Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Parking as Self Organizing Behaviour

Well Christmas and New Year's are both done now. We had a very nice holiday season which included our son Ian coming to visit and day trips to both Dublin and Limerick.

While shopping around Galway I began to understand why some people complain about the traffic here. They don't REALLY have traffic jams that are much worse than anywhere else in terms of the time they tie you up, but as I mentioned in a previous post, parking can take a while.

However, lately I've begun to think that the populace of Galway have responded to the parking needs of the city in a very self-organized manner. Typically by large scale violations of the law. A few examples will illustrate what I mean.

First, there is Salthill, the suburb I live in. Salthill has a main street, a street lined with restaurants, bars, casinos, shops, banks, and a post office. And on this street, parking is allowed only on one side. The entire road is only wide enough for four vehicles side by side and parking is prohibited on one side via the double yellow line marking common in Europe.

However, this double yellow line is completely ignored. People park on both sides of this street, most often, it seems, to do business in the post office. I suspect the mental gymnastics that occur follow the lines of "I will only be in the post office a few minutes, so parking won't matter".

But another way of looking at this behaviour is from the standpoint of a system which is either random or self-organizing. My thinking goes like this:

The people of the town have to do business in person in the post office
The people no longer walk as much as they did when the PO was built and the road designed
People drive much more now
The PO needs to provide a parking lot
The PO has no parking lot
The road is therefore used as a parking lot to the degree it is required
Parking on both sides does not slow traffic too much
Most people actually ARE done in just a few minutes
So people automatically began to park on the double yellow line

The Garda is sometimes seen in Salthill
A Garda station is approximately 2 blocks from the main street
Sometimes they are seen walking up and down on main street
They are not seen clamping cars parked on the double yellow lines

There seems to be an acceptance of the violations. It is apparently recognized that there is a necessity for the parking but there is no place it can be done. There is a self organized behaviour that emerges and which COULD be resisted by the authorities, but doing so would be hopeless...the number of illegally parked cars probably exceeds the number of clamps available for use.

A second example I noticed this evening. We drove to a restaurant in a shopping centre. There was, by the time we got there, plenty of parking in the 'official' parking lot with its rows of orthogonal spaces across the two lanes of shopping centre traffic. But many parkers had opted to park closer to the restaurant by parking at an angle across a yellow box painted on the road on the side of the roadway next to the restaurant.

These cars were definitely parked illegally, but because of the time of day, they were not causing anyone any trouble. The yellow box was not supposed to be blocked, but at least 15 cars were doing exactly that. They had parked parallel to each other, but at an angle that was convenient, not orthogonal to the curb. These people had self organized to form a convenient and effective solution to parking...it just happened to be illegal.

Some might simply say that people here engage in these illegal, unsanctioned solutions because there is insufficient Garda presence to enforce the rules. but the Garda participate in that they do not clamp such parkers in Salthill (a reaction that would just tie traffic in knots anyway). while they do clamp other offenders in different places.

Rather, I submit, a consensus emerges from the group dynamic in response to the conditions. Consequently, parking patterns emerge as self organizing behaviour, arrived at individually and commonly, organized to accommodate the needs of the parkers and the drivers alike, representing a system that is adapting to the constraints it finds itself under.