Parking makes people insane

Writing in the LA Magazine, Dave Gardetta visits the thinking of the world's top parking theorists, who believe that parking causes people to go insane: "I truly believe that when men and women think about parking, their mental capacity reverts to the reptilian cortex of the brain. How to get food, ritual display, territorial dominance—all these things are part of parking, and we’ve assigned it to the most primitive part of the brain that makes snap fight-or-flight decisions. Our mental capacities just bottom out when we talk about parking."

The whole feature is fascinating, tracing the grim history of urban parking, where neighborhoods were blighted and jobs and businesses destroyed in the rush to add places for cars; up to recent political wrangles over parking in southern California's car-centric metro areas.

Shoup can often be found dallying around parking meters and brings a camera to photograph illegally parked cars. Not long ago you could have spotted Shoup clicking on the corner of Pico and Fairfax, where the city had quadrupled its meter rates. (“Rates had gone too high there—sometimes there wasn’t a car on the street.”) In Westwood Village Shoup once rode the Raleigh back and forth for weeks tailing cars. He discovered that the average driver had to circle the block two and a half times before locating an open metered space. Westwood became a model for Shoup; the “cruising” he observed there occurs wherever drivers seek out inexpensive metered space to avoid pricier garages and lots. (A similar study in Manhattan in 1995 revealed that New Yorkers spent 11 minutes on average searching for a space.) In a year’s time in Westwood, space hunting by drivers consumed an extra 47,000 gallons of gas. It stalled traffic, increased accidents, and required 950,000 extra vehicle miles, about four trips to the moon and back...

So Cole, an untested mayor, decided to commit career suicide—he would be the first to install meters. And not just anywhere but in the city’s seediest business district, its skid row, a stroll for prostitutes that would soon be renamed Old Pasadena. Cole had chosen the area to install parking meters because it was ideal for conducting his own experiment: He wanted to attract merchants to the area, where the rent on the decaying buildings was low and the potential for foot traffic was high. Could meter revenue clean and repair Old Pasadena, then help police its streets? “There was, putting it politely, tremendous opposition,” says Cole. Shop owners barely hanging on told Cole he was crazy. In a large meeting with merchants, Cole said something that swayed them: Rather than fill city coffers, meter collections would go back to businesses in the form of new alleyways, sidewalk improvement, more trees, and police. “The moment I said that, one of my staff members kicked me under the table,” says Cole.

Between the Lines (via Kottke)

(Image: Parking Madness At Lintas Plaza, Kota Kinabalu, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from thienzieyung's photostream)


    1. So if parking is revert to flight&fight, territorial dominance and ritual display. What’s the Monkey equivalent of driving on a highway? /me runs away scared of the answer.

      1. You mean to say that not driving temporarily suppresses the exhibit of our true nature for short periods of time inbetween being assholes?

        I figure I must be a really nice person, because I never drive. Somehow my environment does mostly not agree :)

  1. Then there are issues with poorly designed parking lots (most of them), where when you pull in off the street, you immediately have to make a 90 degree turn causing traffic to back up out on the street, or lack of consistency of stop signs in various lots i.e. incoming traffic doesn’t have to stop in some, while you do in others causes confusion.  There a stores and stripmalls I won’t go to around town because their lots just plain suck.

    1. …lack of consistency of stop signs in various lots…

      What stop signs?  Where I live, stop signs on private property aren’t legally enforceable so they’re mostly ignored.  Where traffic truly does need to slow down, developers tend to go for speed bumps (those little ones that are easy to ignore) or speed humps (the ones so big and wide they graunch on the bottom of my Grand Marquis if I try to drive straight over them).

  2. This post is spot-on. I am amazed that even my own wife, an extreme exerciser & triathlon-er, will circle round & round until she finds the absolute closest parking space, in order to avoid walking a few blocks.

  3. I used to be able to see a lot of the downtown parking lots from my office window.  Fascinating how people would spend about $5 in gas idling in the morning line-up to get in the lot that was $1 cheaper per day than the rest.

  4. Come to Virginia sometime, specifically the Richmond, Arlington, or Norfolk metro areas.  We have some of the most poorly-designed parking lots I’ve ever seen.  Lanes are broken up by trapezoidal slabs of cement and grass, lots are cleaved neatly in two by the entrance lane, edges curve where they really shouldn’t, and so on.  Sometimes I’m not sure if the lots are intentionally designed that poorly or if it’s the result of a drunken, blind, semi-deranged monkey with muscle spasms drawing the lot…

  5. Ruback, R. B., & Juieng, D. (2006) . Territorial defense in parking lots: Retaliation against waiting drivers. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 27(9), 821-834.

