Tires and Tickets: Reclaiming the Sidewalks in Tbilisi

Citizens of the Georgian capital often complain that Tbilisi has become a city for cars, not for people, where sidewalks are used as parking spots and even, on occasion, as additional traffic lanes.

Yet at the beginning of last week some young Georgians found a way to reclaim the city sidewalks. They laid out four tires across the pavement, filled them with earth and flowers and left a letter to neighboring shops asking them to take care of the flowers and water them.

Later, the Guerrilla Gardening Movement in Tbilisi joined the effort to reclaim the sidewalks with the ‘flower tires,’ freeing said sidewalks for pedestrians. For their activities, members of the Movement were fined 150 Gel by police for ‘littering’ the city center with old tires.

“Parking is not allowed in this area, and yet they [cars] are still parked here. We tried to impose a nice partisan order,” Guerrilla Gardening Movement wrote on their Facebook page.

“We are going to appeal the fine imposed on us. It was not littering. We just placed tires; we did not litter the street. Chavchavadze Ave was selected as a venue because there was no parking allowed but cars are still standing [in the way of pedestrians]. As soon as we arrived and began our activity, five police crews stopped in front of us. We got the impression that this was an attempt at intimidation. Therefore, we intend to appeal,” Guerrilla Gardening Movement representative Nata Peradze told Liberali magazine.

“Our first ‘Guerrilla action’ was on Chavchavadze Avenue and people meet with this very positively. They also understand that sidewalks belong to pedestrians, not cars. For this uncontrolled parking Tbilisi is one of the worst cities for walkers and we should urge ‘free-for road culture’ where drivers follow the rules,” said Mariam Kanchaveli, member of the Guerrilla Gardening Movement.

The Guerrilla Gardening Movement is not alone in fighting against violations of the rights of pedestrian free movement.

There are even two Facebook campaigns, named “Introducing Shameless Drivers” and “Parking Gurus” (see Issue #741, 13.11.2014 of Georgia Today), which collect photos about serious violations of parking and traffic laws in order to name and shame bad parkers in online posts.

Uncontrolled parking creates problems not only for pedestrians but also for disabled persons moving in wheelchairs as well as for people carrying children in strollers. Sometimes you need Spiderman’s power to squeeze through the narrow space left between cars parked on sidewalks.

A private company named C.T. Park is the only business which aims to control parking areas on the Tbilisi roads, and has been doing so for several years now.

The municipal government gave the company the right to implement Article 37 of the Georgian Law on Road Traffic and issue fines to offenders.

“According to Article 37 of the Georgian Law on Road Traffic, parking a car on a sidewalk is prohibited except for cases where an appropriate sign is installed on the sidewalk and the relevant marking is present. It is debatable whether the law should allow for parking on a sidewalk even as an exception but it is clear that a large majority of drivers whose cars are parked on Tbilisi’s sidewalks are violating the law even in its current wording,” Erekle Urushadze, researcher of Transparency International Georgia (TI) and a volunteer activist of the Guerrilla Gardening Movement, wrote in a blog for TI.

The C.T. Park website announced that a car parked close to a sidewalk, on a road with a “No Parking” sign, is prohibited from doing so and is liable to have a fine imposed as well as having the vehicle removed to a pound.

Civil activities just impulse changes, however to approve these changes requires the active involvement of the local government and the good will of the legislative body of the country.

At the beginning of the year Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania discussed the achievements of 2014 and plans for 2015 with local businessmen and government officials, announcing that to fix the illegal parking problem on narrow sidewalks, Tbilisi City Hall will construct a multi-story car park in order to help ease traffic woes, as well as the issue of parking on the sidewalks.

“There are many places with narrow footpaths where the parking of cars has created additional discomfort for pedestrians. I want to implement the relevant services to timely resolve this issue,” the Tbilisi Mayor noted in January 2015.

Narmania highlighted that new parking system would be a competitor to City Park; the sole company to currently provide parking and similar services in Tbilisi.

The Tbilisi Mayor pointed a finger at the previous government which had given permission for authorized people to park on more than 2,000 of Tbilisi’s sidewalks.

Within seven months of this accusation, Tbilisi City Hall press office said that City Hall had canceled 300 parking places in central Tbilisi and at the same time the creation of new parking facilities was in progress.

Further plans on how to create an effective mechanism to prevent the current chaos on Tbilisi roads and sidewalks is expected to be presented soon.

Tamar Svanidze

16 July 2015 22:04