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Parking Lots Are a Waste of Space (vice.com)
50 points by ZeljkoS on Oct 4, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments

These are all nice solutions to reduce the number of cars in a dense urban area, but I'm going to go on a limb and guess the author doesn't have to deal with installing and uninstalling cumbersome carseats in every car they use.

Once you start moving around town with little ones, the whole equation changes. We try to be as lightweight as possible, but there is still that stupid carseat. I've tried using Uber for a week in a different city and got really good at installing a carseat in 60 seconds but it's a big hassle. And you have to carry the carseat with you when not in the car.

If the city is dense and there is a desire to reduce cars, this is where public transit shines: your children can either walk or be carried (backpack carrier FTW) without any of the setup/teardown at every single stop. Bonus point: no need to strap/unstrap them.

Could be an Uber/Lyft business opportunity in some cities to encourage some number of drivers to have a carseat installed?

They already have that. $10 for a carseat for your trip [0].

Apparently, it folds up small and fits into the trunk [1].

[0] https://help.uber.com/h/3abcbae1-132b-42a9-8277-0dab00fa3879

[1] http://www.imminet.com/products/immi-go-seat/

Maybe the solution will be 100% automated vehicles.

Less accidents = less car seat laws?

Said like a non-parent. :-) It's not just the accidents. Kids need to be strapped down to keep them from attacking each other.

Huh? As the parent of a 1.5-year-old, I have to ask: At what age did this start?

And what do you do when you bring your child on a bus or train?

Yes, but you only need to carry a roll of duct tape for that purpose.

I'm afraid the monsters will use it on me!

Surely there will be self driving cars with carseats.

I'm sad to report there are multiple sizes and designs legally required for different size kids. Exact laws depend on individual state. Where I live you'd need three sizes.

One would think a sufficiently financed car company could build a car with built in car seats as a luxury feature. Stranger luxury features do exist.

Yup. Volvo does have built-in booster seats but those are for the bigger toddlers, and don't work for smaller toddlers or infants which require the different designs.

Sir, I think you left your child in the car.

What child?

Sure, it's easy to say "parking lots waste space". But (most of them) get used often. For "carsharing" to cover that usage, you'd need enough shared-cars to handle the trips for everyone in the lot. At which point, you'd be parking close to the same number of cars anyway.

If you really want to eliminate parking lots, you have to offer a reliable alternative, such as light rail or subways -- which most intelligent cities have and/or are building more of.

That's the elephant in the room. I was surprised that the article left out public transit completely. (Maybe because it has such bad reputation in the US etc.?)

Suburban commute can scale much better with suburban trains. Carsharing/ridesharing/bikesharing can then be used to travel the last mile from home to the station and from the station to work.

> (Maybe because it has such bad reputation in the US etc.?)

Author is Berlin-based, according to his bio.

But for Americans, there is so little public transit in the US, and what little that does exist is so rarely useful, that a large majority of Americans don't even remember to think of it at all -- particularly if your not in a top-20 US city.

There are even Top 20 US cities whose only public transportation option is still mostly just a public bus system.

Author mentioned home town as Zagreb, so I'm not quite sure that this has an American author.

But yeah, it's ridiculous that there's no mention of public transport, a system which has many other positive effects and per capita advantages.


With the right car sharing app and infrastructure, if you're going to be at your destination for more than a few minutes, you can mark your car as 'available' while it's in the parking lot so you don't have to keep paying for it while it's parked. Somebody else can then use it instead of leaving it there taking up space in the parking lot. Then when you want to go home, you call a new car.

Car sharing really doesn't make sense without self-driving cars – at that point, it'll actually start saving space, because you no longer need the parking space to be in the middle of cities, but rather can just build a few huge carparks in the countryside.

Car sharing fills this gap: I want to keep the same car and handle multiple errands and use the car as temporary storage in between. (I'm going to pick up some tools from home depot, then to get my hair cut, then to a grocery store before heading home.)

Check out The Walkable City by Jeff Speck or Suburban Nation. I believe both of those books touch on the lack of use of parking spaces. Especially with city codes requiring a certain number of spaces for businesses or residential structures even when said spaces aren't necessary.

You can reduce spots/meters and raise prices and that should solve a lot of the problem. It'll also increase walking/biking/ride sharing.

