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Vox Pop, Electric Vehicles, Maintenance, Blue Badges?

November 12, 2018

Peter Guest

Car Parks: artwork or machine? Apparently, we have just had a competition for the world’s coolest car park, no I didn’t know either, where two organizations that I have never heard of combined to hold an online vox pop on what was the coolest car park in the world. The organizers shortlisted nine places, no idea how they were chosen, and then invited the world to judge. As far as I can see, judging was based on just a couple of photos with no information on how well they were built, whether or not they had any exceptional features, and indeed, whether they worked as a place to park cars. 


I well remember, during my time as a judge for the British Parking Awards, we excluded a car park from the national competition only to see it go on to win First Prize at the European Awards the same year! The difference between the two judging panels was that, whereas my colleagues from the EPA visited and walked round the site, the British judge tried to park a car. Perhaps the value of the Coolest Car Park award can be judged by the fact that, worldwide, just under 3,000 people voted.


I do not think that any competition where an artifact, be it a spoon or a building, is being judged in some way can be valid unless it first addresses the function of that artifact. No matter how “pretty” or “clever” the thing is if it doesn’t work then it shouldn’t be winning awards.


Electric Vehicles


I have talked about electric vehicles several times recently and I see that our Brexit-bound government is still relentlessly driving forward with a grand strategy to promote them, whilst blithely ignoring the increasingly strident clamor highlighting some of the difficulties that this would entail. 


Mrs. May and her gang have announced that they will invest about $2bn over the next couple of years on charging points, battery research (now that is worthwhile), and vehicle purchase subsidies. You may remember that the latter was scheduled to end a few months ago just as new purchases had started to fall. Now it’s been extended for a few more months. 


Still nothing on the actuality of roadside particulates, real energy pollution taking into account remote generation, end of life costs, or the little question of the ability of the grid to actually support and power a mass switch to EVs. Yet another case of dogma over data I suspect. I desperately want electric vehicles, or more generally lower polluting vehicles, to work, but this only has a chance if the powers that be stop telling half the story, recognise the good and the bad and deal with both.


Blue Badges


Meanwhile, in a move that could radically affect the way blue badge (handicapped placard in American) parking is used, the government has announced that the scheme will be expanded to include people with “hidden disabilities”. It seems that this means people such as those that suffer from agoraphobia and similar conditions that would mean that they would struggle to use other forms of transport. I get this intellectually but not sure how it’s going to work in practice. 


There is already a lot of bad feeling among some elements of the driving community who feel that anyone getting a benefit that they are not entitled to is wrong. How much more difficult will this be when they see someone with no obvious mobility issues walking away from a disabled driver parking bay?


Maintenance


I am, by training, a Traffic Engineer and Transport Planner and so I guess that I am a little more aware of “trafficy” things in the environment than those of you that have different skills. This is increasingly forcing me to the conclusion that, here at least, “It” is broke, and it’s past time when it needs fixing. 


Our road surfaces used to be maintained to a very high standard. Municipalities would regularly check roads and quickly repair a defect. If the power company dug up the roadway they had to repair and the city would then go check the work to make sure it was done properly. Now something like $300m has been cut from the budget and, pretty much, nothing happens unless someone calls in a problem. The public are making over a million complaints a year. 


Trouble is they aren’t getting fixed anything like quickly enough and something approaching $5m a year is paid in compensation for damage to cars. This is I suspect a huge under-estimate of the real cost and the accident risk of holes in the road; particularly to two wheelers and vehicles on high speed roads. This despite a multibillion dollar budget, mainly to build new roads. This is wrong thinking; the first call should always be to keep what you have working, and I think that we now need to pause any new building until the old stuff is fixed.


It’s not just the roadway. We have a very sophisticated system of signing, with every design prescribed in fine detail. Trouble is, with no maintenance I reckon that nearly half of the direction signs on the main roads are lost behind foliage that hasn’t been cut for a decade. The safety risk is obvious. This also hits parking. Signs and lines on the street tell drivers what’s legal but if the lines are worn away and the signs missing the driver is guessing. It’s not really surprising that more and more drivers feel aggrieved when they get a citation. 


In parking, the idea of maintenance just seems to be a foreign language for many. I well remember the late Sam Bhuyan over at Walker Parking telling me scary stories about just how bad some of your car parks get before they are fixed. It’s the same over here. People cleverer than me have worked out that if a sum equal to about 1 percent of the initial cost of a parking garage is used for maintenance each year, it will last just about for ever. But time and time again the maintenance budget gets cut as soon as the car park opens. It’s depressing.



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