Why can’t I go through here?

13 Jul

It doesn’t matter what mode of transportation you choose (driving, walking, biking, transit, pogo stick, or whatever) getting around a big city like Atlanta is difficult.  Congestion is rampant.  There are limited sidewalks and bike lanes, and transit can take forever.  But I’ve learned to deal with all these things.  If I have to travel at rush hour, I exercise Buddhist patience during the 1-2 hours it takes to drive across town.  If I have to travel on MARTA, I make sure to bring extra victuals to sustain myself on the inevitably long journey.  If I travel by bike, I always say my prayers before doing the SUV tango.  I consider these things minor nuisances.

But there is one thing that always infuriates me, and it might only be me that would let such a small and stupid thing drive me so insane.  I’m talking about the selfish my-parking-lot-not-gonna-share-with-no-one-’cause-it’s-mine-and-you-can’t-have-it mentality that makes driving and walking way more difficult than it should be.  What I’m referring to is parking lots on busy streets that force customers back into the roadway even when they are only going next door.  I’ll include a couple of examples.  Let’s say for some reason I want to visit Einstein Brothers, Wendy’s, and Office Depot in one trip.  (See map below.) Don’t ask why I’m visiting Einstein’s and Wendy’s in the same trip.  Maybe I’m a glutton, or maybe Einstein’s was closed when I arrived so I couldn’t get a delicious Santa Fe wrap and instead had to settle for the equally delicious Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich.  It’s irrelevant.

 The point is that these three locations are all within very easy walking distance.  The problem is that they are all located on three different lots and do not allow people to leave their cars behind to visit other locations.  “Parking is for Customers Only, Violators will be Towed”.  OK so I’m probably not going to get towed, but why is walking against the rules?  Why is it technically against the rules to leave my car behind and visit these three places on foot?  Furthermore, if you are going to force me to drive, why are these lots not connected in some way?  The orange arrows above show the only legal way to visit these three locations.  I have to re-enter the extremely busy and epidemically congested Howell Mill Road twice for no good reason.  These places are NEXT DOOR to each other, so why force more cars onto the road and increase the number of trips required in an already congested area?  I don’t get it.  Wouldn’t sharing or connecting their lots improve business by improving accessibility?

OK, now here’s another one that really blew my mind when I noticed it.  If you live in midtown Atlanta, you may visit the Trader Joe’s and Whole Paycheck Foods from time to time.  These are two locations that are located a mile or two apart.  Trader Joe’s is on the north end of midtown around 10th street and the other one is located down on Ponce.  It takes 5 minutes or so to drive between these locations (depending on traffic).  That’s OK, right?  Because these locations are far apart, right?  Wrong!  They are literally next door to each other.  The parking lot that serves Trader  Joe’s and the Midtown Promenade bumps right into the parking lot that serves Whole Foods and that group of stores.  See the locations A and B below. Why do I have to travel nearly 2 miles to get between them?

The picture below is taken from roughly point A on the map above. What you see in this picture is the Home Depot parking lot and the Ponce City Market. Yes, Ponce City Market on the far south side of midtown is only a few hundred feet from Trader Joe’s on 10th Street. I know that mathematically this makes sense. It’s really only about 8 blocks or so, but to actually realize how compact our city is and then think about how difficult it is to move around despite this fact is very frustrating.

To top it all off, you aren’t even allowed to walk between these two lots, at least not according to the plethora of “don’t even think about storing your car here for even one minute” signs. You are required by the rules put forth by these two establishments to get in your car and drive nearly 2 miles to travel a total of 50 feet. It boggles the mind. What would it take for these two strip mall operators to come together and say, “Hey, if we build some stairs or a ramp to let people walk between these two parking lots, people might actually be inclined to make an impromptu visit to one store when their intended purpose was to visit another.” Wouldn’t that be good for business? It’s clear that people want it. Just look at the desire path made by all the insidious rule breakers (image below). I’ve even pushed my grocery-laden bike up and down that small mountain a few times. It’s amazing how hard this town makes it to walk or bike around. It’s almost like living outside the law.  Hopefully with more and more people desiring to live in walkable and bikeable areas, these things will start to change. 

Anyway, this is just a rant and the rant is now over. However, future rants are sure to appear soon. After all, the July 31st transportation referendum vote is approaching and if there are two things that Atlantans love to argue about, it’s traffic and taxes.

Until next time, be careful out there.

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14 Responses to “Why can’t I go through here?”

  1. chunter July 13, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    I think Atlanta is in denial and trying to pretend it isn’t a city. The “my parking lot and nobody else’s” thing is the stuff of smaller towns. In what I think of as big cities, none of those places would have a parking lot. There would simply be one public parking area with meters or a pay box.

  2. Daniel July 13, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    This is ‘damned socialist’ talk I think. Actually we get this phenomenon in the UK too as we have switched heavily to low density car-based development patterns for retail. Recently McDonald’s fined me £60 for staying more than an hour in their carpark, using their CCTV cameras and access to the national database of car registrations. I could have fought the demand for payment, and taken my chances, but decided to cough up. I will never eat another McDonalds.