Also please keep in mind I'm just trying to be constructive with some thoughts I have and books I've read, and not trying to be argumentative.

I think people should also think about how useless setbacks are, in the suburbs setbacks are mandated so you end up with a front yard, but people only use their backyards, such a tremendous waste.

There are feedback loops here. In NYC density is high enough that very few cars per person are needed and public transit is used by most people. In this situation a taxi may take the place of 50 cars.

We were using a 'car share' program for the last couple of years, we decided to get a car instead and ditch the program.

My biggest problem was that the cars always had 1/4 of a tank of gas, so I was always filling the tank and using 30 minutes to find a station and fill the tank. Whenever I needed a car I needed to plan ahead significantly. Also, there is a stop loss incentive, so you get stressed about having to add extra hours to the car. We found if we are using the car more than 2 times a month its better to own a car.

Also, I hate the concept of calling it 'sharing' there is no sharing here, its a short term rental, all-be-it more convenient than traditional rentals.

Would you be willing to share your car with others when you're not using it?

I asked ZipCar (many times) to let me buy one of their fleet cars. While it was parked at home or work, I'd be thrilled if someone else could use it. I'd only ask that I got priority reservations (commute, errands, day care, etc).

My notion, at scale, would have solved the ZipCar's capital problem. And renting out my fleet car would have offset my own expenses. Win/win.

But no one seemed interested.

(This notion doesn't solve your empty tank problem. That'd piss me off.)

To be honest, I wouldn't want a stranger driving my car, cause only I know how I drive and treat the car... If someone else is driving it, I run the risk they are hard on the brakes, or driving fast on the highway, or don't stick to the right lane, or are less cautious in general (cause its not their car).

Are they including deadheading in their 'utilization' metric? Half the time (or more) the car is going to be self-driving to its next pickup point.

Also, any savings in parking needed is going to be eroded by road congestion - in a perfect scenariao cars are all going to be moving around most of the time. That seems like a much worse problem at present - roads are often at peak usage, while reducing parking is only a cost-saving feature.

With mass carsharing, the number of cars should fall so this should be less of a concern.

I agree though - if your cities are already gridlocked, this won't make them somehow less gridlocked. You still need mass transit, cycling and walking no matter who's driving the cars.

>if your cities are already gridlocked, this won't make them somehow less gridlocked

I disagree. Human drivers use roads very inefficiently: they overreact, have high latency and drive overly selfish.

Computers can drive cars closer together, can maintain higher speed with the same safety margins and without causing traffic jams by overbreaking, and they have no problems obeying traffic laws (and thus won't cause a literal gridlock).

The only reason why self-driving cars won't notably reduce road utilisation is because of induced demand

And because with car-sharing it doubles the number of car-miles. Because, deadheading (driving to the next pickup point).

It only doubles the car miles if there's nobody nearby to pick up. That would mean that most people are headed in a similar direction (e.g. all from suburbs towards city). But if all head in the same direction, the lane for return traffic has virtually no humans, and car-miles on it don't matter.

So either the traffic patterns allow pickup to be optimized to do much better than doubling the car-miles, or traffic patterns are so that it doesn't matter.

(of course that's overly simplistic, but I don't see how it's a less valid simplification than yours)

Of course doubling is a simplification. Even one more car in the congested direction makes auto-driving car-sharing strictly worse for congestion. The question is how much worse. In Silicon Valley for instance, where everybody lives everywhere and works somewhere else, its a mesh of commute traffic and doubling may be a good estimate.

The important case of commuting toward the city is interesting. Car-sharing breaks completely there - everybody starts work at about the same time (commute traffic confirms this). So we'll need as many shared cars as we already have. No savings at all.

Any savings comes down to off-commute traffic. Its a second-order effect. Maybe even too insignificant to bother with the complexity of sharing.

It adds almost no cars in the congested direction. That's because there are already many cars going there.

If people are going from everywhere to everywhere, there will be almost no extra cars.

Again, the deadheading will double the trips. Compare one trip per person to work and parking their car, versus that trip plus the auto-driving car that got them there driving to the next pickup point. That's the extra bit. It could be any length trip. Depending on timing (uncorrelated departure times) then it averages half the width of the city. In any case its strictly worse in the auto-driving situation.

It's quite useless to state that "it doubles the trips, regardless of trip size", isn't it?

