Disorder rules the roads of Ukraine: pavements and lawns are turned into parking lots, trams wait hours for police to remove yet another SUV parked in their way, and passers-by are killed by drunk drivers, while the highway patrol abuse their office in pursuit of another penny.
STICKING IT TO BAD DRIVERS
Is a carelessly parked car blocking the path of passers-by or public transport? The activists of “I Park Like an Idiot” use paper, scissors, glue or coloured stickers as their weapons against irresponsible drivers. Anyone can join the movement, and the frustration-venting arsenal is unlimited. “I stick parking instructions to their windshields with white glue,” Lilia Krysiuk from Kyiv says. “Believe me, after he cleans it off of the windshield once, he’ll think twice before leaving his car in the wrong place again.” Lilia also designed and printed her own stickers to help in her little war for free pavement.
The I Park Like an Idiot project is popular all over the world. Drivers readily invest their own money to make their opinions heard by their impolite colleagues. Stickers displaying scolding or uncensored remarks can be bought in packs of 20, 40 or 100 costing $10, $15 and $30 respectively.
In Russia, the website idiotparking.ru has been in operation since 2003, selling stickers and offering pictures of awkwardly parked cars for download. “Do you park like an idiot? Let the nation know its heroes!” the project’s initiators say.
Ukrainehas plenty of these “superheroes.” Many websites highlight the issue, including the most popular blackcars.com.ua, blonde.in.ua and parklikeidiot.com.ua. The websites’ creators are not easy to contact, since the “idiot” drivers whose cars have been photographed or adorned with stickers are likely to try to find them as well. Activists pass on the stickers personally at meetings arranged on Internet forums. At one point, parklikeidiot.com.ua was shut down but the domain was eventually released for public sale. Yevhen Mudzhyri, blogger and author of numerous test-drives, bought the address in November 2011. The website already had several dozen pictures of “parking experts” by then. “This improvised whipping post unwittingly pushes drivers to park carefully and according to the rules,” the blogger explains. He says many “parking incidents”result from a lack of parking lots, which deserves forgiveness, especially when drivers leave their cars only for a few minutes. Yet the alert paparazzi are there, ready to take a picture and post it on the website. “Sometimes I fear that someone might post a picture of my car on the website,” Yevhen says. “That would be funny. Even though the pictures are moderated before they are posted, I would surely post the one with my car parked in the wrong place,” he promises.
CRUSHING HIGHWAY ANARCHY
Life is not so easy for careless parkers in Poland. Maciej Zborowski from Gdynia says that such drivers often find their cars scratched or tires slashed. The names of Polish websites campaigning against parking abuse employ a colorful vocabulary and their stickers are often quite obscene. In January, one activist arranged a competition for the Biggest Highway Loser of 2011 between Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia. In Włodawa, pictures of improperly parked cars can end up on the municipal police website.
A few years ago, the “Green Bombers” declared war on careless parking in Moscow. The ultra radical group of environmentalists targets cars parked on lawns, staining them with paint. As a result, the owners suffer both moral and financial damage. According to the Green Bombers, one paint attack is enough to dissuade a car owner from ever parking his vehicle in the wrong place again. They turn a blind eye to arguments about the lack of parking space. “If the environmental police are not effective and drivers are stupid enough not to realize they are ruining the city by parking their cars on lawns, we must act on our own,” the activists insist.
The Mayor of Vilnius also campaigns against unauthorized parking. A video shot this summer features him boarding an armoured vehicle to crush a car left parked over a bicycle lane. The Mayor scolds the car owner, removes the broken glass, gets on his bike and pedals away. Obviously, this is just a video, yet it communicates the mayor’s standpoint clearly.
However, experts recommend that the activists be cautious in real life. According to lawyer Olena Loznytsia, the owners of vehicles that violate parking rules or ruin the lawns could face a fine of only UAH 225 under the Administrative Code, while damage done to someone’s car leads to criminal liability. Under Article 194 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, intentional destruction or damage of someone’s property resulting in significant losses can lead to a fine of UAH 850 or imprisonment for up to three years in some cases. Experts recommend that activists demand that their local authorities set up parking lots rather than take risks by damaging someone’s property.
