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Notes from Big Ben Ö

So Whatís the Problem?

By Peter Guest

Local journalists in Kent, UK, are reporting shock-horror that Sevenoaks Council is employing two more parking wardens ďdespiteĒ doubling the amount of money they made from parking in the past 12 months. This is not a big operation; they make about $300,000 a year (thatís the income, not the surplus) and the extra people will improve the enforcement in the smaller villages in the area, which probably get visited once a week currently.
Will they penalize legal parkers? No. Will they make it easier to park legally by reducing offenders? Yes. Will any extra income be plowed back into the community? Yes, just like Donald Shoup says.
So just what is the problem? I suspect that, just as I said last month, people donít think itís fair if they are penalized for breaking the law when using a car. I wonder if the same journalists would object if the council funded two more police officers?
Help Wanted: Call the UN (1)
I have just run a tender for a client in Albania; he has the rights to build a 1,600-space underground car park in the city center. I looked at the design he won the bid with Ė D-minus, at best Ė and suggested that he should seek the services of a specialist designer. After chewing it over for a while, he asked me to help. With the benefit of a three-line brief, I duly sought bids from three of Europeís better-known designers (one each from the UK, Germany and Italy).
Now as far as I know, the Albanians donít have much of a building code for large underground car parks Ė probably because they donít have any large, or possibly any, underground car parks. The reactions and the results were interesting. All three bidders bid to build to their own code, which seemed sensible; they work, after all, and they are used to them. One bidder bombarded me with phone calls and brochures, which in my opinion gave me an insight into why I wouldnít choose them, but thatís another story. Another replied three days late and then called me a day later for the result.
One bid was thorough, detailed and set out exactly what would be done. The second also was detailed but less so and with more caveats. The third was little more than an itemized and priced checklist. What surprised me about this were the prices, which varied from about $300,000 to just over $1.8 million for essentially the same work.
The client accepted the Italian offer, which was in the middle, perhaps because as the old imperial power, they felt there would be some cultural link. However, with only a three-line brief to work to, I suspect that over the next few months, as the design progresses, I am going to need a peacekeeperís blue beret. Iíll keep you informed.
UN (2)
Just occasionally I get to design a car park, or more correctly, work with someone who designs car parks and help make their products better. I am doing this right now in my second home in Zagreb, Croatia, and by the time I have finished, I may just cause a diplomatic incident.
My good friend the Director of ZagrebParking, the city parking company, has been told to build a car park near the national theater, a fine 19th-century edifice that sits surrounded by landscaped gardens. Itís a difficult site with other historic buildings, tram tracks and even an underground river, just to make it interesting.
After several hours scratching our heads and walking the grounds, my team worked out the bones of a solution that would have minimal impact on the gardens and actually allow the green space to be enlarged slightly and take a few hundred cars off the surrounding streets.
So job done Ė a workable, competent good-quality car park; and although the green space would be affected, it would end up slightly larger.
Enter the guardian of Zagrebís cultural history. Yes, we could build a car park under her precious gardens, but when itís finished, everything must be reinstated exactly as now, with not one blade of grass or one centimeter of curb altered.
All this to preserve a design symmetry that can be seen on Google Earth but not from the street! If this is possible, and it may not be, the result will be a poor car park. No, I will correct that; it will be a very poor car park. It will also be very, very expensive, since a ramp that could be hidden in a grass mound will now have to be bridged by the tram route and the river and start from the other side of the road.
Our contract gives us a meeting with the mayor to explain the problems. Given the choice between living in a museum and having a vibrant functioning city, I am sure he will make a wise decision.
So I Am Famous After All!
Over the years, I have talked about parking in many places all over the world. Probably the most challenging was when I was invited to ďtake teaĒ with the professors at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. There is no such thing as a free meal; I was required to deliver an impromptu seminar to its post-graduate faculty, some of the brightest young people in the sub-continent.
However, I think I can finally say that I made the big time, since I have just been invited to speak at Oxford University Ė not too bad for a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Itís an open event on Jan. 20, 2009, so with the pound nose-diving against the dollar, why not come over and see me? It will probably cost the same as a Big Mac.
Peter Guest, past President of the British Parking Association, is a parking consultant and PTís reporter on the scene in Europe and the Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from December, 2008




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