Josh Thompson     about     blog     projects

Let Me Fix [some of] Your Parking Problems

Article Table of Contents

Hi there! I’m Josh, and I’m your local neighborhood advocate for overlooked spaces.

Today, we’ll be focusing on parking lots.

Your parking lot has a job to do, and every day, every night, rain or shine, hot or cold, clear, rainy, or snowy, your parking lot does the best it can at it’s job.

But how well does it do it’s job? What is the job of a parking lot, exactly, anyway?

The jobs of a parking lot #

Like any potential representative of your business, at minimum, you want your parking lot to serve a certain function, around:

  • storing vehicles
  • finding empty spaces
  • leaving the parking lot after finishing up at the facility
  • moving people from where they parked their vehicle to an entrance to your facility

And, again, like a representative of your business, you don’t want it to look dirty, unclean, slovenly, or dangerous.

Signs your parking lot might be broken #

There’s a few ways you could determine if your parking lot is doing it’s job well or poorly. For example, are any of the following true for you?

  • customers sometimes have difficulty finding open parking spaces, and instead “cruise” past many occupied spaces before finding an available space
  • heavy use of ‘desire paths’1
  • it feels ‘creepy’ under certain conditions/times of day, especially at night
  • first-time guests sometimes have a hard time finding where to park, and then quickly/confidently making their way to the entrance of your facility
  • at peak times of day, members/guests/customers know that if they wanted to visit your facility, they’d have a hard time finding a parking spot
  • you sometimes have conflict with other businesses that make use of nearby parking areas. Their customers park in your parking, or your customers sometimes park in their parking, and this causes friction
  • your parking lot doesn’t generate any 💰💰💰 , which pays for it’s own improvements.[^pay-for-itself]
  • if your parking lot does generate revenue, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the users who have to pay. most paid parking in America is not managed at a competent level.

Remember - people are creatures of habit and convenience. When we find parking lots difficult to deal with, we’re vastly less likely to frequent the business attached to that parking lot. people will subconsiously avoid parking lots completely. 2

The cost of your parking lot being broken #

There are real costs to your parking lot not doing it’s job well enough. The most obvious cost is the waste of customer good-will. While most people know that any issues with a parking lot isn’t necessarily the fault of the business they’re frequenting, not everyone knows this. Lots of people take their frustration on parking out directly on the business they’re trying to visit, and a ‘challenging’ parking lot costs you customers.

To repeat a quote:

[That parking lot] is literally the worst, and is 10,000,000% why I’ll never go there again.

So, in some cases, your parking lot costs you customers directly.

Even if customers still push through the discomfort, though, clunking parking now costs your customers time, and frustration. It’s extremely annoying to ‘cruise’ around for parking.

The ROI of fixing your parking lot #

More Customers #

A well-managed parking lot is an efficient parking lot. Would you like it more if every time someone came to your facility, they drove alone, or if they came as a group or two or three?

If your parking is anywhere close to being full, you would want to see your visitors share cars. That takes the vehicle space consumption per person go from 300sqft of your parking lot to 150 sqft, or 100sq ft.

@josh_exists lots to appreciate here. the audio is great I have thoughts on parking lots. I see them as hidden sources of abundance, currently not allowed to function as well as they might. a little love goes a long way. #fyp #dji #traderjoes #toyota #ford #denver #colorado #timelapse #carlessdriver #driverlesscar ♬ Final Speech - From "The Great Dictator" - Charlie Chaplin

Nudge towards walkability #

Parking lots are never the destination - it’s the place that drivers go once they’ve parked their vehicle.

If we work together, we’ll make sure to make certain appropriate places of your parking lot start to feel like the destination instead of the forgettable part. Converting a small portion of your lot from a revenue drain to a revenue generator could be, as you can imagine, meaningful.

Let’s look at some parking lots together #

Your parking lots do much more than hold parked cars.

Here’s some of the parking lots I’ve looked at lately. Let’s talk about some of what we see.

