"Parking area" redirects here. For parking areas along highways, see Rest area.

A parking lot (British English: car park), also known as car lot, is a cleared area that is intended for parking vehicles. Usually, the term refers to a dedicated area that has been provided with a durable or semi-durable surface.

In most countries where cars are the dominant mode of transportation, parking lots are a feature of every city and suburban area. Shopping malls, sports stadiums, megachurches and similar venues often feature car parks of immense area.

Design and locational considerations

The usual parking lot is paved with asphalt. Some are paved with concrete. Many are gravel lots. A few of the newer lots are surfaced with permeable paving materials.

Parking lots have their own special type of engineering. While parking lots have traditionally been an overlooked element of development projects by governmental oversight, the recent trend has been to provide regulations for the configuration and spacing of parking lots, their landscaping, and drainage and pollution abatement issues.

Parking lots can be small, with just parking spaces for a few vehicles, very large with spaces for thousands of vehicles, or any size in between. Small parking lots are usually near buildings for small businesses or a few apartments, although many other locations are possible. Larger parking lots can be for larger businesses or those with many customers, institutions such as schools, churches, offices, or hospitals, museums or other tourist attractions, rest areas, strip malls, or larger apartment buildings.

Some such businesses, institutions, or other buildings may have several parking lots if a single large lot cannot accommodate their parking needs. Large and very large parking fields can be for stadiums, airports, malls or shopping centers with multiple businesses, large schools or universities, convention centers or fair grounds, theaters, workplaces with many employees such as factories, plants, etc., or other large institutions. Often several businesses, offices, apartment buildings, or other institutions may use one or more car parks in common for their convenience.

Parking lots near businesses, buildings, or institutions are often implicitly understood or explicitly labeled to be for the use of their respective customers or visitors, often with special vehicle spaces for the owners and employees. Parking lots around apartment buildings are often exclusively intended for parking use of their residents, although sometimes separate spaces may be provided for visitors. Such parking for businesses, offices, and residences is often free to the customers, patrons, or residents.

In some cases, especially in areas where parking is scarce, one must pay to park. Entry and exit access is often controlled at these type of lots to ensure those parking pay the required fee. The types of products used to enforce payment are called access controls. Automated payment, entry and exit systems can reduce the need for employees and can reduce payment losses. One way traffic spikes, automated gates and tire spikes, and signage contribute to control of a fee-based parking lot.

In many congested areas where some businesses lack their own parking areas, there are parking lots where practically any driver can pay a fee to park. These types of car parks are often effectively businesses in themselves. Some car parks have parking meters into which coins must be paid to park in the adjacent space.

Some spaces in a parking lot may be marked as "reserved" for certain people, including those who are handicapped. There are often one or more parking spaces for handicapped people, which may be slightly wider, close to the point of entry for the corresponding store or building. Vehicles with handicapped tags may park there, but the non-handicapped are not allowed to.

Although many parking lots are rectangularly-shaped, there are car parks of all sorts of shapes. A parking lot can be in front or back, on the side of the building it services, or any combination of these, including all around the building, often depending on local building codes. In a very large parking field, it is easy to get lost or have trouble finding one's vehicle. Such large car parks often have various sections marked, for example by numbers or letters, to help identify the location.

The area is organized into parking spaces, which are generally marked with paint lines for each vehicle and driving lanes in between so that vehicles can drive into and out of the spaces. The arrangement of the parking spaces relative to the driving lanes can feature perpendicular parking spaces, angle parking (most common in North America, especially in large lots), or parallel parking (least common in parking lots, and usually only for a few spaces), or possibly some combination of these.

Large lots have multiple lanes with rows of parking spaces between each one. Except for rather small lots, the location of the parking spaces for each vehicle are usually indicated with pavement markings or lines, similar to center lines on streets. A very common arrangement in large lots is angle parking for two rows of vehicles between driving lanes, with the parked vehicles facing front to front between the two rows. At the sides of the lot, other driving lanes connect these lanes perpendicularly so that a vehicle can drive into and out of the car park at designated locations.

There may be speed limits, stop signs and crosswalks for pedestrians in larger parking lots. Tall overhead lights may illuminate some lots at night.

Most spaces in parking lots available to the public are sized for vehicles about the size of a car. The spaces are usually arranged assuming the vehicle can back out of the parking space. In many rest areas on highways, long parking spaces are also available for trucks or other vehicles with trailers, into which they can enter at one end and leave at the opposite end to avoid potentially cumbersome reverse driving.

A common arrangement in paid lots is to have a vehicle entry point with a cross gate where an entering driver presses a button to take a stub with the entry time and to open the cross gate for access to the lot. When leaving, the driver would pay at an exit point according to how much time was spent in the lot as determined from the stub.