  6. It’s the same way with any system where queuing replaces market pricing.  Parking in the US is the largest Soviet-style economy in the world.  

    It’s odd that he uses San Francisco as a positive example, since it built a $50 million garage in the middle of Golden Gate Park, and a parking permit is still around $5 per month.  

      1. If everyone else that wasn’t disabled or injured rode bikes then there would be plenty of up front parking for those who are.

    1. 74.6% of Americans are overweight or obese. 
      Many of them are too fat to bicycle. 
      If only there was a convenient and fun way to exercise …

  7. Chicago changed the building requirements a while ago (maybe 15 years?) to require mandatory parking for all new construction.  Now everyone expects to drive everywhere, whereas before they would have either taken public transportation, shared one car per household, or chosen a different neighborhood to live in.  And of course, public transportation is regularly being cut because not enough people are using it, making it even harder for people who can’t afford to drive.

    And don’t get me started on the parking meter fiasco of a few years ago.

  8. Without reading the original article ;-) …. claiming drivers consumed and extra 47,000 gallons of gas or 950,000 extra vehicle miles assumes that if all the issues were fixed everyone’s behavior would be the same minus these issues.

    But, because of all those issues it’s quite possible many people chose not to go out just like I choose not to go out during December because of the crowds. If all the issues were fixed then maybe a larger number of people would go out causing more gas and more miles. Just sayin…. ;-)

    Of course I live in SF where about 1 out of 4 times I have to give up trying to find parking space for some restaurant I was planning to go to and just drive to another neighborhood. 
    Dang I wish SF had convenient public transportation (for my definition of convenient, ie, NYC/Tokyo)

  9. The farmer’s market that I go to is very crowded, and its parking lot is a nightmare. Drivers are openly hostile in their competition for parking spots. In the market itself, however, just about everyone is extremely considerate of everyone else (trying not to get in anyone’s way, being patient when someone else is blocking their way, doing the “after you, no after you” routine when two people get to the counter at the same time, etc.). People’s personalities seem to change completely in the 15 seconds it takes to walk from their cars to the market.

  10. Many parking lots were built during the small car era and have spaces that are literally smaller than some of the vehicles currently on the road.  Not only is the Hummer wider than the space, but its ass carves three feet out of the lane.  Municipalities are supposed to get them brought up to current code, but it’s a pretty low priority.

    1. It still blows my mind that people drive Hummers in cities. I need a periscope to check for oncoming traffic when they’re around.

      1. Coming to texas from the UK, the size of the cars here just blows my mind. My wife thought the UK’s cars were “cute”, but I didn’t understand ’till I came here. And yeah… everything soooo spread out because of all the parking lots. You can’t even SEE that Round Rock is a city of 120k+ people, since all you can see is trees and mostly-empty parking lots.

  11. There’s a sort of “Broken Windows Theory” idea here perhaps.  Once a few people park badly, everyone starts doing it because there is now an implied permission to do so. 

  12. Or you know, better mass transit. Intercity trains are awesomely effective, too bad most of the US is seemingly allergic to the idea of traveling with other people.

    1. Not so much that as the car-making lobby is vehemently and rabidly against public transport, and has historically done everything in its power to destroy them, up to and including just buying the companies and shutting them down.

      Even busses: it *blows my mind* that there is no regular bus service in the 10 miles between Round rock (pop 120k) and Austin (pop 700k). The roads are a freaking nightmare, downtown parking is a bitch, it seems like a slam-dunk for a regular coach service.

      In comparison, in the UK, there are TWO competing coach services between London and Oxford, coaches leaving every 10 minutes for the 60 mile trip, 24 hours a day. I used this to commute each morning, 15 years back, when it was £1 for a return ticket.

      There’s also British Rail which takes slightly less time at rush hour (1hr 15 instead of 2 hrs+) but costs slightly more (£22+ instead of £14).

      1. I love trains whether it be in Chicago, New York, London or (my personal favorite) Tokyo. Austin has started a small rail line downtown which is a good start ( I think it runs parallel to 6th street)  and is super cheap. But you are right and it is crazy that there are so few alternative services for transportation. But I was more focused on the mentality of the populus, which does not yet see efficient mass transit as being needed.

  13. Operating a motor vehicle in a city can get to anybody in weird ways, never mind parking.  At the insane parking lots, I park in a spot that is quick to get to driving in and quick to get out.  If I have to walk a bit to do that, I don’t mind.  I spend less overall time on my errand than those playing the parking game.