Yeah, when all directions are congested it will add a lot of very short trips.

"virtually no humans"

Something interesting to think about is logistics optimization. I have nothing against the big brown trucks but it should somehow be possible to haul my amazon packages from distribution center in the city by the railroad tracks to the burbs. Or distro center to distro center package movement.

There's concept called "platooning". If distances between cars could be reduced, road passenger density could be improved dramatically.

The number of cars is irrelevant to congestion. The number on the road is important. And with car-sharing there are exactly the same number of useful car trips (people getting to work or home) plus the deadheading. Its strictly (much) worse.

> Are they including deadheading in their 'utilization' metric? Half the time (or more) the car is going to be self-driving to its next pickup point.

Author here. You are completely right, I didn't include self-driving time in the second table. To correct my omission, let's add a column for 3X utilization where self-driving cars spend half of the time driving alone.

Shared self-driving car (3x)


Used: 3 x 5% x 2 = 30%

Parked: 70%

Number of cars in the city: N/3

Parking places needed: (N/3) x 70% = N x 23.3%

Parking reduction: (N x 95%) / (N x 23.3%) = 4.07x


So, in that theoretical case, we would need 4x less parking. However, this is just a rough calculation, for better precision you would use some traffic simulation application.

Thanks for feedback!

Thank you! So nice to have hard numbers.

Of course with proper scheduling, this worst-case could be chipped away to get better numbers. The best case is nearly zero deadheading (with likelihood of nearly zero). Some kind of curve could be constructed? I'd love to see that too!

True, but for that we need a traffic engineer with experience in traffic flow simulation software :) https://www.researchgate.net/post/Whats_the_best_software_fo...

> roads are often at peak usage, while reducing parking is only a cost-saving feature.

In many European cities, parking area could be converted into additional lanes by removing a few marker lines. Reduced demand for parking area can increase throughput too, in these cases.

"Those who do not move do not notice their chains."

Yes, using a tiny, shared commuter car is great when all you do is go to and from work with the occasional errand run in between. But what about people who are actually enjoying their lives rather than merely surviving? The author mentions this and then completely fails to address it:

> Because there are two times in a year when you go camping, you commute to your work in a large sedan or SUV. Alone. When picking a shared car, you use the lowest common denominator—the smallest car that will get you to your destination. And two smart cars fit in a single parking space.

So what does our camping friend do? Give up something he enjoys so we can all commute and park more efficiently? Great idea! As if work/life balance isn't already terrible enough, now we're going to shift the burden of parking and transportation management to individuals rather than local governments!

And what about the millions of people who drive from the city to the coast during the summer? And the people who drive to the mountains in the winter? And all the other people who have destinations or hobbies that the author didn't consider because they don't conveniently fit into his calculations?

> So what does our camping friend do?

Rent a SUV for his camping trip. Or a real offroad vehicle because he no longer has to make the "needs to be city compatible" trade-off, making offroad driving actually fun.

$300/weekend for a small SUV (plus whatever you pay for your ride-sharing commuter car during the week). Not a great solution, especially if you're not a convenient straw man who only ventures outside his little box twice a year.

And that doesn't even take availability into consideration. What happens when spring finally arrives and everyone wants to rent an SUV to go camping on the same weekend? And then summer arrives and everyone wants to head to the shore for a few days? Will our commuter-oriented system be able to accommodate that exodus of vehicles for extended periods of time? Or will people be stuck at home because they don't own a car? I think that's the main thing people fear in a car-sharing scenario: being trapped.

> Not a great solution, especially if you're not a convenient straw man who only ventures outside his little box twice a year.

Must be a terrible fate, being a straw man living in a black-and-white world where personal property of vehicles is completely outlawed just because it's less convenient for the majority of people.

> What happens when spring finally arrives and everyone wants to rent an SUV to go camping on the same weekend? And then summer arrives and everyone wants to head to the shore for a few days?

I'd ask the people who figured it all out for public transit systems several decades ago. We already manage to have enough trains and planes, how hard can it be to model the same for cars?

> I think that's the main thing people fear in a car-sharing scenario: being trapped.


> Must be a terrible fate, being a straw man living in a black-and-white world where personal property of vehicles is completely outlawed just because it's less convenient for the majority of people.

