Regular viewers of Georgia Public Television’s “Georgia Outdoors” program have likely noticed a graphic that appears near the end of each episode. It urges viewers to turn in poachers. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources describes a poacher as, “a thief who steals wildlife that belongs to you and all other Georgians.”
Now let’s take these poachers and transplant them from our state’s waterways and forests into our city. Instead of stealing wildlife, the urban poacher takes public space “that belongs to you and all other Savannahians.” While these poachers are not technically “stealing” sidewalks and bike lanes by using them to store their cars and trucks, while doing so they exclude the intended users of these spaces. This happens all over the city of Savannah every day, rarely attracting attention from law enforcement or other government officials.
In the photo above, the Isuzu Rodeo’s (or is it a Honda Passport?) rear end blocks the sidewalk adjacent to a busy street. Its owner could not pull it any farther into the driveway because that space is occupied by another car that’s sleeping in an “auto cocoon,” much like the one Lane Meyer’s dad complained about in a popular teen comedy from the 1980s. Thus, making room for an apparently immobile automobile comes at the expense of pedestrian mobility. The owner of the Chevrolet truck has, for whatever reason, concluded that the sidewalk is a better place than the street to park. His choice forces pedestrians to walk in the street.
When I set out to capture images of sidewalks being used for parking, I knew exactly where to go. That’s because “sidewalk poachers” are terrifically dependable. Once they start using part or all of a sidewalk to store part or all of a car, it becomes routine. I suppose pedestrians who regularly encounter these vehicles simply get used to walking around them. Or perhaps they start taking a different route. They shouldn’t be forced to do either.
Another fascinating phenomenon about the poaching of public space is how quickly contagious it becomes. The photo above depicts a car parked — against traffic — in the Habersham Street bike lane yesterday morning. It was among many left in the city’s only north/south pavement marked bike route, while its owner shopped at a garage sale. Once one person decided to park in the bike lane, a dozen more followed suit. Eventually a Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department officer stopped to clear the lane. Yet shoppers continued to arrive and park in the bike lane, seemingly unfazed by her presence and her cruiser’s flashing lights.
The phrase “complete streets” is being uttered with increasing frequency within the Metropolitan Planning Commission’s Mendonsa hearing room. That’s very good news. As we move toward this worthy goal of making our thoroughfares safe and accommodating for all users, why not also focus on reclaiming the sidewalks and bike lanes we already have?