# three parking strategies—meek, prudent, and optimisticSeptember 27, 2019 6:12 AM   Subscribe

Simple Parking Strategies: A Primer [YouTube] “The next time you're hunting for a parking spot, mathematics could help you identify the most efficient strategy, according to a recent paper in the Journal of Statistical Mechanics. It's basically an optimization problem: weighing different variables and crunching the numbers to find the optimal combination of those factors. In the case of where to put your car, the goal is to strike the optimal balance of parking close to the target—a building entrance, for example—without having to waste too much time circling the lot hunting for the closest space. Paul Krapivsky of Boston University and Sidney Redner of the Santa Fe Institute decided to build their analysis around an idealized parking lot with a single row (a semi-infinite line), and they focused on three basic parking strategies.” [via: Ars Technica]
posted by Fizz (57 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

strategy four: rage
posted by Fizz at 6:16 AM on September 27 [6 favorites]

They missed the 'just let your wife out at the entrance because marital strive isn't worth it and I'll go get the car to pick you up' strategy.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:27 AM on September 27 [12 favorites]

decided to build their analysis around an idealized parking lot with a single row (a semi-infinite line)

But it works only in the case of spherical cars in a vacuum.
posted by pracowity at 6:29 AM on September 27 [17 favorites]

Option Zero: park your jacked up truck directly in front of the entrance, in the crosshatching, with the hazards on.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:33 AM on September 27 [4 favorites]

decided to build their analysis around an idealized parking lot with a single row

Which quite seriously throws off the analysis, since in a 2D parking lot the distance from the entrance to the furthest space is proportional to the square root of the number of cars in the lot. The meek strategy then looks much more attractive.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:38 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

I've had several jobs that required me to visit multiple retail stores in a single day. I hated the feeling of walking out only to realize I forgot where I had parked my car.
posted by lester at 6:40 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

Ok, so now we know the best way to find a spot in an infinite suburban Wal-Mart parking lot (is that redundant?).

Wake me up when they can develop a strategy that can deal with fire hydrant and curb cut density, street cleaning, one-way vs two-way streets, metered vs unmetered, and the tradeoff of potential parking violation cost vs risk of ticketing for a marginally legal parking spot... having a car in NYC is so not worth it.
posted by bgribble at 6:41 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

Park in the back, leave from the back. If I have to cross a pedestrian walkway or anticipate whether someone is going to back in to me, well that's just more spoons than I'm willing to give to avoid a two minute walk.

And that's just when driving forward!
posted by avalonian at 6:42 AM on September 27 [5 favorites]

I was raised to use the "park as far away from other cars as possible to minimize the risk of door-dinging" strategy. The walk to and from the mall / shop / whatever has never even been a factor.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:50 AM on September 27 [15 favorites]

I park far away for numerous reasons:
• don't trust other cars or people around my car (not because my car is especially fancy or nice)
• less hassle
• able to find a pull-through
• closer to the exits
posted by Fizz at 6:55 AM on September 27 [4 favorites]

“The meek strategy leads to lots of long walks”

I knew my strategy would be the best one for me!

(My life goals are to get out of my car as fast as a I can because Omg I hate driving)
posted by nikaspark at 6:56 AM on September 27 [12 favorites]

I grab the first spot I find on the edge of the mass of cars in the parking lot. My goal is to minimize my time driving in the parking lot. I find I save a lot of time just grabbing a spot and walking the rest of the way compared to hunting for an ideal spot.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:06 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

I park far away for numerous reasons:

+ a little harder to steal shit by breaking into your car if your car is in the open vs between multiple cars in a dense line of sight - especially if there are cameras around
posted by lalochezia at 7:07 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

Cartoon on a long ago bookstore bulletin board on Newbury St in Boston (directly across the river from MIT)

