Lots and lots of parking spaces

I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but, seeing as it’s just east of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, I should imagine it’s a very nice place indeed. With a population in excess of 3.5 million, an overall size of around 9,000 square kilometres, and a semi-detached relationship as a territory-but-not-a-state of the USA, it’s by no means a small place either.

Fans of geography-based car parking trivia (come on, I know you’re out there) might also be keenly aware of the island’s other claim to fame.  And that is this: the most recent estimates of car parking lots across the United States seem to show that their total surface area would equate to roughly the size of Puerto Rico.

Whichever way you look at it, and however you factor in that the US is a huge country, that is still an awful lot of lots.  As a nation that possesses around three non-residential parking spaces for each of its 255 million cars, we’re looking at a place that can boast, if that’s the right word, over three quarters of a billion parking spaces.

Why am I sharing these fascinating nuggets of information with you?  Well, I’m just coming to the end of a five-week stint in the US.  It’s mostly been work, with some touristy things thrown in, and, in passing, a couple of thousand miles driving into and around some big cities as well as smaller towns too.

I’ve been to the US a number of times, but on this trip I’ve been paying particular attention to cars, driving, and car parking, and trying to identify the many and varied ways this differs to the UK.

The most obvious thing to say is that in general terms, US drivers are more courteous than their British counterparts.  This is, after all, the land that invented the four-way stop – no lights, no roundabouts, just a “you got here before I did, so please proceed ahead of me.”  Pedestrians are routinely allowed to cross the road, speed limits are, from what I can see, by and large stuck to, and cyclists are given plenty of room to pedal.

On the other hand of course, it’s also the country where it’s pretty much okay to use a mobile while driving; it’s illegal in only seven of the 50 states.  They’re hotter on texting while behind the wheel, but it’s by no means a no-no everywhere; it’s still legal in 21 states to do it.  There’s also the difference between primary and secondary offences, so you might not be doing the right thing, but you won’t get pulled for just that.

I suspect that these apparent contradictions all add up in some way.  Apart from rush hours in the big conurbations, roads are, by and large, quieter.  They’re also straighter and with fewer pot holes too.  Automatic transmission cars account for over 93% of sales, and with less pedestrians, no need to shift gears with your right hand, and fewer narrow bends to negotiate, it’s just about possible to construct a profile of a driver here – happy to be courteous, happy to take a call while driving (and happy to text too, from what I’ve seen).

The issue is, of course, that while this motoring utopia has created vast spaces of car parking, easy to drive roads, and still huge cars to drive in, it does less to assist the driver or the parking provider in more congested cities.  In fact, because cars are, in general larger, spaces must be bigger – on street, off street and in high rise parking lots.

An increasing number of US cities are therefore making more strategic decisions on how to manage access to municipal parking, with the deployment of technology to assist this process; Smart Parking for example has been involved in trials of our SmartPark solution in San Francisco.  It’s a trend that is likely to accelerate, especially as cities across the US need to shape demand for parking for workers, visitors, shoppers and residents in a way that boosts and maintains local prosperity.

I’ll be packing my case this week and returning to the UK with a modest tan, some new friends made, and a new insight into the differences between drivers and parking here and there.  I must make a note to visit Puerto Rico one day – I hope it’s as nice as I think it is!