Life

TINY TIRES TIME

Parking spots just for Smart cars? Are half-price car washes next?

KEN MACQUEEN October 3 2005
Life

TINY TIRES TIME

Parking spots just for Smart cars? Are half-price car washes next?

KEN MACQUEEN October 3 2005

TINY TIRES TIME

Life

KEN MACQUEEN

Parking spots just for Smart cars? Are half-price car washes next?

THE SUBCOMPACT CITY of Duncan, B.C. is home to “the world’s largest hockey stick”— and 12 of the world’s smallest parking spaces. The hockey stick—62.48 m long—dominates an entire wall of the local community centre. You’d think a city of almost 5,000, blessed with such an outsized piece of lumber, would have nothing else to prove, but Duncan is a forward-looking place. It has seen the future, and it is the Smart car—an automobile so abbreviated it would take 25 of them lined bumper-to-bumper just to carry the world’s longest hockey stick. In early September, the Smart car inspired Duncan to create what may be Canada’s first mini parking spaces. They are three metres long, just big enough for a Smart or transportation device of similar size—motorcycles, scooters, or maybe a pair of those boat-sized running shoes worn by teenage boys.

Other municipalities, including Vancouver and Victoria, may follow Duncan’s lead. Smart car owners may roll lightly upon the Earth, but they are an assertive lot. As if filling up for under $20 isn’t reward enough, they’re rearing up on their tiny tires to claim that their diminutive 2.5-metre-long vehicles warrant cheaper parking and discount ferry rates. B.C. Ferries is studying the idea, with muted enthusiasm. What’s next, half price at the car wash?

In Duncan, the wee spots were inspired by two acts of civil disobedience by local doctor Ron Jarvis and his wife, Anne, who laid claim to one of the first Smarts to reach Vancouver Island. Anne parked their cars noseto-curb in a parallel parking spot in Victoria, the way Smarts are often parked in crowd-

ed European cities. She was ticketed. This inspired Ron to do the same in Duncan. He got a ticket, too, but also the sympathy of city council, which was exploring creative ways to get more vehicles and shoppers into Duncan’s downtown.

Anne piled city councillor Sharon Jackson into her car, and the two scouted the downtown looking for wasted space to convert into additional parking. The result was a dozen mini-spots. They are marked by yellow curbs decorated with blue strips, and the warning: “micro-cars or motorcycles only.” This caused some consternation, concedes Jackson, “basically from guys with big trucks wondering why there aren’t bigtruck parking spaces.” On the other hand, Duncan gained a ton of media exposure and the undying affection of Smart owners everywhere. “Isn’t Duncan fabulous,” enthused Anne Jarvis, after returning home on a September afternoon from a failed attempt to try the city’s first newly painted stall. “There were three of us in Smart cars, all wanting the same spot,” she says, laughing.

The French-made Smart, a division of Mercedes-Benz, was built for the jam-packed streets of urban Europe and Asia. The threecylinder diesels have done surprisingly well in Canada, even before the latest spike in fuel prices. Some 3,600 have been sold in the year since the first vehicles were imported last October, far outstripping projections, says

JoAnne Caza, director of corporate communications and public relations for Mercedes-Benz Canada. Many more buyers are on waiting lists while their cars are built and accessorized in Hambach, France. From there, they are rolled into padded envelopes and FedExed overnight to the customers’ homes.

Just kidding. They are shipped by boat, of course. Size jokes are the bane of Smart drivers, and a topic of discussion on Internet sites devoted to their wondercars. So, for a time, was the vile act of Smart car tipping— a variation on the rural practice of toppling sleeping cattle. One Calgary owner awakened to find his extensively damaged “smartie” on its side in the driveway. “I am so f—ing mad right now I could spit bullets,” he reported. The unsettling topic has since been declared off-limits by the site moderator.

Internet discussion has since settled on sunnier subjects. Should one wave or beep the horn when greeting fellow Smart drivers? Opinion is divided. Is it possible to make love in a Smart car? (“The trick is to fold the passenger side seat down,” advises one potential chiropractic case. “Then you are able to use the trunk space for your head! ”) As for fuel consumption, don’t get them started. IÎÏÏ