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Friday, January 19, 2007

Parking and biking

Parking and biking

Valencia is a city of about 800.000 inhabitants. That would rank it among one of America’s ten biggest cities. As is the case in most American cities, parking is a huge problem in Valencia. One thing that you don’t see here are parking lots, at least surface lots. There are underground parking facilities in almost every building—at least in the newer ones. Trying to find a parking spot on the street can be a desperate affair. In an attempt to come to terms with this problem drivers here have come up with some interesting solutions.

Double parking is an extremely common and accepted way of leaving your automobile. What people do when they double park is to leave their car in neutral with the emergency brake off. If someone that you have blocked in needs to get out they can simply push your car forward or backward to make room for their egress. When I am sitting in one of my favorite sidewalk cafes reading a book in the afternoon, watching people park almost always is more interesting than what I am reading.

Sometimes the double parker doesn’t leave enough room for another driver to get out. In this instance the blocked driver will lean on his horn to try to summon the offender. For some reason, this seems to happen a lot in the late afternoon. This must be a bad time for parking because you often hear horns glaring. This is one of my least favorite aspects of city life here in Spain. The other day I was leaving the market and a guy blasted his really loud horn right when I was walking by. I called him a “cocksucker” and a few other choice English expletives. He looked at me like a whipped puppy and didn’t understand why I was upset. Everybody does it, after all.

I have mentioned that I live a block away from Mestalla Stadium where Valencia Club de Fúbol plays their games. When they have a match my neighborhood becomes an instructional clinic in the many methods of illegal parking. It is really quite entertaining to see the places people will put their dormant automobiles. Because most of the street corners are handicap accessible, cars can easily drive up the ramp and on to the sidewalks and park anywhere. Sometimes the police will issue tickets and sometimes they won’t. A couple of days ago during the game someone had parked right in front of the exit for the stadium metro stop. I was waiting for someone to push the car into the middle of the street. The attitude here with creative (illegal) parking is, “Hey, we all do it.”

I can’t imagine why anyone would bother driving around Valencia when public transportation is so fast, inexpensive, and efficient. Bicycles are very popular here and I’m sure this form of personal transportation will explode exponentially in the next few years. It will be interesting to visit Barcelona and see how bikes have caught on there. Barcelona is considered to be the most progressive Spanish city and it leads the way in bike paths and encouraging bicycle commuting.

I am already looking to buy a folding bike. I love the bicycle I have now but it is really more for exercise and bike touring. Now I need an every day bike to use to get around town. A folding bike also makes sense when you live on the fifth floor and your building has a small elevator. I have been keeping my eye out for a used one. Folding bikes are very popular here as almost everyone else lives on the fifth fucking floor, some without an elevator. I used to think that folding bikes were silly but they sure beat the hell out of walking.

I’ll either get a folding model or a really crappy bike that I can just lock outside somewhere and not worry about it getting stolen. I have heard so many warnings about bike theft that I lock my beautiful new cycle-cross bike when I leave it on my fifth floor balcony. I don’t know, maybe thieves could rappel down from the roof and steal it? A ninja could do it.

*The photo is a metro advertisement that I think captures the essence of public transportation.

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