Saturday, May 26, 2012

Man's parking-lot inhumanity to man

A few months ago I was so caught up in my tablet (probably writing a blog post) that I forgot to ring the bell to get off the bus, and it sailed right past my stop. I was in a hurry, but I said to myself, "No problem, I'll just cut across this parking lot!"

It had been a while since the last time I was in such a big parking lot, so I had forgotten how hellish they were. When you spend a lot of your travel time as a pedestrian being bullied by drivers, you may think that full-time pedestrians are the only people who get bullied by drivers.

I wasn't even bullied by any drivers that day. I just had to walk across an enormous expanse of asphalt, with the sun beating down, constantly aware that a car could come speeding up behind me, or zip around the corner in front of me, or pull out from one side or the other. And this one wasn't even so bad. It was only March, so the sun wasn't too hot. There were no dust storms, or flash floods, or any of the other things that make wide expanses of asphalt so unbearable.

As I walked, I looked at the other people in the parking lot and thought, "They're not full-time pedestrians. They're drivers! They get shat on just like me!" This is not an "us and them" issue. The drivers and the parking lot designers were making "us" (i.e. other drivers) miserable.

But then I realized that even among drivers it's not all "us." The people who park closer in have a distinct advantage: the closer in you park, the longer you're a driver and the less time you're a pedestrian. You can bully the other drivers who get the spaces further out, because they've become pedestrians while you're still a driver. This is one of the reasons people go nuts over parking spaces.

You may think, "Well, okay, but at least it's equal opportunity, because everyone can park closer in; they just have to get there earlier or get lucky." And "handicap" spaces - well, people with handicap permits deserve the advantage because they have a hard time getting around on foot. But this parking lot was attached to a hierarchical institution where the closer-in spaces were assigned to people higher up in the hierarchy. After I crossed that awful parking lot I came to another one, reserved for people with higher rank. Then I came to a smaller lot with numbered spaces that were assigned to specific individuals.

At this institution, the top people get to stay drivers for the longest period of time, while those at the bottom of the pyramid become pedestrians almost as soon as they arrive. That's one way the hierarchy is reinforced. In some places, the assignment of parking spaces is a form of power in its own right, and the person who controls that assignment can exact favors in exchange for granting a preferred space. The really special people (I have no idea whether they exist at this institution) are the ones who get driven around; they always get dropped off at the door, and never have to walk through a parking lot.

This is just one of many ways that drivers bully and harass each other, not just pedestrians. It's worth remembering. And interestingly, as a bus passenger I'm not even at the bottom. I don't have to walk through the parking lot at all (especially if I'm not in a hurry). There are sidewalks for us bus passengers, and although drivers often bring their cars onto the sidewalks and bully us there, it's less common.

Parking lots are hell, and they're hell for almost everyone. So why do we keep building them? Why do we have a large regulatory apparatus whose primary job is forcing people to build parking lots? Why do we have an army of people ready to spring into action the moment they think there's not enough parking? The whole thing is crazy, tragically crazy.


Matthew said...

I recognize this site. It used to be an empty industrial wasteland until sometime in the last decade. If this is where you had to backtrack, that is no fun at all. The bus stops on the highway itself, which has always seemed very dangerous to me. There's no railroad crossing for at least half a mile north or south, other than walking back on the highway overpass.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks, Matthew! This is not the actual parking lot I was talking about, just an icky parking lot I came across in my travels. As you recognized, it's at the intersection of Route 4 and the Northern Branch, where NJ Transit is planning on building a station.

Cap'n Transit said...

Oh, also there may be no official railroad crossing, but there are dirt paths and the trains don't come very often.

Joseph said...

Cap'n Transit, as you may know, it is illegal to "trespass" across train tracks:
The penalty is "up to" $1000, or 6 months in jail.