The value of inner city car parks

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Image of car parks Palma de Mallorca by Timmy L (flickr) https://flic.kr/p/TR4DFC

As you’d know, one little statistic can send me off on an investigation – like the number tucked away in a Guardian Weekly report that, globally, cars are in car parks 95% of the time.

The statistic emerged in a report about a pilot scheme in Amsterdam to reward residents with a free green space in front of their houses if they give up their parking permits. The car parks pilot scheme being trialled in six streets in an Amsterdam suburb is yet another Dutch idea designed to encourage people to give up cars and switch to carpooling, public transport or bicycles.

Residents’ cars will be stored for free in public car parks and in return something ‘green and pleasant’ can occupy the designated car space. The Guardian reports a fair degree of friction over this idea. Two early adopters (who have been heckled), have already put flower-filled tow carts in front of their houses (a cosy outdoor spot to sit in the sun and have a morning coffee and a plate of warm poffertjes).

This is not the first time Amsterdam’s Stadsbestuurders have tried to rend asunder the city’s love affair with the car. Amsterdam is widely known as the bicycle capital of the world because it is relatively compact and the narrow streets and canal bridges make driving more difficult than in other cities. When I spent time in Amsterdam (wishing I could forget what I can’t remember), the city was then trialling Sundays as a no-car day. I looked that up yesterday and find that it is 45 years since Car Free Sunday was introduced. As this blog explains, something changed in the Dutch mindset when the measure was introduced in 1973 (to dampen oil consumption amid the 1970s Oil Shock).  Since then cycling with or without clogs has clearly become a lifestyle/clean environment movement.

The Netherlands leads other European cities, with 27% of all trips attributed to cyclists, a figure that has been stable for a decade. How could it be anything less when Amsterdammers own 22.5 million bicycles (1.3 per resident). Evidently Mum, Dad and the kids are in on the trend. Denmark is a close second in Europe’s bicycle stakes (0.8 per resident).

Australians are fairly keen on bicycles too, with 3.6 million using one every week, The Australian Cyclists Party says the average Australian household has 1.5 bicycles in working order, although if you wanted to be pendantic, you couldn’t ride half a bike very far. You could of course turn it into a unicycle, learn to juggle, sing and play the ukulele at the same time and apply for a gig at the Woodford Music Festival.

Digressions aside, Australians are as deeply committed to the combustion engine as the global leader (America). The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics motor vehicle census showed there were 18.8 million registered vehicles in Australia as of January 31, 2017, a 2% increase on 2016. The 2016 Australian Census showed there were 2.95 million one-vehicle households, 3.02 million households with two vehicles and another 1.50 million households with three or more. The same Census revealed that only 1.1% of Australians rode their bikes to work. The sole occupant car dominated work trips – from 65.6% in Sydney to 79.9% in Adelaide.

The notion that cars are parked 95% of the time is a figure largely calculated on public car parks which are utilised 85% to 95% of the time. Just dwell on that next time you are doing laps in one of Brisbane’s large shopping malls, waiting for a spot.

Last Saturday we went to a Queensland Ballet double bill (Carmen and The Firebird) which, I must say, we enjoyed more than the reviewer in The Australian did, apparently. There were three curtain calls.

Afterwards, we walked back to the multi-level car park where I realised (despite my disdain for automation), that I had no option but to pre-pay as there were no humans in the parking booths. The machine hungrily gobbled my $20 and dispensed the ticket. You should all know the routine by now – drive to boom gate 1, insert ticket and the boom (should) automatically rise to let you drive out.

Them were the good old days, mate

Not that I want to return to days of yore, but when we first started going to the ballet in 1988, you could quite often score a free car park somewhere in South Brisbane or West End. We’d leave home early and sometimes snag a space in Fish Lane. Ah, those were the days. Now we usually park in the Brisbane Entertainment and Convention Centre car park as it has 1,500 spaces, so is the place least likely to be full around South Brisbane’s entertainment and dining precinct. If I recall, when this complex first opened in 1996, parking 2-4 hours cost $8. That’s inflation for you.

