Ever find yourself with a handful of dimes and nickels when the parking meter takes only quarters?
Why be so single-minded?
It has everything to do with money -- charging a top rate to park in the prime downtown business district -- and keeping the meters in tiptop shape.
Here's how city officials explain it: Of the 12,000 parking meters in Baltimore, about 10 percent take only quarters. And most of them are located in the central business district. Because parking is at a premium downtown, the cost to park per minute is greater there. If the city wants to charge 60 cents or more an hour, parking meter manufacturers recommend quarter-only meters.
The reasoning is twofold.
A coin with a greater value means fewer mechanical revolutions to register time on the meter's clock. A coin with less value, like a nickel or dime, would require more internal gear shifts. The more turns of the meter, the more wear and tear on what is known as a "coin segment."
Also, a driver would need more nickels and dimes to pay for an hour's worth of time. The more coins, the faster the coin box fills up. The faster it fills up, the more frequently a meter has to be emptied.
"Imagine how many nickels you'd have to have," says F. Roy LTC Hall, the southeast distributor for Duncan Industries, one of the companies that supplies the city's parking meters. "If you have a high rate, a rate that's a dollar an hour, that would take 20 nickels. It was so nice and simple when they used pennies, nickels and dimes, and a nickel bought you an hour.
"There wasn't even a quarter slot on it."
Of course, that was 35 years ago, Mr. Hall says. Today in New York City, for example, some parking meters charge $3 an hour.
The problem of having enough quarters in hand goes beyond parking meters, says Mr. Hall. Consider telephones, cigarette machines, vending machines. "What we want is the U.S. Mint to make up a dollar coin," he says. "Make it easier for the consumer to use a vending machine."
Half-dollar coins were a bust back when. Duncan made meters that would accept a 50-cent piece some years ago, Mr. Hall says. But no one bought them.
"The half-dollar is a very, very large coin and they don't work well in the mechanical devices," he says. "You're a lot better off to have the smaller, dollar coin."
But that could create another problem. If the Mint designs a new dollar coin, similar to the unpopular Susan B. Anthony coin, and doesn't get rid of the Lincoln penny, cashiers would go crazy.
Cash drawers would have no place to put a dollar coin. As it is, the 50-cent piece, the least-minted coin of the bunch, doesn't have a slot to call home.
Businesses would be clamoring for new cash registers, Mr. Hall predicts.
"Why would they want to keep a penny? They're not worth anything," says Mr. Hall.
But there are plenty of them -- 13.8 billion minted this year alone.
Step lively or not at all
Hey, you! The guy who almost ran down the Intrepid One on Taylor Avenue last Wednesday in broad daylight! We've got your number.
Intrepid was drawn to the entrance of the Parkville Shopping Center on Taylor Avenue by Parkville resident Henry W. Seim Jr., who whipped off a letter on his yellow legal pad. He complained that using the crosswalk on Taylor Avenue to get to and from the center is something akin to playing chicken.
The culprit, he says, is poor placement of signs to alert motorists to the crosswalk's presence. "Instead of warning drivers before they get to the crosswalk," he writes, "the signs are actually just as you pass the walk."
We investigated and found that to be true for both eastbound and westbound traffic on Taylor. One sign on the westbound side is obscured by a utility pole by the time you're close enough to notice it. There are no advance warning signs to alert drivers.
"If you want my opinion, they never stop," says 60-year-old John Miller, a retiree who has lived across from the shopping center for 20 years. Motorists don't seem to slow for anyone, he says, including the many elderly people who frequent the crossing, some of them leaning on canes or walkers.
"They'd just as soon run over you as not," Mr. Miller told us. "If you don't believe me, get out there and try it."
Duty prevailed over common-sense and, after a short prayer, Intrepid strode into the crosswalk.
Three cars were approaching on the westbound side. The lead vehicle, a maroon station wagon, opted to swerve toward the curb rather than slow down for a lowly pedestrian. The other two drivers appeared ignorant of the crosswalk and the breathing life form seeking its protection.
We believe you, Mr. Miller.
In the meantime, county public works officials were spurred by Mr. Seim's complaint to check out the crossing. "I can't give an answer as to why the signs aren't out there, but they should be in place," says Stephen E. Weber, the department's chief of traffic engineering.
In a couple of months, he assured us, new signs will warn drivers about 300 feet before they get to the crosswalk. At about $70 apiece, they will look much like the current signs, with a silhouette of Joe Pedestrian flexing his muscles on a yellow background.
Although international signs are great for improving relations with Canada and other nations a short drive from Baltimore, Intrepid Commuter prefers the more imperious written signs, such as "Turning vehicles YIELD to pedestrians," which is posted just east of the crosswalk on Taylor at Moyer Avenue.
KEEP IN TOUCH
Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.
Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.