Upscale older couple in a car approaching an open space

"But we are headed to Cambridge"
posted by sammyo at 7:20 AM on September 27

They left out the summertime "park wherever there is shade" strategy. Also it seems that people at the gym are particularly averse to walking too far to get to their exercise.
posted by TedW at 7:22 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

I don't care about parking close to the door. I care about parking close to a cart return if I'm using one.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 7:32 AM on September 27 [11 favorites]

I have a friend who is obsessed with these optimisation strategies, and every time I enter a parking lot while they are a passenger I park in a remote corner spot that is mathematically calculated to be as far away from our destination as possible.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:42 AM on September 27 [18 favorites]

My sisters absolutely will both circle to get the closest possible spot, so most of the rest of us will park as far away as possible just to bug them. Parking lots aren't that big!

I will change strategies depending on how busy the lot looks, but I rarely bother to try to get As Close As Possible.
posted by jeather at 7:50 AM on September 27

Start close to the destination, drive through lot until you find a spot, park in the first spot you find. Your time circling vastly outweighs any time spent walking. The only way to optimize the whole in this case is to optimize the subparts individually. Park quickly, move on. (that said, I don't have any issues walking)
posted by GuyZero at 7:52 AM on September 27

My wife is one of those car stalkers who hunts anyone who even looks like they might be leaving, blocking traffic for like 10 minutes to save 10 steps. And she certainly isn't the only one who does this.

I find this interesting psychologically - like parking lots are such inhospitable places that such a strategy seems rational and not absolutely insane. My wife has walked in the literal desert, but a Target parking lot is somehow worse.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:54 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

When a place is busy, I have been a car stalker. The Absolute Worst thing that happened once was that as I was turning in to the spot, someone PULLED THROUGH and took the spot instead of the one they were in so they didn't have to back out. Luckily the spot they pulled through from was still there, and I parked about 1 cm away from their trunk so they couldn't use it because I was irritated.
posted by jeather at 7:56 AM on September 27 [6 favorites]

California lots with their one-way lanes and angles spots seem like they're already trying to implement this one-dimensional parking lot with a space-filling curve. Perhaps that's the method behind the angled parking madness.
posted by GuyZero at 8:00 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

"But we are headed to Cambridge"

In summer I might consider parking in Boston, but there's no way I'm walking across that bridge in the winter.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:03 AM on September 27

Even now that I'm old, brittle, and arthritic, I'd rather walk extra steps than fuss over finding a close spot. My mother and sister will circle the lot until the store closes if they have to, to find just the right space. And they're always trying to drop me at the door, even though they know I won't be able to find the car when I come out. Grrr.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:10 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

In London, where parking is concerned, there is no such thing as strategy; only tactics.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 8:20 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

Is this one of the usual 'optimizations' of late capitalism, which only work if you are one of a very few players who is using it?

I suppose I should be grateful if it only turns out to be zero sum, rather than strongly negative when a significant proportion are playing.
posted by jamjam at 8:27 AM on September 27

What's this "parking" thing? I am driving straight into the store, aisle 3 to pick up my Pringles.
posted by storybored at 8:29 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]

Which quite seriously throws off the analysis, since in a 2D parking lot the distance from the entrance to the furthest space is proportional to the square root of the number of cars in the lot. The meek strategy then looks much more attractive.
Except that you can’t cross the lot diagonally because of the parked cars, so it turns into a taxicab geometry situation. Unless you have a jet pack or are a stunt person from a Bond film and you just go over the top. In which case, you probably are having more fun parking than seems reasonable.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:56 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

What function will account for the cost of feeling like a failure when you pass two free parking spots on the way from your car to the target? Spots which, of course, weren't free seconds before? The crushing realisation that the universe is out to get you when you hurry back to your car, pull out and see someone park in the spot you wanted to move to? The shame when you dejectedly return to the spot you abandoned - and the impotent rage when you see it taken before your eyes? The growing pressure of black waters closing above your head when you circle the lot endlessly, thinking that this is it, this is your whole life, and nothing will ever change. The numbness when you finally park and sit behind the wheel and can't find the strength to get out. The sudden spark of thought that throws stark shadows across the ravaged landscape of your mind: next time I'm taking the bus*.