Seems like you've missed the point entirely.

> I'd ask the people who figured it all out for public transit systems several decades ago. We already manage to have enough trains and planes, how hard can it be to model the same for cars?

Good joke. This isn't even close to true in the U.S.

> What.

What's so difficult to understand? People fear being trapped by their lack of a car. If they want to go to the beach for the weekend but there are no cars available Fri-Sun, they're stuck at home.

We could dispatch psychological support units in this kind of life-threatening emergencies.

If the car sharing is sufficiently cheap, camping guy might leave his car at home and just use it for camping, freeing up parking in the city.

What does our camping friend do? Rent a giant car for the few times that (s)he needs it.

Hire a car? I don't own a car, and I still go hiking once or twice a year.

Everybody goes camping the same weekend(s). The same number of vans will be required; now they're parked at the rental place most of the time. It changes the equation for the individual, but not for society.

> Everybody goes camping the same weekend(s)

It's spread fairly evenly over the summer months in most locations. And not everyone has a SUV for camping. Some just need the huge storage to pack skiing equipment or similar, which tends to have different seasons.

Just try to go camping on the first good weekend of spring. See how many people are there. Try to get a campsite.

It only takes one big weekend to require the peak number of cars.

> Just try to go camping on the first good weekend of spring.

For everyone stupid enough to try it, there's two people waiting for the next few weekends.

You do realize that one can rent cars?

Here in Cambridge the city is making a concerted effort to get rid of surface parking lots. Most new construction is putting parking underground, so actually useful structures can go over the space. Cambridge is a very small city with good access to public transit, walkable, and fairly bike-friendly. There's no need at all to waste valuable acreage on car storage.

Yup, Cambridge pursues it pretty aggressively. The policies started off as something different though: https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/81630

In summary, Cambridge's parking expansions were frozen in the 70's to help bring car pollution under control.

In California, one way space is wasted is with free parking in parking lots attached to businesses. The business wants to reserve the lot for its own customers for various reasons. In the limit they hire guards to keep people from using the lot for nearby businesses. Paid parking would allow one to park once and visit a few places that were within walking distance of each other.

I love the idea, but let's be realistic. Until it's convenient for anyone to get from their residence to a place in the city, parking lots aren't going away. There are just too many non-urbanites who want to drive into the city, either for work or for pleasure. And, businesses thrive on them doing so.

Just thinking briefly about the unintended consequences (e.g. more sprawl) makes me think that it would do more harm than good for the ultimate goal. Instead, address the root issue - make it incredibly easy, convenient, cheap, and enjoyable for people to get from point A to point B.

Yup. Carsharing, or, you know, public transportation.

Public transit is great at reducing congestion. A single subway train can hold a thousand people. With 3 minute intervals, the capacity blows away any road network. However there are different challenges:

* Fan out from a transit stop. You need to layer on buses, bike share, and/or car share. And whatever you add needs to have ADA accessible and family friendly options. I love my Hubway key but if I have my kids with me, I have no place to put them [+].

* Building or expanding the damned thing. In particular for me, Boston is sabotaging itself by not aggressively expanding and maintaining its transit system.

* Changing American mindsets. Even in cities with relatively good transit systems, there's a mindset that it's dirty, for poor people, or too expensive compared to driving/parking. Car-sharing is a familiar concept for these people: I'm an American, I drive a car to places.

+: http://wamu.org/news/14/06/03/dc_couple_invents_kids_seat_fo...

It doesn't help that most US metro systems have not seen major expansion in literally decades, even as the cities have spread across the local countryside. Lots of people would take the metro if it were a reasonable distance away, but if you're talking about taking a bus to the metro stop to then have to take another bus from the other end to get where you're going the majority people are going to say fuck that. You'll turn a 20 minute commute into a 2 hour one easily.

In the US public transportation (PT) can only work in big dense cities. I live in Orange County where even the greatest PT will make it challenging because every place is spread apart where as in Los Angeles (just 40 mns away) you may not need to own a vehicle for days.

and, not or. the only transportation method that really precludes public transport is the personal automobile. ridesharing, carsharing, walking, and cycling all make public transport more effective. people need some way to get from the public transit stop to their eventual destination. and from home to the public transit stop. carsharing makes taking the bus more feasible, it doesn't compete with busses.

