Back-Seat Driver

Are these the worst parking lots in the Sacramento region? We want your nominations

The Safeway parking lot in midtown Sacramento is often crowded.
The Safeway parking lot in midtown Sacramento is often crowded.

Some day, we’ll all be whisked around on our daily chores in driverless vehicles, dropping us off and picking us up.

Until then, we must deal daily with retail parking lots. In theory, they provide an orderly and convenient place to leave our car, scooter or bicycle close to our destination. In reality, many are cramped, congested and more annoying than the streets we took to get there.

Some around the Sacramento region are notorious. The Natomas Marketplace parking lot, for instance, is vast with lots of parking, but because the city allowed the developer to squeeze a big center onto an awkward site, there is really only one crowded entrance next to a crowded intersection. How crowded? The city once considered asking the developer to put a traffic signal inside the lot!

The Trader Joe’s lot on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento is far smaller. That’s the problem. It’s like a game of musical chairs. Drivers can end up circling inside it, feeling competitive with other circling drivers, while others wait in the street for a chance to nudge their nose into the queue.

Are these the most aggravating commercial parking lots in Sacramento? Probably not. Give us your nomination for the worst parking lot in your daily travels and why.

Is it too small for the number of people coming and going to the site? Or is there something particularly wrong about the design that makes it hard to negotiate?

Often, it feels like the stalls were built for bumper cars, not the midsize sedans, SUVs, vans and pickups many people drive.

A few years ago, Sacramento officials discovered city standards allowed some of the narrowest parking slots in the state, 8 feet wide for regular cars and 7.5 feet wide for compact cars.

The idea apparently had been to allow shopping centers to build more spaces on smaller lots, reducing construction costs by reducing the amount of land necessary for cars. Surface parking lots aren’t cheap. Typical lots cost up to $7,000 per stall to build.

But those stalls are hard to pull into or out of. People with larger cars ended up parking over the line, wasting two spots. So, in 2012, the city expanded the minimum size to 8.5 feet for regular cars and 8 feet for compact spots. That extra six inches at least improves the chances that the guy next to you won’t ding your car when he opens his door.

At the same time, the city agreed to reduce the minimum width of the driving and turning areas between the rows of parked cars. The city used to require that they be at least 26 feet wide, but decided drivers could get in and out of spaces in 24 feet, although it means resorting to the classic three-point-turn maneuver at times.

It’s not just about cars, either. A friend laments that few commercial areas are safe or friendly for cyclists. And we still haven’t gotten to the day where light rail and buses connect well with major centers.

So, give us your nominations. We have our tape measure ready.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak