Paying for sex, Seinfeld and the tyranny of … Free Parking


Free Parking: sounds like some kind of recreational creative picnic sport


He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

In the ‘Good Living’ supplement as part of filthy Christchurch rag The Press the other week was an interesting article on international parking guru Donald Shoup.

Headlined, in one of those sub-editor pun wet dream moments, as ‘Free parking’s true toll’ (I can’t hyperlink to it as it’s pay-to-view only, courtesy of unFairfax so not much point and anyway I’m going to discuss the thing intelligently myself.  And you can visit Mr Shoup’s website above, which is far more useful) the article is reprinted from the Los Angeles Times.  Not sure why I’m telling you that but when I get my serious blog voice on it feels proper to start acknowledging sources.  Actually, one should always acknowledge sources.  Anyway…

Why I’m writing about this is that Donald Shoup struck me as someone who fully grasps the double-edged sword of convenience, right way round of course.  He also gets the counter-intuitive concept of how the most convenient option is often the least helpful.  He’s talking about car parking and the problems it presents to town planning and designing for urban revitalisation.

Now for those of you in danger of nodding off at this stage in a riveting post about parking cars and wondering when the hookers are getting here.  Stay with me.

I’m not sure what I like more about Mr Shoup – being 72 and still riding a bike everywhere or the fact he quotes Seinfeld to illustrate his ideas.  Here’s where we get to paying for sex.  Shoup quotes George Costanza from Seinfeld who likened using a car park building to “going to a prostitute”.

“Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?”

This line of thinking, in the context of parking, leads to people driving around the block several times waiting for that magical parking space right outside their destination, expending time and fuel in the process.  “Maybe if I go round once more there’ll be a free one this time!”  Shoup argues that when street parking is free or inexpensive as is the case in many towns and cities, that demand soon outstrips supply and people cruising for parks waste time and fuel polluting the air and congesting the streets.  My pet hate is the slow cruise along the line of parked cars, holding up the flow of traffic while searching for a space, usually without the use of indication.  Oh yeah, baby…

Is that one? No... Oh! There! No...

Efforts to revitalise town centres often focus on parking – more of it and cheaper please.  This is very pertinent in Christchurch, a car-centric city.  The central city is constantly under threat from the proliferation of suburban malls with their thousand free car parks above, below and around their monolithic edifices.  These places are veritable Cathedrals of Convenience.  Central city retailers and the City Council are forever racking their brains about how to stop things falling apart, the centre cannot hold etc. etc.  This inevitably rolls around to the retailers bleating at the Council about cars and parking i.e. more and cheaper please.  They even managed to convince the Council (despite international research and evidence to the contrary) to allow cars through previously pedestrian-only inner city malls.  S’funny really, when what the shops really want is more people inside them not cars cruising past looking for parks.

After ‘The Event’ of September 4th last year, there was a considerable drop in the numbers of people visiting the central city.  Not surprising really, even after the cordoned off ‘exclusion zone’ and curfew was lifted, every available space in the media was taken up with images of the ‘catastrophic destruction’ in the central city.  After all a fallen down old building makes for a better lead image or back-drop when doing a live news report than the 50 other ones and entire suburbs behind it that are untouched.  No wonder people were jittery about going there – everything was apt to fall on their heads.  Except for the 99.9% of buildings that were not.  Leading up to Christmas this had retailers crying into their lattes with expected crashing sales figures.  The City Council responded with making all street parking free for a couple of weeks following the major quake and then over the Christmas build-up giving the first 2 hours free in all buildings and street parking.  To me this didn’t seem to make much difference – I noted a lot less cars around and plenty of parking spaces.  I’d wager it wasn’t the cost of parking keeping people away from town.

Est celui-là là ? Non... Oh! La? Non...

Shoup’s work harmonises with plenty of international research that demonstrates the more spaces you open up to cars (either driving or parking) then cars just fill them up again.  It’s just like those ‘awesome’ tax cuts that bribed a change of government in NZ– how much are you noticing that extra $15 dollars per week even a month after you start getting it?  You simply expand your living to absorb the extra ‘dollarspace’.  Hopeless.  No disrespect to the many economist readers of ToC but tax cuts do NOT improve and enhance our quality of life.  Just as cars do not revitalise cities – people do.  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!

Speaking as someone guilty (now reformed) of cruising around looking for free parking, hoping to hit that little jackpot, I get what Donald Shoup is talking about.  He advocates for ‘fair-market’ pricing on street parking and making Park & Ride and various other options cheaper and more attractive.  Then using the revenue from parking directly for enhancing and revitalising the public space of central cities.  Encourage more walking, cycling and other forms of Active Transport.

And I’d throw in to the mix perhaps not allowing any more soul-destroying suburban malls to be built.  The tyranny of convenience eh?  But that’s another post all in itself.

And by the way, there is no such thing as the Free Parking jackpot in Monopoly.  Look it up.


Getting Munted and the Principles of Permaculture Pt. 1 – Chunder Road

So what about the much-hyped camping-on-the-farm holiday you ask?  Well I’m glad you did because it was adventure of high renown from start to finish.

