Cars Are Outgrowing Their Parking Spaces

“Increasingly, cars are too big for parking spaces, especially in parking garages and other paid parking lots where developers pay close attention to space size,” writes Aaron Gordon in Vice. “Like the proverbial frog in a slowly heating pot of water, our cars have gotten ever-so-gradually bigger with each passing year, but the parking space standards have barely budged.” 

Gordon describes the process by which parking lot designers decide space sizes, which uses the 85th percentile car size. “This approach to designing parking spaces has historically served the parking industry well, ensuring space sizes accommodate the vast majority of American cars and leaving about 20 inches of space for people to open their doors and maneuver on either side.”

But now, “the 85th percentile method is not capturing the changes in the car sizes. The size of the 10th percentile car has exploded. The size of the 50th percentile car has grown tremendously. The size of the 70th percentile car has also grown. But the 85th percentile car is essentially the Ford F-150, which is much taller and longer than it used to be, but no wider.”

With parking spaces costing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars each to build, even a few inches can make a significant difference in a project’s budget. To build larger spaces, developers will have to raise the cost of parking for everyone—or just for larger cars, like some parking lots in cities like New York already do. “It’s easy to imagine the backlash that may ensue from any effort to charge people with large vehicles more for parking, even though the suggestion that people who use more of something should pay more than people who use less is one of the most basic tenets of economic theory and the basis of capitalism.” But larger cars don’t just take up more space—they pose increased safety risks, too.

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