The fines issued for unauthorized parking are currently barely functioning in Ukraine. By law, the highway patrol cannot issue a parking ticket without the driver present behind the wheel. Often, they do not wait until the driver returns because they can earn more money pursuing other violators in the meantime. Iryna Bondarenko, coordinator of Kyiv’s Association of Cyclists, believes the initiative to solve the problem should come both from the authorities and the public. Following the European model, Ukraine could develop underground parking lots, create separate lanes for public transport, introduce high fines for unauthorized parking, and ban downtown parking. Some of these measures rapidly affected the situation in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, while the Netherlands solved their parking problem through social activism. There, various campaigns arranged by the public coupled with oil crises forced the nation’s leaders to restrict the use of private transport within cities. Currently, over half of the population rides bicycles. “Activists should not only place stickers on cars,” Ms. Bondarenko claims. “They should also promote amendments to the currently flawed laws that essentially allow drivers to park their cars wherever they wish.”
A SAFE TOWN
On 13 January, a drug intoxicated driver hit a group of teenagers, killing one and leaving 10 with serious injuries. The deceased, Svitlana Zuikova, was a student at Taras Shevchenko University’s Technology and Design College in Luhansk.
The girl’s friends launched a campaign called “AutoSafe Luhansk,” which was later joined by seven volunteer groups from her university. The students made around 1,000 stickers and leaflets using their own funding and distributed them throughout the city. Leaflets regarding liability for drunk driving from the Code of Administrative Violations were given to highway patrol officers and stickers saying “I drive well and sober” were handed out to drivers. Volodymyr Moroz, the leader of Luhansk University’s student trade union, says that drivers like the initiative and are ready to fully support it. The campaign includes spreading messages in social networks and automotive forums.
Surprisingly, the local highway patrol headquarters has agreed to support the initiative. The Luhansk road police are going to create stickers and leaflets at their own expense for later distribution by volunteers.
It looks like the creators of roadcontrol.org.ua are not getting any support from the State Auto Inspection Authority. The website features revealing and scandalous videos highlighting illegal actions carried out by the road police. Desniansky District Court ruled to shut down the website temporarily on 14 February based on an appeal from Hennadiy Hetmantsev, a highway patrol officer, against Rostyslav Shaposhnykov, the project owner.
Last summer, Mr. Shaposhnykov and the officer had an argument. The driver asked the officer to let him use the patrol’s cabin bathroom and was refused. The argument was recorded on a video camera and posted on the Road Control’s website titled “Kobra officer bans Road Control from using the bathroom.” Comments on the article triggered the shutdown, as anonymous users allegedly left insulting comments regarding Mr. Hetmantsev. The project authors claimed they would appeal against the decision and transfer the hosting to Germany. While activists were busy moving servers abroad, roadcontrol.com.ua replaced the site temporarily as “Road Control Partisans.”
On 16 February, the court cancelled its decision to shut down the website. According to Yehor Vorobyov, head of Road Control’s press service, the campaign has never had any sponsor support and all of their activities are conducted at their own expense. The project’s initiators are not going to halt their war against the road police’s tyranny. “We want Ukraine to no longer be a third world country,” he says. “We cannot change everything, but we have taken on this small part of the job. And we’re seeing some progress.”
The activists have launched a website dedicated to Mr. Hetmantsev alone. A few days after its debut, the site was already as popular as roadcontrol.org.ua. Mr. Vorobyov claims that Road Control has nearly 20,000 visitors daily, but the number of hits skyrockets as soon as Mr. Hetmantsev does something extraordinary. “People who ban such information do not realize what the Internet is,” Mr. Vorobyov says. “I suppose they don’t realize what democracy is. It will exist as long as the global web does.”
Anyone can join the existing movements or create their own. The most important thing is to believe that joint efforts can change the situation. Of course, this means moving beyond mere talk and taking action.
A special-purpose unit of Ukrainian Road Police that fulfills special and dangerous orders