Humanity has created many engineering marvels that uplift spirits and improve the human condition.
Sacramento’s parking lots are not among them.
We asked readers last week to nominate parking lots that annoy them the most. The request hit a nerve. More than 110 people responded, listing tight, awkward, crowded and confusing lots in strip malls and at schools, hospitals, banks, coffeehouses, post offices and cinemas.
They included old lots like at the Tower Theatre where there is barely room to back out, and newish ones, like outside the IKEA in West Sacramento, which are neat and clean but so vast that they have letters on poles to remind you of your row (if you remember to check on your way in).
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And then there was reader Willie Anderson’s nomination: the Capital City Freeway.
Another reader simply said, “The parking lot at my kid’s school. #letmeout.”
Several Starbucks lots came in for criticism, notably the one on Freeport Boulevard at Sutterville Road, which has only one way in and almost no maneuvering room.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the parking lot with the most mentions was at Trader Joe’s on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento. A dozen readers called it their least favorite, and some described it as practically post traumatic stress-inducing.
“I actually have to psych myself up to attempt shopping there, and have left more than once without stepping foot out of my car,” said Emily Hubler Ramey.
It’s a small lot with one lane down the side of the store. Drivers line up just inside the entrance during peak hours, waiting (generally politely) for someone to back out, which causes backups into the street. Some people admit they sneak-park in nearby lots of other stores and walk over rather than deal with the TJ’s lot.
There’s an interesting theory that the crowded lot outside Trader Joe’s may be a good thing. More on that in a minute.
Although we got nominations of strip mall lots from Roseville to Elk Grove, parking lots in the denser urban core got more votes.
The Safeway store on 19th Street in midtown was second highest, with nine, followed by the F65 commercial center parking lot at the busy corner of 65th Street and Folsom Boulevard, with eight votes.
Readers disagreed about some lots. One said the massive lot at Costco off Exhibition Way was the worst because it gets so crowded. Another reader, though, liked that lot because its stall widths are among the widest in the region, and parking spots are easier to pull into because they are diagonal.
Costco didn’t respond to our request to talk about its parking lot design, but city planner Greg Sandlund says Costco, which sells in bulk, seems to knows its customers: “They assume Escalades are coming in.”
Admittedly, poorly designed parking lots are just a brief inconvenience in a world with bigger issues. In fact, some commentators say parking lot congestion is a good thing if it helps push cities, builders and developers toward better designed communities, where more people can walk to stores, schools, church and work, and where light rail and buses are more usable.
Sometimes, though, poorly designed or undersized parking lots are more than just an annoyance. Several readers wrote about finding their cars scratched and dented, or spoke of getting into fender benders due to a lack of room. One pedestrian says she feels like she is going to be “road kill” any minute trying to walk from her car to the store at Loehmann’s Plaza.
Many developers and retailers squeeze as many parking spots as they can into small parcels, especially in denser urban areas, where land costs are high, and parking lot construction can cost up to $7,000 per stall.
To make it worse, city of Sacramento officials acknowledge that for years they allowed builders to create spaces that are too narrow for today’s larger vehicles. They changed that policy in 2012. But thousands of those spaces, some only 7.5 feet wide, are still around.
That led to a comically awkward moment for reader Stan Shank. He had to climb in the back hatch of his car at a small midtown lot because his car was pinned in so tightly he couldn’t get doors open on either side wide enough to slide in.
And it leads all too often to what may be the most aggravating sight in a crowded lot – cars parked over the line, making it impossible to use the adjacent space. Mary Hanson sent us a photo of a car parked right in front of the Whole Foods market on Arden and Eastern, squarely straddling the line between two parking spaces. It was as if that driver were saying: Nobody’s going to ding my doors. “Very rude,” Hanson wrote.
Several local Trader Joe’s parking lots, besides the one on Folsom Boulevard, got mentions by readers. In fact, the company’s parking lots have a bit of national reputation as cramped.
Buzzfeed once collected tweets from customers nationally poking fun at Trader Joe’s parking situation. One tweet: “Trader Joe’s real estate agent: How’s the parking lot? Landlord: Terrible. Trader Joe’s real estate agent: We’ll take it!”
Trader Joe’s public relations director Kenya Friend-Daniel sent The Bee an email acknowledging that “the parking situation can sometimes be less than ideal” at the Folsom Boulevard store, but that the company doesn’t purposely seek to have crowded lots, and it sends employees into the lot to guide traffic during peak times.
Nevertheless, some planners and analysts we talked to say having a crowded parking lot might create a kind of perverse curb appeal.
“If it’s a busy place, it must be good,” Sacramento city urban design manager Bruce Monighan said. “All those cars psychologically tell people there is something going on here. You should stop and check it out.”
Brad Christian of Market Force retail research group, which produces an annual survey that shows Trader Joe’s gets high customer satisfaction ratings for in-store service, calls it a “pleasure and pain” reality.
Trader Joe’s brands itself as a place where shopping is an adventure, where customers bring a “treasure hunt” mentality.
On Folsom Boulevard, that treasure hunt starts in the parking lot.