Heart of Darkness, FOMO, Road Diet
Melbourne’s Elizabeth Taylor has written a fantastic piece for the online publication of Monash University which takes us through the maze of Joseph Conrad’s "Heart of Darkness" and likens our industry’s major issues to the obsession of Conrad’s major character.
For those of you without a literary background, like me, you may not realize that Apocalypse Now was based on Conrad’s book. In "The Heart of Darkness", the narrator sits at the mouth of the Thames and tells his story. You may wonder, as Taylor points out, what the heck this has to do with parking. She comments:
For a 2018 symposium in Melbourne on the topic of the ‘ethics of transport’, I was asked to speak about some of my research on car parking. As I have (maybe too often) tended to do, I went with a pun on popular culture – on that occasion “Heart of Parking” or “Heart of Park-ness”, with reference to Conrad’s book. I am expanding on that talk here because I think it offers a reflection on 5 years of researching – journeying into, so to speak – the surprisingly fraught world of parking cars.
You can read her piece at parknews.biz. Take the time to do so. It’s well worth it, and perhaps you will see a reflection of not only our industry, but our customers. I’ll leave you with this quote:
In Melbourne, 96% of parking is free to the user. Who’s been parking on my street? The politics and uneven use of residential parking space and threats to the protected status of free parking can evoke anger and sometimes overt violence. The ‘Arab Spring’ in the suburb of Yarraville is an example – the installation of parking meters ($1.50 an hour) on a shopping strip led to street protests, banners, vandalism, and other political action. When this failed, councilors were physically attacked at a council meeting. Local traders compared the incident to the Arab Spring – in that, other political channels being exhausted, violence was the only option remaining for “standing up and saying this isn’t right”. The parking meters were switched off.
David Zipper, writing over at CityLab, posits the following:
There are a handful of policy phrases that reliably trigger outrage among urban mobility wonks. “Sharrow” is one; “parking minimum” is another. I’d like to suggest a couple more: “first in the country” and “staying ahead of our rivals.” If you hear either spoken by your mayor or governor, head for the hills (or the next community meeting).
More likely than not, your elected officials are basing mobility policy decisions not on cost-benefit analysis or strategic foresight, but on a classic modern insecurity: FOMO.
ICYMI, FOMO means Fear of Missing Out.
What does FOMO have to do with urban mobility policy? Ideally, nothing. But in reality, quite a bit—especially with state and local officials swooning over autonomous vehicle technology and eager to show it off.
Consider Arlington, Texas, where in 2017, city officials unveiled an autonomous shuttle called Milo that transports people on a fixed route through its entertainment district. During the launch, a planning official seemed more excited about the novelty of the program than its potential value to citizens, gushing, “[Milo] will go down in history as the first time that a government, a municipal government, has really offered this as a service to the general public.” No mention was made of whether the general public actually wanted the service in the first place. (The link to the article is on parknews.biz.)
As company after company, organization after organization jump on the ‘mobility’ bandwagon, are they doing so to “better mobility policy decisions on cost benefit analysis or strategic foresight” or FOMO? Are they asking questions like “does the general public really want this in the first place?” Can they even define what “mobility” means?
In his article, Zipper points out that some vendors are turning down requests for proposals from localities after researching the reasons the locals had for the requests in the first place. If there is a hint of FOMO, it’s a NOGO. These companies are being asked to have a six-month free trial and then perhaps, there will be a purchase order. They know that if there is FOMO involved, there is probably no budget, and after the mayor gets the headlines, it will most likely come to naught.
How many projects in your company or organization have begun with a FOMO attitude, only to shrink away when the hard work begins? It doesn’t have to be a mayor or governor that jumps on the FOMO bandwagon. It could be a city parking manager, a university transportation department, yes, even the engineering or marketing department at a technology company.
How can you tell if your project has FOMO lurking in the background? Take Zipper’s advice. Ask your customers, your users, your parkers if they want it and would use it.
I had a great FOMO idea to install an AV shuttle so people could park and then take the shuttle to local clubs and restaurants. A friend told me she tried it. No one would actually ride the shuttle. The users were never asked what they wanted.
Many decisions are made out of fear. Some, like fear of starvation, fear of flood or earthquake, of fear of war might have some basis. But FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, is a psychological and often narcissistic issue, not based on reality. David Zipper will be the Keynote Speaker at PIE 2020, March 22-25, San Diego.
Road Diet. Now there’s a term I hadn’t seen. The concept is that a four-lane street or road be shrunk to two traffic lanes with the rest for bicycles, buses, turning lanes, etc. This is done at a cost of $1 to $3 million a mile.
The politicos behind this concept say that it makes the streets slower, and therefore safer. They comment that putting these streets on a diet have reduced traffic accidents and fatalities up to 40 percent.
A teen was hit in an unmarked crosswalk in an area with no streetlights. I wonder if marking the crosswalk and installing streetlights might be a viable alternative.
Businesses, commuters, and residents living near streets that have been put on ‘diets’ are complaining to the point that cities are reconsidering and, in some cases, removing the lane obstructions.
Some of the proponents of ‘road diets’ are saying that they are being promoted incorrectly. They should be promoted as a way to make the streets safer, not as a way to provide protected bike lanes.
Others have said that perhaps a sledgehammer is being used when a ball pein might work just as well. That in areas where safety is a consideration, there may be less aggressive alternatives that meet the needs of pedestrians, bikers, and motorists.
Maybe instead of a full-fledged diet, the roads need simply to watch a few calories here and there.