*apologies to y'all who don't have this option
posted by hat_eater at 8:59 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I always park next to grumpybear69.
posted by disconnect at 9:09 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]

My guess before I clicked was that it would be a variant on the sultan's dowry problem.
posted by Carillon at 9:14 AM on September 27

In London, where parking is concerned, there is no such thing as strategy; only tactics.

I was in London for business a few weeks ago, and for the Saudis, their tactic at Covent Garden was to just park their Rolls Royces (complete with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia license plates) in the middle of the street and then just dare someone to do something about it.
posted by sideshow at 9:16 AM on September 27

I usually park far away just because I like walking.
posted by octothorpe at 9:16 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]

One thing I will say, so many of the Walmart/Costco supercenter-esque shopping malls are designed horribly. Maybe they're designed in such a way to maximize and accommodate the stores as opposed to walking-traffic that is heading into the store, but I just hate the layouts of these places. They're congested and I understand why so many people lose their shit when they are just trying to enter a place to buy a thing.
posted by Fizz at 9:21 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I've had several jobs that required me to visit multiple retail stores in a single day. I hated the feeling of walking out only to realize I forgot where I had parked my car.

This is why I miss a. tall antennas and b. those little Jack in the Box doohickeys you could stick on them. I used to use that to find my car. but now I have a tiny slanted antenna and Jack in the Box doesn't make those toppers anymore.

I have considered attaching some other kind of doohickey to make my car more visible but I could never figure out what that would be.

I have also considered just getting a car in bright orange for the same reason. My gray car is one of a zillion in every parking lot.
posted by emjaybee at 9:25 AM on September 27

I have considered attaching some other kind of doohickey to make my car more visible but I could never figure out what that would be.

You might find a bumper-sticker/decal that is easy to identify. I have a tiny Kodama Princess Mononoke Tree Spirit on the back of my windshield. I drive a blue Honda Civic, one of the most common cars in N. America, this makes it easy to identify.
posted by Fizz at 9:35 AM on September 27

You can use your phone to drop a pin on G-maps, or just take a picture of the car with aisle or stall number or with some prominent thing in the frame.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:40 AM on September 27 [4 favorites]

Are they implying that The Law of Attraction doesn't work???
posted by waving at 9:40 AM on September 27

When the video says "Food for thought" makes me think of in Corner Gas when Brent says "Food for thought" and Davis says "Not particularly good food. More like marshmallow, or beef jerky for thought." All of these decisions are situational and the best decision depends on the situation. Of course on average, the best strategy will be the average strategy. That doesn't really tell you anything about what you should do in any particular situation. Sometimes your money is worth more than your time and sometimes your time is worth more than your money, where money represents what you have to spend in terms of time & attention on this task. Thank you for coming to my ted talk.

Metafilter: meek, prudent, and optimistic
posted by bleep at 9:50 AM on September 27 [4 favorites]

closer to the exits

always have an exit strategy.

Also, back into that parking spot. You're way less likely to have an accident this way, and even if, "backing in" incidents tend to be way less violent than "backing out" incidents.
posted by philip-random at 10:45 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I leave the 'as close as possible' for people who actually might need that. My legs work fine for now, and I make it a point never to hurry in a parking lot.

I've had it pointed out to me (occasionally in annoyance) that I often circle a parking lot once before I park. This has little to do with consciously optimizing strategy, and I think it might just be a function of having grown up in the sticks and then spent my adult life in fairly dense cities. But I never forget where I parked, so I've decided to rationalize it based on that.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:45 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

There seem to be many variants on the ‘prudent’ strategy - presumably in a large parking lot it makes sense to gather statistical information about the distribution of empty spaces for some period, then use that to construct a principled strategy concerning how many empties to drive past before taking the next one.
posted by memetoclast at 10:59 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

This doesn't take into consideration the fact that many, many women try to park as close as possible for personal safety. It's so much fun being a girl!
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:01 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

If I was sub/urban planning despot, there would be a (very small and rigidly-enforced) maximum distance between business entrances and the street/sidewalk. Like, you get a fire lane and handicap parking in front, and that's it. Parking in rear for everyone else.

