Four Days Looking for Parking
The British Parking Association has conducted research that says drivers in its country spend around four days a year looking for parking. While obviously not four days in succession, the number represents an average of 921 car trips per person with nearly 6 minutes of each trip spent on the search for a spot.
But even if it’s not four days in a row, the thought of four days a year lost in a parking lot is staggering. I couldn’t find statistics for how much time Americans spend looking for parking, but my search for that data lead me to a Nielsen report that says we watch an average of 5 hours of TV per day. That’s 1,825 hours or about 176 days a year – I’m going to say we probably spend much less time looking for parking.
I can’t even fathom how much of my life I have spent looking for parking.
Twice a day (and sometimes three) for the last nine years, on every day of the school year, I have searched for parking near my daughters’ school. I mostly look for a spot on a street that is close enough for us, but not for other people, so availability is decent. If we’re running late we try for a closer spot, but that rarely works out and we waste the three minutes we had to spare.
My oldest is in middle school now and walks with her friends. It’s a win for me because I don’t want to drive to two different schools twice a day, and it’s a win for her because of the sense of freedom she has roaming the streets far away from her mother. My younger daughter has not reached an age where I am an embarrassment and will hold my hand, and hug and kiss me goodbye when I leave her near the gates. I still have to do the back and forth and parking hunt every day, but the kisses make it worthwhile.
Another place where I waste my days looking for parking is the grocery store. When I lived in Texas, there was always a place to park – my car turned in to a pizza oven while I was shopping, but there was always a place to park. Here in the Los Angeles area, huge parking lots are not a given. If I can’t find a free spot in the tiny parking lot at my grocery store, I look for a metered spot nearby, but those don’t grow on trees. It can take me 5 to 10 minutes, and there have been a few occasions when I just gave up looking.
My city’s municipal center is a parking circus. Whether I’m there for the library, the pool or a class the parking lot is not only crowded but puzzling. Its largest parking area is organized into three parts that are divided by curbs – sometimes you see open spaces but know you’ll never be able to figure out how to get there in time.
My gym is a truly rotten place to park. And by rotten I mean after I’ve spent 5 minutes looking for a spot, I have to pass the garbage can compound of the nearby super buffet. The smell is so bad I don’t walk by, I run. I call it part of my warm up. The irony of that buffet and my gym sharing such tight space on the map strikes me every time I go.
When I was in college I didn’t always have a car, but when I did I found that driving to campus was an exercise in futility. I could often find a spot in the lot at the bottom of the hill, but it only got me a few blocks closer to campus and didn’t save me the uphill climb. Otherwise, I could circle campus admiring the generous faculty parking lots. Still, when I worked the copy desk at the university newspaper, I didn’t want to walk home alone at midnight, so I braved the only lot I could park in legally and that took a good 15 minutes a day.
When I lived in New York City I didn’t have a car, but there have to be all kinds of statistics on how much time people spend waiting for the subway. My days in Spokane, Washington were not particularly difficult in terms of parking. The newspaper where I worked had a dedicated garage. Downtown was not overly congested, but finding parking took at least 10 minutes – those one-way streets never seemed to get easier.
Still, I’ve never considered parking an actual hardship. It’s the snow or the heat or the traffic or getting the kids in the car that can make a round of errands an obstacle course of chaos and misery. But I have always factored the time spent and the ease/hardship of parking into my estimates for driving time. It’s just part of the experience. Tallying up how much of my life I’ve spent actually looking for parking isn’t a happy exercise, but luckily I don’t quantify it that way.
Anyway, what would I do with four extra days a year? I’d like to think I’d work at a homeless shelter, go on a trip, organize my garage, study Spanish, or learn to cook Indian food – but I’d probably just watch TV.