First, the disclaimers.  We cheated a little bit over the break.  While the almost entire House of Davidson was staying with us we felt we needed to have some form of transport and particularly if we wanted to head up to the farm for a spot of ‘camping’ – more about that later.

So with the tremendous support of Granny and Grandad we hired a car for a few weeks.  Don’t hate us for our loose commitment!

We always talked about how not owning a car would save us money that we could potentially use to hire one when the need arose.  And it’s true and I’m glad we did.  End of disclaimer.

So.  We ended up hiring the cheapest station wagon we could find – it was little more than a glorified hatchback and there was no way we could fit Aunty Taffy and Brad so our poor couch-surfing Queenslanders had to catch a bus to Blenheim through some of the windiest hill climbs in the whole island – the infamous Hundalees – not-so-affectionately known as the ‘Chundalees’ as poor Aunty Taffy found out.

The rest of us stacked in 4 adults, a bouncing bobbin in her carseat and the bootspace was jam packed, floor to ceiling with two tents, a mattress, bedding and a chilly bin full of food.  Oh and a 5 kg bag of flour.  There was absolutely NO room for the guitar, or the camping oven and table (which were only really for fun anyway seeing as we were camping by a house).  The back windows looked like the car had been vacuum sealed – everything was squished into the corners filling up every available space.  Somehow Elizabeth managed to fold herself in two to get into the back seat with Granny Margaret.

Things were going swimmingly until the wee bear fell asleep at the bottom of the Lewis Pass, which gets rather windy itself, before waking up at the top and vomiting her poor little tum out.  She’s only thrown up in cars twice and both times it was from falling asleep on windy stretches.  She was so good though, as her mother managed to contain most of it somehow (my eyes were firmly on the road) and the car itself survived without a direct hit.  We pulled in at Maruia Springs down the bottom to clean up and get some fresh air.  And become sand-fly bait.

Now Maruia Springs is an interesting place.  I’ve stayed there and camped there.  Pulled in for a cold one and played pool there.  It’s changed over the years from a sort of road house pub with hot pools into a pseudo-Japanese health resort with chalets.  It’s still an incredibly beautiful location and the Japanese-style baths are great.  I’ve always preferred the hot pools at Maruia to Hanmer Springs as the setting was just amazing – they look out onto a mountain river with steep native forest on the other side, it was a bit smaller and quieter and generally less touristy.  Oh how things change.

The first things we notice are what Uncle Puff coined as ‘no-signs’.  Lots of verboten everywhere.  No this, no that.  No, we were not allowed to use the toilets.  The whole entrance has been redesigned – all windows are gone and there’s some sort of design-award-ready trendy wood panelling that makes the whole entrance look intimidating and unwelcome.  You can’t see in and you don’t really know what they’re even offering as most of the signage is dedicated to telling you what they’re NOT offering.  Yikes.  Maybe living in a perpetual cloud of ferociously biting insects has made misanthropes of them all.  We got cleaned up using our own water and towels and got the hell out of Dodge.  Goodbye Maruia Springs.  I miss you.

The rest of the trip was tough.  Hot and tiring and Seraphine was over it.  She’s still not great on these long car journeys.

The flooding that had previously closed the Pass was still evident near Springs Junction with the road down to one lane in places and further up the road we stopped at Maruia Falls to marvel at the swollen river hurling itself over the shelf in an angry tide.  Great stuff!

The sun was definitely on the downward slide as we took the turn-off to St Arnaud and headed for Tophouse.  Once again the journey had taken most of the day and we still weren’t there yet.  But as the golden hour approached and the  trees were thick with cicadas, we saw the farmhouse complete with Aunty Niki and Uncle Ewan waving from the verandah as we rolled up to the gates of… Muntanui!

To be continued…

A Design for Life*

Just a quick post about some cool stuff I’ve seen – actually ‘on-topic’ too…

The Riversimple Car: for those who've always wanted a sort of Pixar-animated flying beetle car.

As seen in this years Brit Insurance Designs of the Year nominations.

Now we’ve got our thinking caps on.  Making the ‘Eco’ and ‘Human’ friendly options more convenient than the alternatives.

The Riversimple car can reach 80km/hr (50mph) with a range of 322km (200 miles), with fuel consumption claimed to be equivalent to 300 mpg (miles per gallon). The cars will be leased with fuel and repair costs included, at an estimated $315 (£200) per month. The company hopes to have the vehicles in production by 2013; next year, it will release 10 prototypes in an unconfirmed UK city.

Imagine sharing the lease between a couple of families living close together.  Or whole neighbourhoods getting together to lease several.

The second image after the jump is about the urban cycle hire project.  Also check out the awesome and somehow sci-fi ‘energy harvesting’ paving slabs!

Brit Insurance Designs of the Year 2011 award nominations

* Manic Street Preachers from the 1996 album ‘Everything Must Go’.  See a pattern emerging here?

I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.


Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

Biggest threat to Big Oil? The Kids these days just aren’t that into you…

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  Borrowed the title above from an intriguing post over on Carfree USA which references an article on that bastion of environmentalism the Advertising Age.