First, here’s the things I tend to notice, on first blush:

  1. How big is the parking lot. how many spaces?
  2. how cozy is it? Is there shade anywhere during the day? How is it illuminated at night?
  3. What part of the parking lot is closest to the main entrance? This portion of your parking lot will be the busiest and most important part.
  4. How wide are the driving lanes? How easy is it to find available spots?
  5. Do people ‘cruise’ a lot when looking for parking?
  6. What kind of situations and dynamics exist around the junction between your parking lot and adjoining roads? Do customers have an easy and safe and protect way to get into your parking lot, without having to wait a long time for a gap in traffic?
  7. When leaving your parking lot, is it easy-enough to get going the desired direction on the local roads?

Here’s some other data-based questions that can be answered with observation or conversations:

  1. How long is the longest time it took someone to find a parking spot in the last week?
  2. how common are break-ins? is there an issue of safety in the parking lot, either from people in cars, or people not in cars?
@josh_exists #mobility_networks ♬ Tropical, summer-like reggaeton beats(1127821) - Mushuz

I’ve been getting better at getting good footage from my drone:

@josh_exists #CapCut ♬ original sound - josh
@josh_exists Denver traffic drone timelapse, again.#drone #timelapse #fyp #denver #mobility_network ♬ Stuck In The Middle - Tai Verdes

Now, lets’s stop thinking about your parking lot for a minute, and think of what a parking lot can represent at it’s best.

Sometimes some of the space in or around a parking lot might serve as a third space, or a pathway for your customers from one place (where they parked) to another (your business) and back, or for non-customers or future customers to pass by your business. Third spaces are best when they are beautiful, so a defining question you can ask of your parking lot is - is it beautiful?

If it isn’t beautiful, or at least there are not spots of beauty, then there ISN’T ‘third space’ vibes in your parking lot, this is one of the things I can eventually fix, but only in parallel with making it feel clean and safe.

How I’d start improving your parking lot #

You might be intrigued, now, and inclined to investigate more.

The easiest next step would be to pop your email address into this form below, and you’ll automatically get a few emails over the next two weeks that will make you an even more sophisticated observer and evaluator of your parking lot.

TODO for Josh: add email collection form here

in the meantime send me an email

Here’s what we’ll do, when we start working on your parking lot together:

Step 1: Evaluation of what it’s “job to be done” is, and how well it’s doing it #

As you can imagine, there’s lots of similarities between parking lots across America, but every parking lot is a little distinctive. Step one will be opening up the parking lot on Google maps/google earth, and seeing how it looks.

Step 2: Modify the ‘flow’ of vehicles to make the most dangerous parts of the parking lot safe #

First, we’d aim to make safer spots where cars and people have dangerous interactions. In the USA, incidents involving cars striking pedestrians continue to climb, and whichever part of your parking lot feels dangerous is what we’ll fix first.

Here’s some videos about how I’ve improved the safety and convenience of certain spots, with far more time spent recording the video than I spent modifying the space.

@josh_exists part 2? or 15? gosh it's a long and boring story I could tell #traffic ♬ original sound - josh
@josh_exists turns out I'm really into traffic cones on the (real or imaginary) center lines of roads. reduces all three sources of vehicle pollution (tailpipe emissions, brake dust, tire microplastics). #mobilitynetwork #networkanalysis #showdonttell I have at least some explicit permission from the city engineer, the mayor, and the police! This is all for demonstration. is love to make it permanent and beautiful eventually.@josh_exists ♬ original sound - josh

Step 3: Make some affordances for the people walking back and forth through your parking lot #

Next, we’ll decide what part of your parking lot is already the most heavily used by people, closest to gathering points, and naturally comfortable.

We’ll make it more comfortable, and add small/cheap bits of ‘street furnature’ to create some outdoor spaces, by creating the feeling of semi-enclosed spaces.

For example, we could add some outdoor string lights on a timer to cozy up the space on those dark winter evenings.

This can be accomplished by an easy arrangement of something no more fancy than a few medium-sized metal planters and some thin wood posts, but can instantly change the vibe and shape of the space.

Rinse, and repeat.

Ready to get in touch? send me an email

Frequently Asked Questions #

Why do you work directly with businesses to provide this service instead of talking to {local municipality}? #

I actually have spoken to many local municipalities, and that’s what led me to this current service!

