too much typing—since 2003


shark gotta swim!

Anyone who parks at the UWM Union parking garage is aware that at many times of the day, the line extends beyond the garage's entryway onto the street - but anyone who parks there also realizes that typically, cars flow fairly quickly into the garage as other cars exit the nominally full garage, thereby letting new cars into the structure.

For some reason, last year or so, the city (I presume, since this is a city street) posted this signage:

The intent is, presumably, to discourage those waiting for parking from queueing on the street.

It is an utterly asinine, pointless, and possibly dangerous policy - so far also, completely unenforced.

Any time you prohibit a behavior, you need to analyze what people are likely to do instead - and if your reason for prohibiting the behavior because it's potentially harmful, you should not prohibit it if the likely alternative behavior is more harmful. (Attention: anti-drug zealots...) In this case, I can't see what possible harm is caused by vehicles queueing on the street: there's no parking there, no bus stop there, and no pedestrian crosswalks in the area (other than, of course, the sidewalk vehicles have to cross to get to the entryway proper). The only offense I can imagine is against the Teutonic rage for order that also motivates Milwaukee's annoying night parking ordinances (certainly, those ordinances are not used to allow the city to remove snow from street parking areas overnight...), but that hardly seems like a very compelling reason.

Okay, so if the "no waiting" rule were strictly enforced, what would people do instead? Well, they still need to find a place to park (the sign suggesting the use of the new Pavilion lot is well-intentioned...but that lot is at the very northeasterly edge of campus and quite a cold, wet, wintry walk all the way to the sciences buildings on the southwestern part of campus: not useful for all people, in other words). Aside from the Union garage (and the Pavilion), there are only a couple small surface lots and one small underground lot that allow non-permit parking for more than a couple of hours. Those are typically full, so often the Union garage is the best, central parking alternative. So, these drivers are going to either circulate around this block of campus, increasing an already serious traffic glut on those streets, or they'll hang around, sharklike, on the other side of the street. In either case they'll essentially be racing one another to get back to the lot entryway sooner than others - and of course, they'll always lose out to folks who happened to have arrived at the entryway when an opening appears. It will lead, in other words, to lots of angry, frustrated drivers circulating on overcrowded campus streets already overflowing with pedestrians. Bad idea.

Of course, one could always finesse the question of what behavior actually is prohibited by the sign. (Note: I blatantly violated it to take this photo. I stopped my car, put on the flashers, and framed and focused the shot through my windshield. No other cars were around - but I definitely plead guilty to that violation.) For example: if indeed you are in a line of cars waiting to get into the garage, at what point does the slowness and occasional stopping characteristic of busy traffic turn into "waiting"? I could argue that in fact, even if I'm sitting in the same place for five minutes, I'm simply driving, stuck in a momentary traffic jam, in this lane designated for those turning into the parking garage. I certainly can't go forward - I'd crash into the car in front of me. And if I'm set to make the turn into the entryway, and there's a crush of pedestrians I have to wait for, surely they have the right of way, and I'm not "waiting" in that instance either?

Presumably, Officer Friendly, after being annoyed at my smartassery, would suggest I simply move on and drive away. Ah, but this lane is clearly marked as being only for right turns, not for through traffic: are you suggesting that I violate a law and use it for temporary driving (since I'm already in it) even though my destination would not be the right turn into the entryway? In real life, at this point I'd almost certainly get written up for whatever possible violations our long-suffering officer could come up with.

Then again, if the sign were actively enforced, that would entail officers stopping vehicles in the "no stopping, standing, waiting zone" - thereby creating exactly the clot of stopped vehicles the sign is intended to prevent. Or would someone just stand on the sidewalk, waving cars on - to meet another officer parked somewhere else who'd issue a ticket?

I seriously doubt anyone will ever be ticketed for waiting in line to get into the parking structure. If anyone gets a ticket here, it will probably be for doing what I did to take the photo: that is, actually stopping and waiting when it's possible to do otherwise. It's the conjunction of the "no waiting" signage with the obvious fact that this area is used by cars queueing to get into the parking garage that creates the problem here.

I half suspect the real intention of the signs is simply to encourage people to use the Pavilion structure...but simply putting up a sign saying that, without the warning- and rule-based signage, would violate the legalistic mindset around parking and traffic ordinances. Simply making a helpful suggestion? We can't do that. We can make up bizarre, unenforced ordinances instead, and hope people will simply interpret them right.

Seems like a waste of effort.

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