Do you find modern car parks frustrating? The cause probably isn’t what you think.
Can you remember the last time you had a frustrating experience using a car park? Maybe you were looking for a parking space, relentlessly driving around and up and down aisles while dodging other cars that had found their park. Finally, you see a space and miraculously beat the other drivers in the race to indicate first. You then successfully complete a 5-point-turn and manoeuvre into the tight space, while impatient drivers try to squeeze past and people merrily walk behind you. You feel a sense of achievement, locking your car thinking you had won the battle… but what are the chances someone will carelessly bang their car door into yours?
My fascination with car parks started way before I learnt to drive. Watching people navigating large car parks is interesting. You see the dynamic interplay of people, design, space, culture and philosophy.
Lately I’ve been getting frustrated and irritated with the newer, more ‘modern’ car parks – and I’m sure I’m not alone! What is it about them? How have they changed? My observation is that philosophy and human behaviour play a huge part.
As a traffic engineer in the 1990s, I designed car parks using sketch pencils on paper. We used to try and create designs that would make it easy for people to drive straight to the best parks, see if any were free and, if not, be able to wait for a space. We used to design to enable those who were leaving to bypass these cars and find a quick route to the exit. We knew that people preferred wider parking spaces, even if that meant making the driving aisles narrower. Perhaps we didn’t always squeeze the most car parking spaces in, but it was important to provide pleasant and safe walking routes from the more distant spaces.
Fast forward towards the 21st century. Software has been invented to automatically design car park layouts that maximise the number of spaces for any given area. Suddenly, I am no longer involved - I have been replaced by a robot! This software robot assumes the ‘best’ car parks offer motorists the most spaces, potentially with a shrub or two to improve aesthetics. It is frustrating when there are no spaces left, but these software robots are designing car parks for some standard sized vehicle, not for the people who use them.
Ironically, it is the ‘traffic engineers’ who often get a hard time for being too focused on efficiency. However, this is an excellent example of how removing good traffic engineers from the design process can result in designs that are missing the greater human elements.
Car parks are fascinating. Let’s rethink car park design as the creative process of engineering that it should be. I suspect that once these software robots work out how to drive our cars, then they’ll finally agree with me!