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