Friday, November 23, 2007

New Rule: SUV's can't park at the corner

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In the interest of full-disclosure let me say up front that, as a class, I don’t like sports utility vehicles. So, I wouldn’t own one. But my dislike of SUV's goes beyond what I might choose to drive. OK, at this point, I should also say that I love the Fan District; to me it’s as close to an urban paradise as it gets.

The first time I drove a SUV it was surprising how unstable/top-heavy it felt. That was 10 years ago, the model was a Toyota ForeRunner. Since then there has been plenty of publicity about how unsafe SUVs are. No doubt, some makes are worse than others are, but it seems the basic full-sized SUV is outrageously susceptible to rolling over.

Which is ironic, in a way, because I've heard owners of SUVs say they drive them because they feel safer ensconced in their big-wheeled behemoths than they do in a standard sedan.

About three months ago I saw a SUV get flipped over by a low-slung compact like it was a hamburger on the grill. The car going west on Main St. had been doing about 25 mile-per-hour before it struck the SUV on the rider’s side, chiefly because the SUV had run a red light at the intersection of a side street.

The SUV tumbled over and spun around on its roof; its driver was bloody and trapped inside. She was lucky to be alive.

The small sedan had a crumpled front end; its driver seemed unhurt.

As a bicyclist I’ve learned to watch SUVs more attentively than other vehicles. Their drivers tend to ignore me more than their counterparts in less severe vehicles. In truth, nearly every time a door suddenly swings open in front of me it’s a SUV driver’s door.

When the Fan District was designed most families didn’t own two or more cars. Some had none. Lots of folks rode a streetcar or bus to work. Families had their groceries and department store purchases delivered. People walked for short errands. Consequently, the streets were much less congested with motor traffic.

Well, that era is long-gone but there aren’t any more parking spaces in the Fan now than there were 50 years ago. So, it’s crowded. The bigger the vehicles get the more space they take up, whether moving or parked at the curb. More importantly, the taller the vehicles get the more dangerous it is to get around in the Fan, because it affects visibility.

The height of SUVs, vans and other such tall vehicles breaks the sight line of one who is trying to see over and around them at an intersection. For example: if you’re heading south on Stafford Street in your standard-sized sedan and you want to cross Floyd Avenue, you stop -- look both ways -- and if you see the way is clear, you step on your accelerator.

But if a dump truck is parked on the north side of Floyd, close to the corner, facing west, you can’t see around it. So, you either creep half-way into the intersection and look again, or you jet across, hoping for good luck to protect you.

While this scenario is an everyday thing for Fan motorists, it could be a thing of the past if we stop letting tall vehicles park within 25 feet of the corner. A law which says in densely-populated residential areas vehicles that stand over a certain height can’t park near the corner would save some lives, prevent fender-benders and improve the quality of life.

Of course, some SUV owners would object, strongly, but so what. They can park their gas-guzzlers in the middle of the block, or in their garage/back yard. Or, they can trade them in for another style of a ride.

Bottom line: Owners of SUVs, giant trucks and Winnebagos have no intrinsic right to park them anywhere ol' where they choose. So, let's move them back from the corners 25 feet and we’ll all be safer.

-- words and manipulated SUV image by F.T Rea


Anonymous said...

It would help for people to know the existing code. It is already illegal to park within 20 feet of a crosswalk at an intersection or within 30 feet upon the approach to any stop sign or traffic control signal located at the side of a roadway.

