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Midday Matinee – Parking Lot Designs

November 28, 2012

Midday Matinee

Midday Matinee – Parking Lot Designs

Being in another city has given me yet another look at parking lot designs. I am more puzzled than ever. Surely there are some design principles embedded in the asphalt and concrete. (More)

Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

I am from the home of the first indoor shopping Mall, Southdale Center in Edina, MN. There the parking lot surrounded the center and a person needed to remember which ‘lot’ they parked in to have any chance of finding their car. The ‘lots’ had names and signage to help shoppers remember. The Mall Of America has this same basic principle but adds levels of parking spaces. A shopper needs to remember what store through which they entered the complex to know where they left their wheels.

The advent of strip malls changed everything. The principle of shops in the center surrounded by cars no longer worked. The first strip malls just had painted lines on the blacktop to indicate parking spaces. There were no concrete divider islands or trees and plantings to break up what became some version of dodge’m cars. Drivers just picked a direct angle to the exit and zoomed their way out. The parking lot designers solved this with the introduction of the islands.

When I was in Nebraska, it drove me nuts that strip malls expanded by plopping restaurants in the parking lots close to the road. Then little rows of shops grew up in the parking lot and if there was ever a design concept, it disappeared. It was quite possible to see the building you wanted to reach yet have no idea what the maze was to actually get there. The idea of “no left turns” meant that to reach the Honey Baked Ham store, I had to remember to sneak up on it from behind.

Now I am in Florida and there are lots of strip malls lining both sides of a divided highway. The parking lot plantings are quite lush in the divider islands. To my total shock, six officers were riding horses in the parking lot where Best Buy is located. I might have expected mounted patrols in the wild west but Florida? Here I found the store following the directions from google maps. In this land of divided highways, I could not exit the same way I entered. I could only turn right. Yikes. Nothing looked familiar and I am sure locals navigate this with ease. Visitors not so much. Even a visit to the local grocery store involves going out a different way than you got in.

There must be a principle about traffic flow and safety involved here but I am missing it. Maybe somewhere there is a Black Friday shopper sitting in his/her car sucking their thumb and wondering how in the hell to get out of the parking lot.

  • winterbanyan

    The divided highway thing is the ultimate pain in the patootie. Around here even locals have to stumble around until they figure it out and plant it permanently in the engrams of the brain.

    I’ve always hated strip malls. But the ultimate is our new “Mall” built around a “main street” so that you’re supposed to feel like you’re in a small town. Very pleasant to walk down brick sidewalks when the weather is nice. But the original “spoked” plan soon gave way to a real mess. Parking disappeared, as you note, with the arrival of outlying stores and restaurants. You can find small parking lots here and there, and can drive down the main street – if it’s open that day and not serving as a concert or entertainment venue – and find metered parking if you’re lucky. Otherwise you pretty much have to select the parking garage off to one side then wander an absolute maze of little “side streets” (basically spurs) to find whatever business you want.

    They took charm and expanded it to hell. I understand your frustration.

    • addisnana

      I do still wonder if the mounted officers were planning on chasing shoplifters or what? Atmosphere? When I asked them they said they were just patrolling. Hmmm.

  • NCrissieB

    In the immortal words of Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut:

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.

    In theory, traffic islands and limited access parking lots that permit only right turns onto or or off of busy roads reduce both accidents and congestion. In practice, they multiply confusion … at least until you figure out how to get from Here to There, and how to get from There to Here, and accept those are two different routes. 😉

  • Jim W

    The strip mall is a block of shops with a lot about 4 cars deep. Usually the have an anchor grocery store. Sometimes a big drug store. Fast food at the street side. No circulator drives.

    The next level is the Big Box Store. Located on a major highway with a big parking lot Can’t get in and can’t get out except at the one way exits.

    The bigger ones are the malls.

    One of my duties as transportation chair for Sierra Club was explaining that the property owners usually got the County to over zone the number of square feet that could used for buildings just before they sold the shopping center. When the new oner announced the mess they were planning, I would hear about it.

    The best solution is to only shop, midday mid-week. and stay home between mid-November and mid-January.

  • One of the things that used to send a chill up my spine was my sisters asking me to “take them shopping.” Besides meaning several hours of boredom for me, the particular mall they liked was a nightmare to enter and leave. Not only did you have to get on the right exit to get in, you had to navigate a sizable block of parking lots – and remember where you parked. Exiting was even worse, since you couldn’t just reverse the procedure. No, you had to weave through a maze of side roads and separate stores to the back side, where you had to turn onto a busy street, and make two left-hand turns to get back on the road home. :roll:

    • addisnana

      I can relate to the ‘getting out of here’ part.