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road sage

Street parking is in decline. It's being replaced by bike stands and pop-up patios. At the same time, we're seeing a significant erosion of our ability to park. It's a troubling trend because we were never any good at it to begin with.

And we're not talking about going from being great to a little less great. This isn't Wayne Gretzky losing a step or two late in his career. It's not as if there are drivers executing perfect parallel parks everywhere. We're going from being really, terribly awful to being mind-splitting, faith-shaking, physics-defying horrifically awful.

We're so bad that in some places parking ability is no longer required to get a licence. Maryland just removed parallel parking from its driver's exam. NBC reported that the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration maintains, "If drivers can complete a two-point reverse turn in addition to the other test components, they've done enough to earn their licence." That state is currently changing its motto from "Strong deeds, gentle words" to "Strange dents, mental errors."

Such factors make street parking – parking Tetris, as I like to call it – a tough game to play. What the roads need is some parking hygiene. Just as we bathe, wash our clothes and refrain from wearing cologne on public transit (yeah, right), we need to become aware of the ways our ill-mannered parking affects others.

Foremost among this regime would be the "pause." It can be applied both before and after parking. Before you back into a tight space, pause: Take a moment and ask yourself: "How much room do I have? Can I actually park there?" If the answers are positive, proceed. I learned this lesson the hard way in 1988 when I backed a truck into my boss's office. He yelled at me in front of a film crew and, after what felt like three or four hours, ended the rant with, "Before you park, get out and look around!"

I always do.

The second pause is a courtesy pause. It is particularly important when you are doing easy parks, the kind where you just roll in and there's a ton of open curb. Get out of your car afterward and pause. Take a look around and ask yourself, "Have I left others enough room to park? Am I, essentially, taking up two spaces?"

A metre or so can make the difference between being able to park and being condemned to roam the Earth looking for another space. There are few moments more irritating than pulling up to a spot, only to find that you don't fit because that car in front of you didn't pull far enough forward. Instead, it carelessly cruised in and left a gap. Parking gluttons don't realize a spot is a terrible thing to waste.

Does the world face bigger problems than bad street parking? Sure. Madonna is on tour and the Leafs have a new coach, which is a problem because it causes millions of Leafs fans to become delusional and think that next year, unlike the previous five decades, will be different. Street parking, however, is something we can fix. If we all try to be better, it will get better. Madonna and the Leafs are another story.

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