I'm actually in love with Berlin transit system. Metro/SBahn is always just minutes of walking away. There are at least 4 ways you can commute - SBahn, trams, metro and bus; I prefer SBahn and metro the most, as they are always on time and frequent enough not to be overloaded even in the rush hours. If I were to live there, I don't think I'd need to own a car, or use a car sharing service with exception of transporting something bulky. So, I think, provided the public transit system is well designed and well funded, it would be safe to say that it could be OR inside cities. But that's a lot to ask for, so, yup, you're right.

Realistically, as more people move to ride-sharing, other people will move to driving more, as it becomes more convenient to find parking in congested city centers.

Just like how more public transportation only serves to move more people, not get vehicles off the road. Any savings in congestion is re-filled by people who weren't driving because their threshold for traffic was too low.

At some point, there just won't be any additional people left to travel. The hard question: Are we at that point? If not, when will it occur?

Also, is the existence of this effect justification enough to stop us from changing anything?

The world's population continues to grow, and people worldwide are still migrating from rural to urban areas. So there will be additional people left to travel for at least several decades.

Or we could do it like the Japanese and just remove almost all parking lots and replace them with underground parking or parking decks that pack cars a lot more tightly.

I'm no expert urban planner, but it seems to me the obvious explanation for this is the lack of space in Japan and its impact on costs.

It makes economic sense in Japan, but without federal/state/city bonuses incentivizing the solutions you describe, why would an American promoter dig underground at a ten/hundredfold cost while they can just use the cheap available space?

In many places in the US "free" parking is actually quite expensive. Even in the US land is expensive in some places.


Sure! And thanks for pointing that out. What I'm suggesting is that it's even more expensive in heavily space-constrained countries like Japan.

I've seen this in Korea -- attendants physically push the parked cars around to keep them closely packed.

I use car2go to get to work about 5 days a week, and have for a few years now. The big problem is that the cars move, away from my neighborhood in the morning, camp out downtown all day, and then migrate back in the evening.

Since I leave for work a bit later than my neighbors, there's rarely a car nearby when I want one (though obviously, if I wait long enough, one usually shows up, if not, there's still uber at twice the price). By the time I get home from work, the neighborhood is flooded with them again, exactly when I don't want one.

Being able to "accio car2go!" would be perfect.

A culture capable of sharing cars presupposes a displacement of the present dogma of multiculturalism. In other words, without a shared cultural etiquette, dreams of communal property quickly become fantasies.

Roads are congested because people commute.

If you ask an engineer you'll get an extremely technologically ambitious complicated system of just in time short term rental logistics, and being engineers they'll handwave away the whole social engineering cultural stuff because that's not on any microcontroller datasheet or EE resume I've ever read. Ah well, build it and they will come. Maybe some authoritarian demands to have the government punish people who don't subscribe to my private profitable service. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with good ole authoritarianism?

If you ask a social sciences type they'll whack the engineer over the head with a 2x4 and ask why we're not applying existing proven legacy technologies for remote working and distributed offices and VPNs and flex time. My employer already has something like 50 offices nationwide, why can't they scale to 2000 including one in my suburb for me and the 30 or so coworkers living here, why do we have to drive to the big city coworking office of 300 people? Most of my work is with coworkers in other states I've never met, why can't I do that from home, for all I know they're already working at home!

If you think its going to be easy to get people to give up private automobile ownership, have I got a homework assignment for you, try getting them to support remote working. It "should" be much easier, so if you can't social engineer 90% of the population into working at home or locally, then you have no point in even trying to socially engineer a new transportation system. Stick to daydreaming about flying cars.

Ditto the supermarket comparison. I used Peapod for years, nothing bad to say. I don't need to invent a nationwide network of short term loan self driving self cleaning distributed dispatched GPS guided semi-autonomous cars to buy a head of lettuce. I just want cheaper Peapod. It works, its cheap, and cheaper would be nicer. Trying to social engineer people into having peapod hand them a head of lettuce is likely a heck of a lot easier than social engineering a new transport system. Wake me when 90% of the population has been social engineered into the simpler task of using peapod for food, then maybe I'll expect a success at re-engineering the entire transportation system.

After all, if you didn't require people to drive, they wouldn't need overloaded roads or parking lots... The obvious solution isn't a fancier car, its less driving.

