Best Practices for Parking Lot Design

Parking lot with cars

Parking lots are places that many folks go to every day but probably don’t think about too much. When we pull into our spot at work, try to get the closest we can to the door at the grocery store, or narrowly avoid getting hit in the crowded mall parking lot, we are focused on the act of parking a car rather than the design of the parking lot itself. Whether you are constructing a brand-new parking lot or renovating a current one, there is a lot to consider regarding parking lot design.   


When planning a parking lot, the first order of business is to determine which material is most suitable for your lot, time, and budget. The most popular paving material is asphalt, which is durable and cost-effective. Other options include concrete or gravel. Concrete tends to be more expensive and more prone to cracking from the weather than asphalt. Gravel is less costly than asphalt and concrete, but it can make your lot messy during heavy rainfall. 


Another essential consideration in the initial planning of your parking lot is researching which regulations apply to your lot. There may be city or county accessibility regulations. If you plan out your parking lot and do not have enough ADA-compliant parking spots or are missing other regulations, you could be subject to fines or be unable to open your lot. Once you have read through all of the applicable regulations for your lot, you can incorporate these into the design. 

Empty Parking Lot


The strength of your parking lot design will determine the parking lot’s success. You should measure out the available space and plan for appropriate aisle space and loading areas before calculating the number of spots you can have. If your building is a place of business with high turnovers, such as a restaurant or store, consider slanting your parking spots at a 45 to 60-degree angle to ease cars coming in and out. For buildings with a lower turnover, like apartment or office buildings or employee parking at a retail store, 90-degree spots are usually sufficient. 

Types of Spots

You’ll also want to plan which spots will be accessible. These spots should be in the first row, closest to any accessible entrances, and with an entire extra space adjacent as per ADA regulations. One way to save space in your lot is by having some spaces for compact cars and others for SUVs and trucks. Depending on the use of your building, having a 15-minute loading zone area can be helpful. Many restaurants, grocery stores, and other retailers also have a row for “curbside pickup” or other convenience options. If you are renovating your current lot, simply changing the types of spaces available can be very helpful. 

Arrows and Flow

Even if your parking lot has spots that are laid out well, the lot will only stay organized if you have arrows or signage directing traffic flow. Many parking lots have arrows painted on the asphalt to denote which way drivers should go. These arrows should be large enough to see from any car and even another color from the spot lines to stand out (e.g., if the parking spot lines are white, the arrows could be yellow).


Although the main part of your business that should catch someone’s eye is the building itself, adding some aesthetic details to your parking lot can add value without detracting from the main building. Planting trees or shrubbery can spruce up the parking lot and act as a barrier between your lot and a neighboring lot or business. If you have medians separating any rows or aisles, you could put woodchips, rocks, or mulch with small flowering plants. 


As with traffic flow, signage throughout the lot is vital for efficiency and safety. Signs which denote a particular use spot (e.g., accessible spot, curbside pickup, employee spot, visitor spot, etc.) should be tall enough for someone to see the sign easily from in their car or outside. The text on the sign should be bright, large, and bold for all to see. Signage can also supplement the traffic arrows and direct cars which way to go up and down the lanes. 

Asphalt crew installing new parking lot surface

Other Elements in the Lot

A final consideration for your parking lot is determining any other elements that should be included. These elements include carports, lights, cart corrals, bike racks, etc. Some parking lots have parking barriers at the top of the spaces to keep cars from parking over the line into the next spot. 

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