Meet the #ParkedCarsMatter Movement

[A car parking protest this week in Saint Paul.]
At a city meeting last night, the following sign was seen. It says “Cleveland Ave Lives Matter."

The sign refers to the Cleveland Avenue bike lanes, which is so last year, where the city has decided to swap on-street parking for a bike lane along some of the street. There was a long process about it, and after a lengthy discussion involving many people, it was decided to put in the bike lanes. In addition to the special committee (which I was on), both City Council Members and both area Universities have signed on to support the project.

The current discussion at the City Hall and in the neighborhood relates to the city spending some $200K to build “parking bays” to provide dedicated free parking for a few key commercial nodes.

But at the recent city-led meeting, these folks showed up with their signs.

I’m not even going to discuss the racial aspect of this. Comparing parking your car to racial oppression and unchecked police violence speaks for itself.

Instead I want to tell a story.


The Case of the Empty Cars

[Fairview Ave, not even a real bike lane BTW.]
Last fall I was biking home one night, riding along the streets of Saint Paul, as is my wont.  When you’re riding on Saint Paul streets, you have to deal with the fact that there aren’t always bike lanes. Often it’s not a huge deal, because along many streets there aren’t many parked cars either. You can ride safely in the large spaces between the curb and the cars moving by just past your left shoulder.

But every once in a while there’s a car parked in your way, and you have to move out closer to traffic to get around it. Sometimes this coincides with a car coming up from behind you. It can be scary if the driver doesn't leave you a few feet of room.

And that happens. Pretty regularly, the driver of the car doesn’t give you room, doesn’t slow down, and buzzes past you with only little space between your body and the car. It’s scary and freaks most people out, but if you’re a bicyclist you just get used to it I guess.

The other night, as this happened again, I looked over at the parked cars and began thinking a single thought: there’s nobody in those cars.

They’re empty. Just empty machines sitting there, often for days, literally lifeless and doing nothing. These large metal things are just someone’s private property sitting there, an expensive empty machine not much different than a refrigerator, taking up space on the street because the owner of the expensive machine can’t think of anywhere else to put it.

Meanwhile, I’m a living human being just trying to get safely around the city.

And for some reason, this empty expensive machine that is someone’s private property gets priority, and forces me to take my life into my hands by brushing elbows with a fast-moving car.

What does that tell you about how my city values its people? 

Because here's the thing: the street is a reflection of our society.

As sometimes happens on bike rides, the thought stuck with me. I kept mulling it over as I rode through town. Our streets are an embodiment of our social priorities. These are our #1 public spaces, and through hundreds of big and small decisions, we collectively shape them to reflect our values.

And as it turns out, we’ve made streets that put the storage for someone’s privately-owned empty expensive metal machine over the life and safety of people like me. It just seems wrong.

And yet, try and change anything, try and ask drivers to walk just a little bit farther to their expensive private machines, and it’s the end of the world.

Thus the fledgling #parkedCarsMatter movement. It’s an embarrassing shame.

[Cleveland Avenue as it is today.]

Correction: Post updated to reflect that the meeting was a city-led Open House, not a Mac-Grove community meeting. Apologies to Mac-Grove for the disparagement!


nicole weiler. said...

It really seems like there should be a bigger discussion about entitled homeowners co-opting the phrase "___________ MATTERS."

I think we can probably both agree that bicycle infrastructure is both an equity and access issue in addition to transporation, and as such, it feels super dismissive to have simply brushed over this idea as though it speaks for itself and has nothing to do with the rest of the post.

Because you have good reach and the eyes and ears of a lot of white folks, you might consider using that privilege for the teaching moment about why comparing these lifeless and empty machines to Black Lives is wrong and inappropriate on so many levels, AND YET is a shining example of why the movement and the message is SO necessary that it's incredibly offensive to see it diluted in this way.

I'm disappointed you didn't take that stand. I think you can do better, and I hope you will in the future.

Bill Lindeke said...

Yeah. I appreciate your reaction, though I want to push back against it.

I have written about black lives matter in the past, but truth be told, I'm reluctant to do so with much frequency. I'd rather have people *in* that movement speak for it. I try to treat analysis of political movements with a lot of caution and care, and am more comfortable on territory that I've researched, such as the history of discrimination from an urban geography perspective, for example. That's why I choose my posts with a bit of caution when it comes to political movements, especially ones based on particular geographies or historical experiences.

see also: http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/search?q=blacklivesmatter