How to Design Great Parking Lots

Great parking lots are safe, attractive, drain efficiently when it rains and are screened from residential areas. Striping and signage indicating regular and handicapped parking spaces, as well as direction of traffic flow, should be clearly marked. Safe pedestrian walkways, including easy access for wheelchairs, need to be separate of the traffic-flow areas. Landscaping that offers shade and visual relief while maintaining good sight lines is beneficial. In areas where it snows, good parking-lot planning also demands setting aside holding areas where snowplows can pile snow without blocking parking spaces or the flow of traffic.

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Without landscaping, parking lots are hot and unattractive.

Step 1

Visit the site to survey its grade, location relative to the business or area it will serve, major and minor streets it will impact and residential areas it abuts. Take photos and record dimensions and grade angles to use in the planning process. Draft the plan using computer-aided design (CAD) for greatest accuracy.

Step 2

Determine how many parking spaces are possible based on a space width of 9 feet. Avoid creating stalls of different sizes, because drivers of larger cars sometimes squeeze into compact spaces and create problems. Provide extra room for wheelchair access between handicapped spaces. Remember to include room for special needs -- such as garbage bins or spaces for stacking snow.

Step 3

Calculate the most economical layout of parking spaces that will also accommodate landscaping and pedestrian walkways, such as paths alongside landscape islands. Ensure raised landscaping contains curb breaks to aid in absorbing run-off from the impermeable parking surface when rain occurs.

Step 4

Decide what will be the best and easiest points of entry and exit from the lot. Create a traffic flow plan based on these points, along with the number of parking spaces and areas set aside for landscaping and walkways. Don't forget to consider entry and egress by snowplows, buses and any other large vehicles.

Step 5

Select landscaping materials that can withstand heat and won't be too difficult to maintain. Seek opinions from the local agricultural extension office, which is most likely located near or in a university. Select medium-size shade trees with roots that don't grow too close to the surface, creating cracks in pavement. Choose shrubbery and ornamental grasses that will add dimension to the plantings, but won't be tall enough to harm driver and pedestrian sight lines. Consider adding annual bedding plants for color if the maintenance budget allows.

Step 6

Include screening fences or walls in the plans on sides of the parking lot that neighbor residential areas.