I got my exercise walking and/or busing out to the big-box precinct already; having to traverse an extra half-kilometre of frozen/sun-beaten, shelterless asphalt is just adding insult to injury.
posted by wreckingball at 11:11 AM on September 27

I used to carry change for meters, now I have to find the machine, get the tag, put it in the car, then commence walking to my destination. I find this far more irksome than it should be, surely a sign of geezerhood, especially when I enhance the effect by muttering imprecations and shaking my fist.

At the grocery, I park near the further out cart returns so I can find my anonymous gray car, also, exercise, even if just a little. As with every car I have had for some years, I put a bendy skeleton on the antenna, but my Prius is low, and I am short, so it's hard to see, but still amusing to me, though purists assure me it's ruining my mileage.
typical

But this is Maine, and in a typical winter, there will be snowbanks next to the curb obscuring visibility and narrowing the road, making parking even more treacherous. The grocery store parking lot will be icy and rutted, with surprise slushy areas to step in. Parking in summer is a treat compared to winter. That marketing, Winter Is Coming, is so painfully true.
posted by theora55 at 11:13 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

What's this "parking" thing? I am driving straight into the store, aisle 3 to pick up my Pringles.

So that was you in Schaumburg!
posted by TedW at 11:27 AM on September 27

I used to drive a big, old Chevy Blazer which, whenever I could, I would park in a spot as far from any other cars as I could get.

I might have gotten into that habit because I often had my bicycle with me on a front-mounted rack, and I would bike around to different places within a several mile radius, and it was easier to mount and dismount the blke from the rack if there weren't other cars around.

But that strategy really did not work very well, because a solid majority of the time, if I was away from my car 25 minutes or more, there would be at least one car parked right next to me when I got back, even though we were still 50 feet or more from any other cars. Most of the time, another car would be right next to my driver side, many times so close that I had trouble getting in without banging them with my door.

I never quite figured out what was going on with that.
posted by jamjam at 11:40 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I park far away for numerous reasons:

• don't trust other cars or people around my car (not because my car is especially fancy or nice)
• less hassle
• able to find a pull-through
• closer to the exits

• I could use the exercise anyway
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:19 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]

- Probability of ice on the walking surface

- Probability of carrying heavy and awkward packages on exit

- Adjacent car(s) being large enough to hide malefactors

- Tightness of spaces, leading possibly to a preference for unoccupied neighbor spaces

- Weather (rain, wind)

- Visibility of car from building interior
posted by amtho at 12:26 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I have considered attaching some other kind of doohickey to make my car more visible but I could never figure out what that would be.

How about a CB radio antenna with a distinctive ball on the end?
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:29 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

The meek shall inherit the earth. If only because they'll live longer from the exercise.

(A few may get run over by optimistic drivers, but that's probably to be expected.)
posted by hrpomrx at 12:32 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

Just park the damn car. See a spot? Park there.
It ain’t rocket science, despite nerds trying to make it like rocket science.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:28 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I'll just point out that my strategy is also based on math, and it is to drive into the first parking spot I see in the lot. The mathematical reasons:

1. In a parking lot, I can quite literally walk as fast as I can drive. Therefore any time at all spent patrolling for a spot is time wasted.

2. Searching, even lightly, for a spot is guaranteed to take more time than just parking in the first spot and walking on in.

It's one of those situations where running the search algorithm is guaranteed to be more expensive than just implementing the simplest solution. Therefore, the only rational solution is no search-just park.

