Saturday, January 20, 2007

Don't bother circling the block--just head for the hills.

I know there are some cities in the US in which parking is a problem, and I know that some residents of those cities choose not to own or use a car. When the new mall opened, they proudly advertised 1400 parking spaces in their multi-level garage. I thought that was a lot of parking for downtown Krakow, but Krakovian has informed me that it is not enough. Oh.

I saw a pictorial ad (at a bus stop) today, which showed a picture of a tram, followed by an equals sign, followed by 25 or 30 cars. I guess the city is feeling the need to either encourage people to use public transportation instead of driving or perhaps not buy cars at all? I wonder if it has anything to do with the dreadful traffic jams, which have only increased since the city closed down a vital intersection in the heart of the city for a two-year (at least) renovation project?

The very center of Krakow was once a walled medieval city. No parking space was needed--the streets were designed for foot traffic or perhaps a few wagons or horses. Today, very little traffic is allowed in that part of the city. Taxis may drive on certain streets only, and delivery vehicles (for the many shops in that area) are restricted to very early morning hours. Police cars and ambulances are allowed, of course, as well as horse-drawn tourist buggies.

Just outside the medieval part of Krakow is the part that grew up during the partition era, when Poland wasn't Poland on the map, but part of Austria. Most of the buildings in that section are well over 100 years old, and so, again, the streets were not really designed with motor vehicle traffic in mind. A few large roads have been carved into the maze of little streets, and tram tracks criss-cross that part of the city, including running in a ring around the older part.

The rest of Krakow grew to nearly its present proportions under Soviet era communism. If you look at a neighborhood of towering "blocks" (apartment buildings), packed closely together, and compare that to the amount of parking provided for the neighborhood, you can easily estimate that the communists expected well under 10% of the population to own cars, and the streets and roads they built reflect their low expectations for individual traffic. Even now, when you travel by car in Poland, you don't expect to speed along on four-lane, limited-access highways.

The economy and expectations of Poland today are very different. Families who could never have afforded a car in the past are now able to do so. I've seen many older people--in their 40's and 50's--taking driver's courses because they never had a reason to learn before. When they were young, few people had private cars.

Where are all these people supposed to find parking places?

Perhaps this is the real reason suburbs grew up around the cities in America? So people would be able to find parking space for their cars?


At 8:06 PM , Blogger Mama Squirrel said...

Yep. Where I grew up, most of the older houses didn't have garages, and some of them didn't even have real driveways. My dad's parents never owned a car when he was growing up (my grandpa couldn't see well enough to drive and they lived within walking distance of everything anyway).


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