There are somewhere between a few hundred million and a few billion parking spaces in the United States, scattered across all manner of public and private establishments. Given the prevalence of parking spaces in this country alone, it stands to reason that there would be some variation in their designs, even if the general outline remains the same. After all, most drivers have had the frustrating experience of pulling into a new garage only to find narrow spaces and overparked SUVs. But just how much variation is there in parking space dimensions, and who decides how wide is wide enough?
In the United States, there is significant variation in parking space regulations even down to the county level, although requirements are more standardized for accessible parking. When building or repainting a parking lot, it’s important to understand these spacing considerations to ensure that patrons have easy access to your establishment.
Why Do Parking Space Dimensions Matter?
When designing a parking lot, space dimensions are more than a matter of convenience for patrons. Spaces that are too narrow can lead to collisions or situations in which a car becomes boxed in by other parkers. Narrow spaces can also pose accessibility challenges, even for parkers that don’t qualify for ADA accessible parking. If cars are packed too closely together, patrons with mobility challenges may struggle to enter and exit their vehicle, for instance.
Of course, overly-wide parking spaces can present problems as well. Designing spaces that are too much wider than average makes it difficult to use limited parking space efficiently. Given that well-sized parking lots already consume more square-footage than the retail space they service, establishments benefit from maximizing the number of spaces that fit within their lots.
How Big are U.S. Parking Spaces?
American parking spaces differ dramatically in size, although they rarely dip below 7.5 feet in width, which is considered the minimum in most areas. The following guidelines are not hard limits but rather representative of the dimensions used by most American establishments.
Average Parking Space Size
Most parking spaces are either perpendicular to the aisles of a parking lot or offset at a slight angle. While angled spaces may be slightly narrower than perpendicular ones, both tend to range from 7.5 to 9 feet wide and 10 to 20 feet long, resulting in an average square footage of approximately 160 square feet per parking space. In practice, while 7.5 feet in width may be adequate for compact parking spaces, 8.5 feet is a more common width as it better accommodates wider cars.
Some parking spaces are specifically designed for parallel parking, though these are typically situated along streets and may accompany meters. These spaces tend to be a few feet wider to compensate for the more complicated parking maneuvers required. In Baltimore County, for instance, these spaces should be 21 feet long to allow cars enough space to enter and exit safely without obstructing traffic.
Parking Space Size Variations
It’s important to note that parking space sizes differ across the country and across the world. Within the U.S., counties have the power to dictate their own standards for parking space sizes, although regulations for accessible parking are set out by the ADA at a federal level. As a result, minimum parking space width can vary between cities even in the same state. Of course, establishments are always free to exceed the minimum width, and they often do if space allows.
Clearly, there is no one standard size that suits all parking spaces, and the exact dimensions depend on space constraints, parking lot layout, and local practices. There are also specific types of parking spaces that bring their own requirements.
All American parking lots are required to have a certain number of accessible parking spaces depending on the building’s capacity. For large parking lots of over 500 spots, at least 2% of all parking spots should be ADA-compliant accessible spaces. Smaller lots have their own guidelines, but all parking lots must have at least one accessible parking space. As such, all establishments with parking lots should be aware of the specific dimensions for both parking spaces and access aisles.
At least 1/8 of a lot’s spaces (and always at least one) should be van-accessible, meaning that it must have a 96-inch access aisle capable of fitting a standard wheelchair lift. Van-accessible spaces should also have a greater degree of vertical clearance to ensure that wheelchair vans can safely fit without encountering obstructions. This vertical clearance must be present not only in the space itself, but also across the route leading to the accessible parking area. Essentially, a wheelchair user should be able to maneuver from the road into a van-accessible space without hitting any vertical obstructions. The other 7/8 of ADA parking spaces should have at least a 36-inch accessible route and a 60-inch, level access aisle.
Since almost all parking lots in the U.S. must comply with these regulations, it’s important to consider how these wider dimensions fit into the broader parking lot design.
Truck and Trailer Parking
Truck stops, gas stations, and other establishments frequented by truck drivers often need to incorporate larger parking spots specifically for trucks and trailers. These spaces are typically a minimum of 15 feet wide with lengths in excess of 30-40 feet. Dedicated truck parking lots will have their own specific dimensions depending on the size of trailers to be parked, but most commercial establishments will not need to worry about these details.
The Importance of Clear Striping and Regular Maintenance
Even if your parking lot has generously-sized spaces and a sufficient number of ADA-compliant spaces, customers may still encounter navigational challenges if a parking lot has fallen into disrepair. Well-maintained parking lot striping is important to ensure that patrons can easily discern where their parking space begins and ends. If lines become faint, or have been painted over poorly, leaving two competing lines for the same boundary, drivers can quickly become frustrated with your establishment before they’ve even entered.