Today we take a short walk from the grocery store to the parking lot... any parking lot. Drivers seem to view parking lots as free-for-alls, but the rules don’t suddenly fall away because the pavement got wider, folks.
Signs, speed limits, and no parking zones apply to everyone.
You know those painted lines and signs all over parking lots? Guess what... they’re not philosophical artistic whimsy. They are intentionally painted and placed, and all of us are expected to pay attention to them. All of them.
The threat of being towed or cited keeps people from parking in fire lanes too often, but the general consensus is that other painted lines are optional.
For instance, the rows in parking lots are indicated by columns of painted rectangles. Those rows function like lanes. See, it’s easier to predict what traffic is going to do when there are lanes and drivers aren’t cutting across parking lots in squiggly lines and wide arcs of indeterminate angle. Pedestrians and other drivers know where to look if everyone drives in lanes. Those squiggly lines and wide arcs make it tough to judge. When multiple drivers decide to forge their own paths through traffic, things get dicy. Clearly, most people have cut across a row or traced their own loops through uncrowded parking lots, but do so very carefully, keeping in mind that drivers who are in actual lanes have the right-of-way because they’re following the rules and you’re not.
Speed limits are important, too. I know they seem impossibly slow, but consider how many opportunities there are for another car to back up or zip through a lane. How many drivers are simultaneously pulling in and out and driving up and down and turning here and there. Parking lot speed limits are low so that drivers have time to stop, which they have to do pretty regularly. There are also pedestrians to think about.
A friend of mine recently came out of a shop with her two young children. She balanced her 2 year old son on one hip and held her 5 year old daughter’s hand as they stopped and looked to see if it was safe to cross. It seemed to be. No one was in the lane that crossed in front of the shops, there was a stop sign (a real, bright red, city-posted stop sign) on the corner, and a 15 mile an hour speed limit. But as they stepped off the curb, a truck came zooming around the corner, blowing through the stop sign, rounding the bend, and gunning it. My friend reacted instinctively, jumping back and pulling her daughter with her... hard enough that she lifted her daughter off the ground. As her daughter’s feet cleared the street, the truck blasted through. Lest you think she exaggerated, let me explain two things.
#1 - An onlooker was so outraged at what had just almost happened that he briefly chased the truck, screaming at the driver, “You almost killed that kid! Slow the f*@& down!” before turning to my friend and asking, “Oh my god, lady! Are you okay?"
If we were in my home state of New Jersey, that wouldn’t mean a whole lot, as we tend to be a vocal lot, but out here in Central Pennsylvania, a bystander chasing a moving vehicle while hurling warnings and obscenities is almost unheard of. The only other case I’ve witnessed around here involved me chasing down and leaping onto a moving car that had blown past flashing school bus lights as kindergartners piled on to the bus. That, though, is a story for another day.
#2 - A few moments later, after my friend had staggered into the nearest shop, a Starbucks, and collapsed into a seat, her daughter looked up from her hot chocolate and said, “I’m really glad I didn’t die, Mommy.” Yeah. Even the 5 year old knew it had been a close one. It took a little while before my friend was able to get up and get the kids across the parking lot to their car without shaking.
What does this have to do with you? You need to understand that your tardiness or impatience does not entitle you to endanger others. Slow down. Stop at stop signs.
This brings us to another rule:
Yield to pedestrians.
As long as they are not jumping out of speeding vehicles from between parked cars, pedestrians have the right of way. (Don’t worry, pedestrian sins will be covered in Parking Lots - Part Two: Pedestrians.)
The goal here is to let people walk in and out of stores without being run over. It’s like I said before; it doesn’t matter that you’re in a hurry. We’re all in a hurry. Let the lady with the cart of groceries pass. That’s why there’s a stop sign in front of the crosswalk.
I used to get very annoyed, waiting for multiple cars to blow past the stop sign and crosswalk while my grocery-laden cart and I waited for a break in traffic. Then one day I realized - this cart weighs a ton. From then on, if it’s just me and my cart, I wait until it’s my turn (not until someone deems it my turn), and I go.
The pedestrian rule doesn’t just apply to cross-walks and hard-and-fast traffic laws, either. Be a decent person. If it’s raining and you’re in your car, warm and dry, be decent. Let the person standing out there getting soaked to the skin cross, even if you have the right of way.
Give people space.
If there are two parking spots, don’t pick the one directly next to the person trying to get his kids and their belongings into his car. You can walk the extra few feet. If you can’t, you should have no trouble obtaining a handicapped parking tag so you can park in wide, designated parking spots
I suppose this rule applies even when there aren’t two parking spots. You shouldn’t be honking at a grandma who is struggling to figure out how to get her grandson out of his car seat, and she shouldn’t have to squeeze herself between the door and the car, her grandson howling, as you pull into that particular spot. In most cases, there is another spot for you somewhere. Find it or be patient (see parking rule 2 for more details).
Wait your turn.
If someone is obviously waiting for a parking spot, don’t zip in because you have faster access from the other side.
And if you are waiting for a spot and see someone get in her car, wait patiently. Do not rev your engine aggressively, honk, or call out the window, “C’mon, already!” That’s her space until she chooses to leave it. Besides, maybe she’s not leaving yet. Maybe she’s come out to find her purse, which she’s left in the back seat. Maybe she’s waiting for someone. Maybe she doesn’t like the way you revved your engine at her as she closed her door. Who knows? Chill out and wait your turn.
You've heard my take on how to drive in a parking lot as if you share it with others, which you do. What's your take? I know you've got opinions about these things, people. Comment and turn this rant into a dialogue.
And I repeat: we're all in this together. Act that way.