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)

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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.