Magazine

Notes from Big Ben …

10/10 for Spending and 0/10 for Competence

By Peter Guest

Diagonal parking isn’t very common here; it’s used more widely in Europe, and many advocate it as the easiest to use. The attached photo taken in a museum car park in Portsmouth perhaps shows why it hasn’t caught on in the motherland.
And the Winner Is ...
Once again, the Oscars have acted as a warm-up act for the real event: the British Parking Awards. Once again, I am a judge for new car parks and refurbishments. And once again, I feel that somewhere it’s all gone terribly wrong.
Car park structures have been around over here for more than 100 years, and you would have thought by now that designers would have got the basics sorted out. Not so: Two of the four frontrunners got eliminated as soon as we saw them simply because they were so god-awful to drive ‘round. In one, my colleague wearing the obligatory high-visibility safety jacket got tired of drivers asking him, “How the **** do I get out of here?” In the other, the entry route was so badly designed that they have had to close half the entry lanes to stop gridlock.
The other issue that seems to challenge the average car park designer/builder is that water does not run uphill. The biggest (3,600 spaces) and probably the most expensive car park built in the UK in the last 12 months has standing water on several decks because they got the drainage wrong. So persistent is this problem that the management team has bought a sweeper to suck up the ponds that form every time it rains and cars come in to the car park wet.
Score
The refurbishments are interesting. I remember our late lamented colleague Sam Bhuyan won a prize here for a very good paper on how to do this properly. The entries are very variable, ranging from literally painting over the rust to some really splendid efforts. One that was close but got no cigar was an almost splendid project to refurbish an historic car park that was first opened in 1929, complete with chauffeur’s lounges so that “James” could park the Rolls and have somewhere to wait until he was wanted whilst Sir and Madame were dining at the Ritz.
The building had been repaired and redecorated using genuine 1930s colors. It was almost perfect, but judges check just a little closer than the average driver. Having repaired and refurbished the original metal window frames almost everywhere, why oh why did they leave one in the original corroded state with cracked glass? And surely they should have fixed the water leak on the stairs before re-painting?
After the most recent PIE in Chicago, I asked JVH why he didn’t organize something similar in the U.S. The event gets lots of interest (and lots of sponsorship, John). Judging is lots of fun and causes lots of arguments (with drink taken). And the grand finale is an almighty party and lots of fun. I think it’s time to start a campaign to lobby John to run the Parking Today National Awards, with the awards ceremony linked to PIE. Of course, if you had a Brit as chairman of judges, then total impartiality could be guaranteed ... Write to me if you agree.
History Repeats Itself – U.S. Style
Very many years ago, I remember reading about an incident in Boston where a man was shot in his car and the police were assisted in working out the time of the shooting because by the time anyone noticed (dead body - hole - blood - yuck), the car had got seven parking tickets.
Well, it seems that something similar has happened in Gainesville. FL. It appears that John Waldo passed away whilst sitting in his car around Feb. 11. Over the next two weeks, the car got seven tickets for illegal parking before a local resident called the police and they found the body. A city spokesman felt that it was necessary to point out that the traffic wardens had not seen the body because “they are not trained policemen.” There’s not really much to say after that.
My Generation
I just marked two important events in my life. First, I made 60 (but you look so young, I hear you cry), and this brings with it a number of automatic benefits. I get a bus pass, which now means that I can ride any public bus in Britain free. Apparently “people of my generation” hold competitions to see who can get from one end of the island to the other quickest.
Next, I get free medication. Health care here is free to everyone, but we have to pay for drugs prescribed outside hospitals. At 60, it’s all free, as are glasses and dentistry. Finally, every year the government gives me about $600 to pay my winter heating bills; with global warming, this is virtually a free gift.
Oh, the other thing is that I got a new mobile phone. I got my first one about 20 years ago, when you had to press buttons and you could talk to people from about three places in Britain. The calls cost about the same as the national debt of a medium-sized country.
The latest version has a touch screen. I get about a year’s worth of free calls and texts each month, and I do not understand about 95% of its functionality. I would like to ask my daughter how it works, but I couldn’t stand the pitying look.
Many old codgers like me believe that education standards are falling with a belief that things were better in the old days, when we had an empire and children were flogged for being left-handed. This perspective was given some credence recently when contractors erected advance notice signs in Edinburgh saying that parking would be suspended for road works on Feb. 30.
Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent on all things European and Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from April, 2009




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