A Colliers International white paper in 2015 predicted city parking would become more expensive in Australia, as no new multi-storey car parks were being approved. Some, in fact, have been demolished to make way for new apartment buildings. The other factor in parking becoming more expensive is that many cities now impose a congestion levy on property owners.

New technology is set to disrupt the parking business model though; one example being Divvy Parking, a digital start-up which hooks up motorists with under-utilised car parks within commercial office buildings. In late 2016, New South Wales car insurance company NRMA took a 40% stake in Divvy Parking.  An NRMA study found that 30% of urban traffic congestion was caused by people driving around looking for a car park. And, according to NRMA, a third of parking spots within centrally-located commercial buildings are under-used. NRMA Group chief executive Rohan Lund told the Australian Financial Review that smart technology would be as crucial to solving Australia’s mobility issues as bricks and mortar infrastructure.

All over the world, cities are introducing measures to thwart or discourage drivers from bringing their vehicles to the inner city. These range from London’s Congestion Charge to Madrid’s blanket ban on non-resident vehicles. Only locals, taxis, buses and zero-emission delivery vehicles are allowed within Madrid. This is not the first time the padres de la ciudad have tried to beat congestion and pollution within Madrid’s city centre. In 2005, a pedestrian-only zone was introduced in a densely-populated inner city neighbourhood.

Interestingly, there are no Australian cities named in Business Insider’s recent article on 13 cities planning to ban cars to one degree or another. Most of the cities are in Europe (Oslo, Berlin, Paris, Hamburg, Copenhagen) but also China, Mexico and South America. Many of the plans are based on making it easier to walk and cycle. Several cities are planning to build bicycle-only super-highways.

Ah well, next time I go to the ballet maybe I’ll take my half a bicycle and wobble on down to the train station. (She Who Broke a Bone Falling on the Stone Steps) “Don’t forget your helmet, dear.” More reading:

 

Surfing the gender vote

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Photo “The Watch” by Eric Neitzel https://flic.kr/p/kQRQLp

So we’re walking along the beach, me feeling over-dressed in board shorts, t-shirt, socks and joggers (to protect a bruised toe). We passed a group of more appropriately beach-clad women and girls (though one wore a wet suit), taking surfing lessons from a sun-worn guy in his 30s. Not that I ever surfed, but it seems to me that in the 1960s, surfing was something boys did while the girls sat on the beach, admiring their boyfriends and guarding personal items.

Later, She Who Always Wears Sunscreen came out of the change rooms wearing shorts and a bra.

“Seems I left my t-shirt on the beach,” she mused. “And I don’t feel like going back to get it.”

It says a bit about feminism in 2016 that a woman can feel OK about going around in public in a bra, however temporarily.

It covers considerably more of me than some of the women I’ve seen on the beach,” she rightly observed.

Despite statistics that suggest women make up only 15% of the surfing cohort, the sport is rising in popularity among the under-20s. There’s lots of research about this, though you need to get behind click bait articles like “Top 20 Hottest Girl Surfers” to find there has always been a determined posse of women who wanted to surf waves – since the 1920s even.

Yet Cori Schumacher, writing in The Guardian, contends that despite female pro surfers pushing the standards ever higher, they still have to compete with a double standard that demands they define their femininity within ‘a male sexual economy’.

Schumacher explained this double standard goes further than female surfers feeling pressure to surf in a bathing suit. Body image issues aside, prize money for professional surfers is skewed heavily in favour of men.

In 1976, the first year pro women surfers were paid, 20% of prize money was allocated to women. In 2011, when Schumacher wrote this, 22% of the total prize purse went to female surfers.

The ‘babes in bikinis’ gender caricature aside, there are plenty of strong female role models listed in Surfer Today.

