Wondrous Combustion Engine, Hallowed Be Thy Name

As an elderly couple are walking along the street in Tel Aviv, they notice a parking space. The woman steps into the space, stands firmly in the center of it, spreads her arms wide, and says to her husband “Quick, Bernie, I’ve found a parking space. Go and buy a car!”

That’s a smasher, isn’t it? A classic. It cracks me up every time. And that’s just one. I’ve got loads more when they came from. (Where did it come from? It may have been from inside a Xmas cracker, or, possibly from last week’s Purim party, where the jokes flowed like cava, and the cava flowed like… Well anyway, we had so much to drink, as is traditional for the festival of Purim, that jokes like the one above seemed hilarious, and everyone looked gorgeous).

Now if you’ve finished drying your eyes after that hilarious opening, let’s take a sober look at the shortage of parking spaces in our major cities, or, as is known in municipal circles, the council’s transport policy.
What exactly is parking? (A little too philosophical for this time of morning? Possibly. In that case, skip ahead to the joke at the end). Parking is a requirement (for those with cars), an irrelevance (for those without), a waste of space (for city planners), a cost (for everyone), and a subsidy (for tax-paying non-car-owners). I was once rung up by some market surveyor, and as an introduction to several mind-numbing questions, I was told that the subject would cover “Tel Aviv’s transport and parking policy”.
But parking is not transport, and it’s not a policy. Parking is a symptom of a lack of transport alternatives. We could just as well refer to the Ministry of Health and Burial of Operation Failures.
And yet many councils around the country, still stuck in the 1950s, believe the car is the answer to everything.

Today’s riddle: How many parking spaces are there at Wembley Stadium? You know, Wembley, in North London, THE premier venue for football events and rock concerts too. The newly rebuilt stadium is state-of-the art, which means each seat has plenty of leg-room and there are umpteen toilets per person, so you should never have to wait long (bearing in mind that you’ll be wanting to go at exactly the same time that several thousand other football fans want to go). It is England’s national stadium, and the second largest in Europe. Seating and standing together, the stadium can hold 105,000 spectators. So, back to today’s riddle, how many parking spaces are there in Wembley Stadium’s official car park?

Now whilst the right side of your brain is thinking that one out, let’s see what Tel Aviv has recently done for its residents. To great fanfare, the council sent to me (paid for by my money) a leaflet with an achingly funny title “I came, I saw, I parked”. It lists all the latest changes that will make parking easier. I can now park in several more official car parks at night for free, and at others at a whopping 75% discount. It lists similar benefits and perks for the car-owner. If only my council spent as much time, effort, money, thought, care and loving attention on the non-car owner, on those that use alternative means of transport!
On the contrary, it is practically the aim of the council to encourage us all to have cars.
Have you heard the one about… (no, sorry, I was going to tell a joke, but it would have been quite inappropriate)… have you heard about what’s known in Hebrew as תקן חניה (teken chaniya) or “the parking standard”? Basically it’s a requirement when you plan to build a house, an office block, or whatever, that the plans must include sufficient car parking spaces. Or else you don’t get the building permit.
Who determines what is “sufficient?” Good question, my blogfans, you are on the ball this morning. Who indeed?
One friend had a house built in some small town near Jerusalem, and it included a drive with one parking space. The council rejected this. He would have to include two parking spaces to get the permit.
David Azrieli, a seasoned Canadian businessman and mall owner, designed the towers (named after him) in downtown Tel Aviv. He chose the location well, at a transport hub, on top of the Hashalom train station. The original plans included a car park with plenty of spaces. The council (an unseasoned business operator and non-mall owner) told him the car park was too small, and he had to add several hundred more spaces to get his building permit.

Room for one more? Photo: parkinglotss.com

So are you getting the picture? If the government and local authorities spent as much time, money, and thought, on public transport, as it does struggling to find more car parking spaces, we could, by now, have had a public transport system comparable to the best in the world. Then maybe we could dispense with the cars, and not even need the parking.

Wembley Stadium, if you were still thinking about it, is well served by London’s transport system. It is accessible from three stations, served by three Underground rail lines, two overground lines, and a national rail link. More than 7 bus routes stop in the vicinity. And which is why Wembley, the rebuilt stadium, opened in 2007, has no official car park. It is, as they say on their website, a public transport destination.  

About the Author
B. de Bono (not his real pseudonym) is a critic, philosopher, altruist, wordsmith, pedant, cynic, piano-player and optimist. But none of that pays the mortgage. So he's also a civil engineer, an editor and translator. Originally from London, England, he now lives in Israel and loves to point out how even more wonderful the country could be if only, perchance, they would put a few things right.