Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Giant Trucks in Compact Spots, Compensated for Pothole Damage, Smart Cars + More!

December 2, 2013 14:00 pm · 35 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

TRAFFIC JAMMER: A few weeks ago, the Jammer invited readers to send in photos of their first car. Here’s another beauty from our pal and frequent poster nytemuvr:

COMMUTER: Here’s a picture of my Challenger I ordered from the factory and received 11/7/1971, my first and still my primary car and is a daily driver.



COMMUTER: I had a tough time waiting in a long line at the drugstore to pick up my prescription with my toddler and my wailing 18-month-old, only to return to the parking garage and discover myself hemmed in by a giant truck. The coup de grace was that the huge honkin’ vehicle was in a compact car parking space.

If I hadn’t had the kids with me, I would have tracked down the manager and reported this jerk. There’s no way that truck belonged in a compact space. Could they have gotten a ticket for doing this? What exactly is the definition of a “compact” car anyway? And how can someone not know how much they are inconveniencing others – or just not care?

–Mad Housewife of Claycord (Not Crazy, Just Angry)

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Beloved fellow Claycordian, the Jammer feels you deserve some kind of award for heroically being a good example to your children and not keying this miscreant’s vehicle despite the temptation. As you probably already guessed now that you have calmed down, alas, there is no penalty for parking in the space marked “Compact” with a hulking vehicle.

As to your other question: Technically speaking, one definition of a compact car is one with passenger and luggage capacity of between 100 and 109 cubic feet. Perhaps a more useful definition is that it is larger than a subcompact but smaller than a mid-size car. Obviously, a Smart car qualifies, as does a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris.

COMMUTER: You once said it is possible to get compensated for damage to a vehicle if it’s the fault of Caltrans because of a pothole, debris in roadway, etc. Can you give the contact information for that again?

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Happy to do so! You can find the damage claim form at If you live in Alameda or Contra Costa counties, call 510-286-5806 for more information. It really works. More than one reader pursued damage claims and told the Jammer they were reimbursed. It is time-consuming, but considering the steep cost of repairs, well worth it.

COMMUTER: I’ve got a question for one of your automotive experts. Cars are getting smarter with every new model. For years, cars have been able to turn on their own headlights when it gets dark. So why in the world can’t they turn on the headlights when the wipers are on?

–Regards, Cowellian

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s a great question, Cowellian! The Jammer is checking with her experts, including Brian Hagopian, auto technology instructor at Las Positas College in Livermore. In the meantime, here’s the question, Claycordians, in case any of you have the answer. And now, a related note:

COMMUTER: Please include a reminder to all regarding turning on headlights when it is raining. With the last storm, it was surprising how many people did not do so. Turning on one’s headlights, even if it is during the day, helps others see that driver.

Another reminder, my car has automatic headlights – they turn on automatically when it is dark out. During the last storm, however, as I was driving during the day, they did not turn on, I had to do so manually.

Considering that we are, hopefully, entering our rainy season, just a friendly reminder.

–Thanks, Kalyn

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to


1 Atticus Thraxx December 2, 2013 at 2:39 PM

it’s beautiful nytemvr. Just gorgeous.

2 Non-Compact Driver December 2, 2013 at 2:57 PM

I drive (and use) a large truck. I also try my best to park out of the way; however, there are many lots in this area that only seem to have compact parking spots available. It sounds like Mad Housewife has a legitimate complaint if the other driver blocked her in. I wouldn’t do that to anyone. Not only because it isn’t nice, but I could end up with some body damage too. I’ve had to park in a compact spot in a WC garage, because all of the regular sized spots were taken by compact cars. I picked the furthest spot from the stairs on the top floor, and still had someone leave a nasty note on my truck for parking in a compact spot. There were hardly any cars on the level when I parked there. I would suggest that drivers of compact vehicles could use the same logic that they apply to drivers of larger vehicles and try to park only in compact spots (there’s plenty of them out there). And no, I can’t just buy a compact car, I don’t think that a Prius will tow my trailer, carry my project materials in the trunk, or make it over the mountains in the snow with kids, dogs, etc.