I’ve found many ‘local municipal traffic & right-of-way people’ to be quite amenable to what I’m working on, and anytime I’ve brought a sensible plan to them and the resources to implement it, they’ve supported it, no matter how resource-constrained they are in terms of calendar, budget, etc.

I’ve worked with city engineers, planning staff, public works officials, political leaders (mayors, city council people) and more, and in every case have walked away with a solution everyone’s happy with.

That all said, I’ve found that there’s quite a lot of ‘work that can be done’ before any of that work escalates to something that would make sense to loop the city in on. So, I’ll do the work for you that doesn’t involve the local municipality, and then when it becomes needful to include them, i can handle much of that work as well.

Why do you talk so much about the ‘flow’ of traffic? What’s the difference between hiring you and ‘just’ adding some seating outside myself? #

It is easy to imagine making changes to your parking lot, but it would be harmful to your business to make any changes that didn’t make the experience b

Because traffic cones are the first tool I use for changing how traffic flows through an area. Cars, bikes, and people ‘flow’ a bit like water, a bit like a gas.

Traffic cones are like placing a rock in a stream - it changes the flow of the water, even as it doesn’t change how much water flows through the space.

This concept is the core of how I start making fixes in a given area. I look at it, watch it for a while, see how people use it, and then start making experimental changes. As few as one or two cones can make a big difference in very specific ways.

How do you price this? #

First, we schedule a roadmapping session - in person, if possible, via zoom if not. This is a fixed fee, and is no more onerous to you than us participating in a zoom call where I present my initial findings, gathered from google earth, street view, and any photos or videos you and I can get.

This is a fixed, one-time fee. From it you’ll get a report outlining what I think should be done, in a way that minimizes effort on everyone’s behalf.

Next, if you’d like to oversee the implementation yourself, I can be available on a retainer to help navigate the project.

If you want me to oversee it directly, that is also available on something of a consulting model. In some circumstances, I might do at least some of the work directly, and where it makes sense, I’ll be on-sight to directly guide the project.

I price by a flat fee for the initial consult. A small parking area is $500, a large one (200 spaces +) will cost $3000.

the optional retainer, consulting, and implementation options will all be shared in the roadmapping document.

What kind of improvements will you bring about? #

I’ll help your parking lot fit more vehicles, i’ll help your visitors spend less time looking for parking, and overall, they will all appreciate how intentional you are about tending well to your whole lot.

There’s behavior change baked into all of this, but primarily by creating attractive paths and patterns that we most want your customers to use. I’m rather opposed to coercion, and even see the existence of some written signs and notifications as a possible failure of good design.

What sort of ideas/people/ideas are you implementing? #

I endeavor to appropriately channel four people: Christopher Alexander, Donald Shoup, and Alain Bertaud, and Caroline Criado Perez.

Christopher Alexander wrote A Pattern Language and The Timeless Way of Building.

Donald Shoup wrote The High Cost of Free Parking.

Alain Bertaud, urban economist, wrote Order Without Design.

Caroline Criado Perez wrote Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

There are many additional layers of constraints, unique to, say, Denver. There’s DOTI, the right-of-way office, planning, snow removal, event coordination, enforcement.

  1. A ‘desire path’ is an ‘unofficial’ path, usually made by people choosing to walk where there isn’t an official path. Generally, if you want to help people get to where they want to go, a good rule of thumb is to identify all desire paths as they appear, and add some ‘dressing’ to the path to make it official, and safe. Desire paths often start as dirt paths, and these get muddy in the rain, dangerous in the snow, and are rarely ploughed. 

  2. For example, here’s a passionate complaint about a Trader Joe’s parking lot. Trader Joe’s is losing business because the parking lot is so bad at it’s job:

    I Am a Trader Joe’s Parking Lot and I am Here to Destroy You (finish this copy/paste from WA, add fb comment screenshots)

    Here’s the kinds of things people say:

    Can we all agree that [this parking lot] is the most terrible one in Boise (I mean it’s like a pit of hell)?

    When I want to go to Trader Joe’s I always think… ‘do I really want to park in there?’

    [That parking lot] is literally the worst, and is 10,000,000% why I’ll never go there again.

    It’s horrible. I avoid Trader Joe’s just because of the parking lot.

    add screenshots/google maps/google earth/street view data