3. I'm always looking to get a few extra steps in every day, so here are a (very, very) few more of them.

4. Driving into the first spot I see guarantees I will spent the absolute minimum possible time driving.

5. Since I hate driving--particularly in cramped, narrow, crowded, back-uppy, and tight-maneuver-y places with lots of idiots meandering, pulling, backing, hesitating, circling, looking, stopping and/or doing all of the above simultaneously right in front of me for no particular reason--pulling into the first spot guarantees I'm going to minimize my grar time and maximize my happy time.
posted by flug at 4:33 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]

Having said all that about parking, I have to admit spending countless hours in the last couple of weeks perfecting a few programs and setups on my mobile phone that are probably going to save me like 5 minutes per day, tops.

So altogether the time saved by all that over the next, say, 3 years (thinking very positive baout how long my phone is going to last) is negative by many dozens of hours.

And a month or two ago I spent many hours writing a program to automate splitting some files, when the time I spent programming I probably could have manually split maybe 500 of those files, which is way more than I will ever need to do in my lifetime.

In both cases, the problem itself becomes more interesting than the actual time saved. Plus one hopes that the resulting solution (in this case, computer programs for various platforms) can be released so that at least a few other souls will be able to enjoy the benefits as well.

Which brings me back to--all the discussion about actual parking is not really what the math people are working on at all when they work on this problem. It's an interesting optimization problem that is bound to have lots of applications that have nothing whatsoever to do with parking.

(Or maybe it doesn't--lots of mathematicians don't give a thought to applications, and some even actively avoid areas that have are too application-y.)

"Parking" is just a somewhat approachable way to explain the problem to us rubes.
posted by flug at 4:44 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

to answer jamjam - when there is another car I can figure out where the line is better- if I park in 'free space' I sometimes screw up where the line is. Still doesn't excuse parking close in to your driver door though!
posted by freethefeet at 9:48 PM on September 27

I have good parking karma. I drive into Manhattan about 2 times a week to the upper east side. I have a big ass F-150 truck. So big most lots either won't take it or want to charge me extra for having a large vehicle. I am not sure the author's strategies are relevant when trying to find a very large spot in a favorably signed area on the streets of NY. The key to getting a spot is to believe. To really BELIEVE you will get a spot near the restaurant or the apartment or whatever your destination.

The key is to know the NYC rules. On the UES, the avenues have metered parking for two hours and that is free after 7pm and before 9am. The cross streets are fair game except on alternate side of the street days. I always drive straight to my destination believing I will find a spot. I also have good spatial perception. With an extended bed truck, parallel parking requires skill and chutzpa. I need about 6 inches on either side of the truck and I am going for it. It may take me 4 or 5 moves, but I will get it in. The real issue is that once you get your spot, you hate to give it up at the end of the night. There is one spot directly in front of my GF's building/ circular drive that I shoot for every time. I have never gotten it. If I ever do, I am leaving it there and taking the train home until alternate side day just for the glory of it.

I have never had to park more than 2 blocks or 1 Avenue away from our destination. My gf marvels at my luck in finding spots. Going to the mall on a rainy blistery Saturday afternoon? I pull up right to the entrance I want and get a spot every time. My kids beg me to go with them when they go places so my parking karma will find them a spot. I think my good parking Karma comes from my willingness to let people cut in front of me while they merge into bumper to bumper highway traffic (Hello Bruckner Expressway, I am talking about you and your damn construction!)

It also helps that I have 175,000 miles on the truck. My concerns are not getting dings or even having it stolen. I just hate when people toss their garbage into the open bed. And I always fold my street side mirror in. In NYC, leaving them out is fair game. I think there are people that purposely try to hit them. Just a theory.
posted by AugustWest at 11:01 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I'm a meek parker, but I keep score with the car that is behind me when I pull into a parking spot. More often than not I reach the doors before they do.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:25 AM on September 28

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