3 J. December 2, 2013 at 3:15 PM


The 2014 Ford Focus has headlights that come on with the wipers — even if it’s only the intermittent wipers. Woohoo!

4 jtkatec December 2, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Non-compact Driver, I also drive a truck and a full-size car and have found numerous instances when all the spots left are for compact cars. Sometimes I think those spaces are larger so people who drive compact cars take them for the additional space.

5 J. December 2, 2013 at 4:10 PM

If you want to see a Smart-Car hang out at Civic Drive and Broadway in Walnut Creek. I always see one there. That is one busy intersection.

6 :) December 2, 2013 at 4:12 PM

I don’t drive compact, but I do take whatever space is available… preferable non-compact but if that’s all that’s available, well…

7 Been there December 2, 2013 at 4:23 PM

In fact the 2013 Chrysler Town & Country has that exact feature. If the windshield wipers have been on for more than a few seconds, on you have it set to the automatic lights mode, the headlights come on. Very convenient!

8 Janis Mara December 2, 2013 at 4:48 PM

@Atticus Thraxx #1, nytemuvr’s car really is beautiful, isn’t it? and it’s 42 years old! Hey nytemuvr, if you are reading, what are your secrets to keeping your car young and zippy after all these years? I’m particularly interested because I recently bought a two-year-old Toyota and want it to last 42 years, too!

@Non-Compact Driver #2 and @jtkatec #4, hope the Mad Mom’s post didn’t make you feel bad. By all means, drivers of huge honking trucks deserve love too and glad you shared your perspective :-)

9 Elwood December 2, 2013 at 4:55 PM

The last person who jammed me in so tightly that I had to get in the passenger side, climb over the shifter, parking brake and console to get in my car got the vernacular word for anus carved into the passenger door of his car.

10 Cowellian December 2, 2013 at 5:05 PM

That is a gorgeous piece of Mopar muscle. Now I feel the need to watch Vanishing Point, again.

11 CCAV December 2, 2013 at 5:37 PM

I always park my huge “honking” truck in the compact spots because I am against discrimination!

12 Kali December 2, 2013 at 5:57 PM

2005 Chrysler 300 has automatic lights when the wipers are used so many times in the matter of a few minutes. The technology is out there, it is just a matter of having the different car companies put it on their cars.

13 Dorothy December 2, 2013 at 6:55 PM

So that’s why big trucks park next to my little car. Here I though it was because it was such a cute little car that big ol’ trucks just loved to be near it.

14 Janis Mara December 2, 2013 at 7:25 PM

@Dorothy #13, I am sure it IS a cute little car. What kind of car is it?

15 Tree Farm December 2, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Great to know that it is OK to key a larger truck when you feel inconvenienced! I will now carve “selfish vernacular word for anus” on the side of any smaller car I see parked in a non-compact spot.

16 a December 2, 2013 at 8:32 PM

I have a 2003 Mercury Grand Marquis and the headlights come on if you turn the wipers on for more than a moment or so, even if the headlights are set to “OFF”.

17 nytemuvr December 2, 2013 at 9:12 PM

@Atticus Thraxx #1
Thanks, I rebuilt it in ’96 &’97. I blew the paint off down to raw metal and took me about a year to rebuilt all of it. I did the mechanicals and had a high school friend that’s a painter, paint it. It’s a blue/purple color now.

@Janis, maintenance and defensive driving is the secret, and my Dad’s lessons on working on vehicles while I stood on a box leaning over the fender. Back then one of the selling points for cars were about how long they would last.
It has just under 300K miles, I rode my American motorcycle most of the time when I was young.

@Cowellian#10, I saw that movie at the Pleasant Hill Motor Movies. Vanishing Point came out in ’71 and after the movie I left about half my tires on CC Blvd. Young and dumb, but I’ve only had one ticket in it in 43 years. Probably looks funny with a muscle car going down the road with a turn signal flashing continually (old people joke).