In politics, as in surfing, one not ought to confuse a woman’s right to compete with an assumption that being female equals feminist ideals and/or leftie politics.

There have been more than enough female world leaders to suggest that they are just as likely to lean to the right as the left of politics.

It is now known that 42% of women voted for Donald Trump in last week’s shock election result. The New York Times noted that 70% of those participating in an exit poll said they thought Trump’s behaviour toward women was ‘a problem’, yet 30% of people who said that voted for him anyway.

One can hardly rely upon US election statistics to define social trends when 46% of Americans did not vote at all.

The Atlantic tried to set the record straight about gender voting in the US, maintaining that 54% of women voted for Hillary Clinton and 42% for Donald Trump (it also means 4% voted for someone else, but let’s not muddy the waters).

Exit-poll data indicated that 94% of black women and 68% of Hispanic women voted for Clinton, The Atlantic reported a few days ago.

The article cited Kelly Dittmar from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University: “If only women voted in this election (and no one else), Clinton would have won.”

That kind of wishful thinking aside, the more relevant number is that roughly 100 million eligible people (approximately 48% of whom are women), did not vote. Many journalists opined that those who did not vote were lazy or apathetic.

Yet the Pew Institute’s research on non-voters said only 2% cited ‘laziness’ as an excuse, the same proportion of those who said they could not vote because they were in jail or on parole.

The five main reasons for not voting were:

  • No time or just haven’t done it (voted) 19%;
  • Recently moved 17%;
  • Don’t care about politics 14%;
  • No confidence in government 12%;
  • Not a US citizen 7%.

We have seen many successful women come and go in the ruthless sphere of international politics. Recent female Prime Ministers include Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley (New Zealand), Julia Gillard (Australia) and Portia Simpson-Miller (Jamaica). Incumbent government heads include Theresa May (UK), Angela Merkel (Germany) and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

Forbes Magazine recently published a list of the world’s most powerful women, currently headed by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen. After November 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton may be off the list altogether.

One might also expect First Lady Michelle Obama to drop off this list too, although she has plenty of support to have a crack at the top job.

The list included 11 heads of state, one 90-year-old monarch, two first ladies and two top-seed diplomats.

A FOMM reader greeted me at the markets one day, suggesting as a future topic the humble bicycle’s role in gender relations, circa 1890. Simply put, the bicycle allowed Victoria-era women freedom of movement; moreover, the practicalities of riding a bike dressed in hoop skirt and girdle led to less cumbersome garments and, ahem, greater freedom of movement. David Hendrick remarked upon this in a paper for the University of Virginia, noting that the advent of the bicycle gave Victorian women autonomy and a way of leaving the house without relying on men for travel. He agreed with women’s rights advocate Susan B Anthony that the bicycle had “done more to emancipate women that anything else in the world”.

This was a good 30 years before the first Wahine took a long board out beyond the breakers, but perhaps you’ll see my point.

Cori Schumacher, an openly gay, world-ranked surfer, says she grew up surfing in California in the 1980s and 1990s, but very few women surfed in the earliest days of her youth.

Surfing was then described as a ‘male-dominated’ activity, but even with the growing population of female surfers, there has not been a corresponding increase in representation or equal pay.

Schumacher said “…rather than surfing being merely male-dominated, it is also a farm for masculinity and androcentrism.”

No doubt someone is running a book right now on the prospect of an androcentric Trump presidency appointing any women (apart from the third first lady, if you get my meaning), to a position of influence.

The odds of a prominent Muslim woman being appointed, even as a White House advisor, are longer still. Interestingly (facts gleaned from my kind of surfing), show that two of the Muslim women described in this article were appointed as White House advisors.

As if that were not enough, FOMM’s online surfing also uncovered three new words: androcentrism (placing the male human being at the centre of one’s world view), Wahine (female surfer) and Awk! (old school cry of alarm or excitement – e.g., spotted an excellent wave).