We live on a street in San Francisco that has unusually wide sidewalks, and, not coincidentally, unusually narrow lanes for cars. It is also a bike boulevard, and connects directly to two of the separated bike paths in Golden Gate Park. Thanks to the narrow lanes, cars find it difficult to pass each other and avoid cutting through our neighborhood. These things are all great for us, as it means we live on one of the quietest streets in San Francisco, despite the fact that the streetcar runs one block parallel to us and we never have to walk more than a block to get on transit.
The wide sidewalks apparently serve as an irresistible temptation to a certain type of driver, however. My neighbors and I have learned to call the city to ticket drivers who decide that in the absence of a sufficiently convenient street spot, why not park on the nice wide sidewalk? It is apparently the same offenders over and over again, because word like us has gotten around, and our block now stays pretty clear.
A few blocks over, however, it’s a different story. My arch-nemesis in the sidewalk parking wars is unfortunately our mail carrier. Despite personal requests, calls to the city, calls to USPS, tweets to USPS, and in-person complaints at our neighborhood post office, he is an inveterate and unapologetic sidewalk parker. Every day his truck blocks it, leaving me, my kids, neighbors pushing strollers, etc. to fend for ourselves in the street. He parks on the sidewalk even if there is an open parking space on the street right next to the truck. I loathe that guy.
Eventually I will prevail—if nothing else, he is older than I am and thus will retire before I die—but in the interim it’s infuriating.
Anyway, as a result of all this, I have mixed feelings about the US Postal Service. So earlier this week, when I attended a meeting addressing cancer prevention strategies held by the National Institutes of Health, I was vaguely depressed to realize it was being held at the Bolger Center in Potomac, Maryland, which it turns out is owned and operated as a retreat by, yes, the USPS. (The meeting itself caused me intellectual whiplash, which is another story altogether.)
The Bolger Center is extremely trippy in its own right. It contains a hotel, a conference center, a dining hall, and bar, and is set up like a college campus. It is labyrinthine and seriously confused multiple taxi drivers. Moreover literally everything on site, from the rooms right down to individual plants, was labeled with signs reading “USPS,” which frankly began to seem excessive. I was tempted to chase down to the squirrels and rabbits wandering around the lawn and woods to check them for tags as well, but they were too fast for me. Other than the 20-odd other attendees at the NIH meeting, the entire center was occupied by USPS middle managers on some kind of retreat. Perhaps recognizing the nature of their core constituency, the Bolger Center lacks sidewalks per se, although there are separated walkways, which are placed far away from the roads designed for cars.
All that said, I did discover something new and interesting among the various mail-related paraphernalia posted in the hallways. At the entrance to one building is a display of a postal bike! The sign, which is too small to read in my photo, explains that the USPS bought bikes like these from military surplus in 1944 and used them and their equivalents to deliver mail as late as the 1990s. How cool are these bikes? Amazingly cool! Why on earth did they stop using them? I have an offer for you, USPS: bring back the bikes; in return, you’ll never have a complaint about sidewalk parking again.