Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Living in the City - Driving Edition

Upon traveling to a city, like Philadelphia, or any of our densely populated Northeastern cities, there are a few things you should keep in mind when you are driving here.
  1. Once you arrive in the city, you will be faced with an inordinate amount of traffic of various forms, including, but not limited to, cars, trucks, UPS/Fedex vehicles, motorcycles, scooters, cyclists, pedestrians, pedi-cabs, horse drawn carriages and semi-trucks. Give yourself some extra time to get to your destination.
  2. Most streets are one-way only. Ensure that you know where you are going and which way the traffic flows. More than likely, you will need to go around the block a few times to get to your destination. Sometimes, GPS doesn't work in the city because of all the big buildings, so an old fashioned map is usually most useful. Or, even better, get directions from your destination.
  3. There are few areas where parking is free. Most streets and lots charge for parking, and the cost can be exorbitant. Be aware of this and make sure you have both cash and credit. The newer meters in Philly are taking credit cards now, which is nice, but there are still some neighborhoods with metered parking. Other areas have restrictions on parking - like 2 hour parking most days of the week. Look out for signs, usually at the beginning and end of most blocks and make sure to move your car before your 2 hours are up. The Parking Authority is the most successful business in the city for a reason....
  4. The streets are marked a certain way for a reason. Many streets have bike lanes. Don't use these as our own personal driving lane or parking place. There are a huge number of cyclists in the city who use those lanes exclusively. If you have to use a lane to make a turn, be courteous, put on your blinker, and recognize that you are merging into a lane with traffic in it.
  5. Similarly, crosswalks are so marked in order to prevent you from pulling into them. There are lots and lots of pedestrians here, and most tend to use the crosswalks. Most intersections do not allow right turns on red lights, like are allowed in the 'burbs precisely because of the pedestrians. 
  6. Most areas do allow you to pull up to drop off Grandma or a load of groceries. Try pulling up onto the sidewalk (without running anyone over) and put on your emergency lights. I wouldn't leave my car out there for too long, but it's OK to dash in and out, or to grab your sweater or hit the bathroom. I have yet to see Parking Authority give out tickets for that.
  7. Whatever your destination, you will most likely have to walk to it. Wear sensible shoes and clothes. High heels get caught in grates, so look out for those if you're wearing those types of shoes. The city is historically warmer than the suburbs, but in the winter there's lots of ice and gusty winds funneled down the streets by the big buildings. In the summer, it's hot and sticky, so bring lots of water. 
  8. Don't seek out your favorite chain restaurant when in the city. There are tons of small, locally owned businesses and lots of BYOBs to check out that are way better than TGIFridays or Chilis. BYOBs run cheaper because they don't have to pay for the liquor license (and you can bring your favorite bottle of wine or some beers along - some places will even mix you a drink if you bring the liquor). Most places don't take reservations, but a lot exist in clusters, so if one's full, you can just walk down the street or belly up to the bar down the way. Chances are, you'll have an excellent meal in a new place, which is always fun. There are also lots of deals to look for, like the $15 lobster dinner at Bistro Romano on Tuesday nights, or the Restaurant Week offerings or the Center City Sips.
  9. If you are going to parallel park, please know how. Streets are narrow, traffic is heavy, and generally, people have no patience. So, if you're going to try to parallel park on Walnut Street, you better be quick about it. Otherwise you'll have a million people honking at you and yelling at you immediately. My advice? Go a couple blocks away from those busy streets, and find a residential street to park on - less traffic and less stress.
  10. My honest advice for people who are thinking about driving into the city is: don't. Take the train or the bus (which is always an experience in itself). Most stop at 69th Street Station or 30th Street Station, where you can catch the subway or hail a cab. This takes having to drive completely out of the picture, puts less traffic on our streets, and saves you a little bit on the carbon footprint front. Not that public transit is totally reliable, but most bus lines run pretty late into the night, and the regional rail lines have the last trains leaving around 11 or midnight. Besides, this way, you can enjoy your BYOB dinner with a bottle of wine and not worry about the drive home!

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