The Restorative Power of - Parking Lots and Gas Stations?

Silence the Horns Editorial, Spring 2015

A parking lot in Strasbourg, France

People often tell us about remote lock honking in parking lots - not just in residential spaces, but in commercial and retail zones. Drivers describe hearing a sudden honk and trying to make a split-second decision - hit the brake or accelerate? Others describe the experience of walking directly in front of a honking horn, remote using owner halfway across the parking lot or nowhere in sight. But how much does it matter if people honk their horns with a remote or a smartphone in a parking lot? We know that people who dislike remote lock horn honking care what happens in these settings - but does anyone else care about the eco friendliness of parking lots?

Actually, many people do. Parking lots serve multiple functions. In suburban office parks, it's common to find a carefully planned combination of parking spaces, grass, trees, and foliage. Spaces like this provide a chance to recharge for those walking to and from cars and those working on-site. But thanks to remote lock horn sounds, that brief respite can be elusive. A doctor working in an office park explained,

"I spend long hours in the building, and when I have a break, I want to get outside. I like to walk around the perimeter of the parking lot, which has a lot of green space. One day a nearby car owner honked with her remote, and when I flinched, she gave me a dirty look - not so relaxing after all!"

In Rethinking a Lot, Eran Ben-Joseph argues that parking lots are a largely untapped resourse with potential to provide space for art, commerce, relaxation, socializing, sports, and nature. Ben-Joseph profiles parking lots that combine architectural design, landscaping, and indigenous beauty, and serve innovative functions, some practical, some whimsical, and everything in between. And Fast Park, an airport parking corporation with facilities in fourteen markets, highlights its focus on being a low-stress and environmentally friendly operation.

Whether you park in an artfully designed "high end" lot or a nondescript blacktop, when you've driven for hours and park in a lot, there comes a moment of transition, of tension falling away: sounds of cicadas from the grassy outskirts and fragrant notes of sagebrush signal a peaceful interval as you head to your destination. The last thing you need to hear at a moment like this is a honking horn as someone confirms locking or locates a car with a smartphone.

Gas stations are another setting where remote horn use diminishes the experience. There's a reason why gas stations are called rest stops! Whether a visitor is locking a car, or leaving the car when a key or another passenger are in the car, or charging an electric vehicle, or filling tires with air, gas stations and rest stops are not good settings for non-emergency horn honking. Oprah, Dr. Oz, and our health insurance newsletters may not be touting the virtues of eco conscious parking lots and gas stations, but planners, designers, and Yelp! contributors have been taking notice.

Stress reduction is now a cornerstone of preventive, complementary, and standard medical practice. Automotive product planners should be conscious of the attributes and logistics of any public space when it comes to making decisions about adding unnecessary noise to the environment. Better still, always elect to use the quietest option possible, and you can't go wrong.

- Jeanine Botta

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