to tell you that. Parking is tight in the commercial corridors, but even tighter in the neighborhoods.

On my block of Walnut Street, there are a maximum of 13 on-street parking spots at any given time; that would be approximately one spot for every unit in addition to a good deal of off-street parking. It's clearly not enough for all the cars owned by the block's residents.

The local Laws of Parking include one that limits to 72 hours the amount of time a car can be parked in one spot before it must move. This law gives the residents with more cars than parking spots a real problem. Some residents own several cars and one resident owns either five or six, so there is a daily dance moving cars from a spot that's timing out to one with more life left in it.

There are, it must be said, some emotions connected to this otherwise innocuous game of musical cars. When a particularly unsightly vehicle is parked in front of one's door for a week or nearly so a sense of being trespassed upon grows strong. Clearly one does not own the street before the house, but a proprietary feeling is impossible to avoid.

When there is a lot of turnover of cars in the parking spaces they become just a background image. When the same ones are camped on your doorstep because it was available for medium-term storage, that image sharpens into discomfort.

This is not a problem with a real solution. If people want to own many cars, that is their right as Americans. If they need to store them on the street and the law allows that, except for the demands of the parking pavanne, that too is well within their rights. In fact, the annoyance it poses to others in the form of taking more than one's fair share and thus depriving others of theirs can even be thought of as slightly churlish.

Nobody really wants to call the police on a neighbor just for a feeling of annoyance, so people resort to leaving notes on car windows. Usually the notes receive quick attention. It's the ancient principle of the Commons. They work fine when everyone practices enough self-restraint to take only his fair share and leave the rest for the rest. If the average-size herd using the Commons is 100 head and it supports 10 farming families and one family increases its herd to 500 head, it is clear they are taking food from four families.

The street is our Commons, and the parking dance is part of a slow-moving street scene. The emotions involved, (parking anxiety on the part of the parkers, annoyed frustration on the part of the homeowners) give the dance a sort of meaning that spices life with a moderate dash of safe salt. It gives the illusion of dealing with something important without actually running any sort of risk of involvement.

As the number of cars on the Island continue to rise, and reasonable accommodations are made for cyclists and pedestrians, the parking will get even tighter and the dance will grow ever more frantic until what started as a stately waltz becomes extreme hip-hop. I doubt the dance will be enjoyable.