Notes from Big Ben …
Showtime, Form vs. Function, and ‘Marks and Sparks’
By Peter Guest
I write these pearls of wisdom about a month before you see them, so apologies if the timeline is slightly out of whack. It’s the end of February, and looking into the next month, “It’s Showtime.”
First, we have Parkex, the British Parking Association’s annual exhibition. This year, the show is in London and promises to be a goodie, with more than 120 exhibitors and a program of seminars running across two days, March 2-3.
Looking at the exhibitor list, though, there a surprising lack of presence from the major parking service companies. Organizations such as National Car Parks (NCP), Apcoa and the like have long been major presences at Parkex, and yet this year none of the top five operators will have a stand.
It has been a tough year, with contracts being awarded at as low as two-thirds of the price bid five years ago, and it may be that these guys are feeling too much pain to spend money on a show. Hopefully, I will get to talk to a few people and find out what’s occurring.
Home from Parkex, pack my bags and head off to Chicago and the Parking Industry Exhibition (PIE), March 7-10, sponsored by Parking Today. I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing there; JVH, in his infinite wisdom, has a plan but he’s not sharing, so if it’s all a big nothing, blame John.
(Strangely, although I have travelled all over the world, the only place I have ever been in the USA is Chicago, and lovely though the Windy City is, any invites to talk at Boston. SF, LA, NY, DC or just anywhere will be gratefully received.) ...
Finally, we have Intertraffic 2010, March 23-26, in Amsterdam. Strictly speaking, this is not a parking show, it covers all aspects of traffic engineering. But parking is a major lump of what’s going on, and Intertraffic gives a chance to see stuff from Europe that doesn’t get into the UK.
In some cases, this is a loss. For example, by far the best pay-and-display parking meter is made by a German company that just will not take the UK market seriously. I thought I had him after the last Parkex, but he got cold feet at the last minute. I will get you, Wolfgang; there is no escape!
Form vs. Function
Unlike in the U.S., which seems to have a plethora of companies whose business is designing and building car parks, we in the UK seem to suffer – with the honorable exception of a few specialist companies – from a lack of specialists. Although we build a lot of car parks, it seems that far too often the design is left to someone who has little or no understanding of what they are doing.
It could be an architect who sees the car park as a residual activity to be fitted in ‘round the main use and often, it seems, left to the office junior. It might be an engineer who understand the function a little better, but when it comes to the idea that a car park should in some sense look nice and be people friendly, they just don’t get it, and you end up with something that looks like a plant room.
This deficiency was forcibly brought home to me in the last few days, when I set out to judge the entries for Best New Car Park in the annual British Parking Association Awards.
We had about a dozen entries, and the first task was to get down to a manageable shortlist. This is done based on the submissions, and although we normally list three, this year I chose four. What did I see?
I saw car parks of unbelievable structural complexity where the same facility probably could have been provided better at half the cost. I saw a car park with a 6-foot 2-inch-wide space between two big columns. Have these people never seen a car? Do they not understand doors?
I saw a car park built in a high crime area with a ground floor security grid to keep the bad guys out. Unfortunately, the grid would simply allow the bad boys to climb up and get in at the first floor level. The car park cleaner had worked this out on his first day, why hadn’t the architect?
I saw a main pedestrian entry with just four steps to get in and no alternative step-free route signed. In the 21st century, this should be a crime.
I saw a car park designed by a major operator – who should know better – that had a spiral ramp where virtually every curb and column showed damage, although it had been open only a few months.
And, finally, I am convinced that somewhere there is a special training day for architects and engineers that teaches them the idea that water runs downhill may not be true. Every car park that I visited, bar one, had clearly applied this principle to the design of the drainage system. It would try the patience of a saint.
(Frank Transue, we need you.)
Here’s a Good One
Marks & Spencer is one of the UK’s biggest retailers. Their town center stores often have their own parking facilities. M&S had operated these car parks without charge. But now, in order to protect, their parking for their customers, they have started to introduce a parking charge, which legitimate customers can get back in-store when they make a purchase.
Who’s complaining? Other local traders that for many years have had a free ride, courtesy of M&S.
I live with my wife and youngest daughter. In the bathroom, there are about 150 bottles, jars and tubes. I have a shampoo, a shower gel and a deodorant, and a one-third share in the toothpaste. Discuss ....
Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent on all things European and Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from April, 2010