Parking Lot Design

Faulty Designs by the "Experts"

My father, in his bachelor days, operated streetcars in San Francisco. He and his passengers knew well the ins and outs of the system, its assets and its faults.

He was, therefore, more than incensed to learn that "Muni" had called in "experts" from New York to address problems. New Yorkers who did not live in or have a history with San Francisco, its quirks, demands, and needs, both topographical and demographic. What the heck did they know about the needs of San Francisco's mass transit system? He would say,

"Ask the people who drive and ride the buses, streetcars, trolleys and cable cars. Those are your experts!"

I see the same exact problem with parking lots. The "experts" take into account only aesthetics; minimum requirements, turning radii, emergency access and the like; they completely forget the customers who will be using the facility or facilities served by said lot. They also forget, most of the time, to account for local demographics, holding only to the "legal minimums."

Architects design buildings in their offices, alone or with their own team. Parking lot design, on the other hand, should have public input.

Tripping Hazards

The majority of parking lots are landscaped for aesthetic appeal. That's fine. Nothing is quite so ugly as acres of paved-over ground. That said, common sense needs to be applied as to the location of said landscaping.

How many times have you parked in a spot that was right next to a "beautifully landscaped" median in the lot, and nearly tripped over the curb or fallen into those oh-so-lovely bushes?

Landscaping should never, ever be placed up against a parking stall. It is a tripping hazard for both drivers and their passengers, whichever side of the vehicle ends up against such a median.

Typical landscape island next to parking stall
Typical landscape island next to parking stall

It is especially dangerous when placed next to handicapped-access parking stalls. It is hard enough to maneuver out of a vehicle next to these obstacles when able-bodied. Now imagine the difficulty for someone using crutches, a walker, a cane, or simply a bit unsteady on their feet.

Some users of wheelchairs might have it a bit easier, if they have an assistant to get their chair for them, or a motorized lift, but not all are so fortunate. I know at least one person who is confined to a wheelchair, and still manages to drive alone, and get his chair in and out of his car without help. Landing in a parking spot against bushes or other plantings would not be a good thing. Obviously he would try for a different parking spot, and, not having to walk, technically could park a bit farther out. But that is not the point.

The standard parking spot for full-sized cars, (as I've shown in my diagram, below), is 9 feet wide by 18 feet long. Handicapped-access spots are a bit wider, with room to maneuver lift devices, or walkers and wheelchairs. Hence, there is usually a 2 foot buffer of cross-hatched paint, indicating a 'no parking' area immediately next to the handicapped stall.

However, I have come across horrible designs, where the disabled-access spots are crowded up against those bushes and plantings. It would behoove designers of parking lots to remember that not all disabled persons are the passengers; many are still able to drive, and trying to exit the vehicle into plantings is very dangerous for them

Tricky for someone using a cane; no room to maneuver
Tricky for someone using a cane; no room to maneuver
With or without a cane, with the feet forced so close together, up against the vehicle on one side, the landscape curb on the other, balance can easily be thrown off
With or without a cane, with the feet forced so close together, up against the vehicle on one side, the landscape curb on the other, balance can easily be thrown off

A Parking Spot Too Far

In other places, the fault is not landscaping between the stalls, but the placement of plantings right up against the building, which pushes the distance of the handicapped-access spots much further from the door than they should be.

One horrible example of this is at our local Kaiser. This is a medical office and hospital, for pity sakes; the architects should have have a few more brain cells in use, and not placed the "beautification" next to the buildings, but on the outer edges, or only between the two buildings, (out of photo to the right) where there is no room for parking. (There is landscaping in that area; but they should have left it at that!)

Behind the white car, there is the regular medical office building; the handicapped spaces are perfectly positioned for that facility, but much too far away from the larger, hospital and medical office building.

I've taken photos to prove my point:

This is taken at our local Kaiser medical center.  Note the handicapped-access spaces begin to the left of the white car, while the spaces at 90 degrees to the front of that car are not designated as handicapped
This is taken at our local Kaiser medical center. Note the handicapped-access spaces begin to the left of the white car, while the spaces at 90 degrees to the front of that car are not designated as handicapped
There is approximately 75 yards between the building entry and the first parking spaces designated for handicapped persons.  That is too far away!
There is approximately 75 yards between the building entry and the first parking spaces designated for handicapped persons. That is too far away!

A Better Plan

How much better it would be, if those lovely landscaping plants were rearranged, and instead of being in between any individual parking stalls, were instead placed between the rows of stalls, as shown in my illustration, below.

