Before we begin our journey over the highways and byways of south Pinellas County, let me make amends for a brain glitch I suffered last week, and goodness knows how it happened. It is my instinct to blame it on Jessie the Westie, but I have a sneaking hunch you wouldn't believe me.
You remember we were talking about new mass transportation for the county, trolleys or streetcars or monorails, and I told you the Metropolitan Planning Organization had scheduled a public hearing to gather your thoughts on the subject? Well, somehow, my fingers typed the time of the meeting as 7 to 9 a.m. on Monday. It's 7 to 9 p.m. Evening, not morning.
This week's topic is angle parking.
It came to downtown St. Petersburg more than two years ago and is spreading like molasses across the kitchen table on a cold winter morning _ slowly and inexorably.
Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people just can't deal with it.
Sure, it's easy.
Just swing into a parking space on a nice, easy slant. No problem.
Until you are ready to leave. A van or a sport utility vehicle is parked to your left. You can't see past it into oncoming traffic. You have to back out blind and hope that your timing isn't lousy.
Or what if you're trying to drive across a street with angle parking? You stop. You look both ways. You can't see squat for the cars jutting out from the curb. You inch out. You inch out more. When you finally see your way is clear to proceed, your front bumper is already resting near the crown in the street.
Angle parking already has eaten up blocks of Central Avenue and Second and Third avenues S. Recently, it spread along Central as far west as 34th Street. It is coming soon to First Avenue N and First Avenue S, streets that currently carry four lanes of one-way traffic, westbound and eastbound, respectively.
Be prepared for the shrinkage of the travel lanes on each street from four to two.
In explaining why, St. Petersburg parking manager Phil Oropesa uses the term that has become a mantra among the city's street and highway gurus: Traffic calming.
"The wider the streets, the more they foster excessive speed," said parking manager Phil Oropesa. "When drivers have this wide expanse of pavement, they don't feel like they're going as fast as they really are. When the perspective closes in, they tend to slow down."
Oropesa says one way to create the tighter perspective is by planting trees and shrubs close to the street. Another way is to create hedges of vehicles nuzzling up to the curbs like dairy cows at a trough.
"We could slow traffic down by using more stop signs and traffic lights, but rather than use more traffic controls, we're narrowing the traffic lanes," Oropesa said.
Another device that slows traffic is the neck-out. (Jessie says that's what she does when the window is open, but this is a different thing.) Curbs and sidewalks at intersection corners are built to bulge out, giving drivers the impression the street is narrowing.
"That slows the drivers down, and it also gives pedestrians less street to traverse," Oropesa said.
But let's get back to the angle parking thing.
There is no evidence, at least not yet, that angle parking generates accidents, though Jessie and I have seen _ heck, we have been _ motorists swerving or braking suddenly to avoid someone who is backing out blind.
Mike Frederick, St. Petersburg's neighborhood traffic manager, said accidents associated with angle parking "have been a concern nationwide."
"Where you have the most serious problem is where you have angle parking on streets that are still used to carry high volumes of traffic at high speeds," Frederick said. "We're using angle parking as a device to slow traffic down, to create more of an urban village atmosphere in downtown."
To that end, when angle parking comes to First avenues N and S, a change in signal timing and speed limits will come, too. The current speed limits on both streets are 40 and 45 miles an hour, depending on location. Maintaining those speeds virtually ensures catching every light on green.
"When those streets go to two-lane, we will slow the speeds and re-time the lights," Frederick said. "Drivers will still be able to make every green, but at a slower speed."
However, this doesn't resolve complaints about angle parking obstructing lines of sight. Pete Shaw, coordinator of transportation operations for St. Petersburg, said anyone who has a serious concern about a particular location should call his office, and he will check it out.
"We had one caller complain about the line of sight at Central and 23rd (Street) and Central and 25th (Street)," Shaw said. "I checked them out, and I think 25th is okay. But I agreed that there is a problem at the northeast corner of Central and 23rd. I ordered two parking stalls removed to make the sight lines better."
All this got us wondering: If St. Petersburg and a lot of other cities are doing away with parallel parking and going for angle or perpendicular parking, why do learners still have to master parallel parking to get their driver's licenses?
The answer is, they don't. At least not in Florida.
Within the past few years, the state abandoned the requirement that student drivers prove they can parallel-park.
"I think it still should be on the test, so I teach it, but I don't require it on the road test," said Lee Morey, a coach and drivers' ed teacher at Gibbs High School. "The state tossed it out because they were getting so many complaints from parents that parallel parking was a disappearing thing, so why should their kids have to learn to do it.
"I teach it because I think people need to know how to maneuver their cars in tight spaces."
Just a reminder. May 22-29 is Buckle Up America! Week. This is more than symbolic. According to the state Department of Transportation, more than 7,000 law enforcement agencies will be out nationwide ticketing drivers who have failed to use seat belts on themselves and their children.
_ Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at docdelaysptimes.com, by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.