  14. I don’t understand people when it comes to parking. My favourite shopping mall (for want of a better word) also has the smallest car parking spaces… however on the other side of the road is a great, mostly empty car park. Guess which one I park in? It even has a pedestrian crossing to the side of the mall and a trolley return bay near where I usually get a spot… 
    Do I don’t have to battle the “I need to park 2m from the door of the mall” , the “tiny tiny parking spaces” or “risk the trolley vs car” (which seems to be worse the closer you are to the mall…)
    Mind you unless it is a big shop I usually just walk there…

  15. A local mini-mart has two parking spaces in front; the rest of the frontage is taken up by gas pumps and the espresso hut.  Last spring, they put in a pair of waist-high, yellow steel-and-concrete poles at the end of one of the two parking spaces, and stuck a DVD rental machine behind the poles, on the sidewalk.

    Everyone who parked there went mad. People started parking at bizarre angles, parking in an imaginary “third space” that blocked the gas pumps, parking as far as a full car length back from the parking spaces. They re-painted the markings on the spaces to no effect. It was four months before I saw a car parked correctly in either of the marked parking places.

    The effect finally pretty much died down during late fall.

  16. During last year’s Christmas shopping frenzy, I found my car practically wedged in by someone who had parked their car so close to mine I had to open my passenger side door to crawl over into the driver’s seat. Once inside, I needed to repeatedly back up a few inches then pull forward again in order to cut the wheels enough to get around their giant SUV. On my last back-up-and-inch-back-in maneuver, I found myself being honked at and then angrily berated by a woman for “stealing her spot”! Yeah, I’d agree that parking lots turn people into assholes. Can’t figure it out, myself – I’m with those commenters that would rather park further away and walk an extra 10 seconds to avoid the hassle.

  17. I have the misfortune to live next to a suburban hospital in England, where they charge £1.50 for one hour to park. Because there is ample space to park on the roads around the hospital for free, that is what people do, to the lowered quality of life for the people who live around the hospital. I went on the local TV station a few years ago to complain and you can see me here (I’m the old guy with the beard.)

    Recently I visited the hospital on a weekday and counted approx. 300 empty spaces within the hospital car park, whilst the roads surrounding the hospital were rammed with cars, maybe an example of the parking insanity mentioned.

    1. I used to work in a hospital, and to avoid that situation, street parking was limited to one hour for anyone that didn’t have a local residence permit displayed in their car.

      1. But where I live we don’t have ‘local residence permits’ so we have the situation where hospital workers reduce the life quality, of the people who happen to live around the hospital.

        If this is a social disease has it a name, and has it a surgeon qualified to cut out the cancer of people who think economics is only about money and not about resource management?

        1. So get residence permits. I’m pretty sure that they only happen if the neighborhood demands them.

          And, where I worked, employee monthly parking permits were cheap enough that everybody got one.

          1. I think it depends on local laws.

            Where I am, the resident’s street will get a sign that says “resident only”.  If someone parks there the resident is then suppose to call the authority or towing company, whatever the case maybe.  The offender then gets towed.  This also solves the problem of visitors of the resident and the costs of issuing parking permits.  You still of course get people driving around the street looking for a spot without a sign.

            This of course also creates a cash cow for the residents in some cases.  An example in my city, every year the local fair opens for the summer.  The nearby residents would then charge for parking at a much lower cost in comparison to parking at the fair.

            I am a bit surprised at your misfortune.  Usually there would be sufficient complains and the city or hospital would resolve it in a few years.

            Band your neighbours together and bug the city authority.

  18. If only cars could drive themselves, you could just get out and tell the car to go find a parking spot. When you come back, phone the car to come pick you up. It’s like having your own personal driver …

  19. Oh dear, I’ve parked so much. The car disgorges me under the soffit or awning and wheels off to kibbutz or complain with other smoking autos about the weather, trade rims, clean themselves under distinctive auto-branded lace parasols, and soak up sun when it comes out. Rinne no Lagrange features some good looking craft cars. Sometimes in event parking my car will pretend not to know me, so I have to describe the parking sticker or a pluchie too large for it to stow; double-takes are the same every time, fenders with white trim paint held innocently above to lose the flaw in the specular glare of standing cars. Oh no sir, this is a fat double-ended Segway convention.

  20. As long as we’re ranting about parking lots, I’d like to point out that if you wish to avoid pedestrian/car conflict, don’t drive down the lane in front of the doors to the big box store.  

    Also, if you follow me out of the store with expectations that you’re going to vulture yourself a good spot all I can say is “ha ha!” because I’m always parked in the back 40.  Mwah ha ha haaa.

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