It seems that in the US, less and less young people are driving cars.  At least that’s the inference drawn from the statistics of driver licensing there.  If you can assume that doesn’t mean more and more young people are driving illegally, it’s really rather interesting. The Ad Age posits a variety of theories for why this is from various industry big wigs including the competition brought by the digital age vying for the teen dollar i.e. ‘should I buy the latest ipod or that big ol’ chevy to take Peggy-Sue to the drive-in for to get ‘er in the back seat h’yuk yuk‘.  And my personal favourite: ‘blaming the environment’, yes that ol’ chestnut, the pesky, interfering environment ruining our swell oil-swilling (spilling?) party.

Whatever it is, it’s heartening.  I’m not big on prohibition of any kind, I don’t want to ‘ban’ cars.  I just like the idea of people using them less.  Just like I don’t want to ban McDonalds, I’d just love to see them go out of business because the kids stopped going there.

Because it’s short I’m re-posting the whole post from Carfree USA (thanks guys!) here:

Certainly it’s hard to believe for anyone stuck in traffic on the way to O’Hare airport in Chicago, a bridge or tunnel into Manhattan, any freeway in Los Angeles, or the newly repaved four-lane highway to a suburban Walmart. But look around, and the people in the other cars are likely to be in their 40s or older.

In 1978, nearly half of 16-year-olds and three-quarters of 17-year-olds in the U.S. had their driver’s licenses, according to Department of Transportation data. By 2008, the most recent year data was available, only 31% of 16-year-olds and 49% of 17-year-olds had licenses, with the decline accelerating rapidly since 1998. Of course, many states have raised the minimum age for driver’s licenses or tightened restrictions; still, the downward trend holds true for 18- and 19-year-olds as well (see chart) and those in their 20s.

Here’s the link to the source article on the Advertising Age.

By the way, it’s been ten weeks and we’re surviving!

Falling back on the wagon or Backsliding or I only smoke when I drink

Dirty rotten cheating and my just desserts.

Go on, one last hit.

One last run in the car to do a few errands across town.  And it was raining too.  Hmmm, excuses are easy to come up with and no-one’s gonna quibble over needing to travel to various distant destinations around the city before starting work  in order to make enough money to house, feed and clothe my young family.  Are they?

So, that settled, I headed off in the Peej to perform said errands.  Namely returning the hired baby car seat to Plunket – shan’t be needing that anymore – and dropping off some of Elizabeth’s famous home-baked chocolate brownie to our amazing and dedicated travel agent John who got us through our volcanic blues.

This required driving through the rain around the city all the while acutely aware that this could be the last time I drive Peej.  I really enjoyed it.  I love driving, dammit and there’s nothing so satisfying as driving in a warm, dry car while the rain lashes down outside, elbowed aside by the Peej’s wipers.  I’ll give this to her, she doesn’t leak.

Arriving at work I realised I needed to park Peej off the road as the last thing we need is a parting gift from the parking wardens to the tune of $200 for not displaying a current WOF sticker.  I snaffled one of the last two parks in the $6 all-day park near my office (another expense we can kiss goodbye to along with the car seat!)

All day sitting at my desk looking out at the wild weather in the beautiful autumnal park I work next to, I was warmed subtly by the secret knowledge that I was going to be driving home – alone, warm and dry – master of my own destiny, captain of the ship.  No walk to and from buses, no waiting in the cold at the bus stop.  A guilty little pleasure.

That night we were having a rare night out in Christchurch, a sort of late anniversary drink at some good friends’ Irish session night.  Of the hand-countable nights out we’ve had since Seraphine was born none of them have been into the ‘bright lights’ of Christchurch, choosing instead to walk down the hill into the fabulousness that is Lyttelton.  This was to be the second of our back-slides today – our wonderful babysitter Fairy Godmother Kate was lending us her car as we weren’t going out for long and she needed to be relieved by 10pm.  The bus ride is 30-40 minutes each way which would take an hour out of our night out (although depends on your perception of what is important – like Elizabeth’s walk to and from pre-school – a subject we’ll be returning to).

I was thinking about all this as I trudged up the hill to home after work through the pouring rain with my umbrella, marvelling at the storm water rushing downhill through the gutters – you never really get the same sense of the sheer volume of water from rain in the flat city next door, there’s not many slopes to see the run-off really get going.  Lyttelton is all slope.  Stevenson’s Steep was literally a waterfall and there was what looked like a miniature standing wave being created by an obstruction in the gutter.  Cool, I thought, another good reason for not having a car, you never get to see this stuff when you’re-

Wait a minute.

So there you go, that’s what I deserve for falling off/on the wagon.  Funny thing is it’s only been two weeks and already I’m used to not taking the car.  And how about this rain?


Wanted: a good home for abandoned 1983 Toyota Sprinter

OK.  So he leaves me in this all day car park.  It’s outdoors but at least it shows he cares.  Plenty of other cars to talk to.

But it’s dark now.  And cold, and all the other cars have gone home.  There’s some drunk people cutting through the car park over there.  Did I mention it’s dark?

I’d like to go home now.  It’s getting late and the clampers come out after dark…