American Vehicles Got Enormous, Parking Spots Remain the Same

Trucks and SUVs are getting dented and jamming lots; 'this vehicle is a tank'

Shawn Massoudi is loyal to his brawny white Cadillac Escalade, which offers a roomy interior and three rows of seating for his family of five.
 There is one gripe. It is no joy ride finding parking for the behemoth sport-utility vehicles in the puny spaces available in many Los Angeles parking lots and garages.
 “Everything is marked compact car,” said Mr. Massoudi, 41. “This vehicle is a tank compared to a compact car.”
 He makes annoying loops hunting for spaces ample enough for his Escalade, all 17- feet long and nearly 7-feet wide of it. He often relegates himself to the outer rungs of parking lots, where stalls are fatter and he can comfortably hog two spots without irking other drivers.
 Otherwise, Mr. Massoudi said, you “come back to people dinging and denting your doors.”
 America's love affair with jumbo-sized vehicles continues to grow, and so do the headaches involved with trying to park them.
 Many downtown garages and parking lots sprouted in the late '70s and '80s when sales of smaller cars were on the rise. The standard parking spot in the U.S. — about 8 feet to 9 feet wide and nearly 18 feet deep—has budged little since.
 Compact-car spaces, generally 7 feet to 8 feet wide and 15.5 feet deep, are becoming more commonplace in some congested cities, as builders try to squeeze in more parking. All the while, vehicles themselves are inflating in size with many models getting wider, longer and taller with each new generation.
 “You've got two trends moving in opposite directions,” said Trent Lethco, a consultant with engineering firm Arup who works with cities and planners on parking and other transportation issues.
 Amanda Collins, a Michigan- native who lives in New York City, said she once had to climb in through the trunk of her Jeep Wrangler to get to the driver's seat because her SUV was so snugly boxed-in.
 “I was so close to the wall on the right side. It was 1 or 2 inches,” recalled Ms. Collins, 25, who at the time was parking her Wrangler in a garage in Birmingham, Mich. “Then, on the left side, someone parked 2 inches away from me.”
 She said she ended up leaving a note on the other vehicle — a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a larger SUV—chiding the driver for parking in a spot that “you knew was too small.”
 SUVs began to surge in popularity in the late 1990s, and sales of the rugged, people haulers held strong through the early to mid-2000s. When the economy collapsed later in the decade and gasoline prices shot up to more than $4 gallon, many buyers ditched their SUVs for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Now, the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction.
 Ford Motor Co., which recently announced it was killing off several slow-selling car models, expects nearly 90% of its North American sales will come from SUVs and trucks by 2020.
 Auto makers say new parking- assistance technologies, such as back-up cameras and warning systems that can detect a potential collision, are helping drivers of heftier vehicles better navigate tight spaces.
 Marcel Ralbovsky, an F-150 pickup truck owner living in Las Vegas, isn't taking any chances. He said he keeps a white message board in his garage with “77 inches” written in big numbers on it. That is the height of his truck.
 “It is a constant reminder to read the signs if I should happen to take the truck to the strip,” he said.

Drivers tie up traffic trying to muscle trucks and SUVs into too-small spots.

 Mr. Ralbovsky once drove a Ford Expedition SUV to Seattle and had to park out in the “boonies” because the vehicle wouldn't fit in the hotel's underground garage. Now, when he drives to the coast, he does so in his smaller Ford Edge crossover.
 Drivers of more diminutive rides are equally frustrated by the parking pinch. Taller trucks and SUVs block views, park at weird angles and make it difficult to get in and out. Dents and dings are frequent bothers, these drivers say.
 In Detroit, where large trucks and SUVs dominate the roads, jostling for parking is a morning ritual in downtown garages where spaces are narrow and the turning radius tight.
 “You don't need to have a Hummer to be affected by this,” said Michael Davis, 47, who owns a compact Mazda 3 hatchback.
 Often, he'll see drivers seizing up traffic trying to muscle trucks and SUVs into too-small spots—a process that can take multiple attempts. “It literally becomes a line of 20 cars,” Mr. Davis said.
 Alondon Richard, 25, who parks his Chevy Malibu sedan in the same garage, said the spots are so slim and the cars so tightly packed that disembarking is a “kind of limbo.”
 He must carefully crack his car door the right amount and then squeeze out from behind it without bumping into the vehicle jammed next to his car.
 “It's stressful,” said Mr. Richard, who is 6 feet tall. “The other car is dirty and it gets on your clothes.” About a month ago, he returned to his car to see an inch-long gash in the fender.
 “After a long day of work, it's like someone hit me,” he said, “and now, I have to deal with this, too.”


A big vehicle crams into a tiny space in a garage in Detroit. Such tight squeezes frustrate drivers.


BY CHRISTINA ROGERS

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