Letter from Prague No free parking
Have you ever noticed that half or more road construction or renovation projects always begin in September? The first week when everyone who still has holiday time returns from their summer vacation, their kids go back to school, and every man and his dog or soccer mom or dad seems to be travelling somewhere by car? Early September, just about every major artery in the city centre - from Prague's magistrála throughway to major streets like Evropská and Milada Horáková – are jammed with traffic, routed and re-routed around landfills, tunnels, tram tracks, patches of grass, cranes, trucks, and bulldozers.
On the one hand, the changes are needed and it’s great that they’re happening. On the other, fatigue h as definitely set in: half of these projects, like Blanka tunnel, have picked up where they left off, long behind schedule and taking just short of forever. Sometimes I feel like I am driving on the set of Terminator 3 and expect to see the machines rise up with my own car turning against me, trapping me in place with the seatbelt until everything turns to dust.
All of the cars on the road, and extended renovation projects taking up space, have also exasperated the problem of parking, now a major pain in the behind. It was bad before, now, in places, it’s unbearable. If you happen to live in a busy part of the city, just try parking anywhere near your front door. The area where I live is basically a depot for anyone driving into the city... to leave their cars. There is nothing wrong with that; the problem is that some of these motorists will park anywhere.
You've heard of some of the more infamous Czech road pirates, forcing cars off the road at 130 kilometres on the D1? This is the flipside: rogue parkers!
People who will leave their cars where there are clearly visible “No Parking” signs; owners who park in the middle of a turn with some part of their vehicle obnoxiously jutting out; motorists who leave their car even in the middle of the street. There is a parking lot near our home like that, half a kilometre from the Blanka tunnel, creatively “extended” by motorists until there is no room on the road beside it! I have experienced it, barely squeezing through when driving the kid to the doctors'.
I marvel at the person who happily leaves their luxury sedan in bizarre spots begging them to be towed or bashed in a fender-bender. I even kind of envy how carefree they are with their property, cue Annie Hall’s “La-di-da.” It is as if, having gotten through the ruckus of construction heading into the city, they are ready to leave their cars anywhere, as if they were abandoning them in a scene from a zombie movie or some other disaster. Curiously, the more expensive the car, the less likely the cops will ticket the driver or drag their vehicle away because they might be someone important! That's the impression, anyway. I know they do tow cars, I've seen that too, but apparently not often enough.
A few days ago when I was heading home, on the corner around the block, I noticed someone had taken the matter into their own hands. An unknown driver had parked a BMW jutting into the road off of a side street. No room? No problem! My interest was piqued when I caught a glimpse of a handwritten note someone else had left on the windshield. It read something like this: “You may have an expensive car but you have no manners. I took the liberty of letting out some of the air in your left tire.” It was true, the car was sagging.
Don't get me wrong: I don’t think any traffic Batmen or other traffic vigilantes should ever touch anyone else’s property, no kidding. Such acts are over the line. At the same time, I won’t deny that my first reaction was to try and imagine the driver’s face as they came back in the evening. Finding a bicycle pump who knows where and then having to brave the traffic and construction to try and get home? I didn’t envy the person one second.