In order to keep unauthorized people from parking in lots, towing crews sometimes patrol after business closing hours, especially at night, to tow away vehicles which should not be parked there. After snowfalls in winter, vehicles with snow plows often clear snow, usually after business closing hours and often during the night.

In response the worldwide intelligent transport system initiative, Parking Guidance and Information systems have been developed for use in urban areas. These systems use variable-message signs to direct drivers to car parks with available spaces.

Many drivers prefer underground car parking over outdoor parking because it prevents the inside of the car from heating up on hot or sunny days and it also prevents the car from being wet on rainy days.

Much of the above discussion also applies to large parking garages and multi-level parking areas.

Many businesses hire companies to stripe their lot; there are a wide variety of striping businesses. There are imprinting companies, striping companies, paving companies and other. They are most commonly hired for maintenance and rehabilitation of older lots.

One alternative to parking garages is rooftop parking, a rare practice that was used at Algo Centre Mall in Canada, a resulting roof collapse occurred in 2012, killing two people.

Environmental considerations

Water pollution

Parking lots tend to be sources of water pollution because of their extensive impervious surfaces. Virtually all of the rain (minus evaporation) that falls becomes urban runoff. To avoid flooding and unsafe driving conditions, the lots are built to effectively channel and collect runoff.[1] Parking lots, along with roads, are often the principal source of water pollution in urban areas.[2]

Motor vehicles are a constant source of pollutants, the most significant being gasoline, motor oil, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals. (PAHs are found in combustion byproducts of gasoline, as well as in asphalt and coal tar-based sealants used to maintain parking lots.) Many parking lots are also significant sources of trash which ends up in waterways.[3]

Treatment of pollution : Traditionally, the runoff has been shunted directly into storm sewers, streams, dry wells or even sanitary sewers. However, most larger municipalities now require construction of stormwater management facilities for new lots. Typical facilities include retention basins, infiltration basins and percolation trenches.[4] Some newer designs include bioretention systems, which use plants more extensively to absorb and filter pollutants. However, most existing lots have limited or no facilities to control runoff.

Alternative paving materials : An alternative solution today is to use permeable paving surfaces, such as brick, pervious concrete, stone, special paving blocks, or tire-tread woven mats. These materials allow rain to soak into the ground through the spaces inherent in the car park surface. The ground then may become contaminated in the surface of the car park, but this tends to stay in a small area of ground, which effectively filters water before it seeps away. This can however create problems if contaminants seep into groundwater, especially where there is groundwater abstraction 'downstream' for potable water supply.


Many areas today also require minimum landscaping in parking lots. This usually principally means the planting of trees to provide shade. Customers have long preferred shaded parking spaces in the summer, but car park providers have long been antagonistic to planting trees because of the extra cost of cleaning the car park.

However, parking lots represent significant heat islands and, indeed, heat sinks in urban areas. The heat from paved areas in urban zones has been shown to even have the power to change the weather locally. By providing trees or other means of shading, the heat and glare resulting from them can be significantly reduced.

Paved surfaces contribute to heat islands in two ways. The first is through excessive accumulation of heat. Dark materials and the enclosed canyons created by city buildings trap more of the sun’s energy. The reflection rate of paving compared to natural surfaces is important as higher reflectance means cooler temperatures. Black pavements, the hottest, have solar reflectances of 5 to 10 percent. Lighter pavements have solar reflectance rates of 25 percent or higher. Reflectance values for soils and various types of vegetation range from 5 to 45 percent. The second cause of heat islands is the low moisture content of paving and building materials. Such materials are watertight, so no moisture is available to dissipate the sun’s heat through evaporation.[5]

Land usage

A parking lot needs fairly large space, around 25 square metres (270 sq ft) times the number of places. This means that lots usually need more land area than for corresponding buildings for offices or shops if most employees and visitors arrive by car. This means covering large areas with asphalt.


Some lots have charging stations for battery vehicles. Some regions with especially cold winters provide electricity at most parking spots for engine block heaters, as antifreeze may be inadequate to prevent freezing.