  3. Mary July 13, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    I am a new resident of Orlando, from San Francisco. San Francisco was indeed a congested city, but I prefer it to the sprawl that we have here. Know what is even sillier than the neighboring parking in the pictures just shown to us? The insistence of businesses upon having parking for more customers than the fire marshall would ever allow inside the store. Yet Orlando has paved over soil needed to absorb the heavy rains that are nearly daily in the summer.

    • Daniel July 14, 2012 at 5:35 am #

      Yes, soil-sealing is a growing issue – as well as soaking up rain, soil performs other useful functions, which are at risk as more and more gets paved or compacted or built over.

  4. letsbuildtrees July 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta and grew to hate the sprawl and low density. Also, within the last year I moved to Birmingham, AL and was yelled at in a nearly empty Arby’s parking lot because I wanted to walk to the establishment next door. All that achieved was the loss of a former customer. Great post!

  5. Daniel July 14, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    I had an email about my 1st comment above, as follows:
    “I was about to post, to say that apart from one or two classic cases that have come to light here in the U.K., private companies aren’t getting away with this scam (though clamping is widespread in larger cities, with a fee for release), but then I was horrified to read Daniel’s post. I’m sorry you paid this £60 Daniel, so I guess private companies could be doing this regularly. The problem is that they are being encouraged to act unlawfully here, by corrupt courts and police.

    May I make one thing clear: there is absolutely no obligation to pay these charges (they are not fines), even when imposed by local authorities via parking tickets. They run contrary to the English (and U.K.) Constitution, which is Magna Carta, and whilst dubiously ‘legal’ (they may involve fraud), they are certainly UNLAWFUL.

    The one thing you certainly did right Daniel, was to respond, even though you seem to have responded with a payment. May I say to all U.K. citizens: NEVER under any circumstances (unless you know legislation backwards and really want to argue) ignore a penalty charge notice, because in doing so you CONTRACT with the sender through ACQUIESCENCE. Tickets such as these can be easily rebutted. I will post again.” Richard Colborn.

    • thelyniezian July 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      In some cases parking in private car parks means (according to actual signs put up in one) you are implicitly making a contractual agreement to abide by their conditions and pay anycharges they impose on you.

      • Daniel July 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

        I think that is correct up to a point. The commentator is I think suggesting that the terms may well be unreasonable and therefore would not stand up in court if McDonalds were to sue me for their ‘penalty or charge. I think what upset me was the ease with which someone can get hold of my address simply by contacting the Government agency which registers cars.

  6. saratoday July 15, 2012 at 3:05 am #

    Reading your blog makes me quite certain I never want to live in Atlanta.

    I don’t understand the parking lot thing either. Maybe nobody wants to pay for connecting walkways.

    • dedwards8 July 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

      Atlanta has a lot going for it. Lots of trees and natural beauty, great universities, awesome night life, an ever-improving culture and arts scene. Unfortunately, when it come to transportation this city is stuck in the 1960’s. Which means if you enjoy driving everywhere and want to live on a cul-de-sac far from the city center, we’ve got you covered. Walkable areas in Atlanta are few and transit is very limited. However, there is a growing number of people that want to make Atlanta more attractive to people like you and me. http://www.beltline.org http://www.atlantabike.org http://www.cfpt.org http://www.imagineatlanta.com just to name a few. It’s organizations like these that give me hope. But it is a constant uphill battle to fight the entrenched, old guard of Atlanta and try to push Atlanta towards a more sustainable and productive future.

  7. sennevdb July 16, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    I live in Antwerp, Belgium, a city with a population of ±500.000 inhabitants. It’s an old European city, which means everything is built around a city center in the shape of a circle. This clearly had advantages hundreds of years ago, but today it’s still a very good solution to build a transportation plan that makes sense.

    The city structure allows people to park their cars outside the city center where they hop on a tram/bus/metro or lend a bicycle from the cheap bike sharing system to reach the heart of the city: a cluster of shops, cafés, restaurants, cinemas, etc… This way you don’t need so much parking lots, which otherwise would take up space. Precious space that’s now being used for open spaces to let the city breath.

    This may sound very utopian and to be honest Antwerp is still far from perfect, but I think we’re heading the right way. Big parking lots in the city center are turning into huge parks and water docks. More and more trams are being used to build a vast web of public transportation from and to new parking outside the city center.

    • dedwards8 July 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      There is nothing wrong with sounding Utopian. Shouldn’t that be the goal? Antwerp sounds like a nice place to visit. I’ll have to add it to ever-growing list of must-visit places.

  8. thelyniezian July 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    What I wish to know is to what extent can they actually (in real and practical terms, not legally) enforce these rules, and do you count as a customer if ou visit the shop, regardless of what else you do?

    In the UK we do have areas of this type, and there is one in my town, though to be fair I would hesitiate to go anywhere near them. There are pay-and-display car parks in the town centre, and a retail park which has a common car park for all shops (which is free!) It is also possible (if inconvenient due to traffic volume and distance) to walk to, and through, all of these places.

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