18 Triple Canopy December 2, 2013 at 9:13 PM

Compact stalls are one of the stupidest creations by planners and engineers. I’ve seen Tahoes and Excursions parked in them because it was they were the only stalls available. Duh. People act in their self-interest.

Only idiots would think that those motorists will give up the opportunity to park close to their destination to end up parking in BFE because the last stall is labeled “compact”.

OK.. someone chime in and correctly state the meaning of “BFE”. Street cred if you know!!!!

19 nytemuvr December 2, 2013 at 9:15 PM

….one ticket in 42 years.

20 Cowellian December 2, 2013 at 9:23 PM

If the only parking spot is a compact spot, then your vehicle is immediately defined as a compact car. That’s just how it is.

21 Chevrolet girl December 2, 2013 at 9:35 PM

@ Triple Canopy…Built For Everyone?

22 Connie Dobbs December 2, 2013 at 10:18 PM

Whatever. I park on the sidewalk, anyway.

23 Dr. Jellyfinger December 2, 2013 at 10:25 PM

BFE – well the last word is Egypt, and the first two letters stand for……Barney Frank? No….. that isn’t right…… but it’s close.

24 Tree Farm December 2, 2013 at 10:41 PM

Seems the selective censorship here has prevented me from answering the question.

I will further censor it. BFE= BOTTOM FLIPPIN EGYPT.

Triple Canopy, I will take a reference to your employer in lieu of street cred :)

25 Cowellian December 2, 2013 at 10:42 PM

BFE was the only place I was offered shore duty, so I went back to sea.

26 crazytech58 December 2, 2013 at 11:27 PM

many cars in the last 10 years have headlights that come on with the wipers, some require that you “turn on” the feature with the cars personalization feature, some require that the automatic headlamps are activated, but the newer cars have this technology

27 Angelica December 2, 2013 at 11:35 PM

My correct response was also censored……my first censorship on Claycord.

I’ll try again. BFE= Beautiful Freedom Everyone.

That’s right, everyone in America has freedom, and it’s beautiful.

28 J. December 3, 2013 at 12:40 AM

B-um F-udge E-gypt

29 Captain Freeway December 3, 2013 at 7:30 AM

Sometimes those whopper trucks seem like a Lunar Module. They get one shot at parking in a spot and one shot only. If it turns out they’re not within the lines – so be it. They’re not going to burn a bunch of fuel to re-position their truck. So too bad… (ugh)

30 Kirkwood December 3, 2013 at 10:23 AM

“BFE” – Wow that brings back (military) memories! Kinda like “SNAFU” or “FUBAR”.

31 Antler December 3, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Cowellian at #20 ~ ~ ~ :-)
And if drivers of compact cars would learn how to park STRAIGHT inside the lines, then there really is room for me to park beside them!
Actually, many of the compact spaces seem to be just as wide as regular spaces, but the space lines are shorter (indicating that the large vehicles would stick out too far…..and thus be in danger from vehicles turning the corners inside a parking garage). So I do not park Brünhilda in the latter configuration under any conditions.

32 Antler December 3, 2013 at 1:33 PM

And oh, please, would someone go down and adopt that precious black kitty from Animal Services. I just can’t…….but black kitties are the greatest!

33 Connie Dobbs December 3, 2013 at 2:02 PM

That’s not how you get street cred, Sgt. Bilko.

34 Michelle December 3, 2013 at 2:03 PM

I saw sweetheart too, Antler. I think I may take it, but I already have cats; I don’t know if that will work out.

35 Mike December 3, 2013 at 2:54 PM

Speaking of Parking Spaces…… What bugs me are the 10+ motorcycles that park solo, car car parking spaces @ Concord Bart.
4 bikes can fit in single spot, why not park in either a shared spot or on the sidewalk near the elevators of the garage (off to side, in a non-use area…. which are many).

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