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End Use Matters Most!

27 June 2013
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

Have you used the new multi-level parking lot being built at Maerua Mall? They have P1 and P2 open for business (P3 is coming!) and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. In my view, the geniuses doing the design and building clearly did not correctly consider the end use of a shopping mall parking garage when they made their sizing/proportion decisions.

To my untrained eye, the intellectual giants who designed and built that concrete monstrosity think that the shoppers using the garage are all hobbits with hobbit-sized cars. Dings, bumps, scrapes, side-swipes and other value-decreasing hits to our cars are a certainty in that parking lot.

It appears that they didn’t think of the end use of the ramps, parking spaces, lanes and claustrophobic ceiling heights before moving too fast to open-up the place. Efficient Business 101 – a basic level class: “…Always consider for whom the product is being provided. That should dictate the minimum acceptable standards for the product development.”

For example, making and selling only one shoe instead of a pair of shoes can mean cheaper production costs. But, the end users need two shoes as we have two feet.

The buyers’ reality shapes the product. In the same way, parking garages must be well-lit, flow smoothly, have spaces that leave room between cars to open your door and load bags, ceilings high enough not to scrape your car’s roof and lanes wide enough so that two cars can pass as they enter/exit/search for a space. Building a garage that doesn’t meet these basic needs can be done on the cheap. But, what good is that if the building disadvantages the end users?

The other day while in that concrete parking monstrosity, I witnessed a car (a Hilux single cab) unsuccessfully trying to negotiate the sharp, narrow ‘U’ turn needed to go down the exit ramp from the first level parking area. That car hit its left front headlight into the wall. I could see the fragments of other headlights already on the ground testifying to earlier unsuccessful attempts by other cars. I could also see the colors of the rainbow in the concrete as a monument to cars that now need new paint jobs due to the narrow ramp.
As if things couldn’t be worse that day, the entry ramp for the first parking level was backed-up all the way before stop signs. Five cars were in holding patterns right on the ramp. Why? - because the builders did not think of end use. They made the lanes on P1 and P2 too narrow for two cars going in different directions to pass each other. So, those entering via the up-ramp, had to wait at the first T-junction on P1 until there were no cars heading across their paths for the exit ramp before they could turn right and to look for a parking space or go up to the next level.

To better follow what I am saying, I dare you to drive in and out of that so-called parking garage (while it is still free) and see for yourself. Brace yourself for claustrophobia and possible damage to your car. Drive extremely slowly!

There are streets in Windhoek where city street planners (who must be mental giants) simply drew lines down the middle of a street and proclaimed that road suitable for two lanes of traffic.

Duh-uh. The street is still the same width even if you draw a dividing line! Again, there was no thought given to the end-user.

Frankly, I won’t use that Maerua parking garage unless I am desperate. It may mean I don’t go to Maerua anymore because for me, a prerequisite to shop somewhere is that there must be ample, safe, accessible parking.

People who cut building costs to fit the minimum standards in a municipal code (which are usually influenced by the very construction industry involved in the building), rather than the end-use needs of their customers, have cut corners legally. But, it makes me wonder, what else was shaved off to make more profit from that parking garage project? Did they thin out the concrete? Are the steel beams solid? Will the structure hold the weight of the cars? Shall we have a collapse like that mall in the North or the one in somewhere in West Africa a few months ago?

Is the concrete on the ramps reinforced enough to take the weight of 5-7 cars sitting in ‘traffic’ on them due to the backlog of cars unable to squeeze through the narrow lanes and find parking? What about the backlog on the exit ramp once they start charging parking fees? Is there a plan to facilitate the flow of traffic given the time needed to pay, get change and then exit?

While I was there, I saw the car in front of me lightly scrape the cheap lighting fixtures attached there to the ceiling of the entrance ramp; so much for lighting. Not only will that ramp be too narrow, we will have to navigate it in the shadows.

I’d bet there was some accountant in that construction company that calculated a savings of several millions if they lowered the ceilings by 2 or 3 centimeters. Designers and builders, who don’t think twice about the needs of the end users, would make that cut in the blink of an eye. That ramp ceiling going up to P1 is low on an approach angle that is sharp when your car begins to go up.

I’ve been driving since I was 16 and have driven all over the world in all kinds of traffic and conditions. I have been in hundreds of parking garages. This is the first time I have seen a garage built to actually resemble a cave. The idea of parking garages is not to warehouse static customers and cars, but to enable shoppers to have safe, easy and fluid access to the mall! The thru lanes in this thing are so narrow that when you load your vehicle’s boot, traffic has to either stop until you finish or the cars brush by you so closely that it may be dangerous.

A corner in that garage (near the elevators) accommodates 4-5 parking places on a curve. The garage designers should have asked themselves whether putting those additional spaces in that cubbyhole spot makes the flow of cars safe and easy for the end users. Instead, those spaces are there and cars making that turn are met by a mini-obstacle course of parked cars jutting out into the lane.

Not everyone has a compact car. In fact, in Namibia, people love their vans, double and single cabs, various farm vehicles, sedans and SUVs. Yet, the parking designers of this new cave garage at Maerua didn’t get this point. Parking garages I used in Beijing, a city of 20 million, have longer and wider spaces, higher ceilings, ample thru lanes and spacious ramps more than this Maerua monstrosity built for Windhoek’s population of 330,000.

Any car with a long back-end or wide ‘boot’ (‘trunk’, we call it in the ‘hood), will stick out into the already too-small lanes and make the ‘looking-for-a-space’ traffic even worse. People’s cars will certainly get side-swiped and scraped in that garage. While this is inevitable anywhere you park, I think that the risk is higher in that Maerua lot.

Moms and Dads bringing young active children to the mall and using that garage, please watch them extra closely! Hold their little hands until you put them in your car! Things are so dim and close in that place, that drivers may not see the little ones until too late.

The most successful products fit the needs of those using them. This is not the case for the new Maerua parking garage.