Sec. 102-222. Parking prohibited in specified places.
(a) No person shall park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic control device, in any of the following places:
(1) On a sidewalk.
(2) In front of a public or private driveway.
(3) Within an intersection.
(4) Within 15 feet of a fire hydrant.
(5) On a crosswalk.
(6) Within 20 feet of a crosswalk at an intersection.
(7) In front of a ramp leading to the crosswalk at an intersection or located at any other point along a curb, constructed for use of handicapped persons.
(8) Within 30 feet upon the approach to any flashing beacon, stop sign or traffic control signal located at the side of a roadway.
(9) Between a safety zone and the adjacent curb or within 30 feet of points on the curb immediately opposite the ends of a safety zone, unless a different length is indicated by official signs or markings.
(10) Within 50 feet of the nearest rail of a railroad grade crossing.
(11) Within 15 feet of the driveway entrance to any fire station and on the side of a street opposite the entrance to any fire station within 75 feet of the entrance when properly signposted.
(12) Alongside or opposite any street excavation or obstruction where such parking would obstruct traffic.
(13) On the roadway side of any vehicle parked at the edge or curb of a street.
(14) At any place where official signs prohibit parking.
(15) At any place where an order, rule, or regulation issued under section 2-454 prohibits or restricts parking.
(b) No person other than a police officer shall move a vehicle into any such prohibited area or away from a curb such distance as is unlawful; start or cause to be started the motor of any motor vehicle; or shift, change or move the levers, brake, starting device, gears or other mechanism of a parked motor vehicle to a position other than that in which it was left by the owner or driver thereof or attempt to do so.
(Code 1993, § 28-202)
State law references: Parking in front of fire hydrant, near street corner, fire station, etc., Code of Virginia, § 46.2-1239.

F.T. Rea said...


Thanks for the input. My piece was based on what I see here in Richmond -- what is custom. While I don't know what the local statutes are that agree with, or go further than, the Code of Virginia, from my own observation I do know what people generally do.

Perhaps what I'm really calling for is the enforcement of existing laws.

Either way, what I want is to move tall vehicles back from the corners at least a couple of car-lengths.

Anonymous said...

Ummm... That is a City of Richmond ordinance. Most ordinances have a Code Of Virginia reference.

What I was pointing out was that there is less legal parking than most people realize in the Fan. If the ordinance was fully enforced, you would loss two spots on either end of the block to any parking...

If we are going to enforce the existing laws, let's do it right or not at all... for all vehicles...

Scott said...

So is anonymous a SUV driver?

I am in favor of your proposal, FT Rea.

I am also in favor of VCU banning first-year students from having cars.

The City does not seem to interested in enforcing the laws it has on the books and VCU does not care about the surrounding community.

Anonymous said...

So Scott... In full disclosure like it makes a difference in what I said... I own a mountain bike, a pedicab, have a bus pass, a pair of shoes, and nissan sentra...

your turn...

Either enforce the law or change it...

ps don't you know that an energy constrained market will take care of the waste? relax...

Scott said...

It makes a difference in why you may be defending the current status quo.

But hey, I agree, enforce or change.

I wish I could relax, but I see too little effort on the part of entities in the market.

I would love to see a FlexCar franchise open that could serve the Fan.

Question: Its cool that you have a pedicab. Do you run a bike rickshaw business then?

Another question: What do you think of efforts to bring back a circulator transportation system to the Fan and downtown?

F.T. Rea said...


OK. You've exposed that I wrote my rant without knowing much about what the local laws to do with parking on the street are.


However, it seems to me the list of official prohibitions you posted aren't generally understood by the public and the cops don't enforce them. Perhaps that's at the heart of a larger problem.

A couple of years ago I wanted to write a piece about the Richmond's laws concerning bicycles. It started with my thinking it's against the law to ride a bicycle on a city sidewalk. Yet I see cops doing it in Carytown and elsewhere. But when I checked with the City, to see if such a law exists in the code, no one could give me a straight answer. The police department's spokespersons couldn't say "yes" or "no." The City Attorney doesn’t give out legal advice.

So, my guess is the cops, along with the rest of us, are sometimes going by custom more than laws to guide them.

What I'd like to see is painted marks on the sidewalk curbs that show exactly where out of bounds is for all vehicles. Then let's have a second mark showing where the limit is for extra tall vehicles.

With such a system everybody could see the letter of the law plainly illustrated, including the cops.

Furthermore, I'm saying let's have laws in this area that:

1. Make sense from both safety and practical standpoints.
2. Are easy to understand and well-publicized.

Then let's see to it they are evenly enforced. How's that?


Good mass transit, in various forms, is surely part of the solution to problems stemming from congestion in traffic and at the curb. Making the city more bicycle-friendly would help, too.