Syndicated Columnists

Do we need stupid zones on city streets?

“I'll look at (electric scooters ‘parked’ on the street) and wonder, ‘What were they thinking?’” he said.
“I'll look at (electric scooters ‘parked’ on the street) and wonder, ‘What were they thinking?’” he said. Star file photo

The tide of cluelessness is on the rise.

No, I’m not referring to folks who yammer about politics and refuse to absorb any information that intrudes upon their cemented views.

I’m talking about those who each day impede the task of getting around. I’m speaking of those who toil effortlessly — and cluelessly — to make it more miserable on the sidewalks and streets and in the parking lots.

During a recent conversation, Atlanta City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane told me he shoots photos of e-scooters “parked” (plopped down) on sidewalks.

“I'll look at them and wonder, ‘What were they thinking?’” he said.

The dictionary lists “clueless” as “totally uninformed about what is going on; not having even a clue from which to infer what is occurring.”

I’d describe it as ignorance mixed with selfishness, smothered by a blinding lack of awareness. My guess is it’s more in vogue as common sense and mannerly mores get pushed to the wayside. I know, that makes me seem like a “Hey, kid, get that scooter off my lawn!” kind of guy.

Anyone who has traversed a major city sidewalk in the past year has witnessed this: The scooter rider arrives at his destination (it’s more often than not a he) and then leaves the device Right There, smack in the middle of the sidewalk. Pedestrians are left stepping around and/or over. If they see it in time, that is.

If you’re in a wheelchair, it gets worse.

“I guess people just aren’t conscious about humans around them,” said Keane, who said parking on sidewalks is by far the biggest complaint about the devices.

People have clamored for rules to stop this, but such rules already exist on the books here in Atlanta and elsewhere.

There are usually 5,500 scooters on the street, which means thousands of individuals make thousands of individual decisions about what to do with the things.

“Every time people do something silly, people want another regulation,” Keane said. “But there’s no way to legislate cluelessness.”

What other things bug you? I asked. Left-lane laggards on the interstates who leave lines of cars stewing behind them, Keane said. I mentioned that Georgia passed a “Slowpoke Law” — or “left-lane courtesy” law — which says if cars queue behind you, then you must get out of the left lane or get a ticket, even if you’re at the speed limit.

“Now, there’s a law that says it’s illegal to follow the law,” he said, laughing. “That’s what I’m talking about. We pass these laws and they get tangled up with each other.”

Yep, chasing cluelessness can leave us befuddled.

So is it a new phenomenon?

“People have always been clueless,” Keane said. “I think there are more ways that it can manifest itself.”

Or the problem is a lot more visible with social media showing us a constant cavalcade of cluelessness.

A while back, James Salzer, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution colleague who toils at the Statehouse, grew weary of an outrage that occurred repeatedly in the crowded parking garage near the Capitol.

“I got tired because people were inconsiderate when parking,” Salzer said. “The garage was close to full and I’d see some chucklehead taking two spaces.”

He started shooting photos of the offending vehicles and posted them on Twitter with the hashtag Parkingishard.

“Some were people who can’t park,” he said, while others “were people who don’t care or were unaware.”

Or maybe they were all three, the Cluelessness Trifecta, which may not be uncommon in the shadow of the Gold Dome.

Travel can become frustrating, and that frustration doesn’t always end at the conclusion of one’s route. Parking often adds to trip volatility. Something called the International Parking Institute estimates that 3 to 5% of drivers park outside the lines. And a survey by INRIX, a data firm that studies transportation issues, found that 49% of American drivers said taking up two spaces is “the worst parking sin.” The second-worst, according to 24% of drivers, is a vehicle in a handicapped-accessible space without a valid permit.

That’s right, twice as many Americans think hogging two parking spaces is worse than taking a parking spot from someone with physical disabilities. I guess it’s because the two-space slob affects them. That’s not clueless — that’s selfish.

I can’t explore cluelessness in travel without mentioning a few more beefs:

▪  Sidewalk socializers: This is when pedestrians waddle three- or four-abreast on the sidewalk at half the walking speed of those around them. Sometimes these folks will stop in the middle of the concrete to reacquaint themselves with a long-lost friend.

▪  Left-turn-lane techies: I get it, you’re out on the road and simply must respond to that text. Red lights are great for it (also illegal), so you start tap-tap-tapping and … the light suddenly turns green and those behind you resort to century-old technology — their horns. This is especially galling when seven cars have 13 seconds to get through a left-turn light. Or they must wait another couple of minutes because you were texting “home in a few.”

▪  And, of course, intersection gridlockers: They’re the impatient drivers who are determined to reach the lanes ahead of them before their light turns red. They gamble, they lose, and so do you if you’re waiting in the cross lanes. Your light turns green and there they are, blocking the intersection, enduring the enmity of others as they sit in shame, broadcasting cluelessness to their fellow travelers.