How Parking Spaces and Landscaping Should be Designed

Suggested design, with plantings between the rows of stalls, instead of between individual parking spots
Suggested design, with plantings between the rows of stalls, instead of between individual parking spots | Source

Moving, Not Losing

By shifting the plantings as shown in my drawing above, no spaces would be lost; they are merely re-arranged. In fact, because planting islands are 'lost' between parking spaces, more spots would actually be gained.

Additionally, parking under trees, while it may seem like a good idea on hot days, is not the best option, for trees can drip sap onto your car, and that is bad for the paint. Sap is difficult to remove without damage to the finish, especially if it has been allowed to sit and accumulate for days or weeks.

Be Proactive!

I suggest, therefore, that if you see a new shopping or office complex about to be built in your area, that you contact your local city officials, and request a public hearing on the parking design. In fact, it is best to stay in touch with the council agenda, so you will know in a timely fashion when such projects come up for discussion. Then you can have your input before it is too late.

I hope you have found this article useful, and the ideas valid.

All photos by Liz Elias
© 3-6-14

© 2014 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 12 comments

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

You are a-singing my song! I used to conduct nationwide ADA audits of company facilities, and have seen lots of stupid stuff in not only parking lots but also buildings. You did a very nice job not just explaining but also showing design flaws. One company facility which was newly built had disabled parking spaces near stairs.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi there, FlourishAnyway!

Ah, thank you. These flawed designs are rampant! Handicapped spots next to stairs???!!! Ohmigosh! What a brain fart! Instead of "audits," maybe they should have pre-construction consultations!

Thanks very much for commenting, and adding another point.


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

I wish cities like Houston and Port Arthur and Beaumont, TX had you around when they engineer their roadways. I'll give you an example. In Houston, the Friendswood exit off of 45 South is right where the HOV lane ends and also the freeway goes from 4 lanes down to 3. Congestion? You wouldn't believe it. Who engineers these stupid roadways and parking lots anyway? What aggravates me is that the tax-payer's money pays the Corp of Engineers. Your father is right - they need to consult the real experts - the ones fighting the traffic every day! Well done and voted up.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Oh, Ann!

Don't get me started on the roadways! I've another article in the works about that hot mess!

Here in CA, it's not the Corps of Engineers that builds our roads, it's the California Department of Transportation, known as "CalTrans." Used to be, they sub-contracted the actual work to private companies; the work was done on time and on or under budget. Now, they do it themselves; the work is always years behind schedule and millions over-budget. It has spawned a slew of jokes along the lines of, "How many CalTrans workers does it take to fill a trench? .... Five. One to wield the shovel; four to stand around supervising!"

I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks very much for your comment and vote!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 2 years ago from Baltimore, MD

You are right about parking lots. Many of them just feature the bare minimum. They need to take into consideration that some people park poorly or drive in an unsafe manner. I am not sure why there needs to be trees in any parking lot to be honest. Great hub and voted up!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Jeannieninabottle,

Yes, sometimes I think the spots should all be wider, not just the handicapped ones, to allow for sloppy parkers!

Trees and other plantings do add some value; acres of pavement are ugly, and add nothing to a city's aesthetics. It is the placement of the trees that is the problem.

Thanks much for your comment and the vote!


Hackslap profile image

Hackslap 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Major issues with congested cities these days is that while carmakers are making their cars bigger...parking stations are still old and some have extremely limited and tight spaces and driveways ... that alone adds to half the problems..


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Hackslap,

That is part of the problem, to be sure, but the current standard here in the US, for new parking lots, is plenty large enough for most cars. That is so much less an issue than plantings placed in stupid areas. Thanks for stopping by.


xiana profile image

xiana 2 years ago from United States

Great article.

What I really can't stand about the parking lots here are the bushes they place around the exits of the parking lot. It makes it very difficult to see traffic to the left or right.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, xiana,

Yes, that's another one...not just bushes, but huge signs advertising what's in the center. Those are usually strategically placed to block the driver's view of oncoming street traffic.

Thanks very much for adding that; I'm glad you liked the article.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

This is well-thought-out. You should consider getting a job in the parking lot planning field. I mean that. You have given important consideration to the things that are usually missed. I have struggled many times with squeezing to get out of my car with bushes in the way just because I parked in the last spot next to the bushes. That landscaping should never have been there in the first place, just as you said.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Glenn,

Glad you liked the article. Yes, I've nearly fallen into bushes myself! It's very annoying.

A job in the planning field? LOL, well, I'm retired, and sole caretaker for my disabled husband, so a job of any kind is out of the question at this stage in my life; I must rely upon writing articles, and hope they get shared to the right places. However, I'd consider charging a fee for consultations! Hee hee.

Thanks much for your support and input.

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