I Can't find a Parking Spot


Parking in a busy mall or public lot is always a challenge, especially as we approach the Christmas season. I honestly believe there is an art to locating the ‘perfect’ parking spot, during your hectic schedule.


Hunting for a parking space is enough to drive anybody crazy, no matter what you drive. It is an age-old dilemma. Some people settle for the first spot available, while others gamble on finding a space closer to their destination?


To minimize the amount of time spent searching (or walking), it is very important to utilize a ‘practical’ strategy, according to a paper published in the Journal of Statistical Mechanics. That means parking with moderate optimism.


In designing their thought experiment, the authors created three parking strategies: meek, practical, and optimistic. They pretended a person’s walking speed was equivalent to their driving speed and imagined that only one car entered their fictional lot at a time (driving from right to left). Using this framework and a differential equation, the authors found meek drivers were the worst off.


“The meek driver wastes no time looking for a parking spot and just parks at the first available spot that is behind the most distant parked car,” the authors wrote. “This strategy is noticeably inefficient; many good parking spots are unfilled and most cars are parked far from the target.” Especially when there are a few cars parked in a lot, parking meekly is ‘ludicrous,’ they added.


The best way to find a decent parking space is not to settle for the first available spot. Instead, drivers should press on. The practical driver proceeds to the first available gap between parked cars, parking at the leftmost space. If none exists, then they must backtrack to the meek position. Practical parking, the authors contend, is the ideal approach because it (typically) wastes the least amount of time.


The third strategy is optimism and it is the boldest. It offers the greatest potential payoff. In this scenario, an optimistic driver continues all the way to their destination and doubles back to find the nearest spot. If they’re in a crowded lot, though, this can backfire and result in wasted time.

In their paper, the authors write, “even though the practical strategy does not allow the driver to take advantage of the presence of many prime parking spots close to the target, the backtracking that must always occur in the optimistic strategy outweighs the benefit by typically parking closer to the target.”


It certainly appears the ‘practical’ approach is the most sensible, but I for one, cannot wait until the self-parking car hits the dealerships.

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