Why do you think remote working is easier to implement than actually used public transportation?

For a start, the latter one already exists on several cities.

And here's where enters the engineer, for making the public transportation more convenient than driving. Technology changes culture all the time - you just need to get it right (and yes, UX is a big part of getting it right).

But if you want to concentrate on remote work, you have my support. Just don't try to put other people down because their work isn't aligned with it.

One option requires massive cultural change plus invention and creation of new technologies and disrupting uncountable entrenched business models, the other merely requires massive cultural change (although I'd argue comparatively less because its existing deployed in use technology). If its not possible to pull off the simpler one there is little point in trying the harder less likely to succeed option.

Its that old advice about minimizing attack surface. Rube Goldberg machines are cool but not good engineering.

People aren't giving up their cars and current lifestyles easily.

The simplest solution I see for parking lots is to cover them and generate power. Also keeps them dry and, in warm climates, cooler.

Relatively inexpensive (and becoming ever more so). Quick payback. Minimal modification of extant real estate and behavior.

There you go.

Related? Just yesterday I came across http://www.zedfactory.com/zed-pod which are micro-apartments that are built above existing land uses (such as parking lots).

Parking decks! Enough lots. Build decks.

I suspect I'm one of the few people here who've used a "car" sharing service. I have a tiny subcompact car and some large hobbies and home ownership tasks so I rent the home depot truck on a fairly regular basis.

Something not considered often is an old telecom problem of trunk utilization based on random access and special event access using Erlangs of capacity per hour or something. My wife used to program PBXes and its quite complicated and interesting corner of math. There being a car there for you when you want to leave is both a very complicated and very calculable problem and its possible to calculate something legit and honest not just make up numbers or run simulations. With respect to my "car" sharing at home depot it gets to the point of calling ahead and reserving the truck and starting the rent meter before I even leave my house... I drive a cute little Yaris what am I going to do if I buy 2500 pounds of paving bricks and the truck is rented out from under me while I'm standing at the cash register? They're not going to load the pallets into my trunk... This is a problem for car sharing at supermarkets and the like; its 90 degrees outside and you just bought ice cream and there's no rental car within 5 miles because of some sportsball game on the other side of the city. Hmm. So the parking lot is still full of cars waiting for drivers. I would not be comfortable going somewhere without having an iron clad plan to return.

Another aspect of children is I have sad news that all your problems are not over when the car seats go away. Now you "must" be there to pick them up at a certain time or the police are called, etc. The cross country race isn't going to wait for you while you wait an extra 30 minutes to get a rental car. And being a very well paid and very busy dude, that 30 minutes as a fraction of my total time off per day or week is worth a hell of a lot of money to me aside from family friction vs scheduled activities. Suddenly "old faithful" the indestructible and infinitely reliably privately owned car is looking very attractive. How much would you pay to get an extra hour of relaxation per day? Ask a new parent for a likely shocking result. Cars are expensive, but worth every penny and more.

I find rental stressful. The clock is running! Unload those bags quicker. This railroad crossing just cost me $2.75 in waiting. I gotta return this thing in 30 minutes or pay another hour and I'm 25 minutes away. Maybe people burning irreplaceable hydrocarbons should be stressed out. But again, I'm well paid and have little time to relax and stress reduction is valuable to me an I can certainly afford it, so I could see buying my own used beater truck to haul stuff around once a month or whatever. I don't think I'll do it, but its not that unreasonable. You only live once and getting stressed out about stuff that is a solved and affordable problem isn't worth it.

A final problem which doesn't apply to me and my "car" sharing truck is if you hyper optimize car sharing until it actually works, abstract out the task of driving, etc, you end up with bus and taxi service. All that mental self pleasuring to merely poorly re implement something that worked a century ago. Skip all the product development and upheaval and just get a monthly bus pass and be done with it. You'll get faster more reliable cheaper safer cleaner service.

I think multi-level parking structures might be repurposed as delivery-drone distribution centers. Most of them have a roof, for the drones, and the lower floors for storage and trucks.

We need flying autonomous vehicles to really remove the need for parking in cities.

Once heard that Vice was an millennial neoliberal apologist, didn't believe it till seeing this article.

The solution to this is to build underground garages and more roads.

I really really want to get out of Europe for all this socialist crap. It's getting on my nerves.

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