Monday, July 3, 2017

Article on Downtown Restaurant Mixes Parking and DUI Strangely

In the paper yesterday there was an announcement about a new restaurant going into the space formerly occupied by McGrath's and Urban Alley. As what is probably a rewrite of a press release, it is not very remarkable.

But at the center of it is a very interesting incoherence.

It wouldn't do to make too much of this, but there's a semantic slide or elision of difference between parking and impaired driving in the piece. In the way it casually conflates the two, it actually opens up a lot of the nonsense in our attitudes about driving and the system of subsidy for it.

Is parking or impaired driving the number one concern?
From the piece, with quotes from a "written statement":
While deciding to move to the downtown location, Kunke chatted with his customers for feedback. Because many of his regulars live in South Salem, car trouble came up again and again.

"The number one biggest concern was parking downtown," Kunke said. "We serve high-end cocktails and have a sophisticated wine selection. I want to make sure our guests get home safe afterward. ... There's nothing worse than driving in circles looking for a parking spot."

Kunke plans to combat the parking problem with two alternatives: Valet service and driver service. Rudy's staff will make Uber reservations for diners, with the cost of travel added to the final dinner bill. Schedule a pickup while making your dinner reservation, and a car will arrive at your home 15 minutes before. After dinner (or a few cocktails), a car will take you home.
So was the number once concern about drunk driving? Or was it about finding a parking spot in the giant parking structure immediately above your restaurant - which makes it totally unnecessary to "drive in circles looking for a parking spot"? What is the real nature of this "car trouble"? The phrase usually means mechanical trouble, the kind of thing that requires a trip to see the mechanic. But it does not meant that here. Instead it means difficulties in driving safely and legally, and perceived difficulties in arranging temporary car storage.

How is "driving in circles looking for a parking spot" an issue?

The implicit moves in the argument are interesting:
  • It seems to shift blame from the personal responsibility to avoid drunk driving to blame to the City for providing inadequate curbside parking.
  • It seems to avoid the fact that there is a giant free parking structure as conveniently located as it could possibly be.
  • It seems to equate the "annoyance factors" and potential consequences of drunk driving and finding a parking spot. On the contrary, "there's nothing worse than a DUI with a fatality."
The specifics are not very interesting and it's not necessary to dwell on them. They probably are not meant to be testable truth claims! They are more important as expressions of sentiment and to have a certain truthiness. Maybe in editing, a quote has gained a new apparent context it didn't originally have, though since the statement was written it's harder to see that. What is interesting is that it's apparently plausible to slide so easily between drunk driving and parking, to hide the potential lethality of a DUI in annoyance about parking. We are often incoherent on car use and our rhetoric often hides the kinds of power car use entails or conveniences users expect.

The proposed solution, a ride service with fees integrated into the final dinner tab, as well as the convenience of valet parking are unobjectionable. There's nothing to see there. We all have an interest in the lively social life a thriving restaurant trade represents, and we all have an interest in making sure it is easy to enjoy that social life without drunk driving. (Though it's a question whether supporting a particular ride-booking business infamous for trouble is the best move.)

For the restauranteur or for diners it should not be necessary to hide the problem and risks of over-serving or drunk driving in questions about the easy availability of parking. It is a real short-coming that the reporter doesn't point out the proximity of vast quantities of free parking in the parking garage above the restaurant and redirect to the much more important question of restaurants and alcohol. (Strong Towns has some related thoughts on parking, zoning, and drinking.)

The anxieties customers expresses and the diagnosis offered by the restauranteur also suggests some new readings about our downtown parking debates. Is "parking" actually a fully developed screen for other issues, like drunk driving? It has seemed that sometimes "parking" is a screen for fears of crime or fears of panhandlers. Maybe it functions in other ways also.

I'm not sure there are a lot of firm conclusions to be drawn here, but there sure are some interesting questions! At the very least, by slipping casually between parking and alcohol, it mystifies the facts of plentiful downtown parking and the real costs of drunk driving.

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