Is there a road design equivalent to McMansion Hell?
September 1, 2021 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I've long believed that parking lots and urban road systems are designed by people who do not drive. After reading this from the Blue, and her comment that the kitchen was designed by someone who doesn't cook, I'm looking for the critical equivalent for roads and parking lots.

Books, authors, websites are all good. I'm fascinated by the sheer absurdity of parking lot design, and while I understand that they are made for maximum cramming of vehicles and not actual ease of use by the driver, I'm looking for some writing that explores this topic. I'm not interested in reading about urban planning per se, more the failures of urban planning in the same vein of McMansion Hell.
posted by archimago to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've designed parking lots, AMA.

I don't know of any professional writing on the subject, but I think your basic characterization of it as cramming the maximum amount of spots into the minimum amount of space is pretty much correct. Aside from that, there's criteria to meet that, largely, has to do with urban planning and zoning codes.

I'd also say that urban road systems being designed by people who didn't drive is also largely correct - in many cases they were laid out for horse traffic and we've been kludging things on to them ever since.
posted by LionIndex at 8:14 AM on September 1, 2021 [12 favorites]

Not Just Bikes is a great YouTube channel in this vein.
posted by rockindata at 8:14 AM on September 1, 2021 [8 favorites]

There is pathetic motorways
and SABRE (Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts)
posted by adventureloop at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cars take up a lot of space and there is a finite amount of space in the real world. A lot of what you characterize as “designed by people who do not drive” is just grappling with geometry.
posted by ripley_ at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

For the record, I actually knew somebody who was studying engineering who could not (for medical reasons) obtain a driver's licence. He had never been behind the wheel of a car. Want to take a guess what his particular area of study and his career plan was? You guessed it: designing roads.

I know that's just one anecdote, but if you needed confirmation that non-driving road designers exist, that's the best I can do.
posted by sardonyx at 8:24 AM on September 1, 2021

Most of the highways in NY were built by Robert Moses, who never learned to drive. if you have 50 hours, Robert Caro's Power Broker is probably the greatest biography ever written.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:28 AM on September 1, 2021 [10 favorites]

Road Guy Rob and City Beautiful are two other YouTube channels that are good, informative, and (IMO) likeable. Neither are as critical as McMansion Hell; their missions are to educate about good design practices, but they will occasionally illustrate bad practices as a counterpoint. Road Guy Rob is especially funny about this. Here's particular funny one about medians.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:31 AM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

The road design equivalent to McMansion hell is, well, most roads and highways. Especially intersections. See if you can find a book on intersections.

As a person who bikes, I am here to tell you that roads these days are almost always designed by people who drive. Or at the very least, they're designed by the mythical person who doesn't use roads at all. They're clearly not designed with biking and walking in mind.
posted by aniola at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2021 [11 favorites]

The number of spaces required in a parking lot is what comes first, and then after that the design comes in. Maybe that's what is making you feel they are not designed for individual drivers, but rather conforming to parking regulations.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:33 AM on September 1, 2021

Here's a video that discusses the design of a highway intersection in the style of McMansion Hell:

Pedestrian friendly diverging diamond design
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:35 AM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Road design is in large part handled by your state (if you're in the US) Department of Transportation or local city/county/etc. Engineering Department and subject to binders full of regulations and design standards, so it's not like some dude is sitting there going "I'm going to design a road like this" with no limit. Those binders are largely based on empirical data, not theory, but there are situations where the solution is "we made do with what we could" and not ideal.
posted by LionIndex at 8:39 AM on September 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Where I’m living right now in Europe they are deliberately changing the flow of streets and lights. Changing certain places to one way, pedestrianizing some places, changing lights so that traffic builds up, removing parking etc- specifically to make it more difficult and unpleasant to drive in the city. I used to drive in and out and now it takes forever and it’s not at all nice. It would appear that these changes were made by a non driver but it’s actually in order to encourage less driving and more public transport use.
posted by pairofshades at 8:51 AM on September 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

I was designing a parking lot once for a retail development that was being built in phases, and the adjacent lot had already been paved and striped. There was a little gap between the last stripe and their paving line, so when we butted up to it, I started laying out the spaces from the other end of the lot. Just as I had hoped, we got a neat row of uniform 9' wide spaces and one bonus 13' space, where the leftover space from our lot hit the leftovers from theirs.

I try to park in my comfort-class parking spot as much as possible.
posted by hwyengr at 8:54 AM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

McSweeneys touches on the intentional awfulness that is the Trader Joe's parking lot design.
posted by hanov3r at 9:15 AM on September 1, 2021

Pedestrian friendly diverging diamond design

I live in the town where that video was made, and we have had several 'diverging diamonds' here for a while. The video fails to mention that the diverging diamond is just as bad for motorists as it is for pedestrians. I have never once felt confident navigating the diamond, no matter how many times I've encountered one before. Neither has my wife, who keeps asking me, "This lane or that lane? Am I in the right lane? Did I just switch lanes?"

Driving through one just feels wrong, and it's not just the driving on the opposite side of the road thing. The diamonds are several lanes wide, and snake unintuitively left and then right and then left. If it's raining, and you can't see the stripes on the road, you're pretty much using "the force" to find your way through (call back to the video!), because there is very little to guide you.

And don't get me started on the roundabouts they're putting all over town (people don't stop to yield).
posted by jabah at 9:25 AM on September 1, 2021

Parking lots are mentioned in this excellent video about the failure of urban planning that has resulted in "Stroads."
posted by oxisos at 11:15 AM on September 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Kunstler used to do (years ago) some posts on terrible intersections and the like, but I'm not gonna link to him because he's a toxic asshole who's turned into a hydroxychloroquine believer who likes to rant about impending military takeovers of the US government in between critiques of building design proposals.
posted by aramaic at 2:42 PM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Don Kostalec is a planner who occasionally gets snarky on twitter.
posted by vespabelle at 10:07 PM on September 6, 2021

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