Parking Under the Store

By David Feehan

Yesterday, my wife and I stopped at a Safeway supermarket in Wheaton, Md. The supermarket is part of a mixed-use project with a high-rise apartment building on top, a Safeway on the ground floor, and a parking garage underneath. The apartment is within walking distance of the Metro station–a very good thing. Overall, we found the project quite appealing in terms of location, quality of construction, and amenities.

The idea of having a supermarket on the ground floor has real appeal. Although Wheaton is not a cold-weather city like Minneapolis or Des Moines, it does experience some occasional snow and cold and being able to shop indoors on a rainy day has real appeal.

But who designed the parking garage? The entrance is on the back of the building and signage directing customers to the garage could have been much better. Thankfully, there were large graphics indicating the entrance to the store once inside the garage. But the spaces were so narrowly marked that we watched several shoppers–all women–struggle to open car doors without banging against the adjoining vehicles.

I am particularly sensitive to this issue, because I have a classic 1984 Olds Toronado and I do not appreciate parking lot dings. There was no obvious place to return shopping carts either, so carts were floating around between cars. We witnessed several collisions between loose carts and parked cars.

I’ve written a book recently about designing downtowns for women. The chapter on parking, written by Barbara Chance,  PhD., president and CEO of CHANCE Management Advisors, Inc., raises many important questions. But the one that came to mind as I was parking in this facility was, “Did the designers ask women, particularly women with children, what they liked and disliked about parking garages?” We found in our research that parking garages were the most hated aspect of downtowns among the women we surveyed.

Lesson for parking professionals: Make sure you have a woman on your team when you design a parking facility. They will see things men won’t see. I guarantee it. If you don’t believe me, just ask Barbara at the 2020 IPMI Conference.

David Feehan is president of Civitas Consulting, LLC.