Point of View: What is Mobility? Plus, it’s Hard to Make it Easy


Point of View: What is Mobility? Plus, it’s Hard to Make it Easy

August, 2023

John Van Horn


Just what is “mobility”? The best answer I can get is that it’s the use of some way to get from Point A to Point B without using a privately owned vehicle. Consider: bus, bike, scooter, feet (walk), light rail, and metro.  They all get you from A to B without using a POV.


They are certainly cheaper, for the individual, for the most part. Why aren’t people falling all over each other to use them? One reason might be the “C” word – convenience. None of them are particularly convenient.


In the cases of rail and buses, they go when they go, not when you want to go. Plus, in many cases they are dirty, and frankly unsafe. Then there’s the last mile problem. Do they let you off where you want to go?


If you read a blog I wrote on parkingtoday.com in June, titled “Bring a Discussion Out into the Sunlight,” and then the comments by Paul Barter and Don Shoup, (they don’t call me the devil incarnate, but come close) you can begin to learn about mobility. I haven’t heard from Tony Jordan, but it’s only a matter of time. Now don’t get me wrong, these are nice guys. I like them. But they have an agenda. And let’s face it, it is best described by “mobility.”


Paul seems to think I “misunderstand” their approach. They aren’t anti car, but just want cars controlled to a point where folks would prefer a ‘mobility’ option. They want us to live in cities, so buses, bikes, scooters, and feet make sense. It doesn’t make sense to use those options when one lives in the country or the ‘burbs, the distances are just too great.


By the way, that is also true of mega cities like Los Angeles and its environs, which can be measured as 100 miles across. The mobility options may work in places like Amsterdam which are built on a smaller scale.


I look out my window and check the bus lanes, the bike lanes, and the scooter activity and see the bus lanes empty, the bike lanes unused, and scooters in piles on street corners. It just seems like ‘mobility’ isn’t catching on. It may be in smaller cities, or in places built around universities where the younger generations can adhere to it.


When Los Angeles ‘adjusted’ major thoroughfares to include bike and bus lanes, they increased traffic by, in most cases, reducing three lanes to two, or two to one. So, what you have is empty bike and bus lanes and jammed traffic lanes. This makes driving more difficult, and folks like Tony, Paul, and Don smile.


As Dave Feehan wrote in the July issue of Parking Today about common sense, and remember this is a guy who makes his living working in central cities, he looked at the world around him, and simply found that EV make no sense, and hybrids make sense. People don’t ride buses and trains because they are dirty, unsafe, and don’t run on schedules that fit their lifestyles. As Dave says:


So, let’s summarize: business districts are the lifeblood of our communities. Commercial districts pay more in municipal taxes than they consume in city services. Most small businesses are the major job creators, and these small businesses often represent the life savings of the owner.


Wouldn’t it make common sense for elected officials, planning professionals, and transportation staff to want to do everything possible to create an environment where small businesses can thrive? To offer clean, safe, attractive streets where customers can find a place to park (because most customers are arriving by car)? When I was involved in a parking study in Fort Collins, Colo. some years ago, I calculated that each on-street parking space contributed $300,000 annually in sales to the block where it was located.


It’s common sense.


If we want to make mobility work, perhaps we should invest in fast, clean, safe buses and trains, and not spend billions tunneling under cities and attempting to force folks onto mobility centric ways to get from A and B.


Common Sense.


Astrid has an interesting article up at parknews.biz about the city of Chico, CA, and their hiring of parking “Concierges” to help parkers through the labyrinth of dealing with new parking kiosks and an app to pay for their parking. If you scroll through ‘parknews’ you will find a number of like articles, mostly originating in the UK. People just don’t like ‘em.


I mentioned in an earlier post that Clyde Wilson and I were flummoxed by a parking kiosk near a local restaurant and finally gave up and dared the city to give us a ticket. They didn’t.


If a 60 or 70 year old can’t intuitively work through and understand a kiosk or app, I say it’s a failure.


I worked for two decades for a hardware/software company and when we came up with a new product, we gave it the ‘granny’ test. We brought someone’s granny in and had her use it. If she couldn’t we tossed it and started over, making it easier and easier until she could. I wonder how many software engineers have thought of the ‘granny’ test. Most don’t. I had one tell me, “After all, if they can’t run this they don’t deserve to drive and park.”


It’s easy to make things complex and difficult to use, hard to make them easy.


The one I like the most is the one that has a sign on it saying “touch screen to begin.”  First of all, I’m not really sure what that means, and second, if it’s in the evening, you are out of luck. That sign cannot be read in the dark. Oh, well, maybe folks don’t deserve to drive and park after dark.


Remember what Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

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John Van Horn
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