ZEN AND THE ART OF MOBILITY MAINTENANCE
From nowhere: the distinct, explosive, legally patented thunderclap of a Harley Davidson with perforated muffler. Neck hairs raise, car alarms wail in vain, low-decibel expletives go (I hope) unnoticed. Then, with a sort of shrug, Ash Street and the ACE offices return to their near-quiet normal with the motorcycle’s roar fading away.
Sure, it was deafening and seemingly unnecessary, but the Harley’s boisterous revving reminded me, fittingly, of Robert Pirsig’s famous book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
There’s a well-known passage where Pirsig explains that Quality—in the sense of optimization—is always a work in progress. When it comes to motorcycle maintenance, for instance, as soon as you’ve perfectly calibrated the carburetor, oiled the forks, cleaned the chain, etc., some speck of dust, some loosening of a bolt, some wear and tear diminishes—to whatever degree—the quality of perfection.
Okay, enough with the metaphysics of Quality!
But the roar of the Harley engine made me consider that motorcycle maintenance and mobility management aren’t all that dissimilar. Just as carburetors decalibrate over time, mobility ecosystems become less optimized and less functional. As we rev toward a new era, no facet of mobility seems less calibrated than parking.
To shine a little light on how we can fine-tune parking and its role in urban mobility, let’s examine three of parking’s leading best practices and why they will be as important to Tomorrowland as they are today.
1. MODERNIZED SATELLITE PARKING AND SHUTTLE SERVICES
I write a lot about last-mile mobility, and for good reason. It will prove to be an inalienable part of Tomorrowland. But it’s something all cities and micro-mobility ecosystems (such as hospitals and university campuses) should be exploring right now.
Satellite parking (known otherwise as off-site parking) attracts customers to distant parking facilities serviced by shuttle systems that deliver them to either their destination or to the next waypoint on their journey (such as an airport or train station).
Where satellite parking for airports thrives by necessity, expanding off-site parking to serve other destinations means generating appeal. One excellent way to do this (and do it well) is through aesthetic streetscaping and landscaping.
Offering natural and/or artificial shading elevates the perceived value, safety, and attractiveness of satellite parking facilities. And it’s not just perceptive. North Carolina State University released a study showing that trees minimize heat load and can reduce noise by up to 40%.
(Maybe I’ll put a few outside our offices to help ease the wail of boisterous motorcycles…)
But aesthetic is only part of the appeal; convenience is a major factor. To succeed, advanced payment processing—including plate readers, daily/weekly/monthly rates, parking memberships, and multi-modal payment options, for instance—need to make the act of purchasing parking a breeze. Complicated payment systems can both deter return customers and cause exit-lane backups.
On the shuttles, connectivity is key. Free on-board WiFi and mobile apps are becoming inseparable to the commuter’s experience, helping to increase ridership, satisfaction, and repeat business. Whether to be productive or entertained, commuters are more likely to become customers if they can get online while en route.
As trends continue to evolve, so too will strategies to maintain off-site parking appeal. But doing so will be undeniably necessary to reduce congestion and harmful emissions in urban centers.
2. SMART PARKING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Most cities throughout America, and hundreds of progressive cities worldwide, are already shifting mobility gears with the implementation of smart parking management systems, a best practice that’s likewise essential to minimizing negative effects of traffic congestion.
Working in conjunction with modernized mobility networks, smart parking management systems (let’s call them SPMSs for short) ensure full utilization of parking facilities, both on- and off-street. Like satellite parking, SPMSs can be divided into subset best practices. Here are three I’m a fan of:
Arguably no parking best practice could sound more tedious. And, yet, just as many are more essential.
Parking databases provide municipalities with an invaluable inventory of all usable stalls, and thus map out the parking environment, which will prove essential to handling current and future demands of rapidly growing metropolises.
They’re the Xs, Os, and arrows that make up a quarterback’s play; the cumulation of which, of course, support an entire playbook. And, like a playbook, a parking database isn’t there to just look impressive. These inventories should be integrated with transportation demand management to offset traffic and reduce circling during high-demand times.
Real-Time Dynamic Parking
One of the leading strategies among the smartest of today’s cities (and, likely, all of Tomorrowland’s), dynamic parking is the strategy of adjusting the price of stalls in a given area in real-time as their demand fluctuates throughout the day. Especially when integrated with mobile apps and digital signage, real-time dynamic pricing helps reduce circling, which can account for up to 30% of urban congestion.
Parking Wayfinding & Guidance Systems
If a tree falls in the middle of the woods and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? To that same extent, if there’s parking in a city but no one can find it, is there really parking? The answer to both, of course, is yes—but it doesn’t matter.
The lack or ineffectiveness of wayfinding and guidance systems leading drivers to available parking can give the perception that certain areas don’t have enough parking spots. This negatively impacts consumer behavior by deterring visitors or encouraging spot-hunting in one area when right nearby may have plenty of open stalls.
3. SPECIAL RESIDENTIAL RATES
Offering special parking rates for residents sounds a bit like adding legs to a snake, until you consider the potential benefits.
For cities, it’s certainly a great way to win residents’ favor, since locals already pay taxes to upkeep roadways, public transit, and parking enforcement. Additionally, special residential rates have been shown to encourage near-home shopping in urban districts, driving more potential customers to local retailers, and assisting the economy. It also encourages visitors to use public transportation.
On the sunburnt sands of Miami Beach, residents pay $0.75 less than visitors per hour. The rates are enforced by plate-kiosk payment systems. Incorporated into the private sector, ACE similarly uses plate reading technology to provide Las Vegas casino members with free or discounted parking at their favorite Sin City casinos.
Improving the parking environment in any urban mobility ecosystem means driving change, change in systems and technology as well as consumer behavior. These are but a handful of sound, tested, and proven best practices for cities, municipalities, and even private developments. They all work, but they don’t all work all the time. Getting a thorough, professional analysis of your mobility system at large is important to executing the best practices with the best chances for success.