The car park serves as the battleground of the sexes

WALK IN THE PARK: Parking issues confront us on a daily basis.
WALK IN THE PARK: Parking issues confront us on a daily basis.

I was in the main street of Hamilton East last Sunday. The rain was relentless, it was market day, there was a jumble of people and traffic.

I spotted a carpark directly across from the cafe Grey St Kitchen, where I was headed for breakfast. I lined up the space, made two graceful swoops - reverse, then pull forward - and executed a textbook parallel parking manoeuvre. My car was planted neatly in the middle.

I kind of wished that Burgermeister Gallus Strobel, of Triberg in Germany's Black Forest, had witnessed the flawless technique.

Burgermeister Strobel last week introduced a dozen women-only parking spaces in a new three-storey parking building in his town.

These gender-specific parks are wider, better lit, and closer to stairs than the rest. At the same time, Strobel marked a couple of more difficult parking spots as men-only.

He was reported as saying this was a "natural decision, as men are better at parking than women".

The story went global, bloggers got good mileage out of it, the cliches rolled faster than a runaway truck. Interestingly, the German parks came soon after an underground carpark in Tianjin, China, introduced a women-only parking zone marked with neon signs, pink decor and hazard bumpers in each space.

Burgermeister Strobel said he'd never expected such widespread reaction to his new arrangements, adding it would be a great marketing tool for Triberg. "Women can come here and prove me wrong, and while they're at it they can see the town's attractions."

There are already reports of both sexes checking it out. The men's spaces are apparently quite challenging, being somewhat skewed, and placed between walls and pillars.

Strobel may have been serious, or he may have simply come up with a novel way to drum up business. But it does give pause for thought on some of the parking issues that one confronts daily.

Like the man I saw recently who tried fruitlessly to get his tank into a parallel park on north Victoria St. It was a tight space, due to sloppy parking by those to his front and rear. His vehicle was too big but he had several runs at it, holding up a string of traffic in his lane, before giving up and driving away.

His effort may not have been good enough if he'd been sitting his restricted licence test which, among other things, requires candidates to complete a reverse parallel park in "no less than two but no more than four vehicle movements and in no more than two minutes (unless traffic conditions make this unreasonable)".

Then there was the situation I had to deal with last Sunday as I left the cafe in Hamilton East. Just as I was about to pull out of my space, a driver in a small blue car saw the empty park in front of me, drove nose-first into it and ended up more-or-less angle parked in a parallel zone.

OK, it was wet, there was traffic queuing behind, but I waited for the driver to re-position when the line cleared so I wouldn't have to edge around the sticky-out rear-end. But when the driver bounced out of the car - yes, it was a woman - she hesitated briefly as she looked at what she'd done, and sauntered off.

I'm sure that was another parallel parking test fail, and I was reminded of a former colleague, an extremely capable journalist, who simply could not or would not parallel park. She'd drive past umpteen available spaces in her search for angle parks.

Another acquaintance doesn't do parking buildings. Nowadays she doesn't get a lot of choice when she visits Waikato Hospital, and she finds the typically jam-packed main parking building a nightmare. On one occasion she returned to her car to find she was almost stuck between two vehicles that had each almost overlapped into her space. It took her ages to extricate herself, and traffic banked up around her.

There are several studies about the parking prowess - or not - of men and women, and you can more or less take your pick on what to believe regarding who's the best.

My favourite is a British study which gives women a slight edge. It found that while we take longer to park, we're more likely to leave our cars in the centre of the spot, and we're more adept at finding places and more accurate in lining up the car before backing in. And we're apparently more likely to use strategies recommended by driving instructors.

Researchers also said the study found men loved to "pose park" when accompanied by a female passenger, opting to squeeze into a small space when a bigger one was available.

Burgermeister Strobel might be onto a winner with the tight spots of Triberg.

Waikato Times