Professor Parker Archives

"PARKING SEARCH" is a technical term within the field of Transportation Science. It refers to the range of human behaviour associated with looking for a place to "park" a vehicle, including the special complications attaching to the fact that the human conducting the search is only human and is located within the car, and is therefore in the paradoxical situation of both causing to move and being moved by the vehicle that he is trying to "park." In short he is being driven by the vehicle that he is driving to find a parking spot for the vehicle that is being driven by himself.

The most comprehensive recent treatment in the literature is Russell G. Thompson, "A Parking Search Model" (Transportation Research, 1998). Among the leading workers in the field today we always find K.W.Axhausen; and one would fail utterly if he ignored the fundamental work of Ian Hilton (e.g. "Holding place technique and the removal of car park queues" (1989) TraffEngControl 30.4.194-7, which contrary to the usual opinion does have relevance outside the British context). Searching for a definition of searching, the special contribution of one J.D.Hey, lies in the background of all the better studies (JEconBehavOrg 3(1982)65-81).

The exact scope of the term is a matter of some controversy among Transportation Scientists. According to some experts in the field, the study of Parking Search should or does include all behaviour from the beginning of the search to exiting from the car, which would embrace the behavioural sequelae that the human is characteristically driven to by the search itself, such as road rage and petty and perehaps uncharacteristic acts of criminality such as parking at a hydrant. Pure-theory experts on the other hand exclude such behaviour from consideration on the grounds that it takes place ONLY AFTER THE PARKING SEARCH PROPER HAS ENDED.

I favor the former position for two reasons:
(1) All the fun stuff about parking has to do with the acts people are driven to "after the parking search proper has ended" so why exclude it? AND
(2) The hairsplitting is misguided. A hairsplitting purist would analogously argue that the gangster is wrong to call his gun a "persuader" since guns are used ONLY AFTER persuasion-proper has failed. Besides threatening to impoverish the language, this approach is inherently specious: Why after all haven't we heard of a lot of other "-proper" things that we haven't, such as "petting-proper," something that didn't even come up in the MonicaGate?

For the purists among you we can say that to "park" in the purest sense is to stop the car and get out. The motor is shut off in only order to save gas and make the car harder to steal. In a strict sense the act of parking occurs in one place only, since the actor is always in the car when he parks it: just where the car is at the time that he parks it has as little to do with the act of parking-proper as it has to do with other acts-proper by which we relieve ourselves of other things. In the arid language of the Transportation Scientist, the valet station that the driver sees through his windshield as he approaches his destination obviates the need for him to initiate a parking search. However, we should not simply pass by without asking why the valet attendant wears a white coat. The cultural semiology of the white coat worn by valet parking attendant is exactly to condone the driver, and make him feel sanitary about relieving himself of his car right in front of his real destination even though there isn't a parking lot there. The well known anglophonically solicitious greeting, "May I relieve you of your car, Sir," in fact speaks volumes. Conversely, the iconology of the parking control officer in black is essentially the embodiment of condemnation and disapproval, the dark spectre of potty training failed.

If we can agree that looking for a parking space resembles searching for a bathroom, we will remember those times when we weren't sure we would find one in time -- a parking space, that is. It is during these times that we encounter what I have referred to above as the "sequelae" of the parking search behaviour, such as suddenly cutting the profile of a petty criminal by parking on the sidewalk (we have learned, of course, that double parking is OK as long as you turn on our hazard lights so that the drivers coming from behind find out that they have been screwed sooner instead of later).

Among the special topics within the field of Parking Search are,

• What amount of Central Business District traffic congestion and hazardous driving can be attributed to parking search?

• What amount of time should be allocated for finding a parking space?

•What lot do you park in when you arrive to find that your usual lot has been closed?

•How do you decide whether to bail out and park two blocks upstream from your destination or take your chances and be forced in the end to park five or six blocks downstream with all the foolish gamblers?

•Have the Parking Operators really figured out that people searching for parking turn right after passing their destination, and have priced the parking accordingly?

• Since the advent of ParkingQuest, a service whereby you arrange to park your car before you get into it, does Parking Search have a future? Or does Parking Search BECOME ParkingQuest?


AXHAUSEN, K.W. "Ortskenntnis und Parkplatzwahlverhalten" (a report to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Institut für Verkehrsewesen, Universität Karlsruhe (1989) (e-mail

AXHAUSEN, K.W. and POLAK, J. "An exploration of parking search strategies" (1990) Transport Studies Unit Working Paper 510 Oxford.

FLORIAN, M and M LOS Impact of pthe suply of parkin spaces on parking lot choice" TranspnRes 14B.155-63.

GILLEN, D.W. "Parking policy, parking location decisions, and the distribution of congestion" (1978) Transportation 7.1.

LIOUKAS, S.S. "Travel modes and the value of time in Greece" (1982) JTransEconPol 16.1.

MARSH, P et al. Driving Passion. The Psychology of the Car (1986) London.

PARKER (not related to Mr.Parker), G.Brian. "A Method of assessment of the effects of parking policy on traffic movement" Traffic Engineering and Control, (May 1973) 28-33.

POLAK, J and K.W.Axhausen, "Parking Search Behaviour: a review of current research and future prospects" (1990) Transport Studies Unit Working Paper 540 Oxford.

TERTOOLEN, Gerard, et al. "Psychological resistance against attenpts to reduce private car use" (1998) TranspnRes 32A.3,171-181 (email at

THOMPSON, R.G. and A.J.RICHARDSON "A parking search model" (1998) 32A.3, 159-170.

THOMSON, J.M. "Some characteristics of motorists in Central London" (1968) London School of Economics.

VANDERGOOT, D. "A model to describe the choice of parking places" (1982) TranspnRes 16A.2.