Parking minimums

Many municipalities require a minimum number of parking spaces, depending on the floor area in a store or the number of bedrooms in an apartment complex. Parking minimums are also set for parallel, pull-in, or diagonal parking, depending on what types of vehicles are allowed to park in the lot or a particular section of it. Parking minimums initially took hold in the middle of the last century, as a way to ensure that traffic to new developments wouldn't use up existing spaces.[6]

Due to a recent trend towards more livable and walkable communities, parking minimums have been criticized by both livable streets advocates[7] and developers alike. For a time, the British government recommended that local councils should establish maximum parking standards[8] to discourage car use. At least one entity prohibits backing into certain spaces.[9]

Legal issues

Sweden and Denmark

In Sweden and Denmark, there are legally two types of car parking, either on streets and roads, or on private land. A parking violation on streets is a traffic crime, giving fines. A parking violation on private land (also if owned by the city) is a contract violation and gives additional parking fee (Swedish: kontrollavgift = check fee). The difference is small for the car owner and the owner is always responsible.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has two types of car parking: either on public or on private land. The difference is that the police will investigate any reported accident on public land but have no legal obligation and will not do it on private land. Public road is defined by the Road Traffic Act 1972 and (Amendment) Regulations 1988 S.I. 1988/1036[10] as: "Road", in relation to England and Wales, means any highway and any other road to which the public has access, and includes bridges over which a road passes.

There is also a House of Lords judgment to this matter.[11]

One method of identifying the registered owner of a motor vehicle and charging the same for wrongful parking is to consult the DVLA register and charge. The Flashpark company initiated this method and it is likely to be taken up by others.

An accident on private land is entirely a private matter and needs to be investigated privately. However, CCTV-footage and possible access barrier recording does not need to be handed to a private victim of an accident.

Civil Enforcement Officers enforce parking restrictions on Public (Council Owned) Car Parks. These include failure to purchase a ticket as payment (if available)/not parking in a marked bay/other offences.

United States

In the United States, each state's Department of Transportation sets the proper ratio for disabled spaces for private business and public car parks. Certain circumstances may demand more designated spaces. These reserved spaces are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines.[12]

Those in possession of the proper ID tags or license plates are also free from parking violation tickets for running over their metered time or parking in an inappropriate place, as some disabilities may prohibit the use of regular spaces. Illegally parking in a disabled parking space or fraudulent use of another person's permit is heavily fined.


Various forms of technology are used to charge motorists for the use of a car park.

Boom gates are used in many car parks. A customer arrives to the entry ticket machine by vehicle, presses the ticket request push button, takes a ticket and enters the parking lot via the now raised barrier. To exit the lot, the customer presents the ticket to a cashier in a booth at the exit and tenders payment, after which the cashier opens the boom gate.

In 1954, the first automated parking lots were built where for a monthly fee a driver with a magnetic key card could enter and exit the car park by raising and lowering the boom.[13]

A more modern system uses automatic pay stations, where the driver presents the ticket and pays the fee required before returning to their car, then drives to the exit terminal and presents the ticket. If the ticket has not been paid for, the boom barrier will not raise and will force the customer to either press the intercom and speak to a staff member, or reverse out to pay at the pay station or cashier booth.

At the parking lots of some major airports in the United States, a driver can choose to swipe a credit card at the entry ticket dispenser instead of taking a ticket. When the driver swipes the same credit card at the exit terminal upon leaving the lot, the applicable parking fee is automatically calculated and charged to the credit card used.

In some parking lots, drivers pay the cashiers at a separate cashier's office or counter, (which are often located elsewhere from the entrances and exits of carparks) with their tickets. Such cashier's offices are called shroff offices or simply shroff in some car parks in Hong Kong and other parts of East Asia influenced by the Hong Kong usage. If a ticket has not been paid, the barrier will not raise. Cashiers and shroff officers are in recent years often replaced with automated machines.

Another variant of payment has motorists paying an attendant on entry to the lot, with the way out guarded by a one-way spike strip that will only allow cars to exit.

Parking meters can also be used, with motorists paying for the time required for the bay they are parked in.

Other lots operate on a pay and display system, where a ticket is purchased from a ticket machine, and then placed on the dashboard of the car. Parking enforcement officers patrol the lot to ensure compliance with the requirement.

Similar to this is the system where the parking is paid by the mobile phone by sending an SMS message which contains the license plate number. In this case, the virtual cashier books the car and the time when the message is sent, and later a new SMS message must be sent whenever the time is due. The actual payment is then done via the mobile phone bill.

In the United Kingdom, it has been possible to pre-book parking with specialist companies, such as BCP, since 1978. This is prevalent at all airports, major ports and cities.


Modern parking lots utilize a variety of technologies to help motorists find parking spaces and improve their experience. This includes adaptive lighting, sensors, and mobile payment options. The Santa Monica Place shopping mall in California has cameras on each stall that can help count the lot occupancy and find lost cars.[14] Another parking company ParkMe has used statical modelling to forecast parking occupancy in Austin, Texas.[15]

Online booking technology service providers have been created to helped drivers find long-term parking in an automated manner while also providing significant savings for those who book parking spaces ahead of time. They use real-time inventory management checking technology to display parking lots with availability, sorted by price and distance from the airport. [16]

See also


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