A flaw in parking logic
Several weeks ago, the Newscripts gang reported on a mathematical study of the optimal strategy for picking a parking spot (C&EN, May 13, 2019, page 40). The study’s calculations were based on the premise of minimizing total time taken by a parker: Should a driver grab a spot that might be far away, or should a motorist try to get closer and risk having to backtrack if all the closer spots are full? Implicit in this study is that parking closer would be better if it were possible.
Alas! Newscripts readers were having none of it. Bryan Moser of Peoria, Illinois, wrote in to say, “We live in a society that simply does not move enough. Even a modest amount of walking improves cardiovascular as well as mental health. Thus, the ‘optimistic’ and ‘prudent’ parking strategists”—the names for the two groups of parkers in the study who took some risks to park closer—“may win the inconsequential race to the store, but they will also be first to the grave.”
Another longtime Newscripts reader, Kenneth Fulks of Lisle, Illinois, wrote that the study “seems to have a great bias towards lazy people. . . . For example, I submit that the dismissive naming of the first category as ‘meek’ ”—those who parked the farthest away—“is totally in error. I would suggest that better category names would be ‘smart,’ ‘healthy,’ ‘environmentally friendly,’ or ‘car safe.’ ” Fulks alludes to the extra exercise, reduced fuel use, and increased distance from potentially paint-damaging car doors or errant shopping carts offered by choosing to park at a distance.
Indeed, study author Sidney Redner spoke directly to these readers’ concerns when he first talked with Newscripts, noting that he rarely drives himself. We left this fact out of the original column owing to space limitations, but given the amount of mail we have received on this point, we now regret this choice. We followed up with Redner recently, and he added that the published paper was a mathematical puzzle, not a social commentary. “We had a more limited thing, which was, Can we come up with a simple strategy we can analyze?” Math aside, Redner concurred with Newscripts’ health- and environmentally conscious readers: “Yes, don’t park a car in a parking lot; ride a bike.” The Newscripts gang couldn’t agree more.
Whether we’re being lauded, being taken to task, or just hearing stories of science in the wild, the Newscripts gang delights in readers’ mail. In another item that arrived over the transom, reader Greg Konesky of Hampton Bays, New York, wrote, “While visiting a local supermarket, overheard someone presumably asking for a generic brand of bleach. They said: “Where’s the genetic bleach?” I was tempted to caution about faded genes but thought it best to just keep moving down the aisle.” The Newscripts gang wonders whether the shopper was just looking for a gene-ie in a bottle.
Jessica Marshall wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.