As one might expect if one knew me, I have fairly consistent patterns when it comes to choosing parking spaces. All other things being equal, I have a consistent set of parking principles that I adhere to regardless of whether I am parking that goes something like this:
- Avoid parallel parking.
- Park alongside a relatively quick exit.
- Park as close to the entrance as possible given steps 1 and 2.
- Give space on either side of the car given steps 1 through 3.
As I was leaving dinner this evening, I pondered a consistent mistake I make in spatial reasoning at this particular place, one that comes from the layout of the parking lot given my own reasoning processes. And, being the sort of person who likes to examine my thinking processes, it is worthwhile to examine this asymmetry as it helps to better understand why I see things the way I do.
So let us picture the parking lot as follows. The restaurant itself, and the sidewalk in front of it, sit on the north side of the parking. On the east side of the parking lot there is a hedgerow, on the other side of that another sidewalk, and just east of that a six-lane road. On the west side of the parking lot is a small two-lane interior route inside of a substantial mini-mall area, and on the south side of the parking lot is a bank that is closed during the time I generally go out to this particular place. There is a single row of parking spaces on the north side of the lot closest to the restaurant, on the east side closest to the main road, and two rows of spaces that are in the square that is defined by the other two rows of spaces.
As might be expected, given my principles, I generally park on the north row of spaces that is closest to the entrance as well as providing a quick getaway. There is a slight catch here, though. The spaces closest to the restaurant entrance are handicap reserved and at present I do not have a handicapped sticker (although given my periodic mobility issues, this may not be the best possible state of affairs). The spaces next closest are then reserved for to-go orders, people who are not parking to stay for an hour or more to read books in a leisurely fashion while eating as I commonly do. It is only after that where there are spaces free, and there is a strong motivation to avoid the pothole that is between two of the spaces towards the west side of the north row of spaces, which certainly constrains one’s options, although the most desirable spaces left are usually open.
All of this makes sense when parking one’s car and going into the restaurant, that one will park in one of the two or three most desirable spaces along the north row of spaces that are closest to the restaurant entrance that are not marked as handicap spaces or to-go spaces. The issue comes when one leaves the restaurant and looks at the parking lot. Consistently I find myself surprised by how far away my car is from the entrance. The reason is because while the signs that mark off the four or five most desirable spots are obvious when one is entering the parking lot and choosing a space, they are not obvious when one is leaving the restaurant and returning to the car.
This creates an interesting spatial trick whereby one thinks that one is parking far closer to the entrance of the restaurant when one parks–because one automatically blocks off the spaces that one is not allowed to park in when entering the restaurant but looks at all the available spaces when one leaves the restaurant because one is lacking the visual cues that allow one to recognize that these spots are not truly possible given the constraints of the design of the parking lot itself. Were these signs more obvious in leaving the restaurant, then the asymmetry would disappear and the lot would be the same as any other parking lot where one is able to gather one’s bearings quickly. Given the effects of framing, it is worthwhile to ponder how one sees space, and how one’s perception of nearness or farness is highly dependent on cues that mark off that space into permissible and forbidden territory. What may seem close with a lot of signs and other markers that close space off may seem a lot farther away when these cues are absent. The brain can be tricked a variety of ways.