Parking: Tips for Finding the Best Space

Snagging the perfect parking space — it’s a quest that inspires endless frustration, parking lot rage, drivers stalking shoppers back to their cars, and has even spawned YouTube parodies. Mall developers are responding by trying to take the headache out of parking, introducing new smartphone apps that use data from parking lot cameras to identify and route drivers to open spaces. Increasingly, malls are also installing overhead electronic signboards that use red or green lights to mark rows with open spaces. Also, websites and mobile apps are popping up that can assist you in finding the perfect spot.

But even if your mall’s parking lot lacks technology savvy, a little insider parking knowledge can save you from stalking drivers back to their cars — and have your car parked in just minutes. Whether you’re battling Black Friday crowds or simply trying to survive your regular weekend shopping rush, follow these parking tips to take the pain out of your next trip to the mall.

“All the spots are full!”

Master the art of hovering: If the parking lot is full, you’ll need to “hover” to find a space. Just last weekend, I found myself hovering in the middle of a long row of cars, trying to keep a sharp eye out for folks who were about to leave. One mad dash for a vacant spot later, another driver swooped in and stole it, leaving me irritated, angry… and still hovering for parking! Here’s how to avoid a similar fate:

  • Hover from a location where you can see at least 20 spaces. That’s typically the back of a row. Why 20 spaces? If you assume a shopper’s average time at the mall is three hours (180 minutes), then divided by 20 cars, probability says you’ll get a space in nine minutes.
  • The more cars you can “watch,” the shorter your wait time. Watching 25 cars, for example, reduces the average wait time to just over seven minutes.
  • Don’t try to watch more than 25 cars. Watching beyond this number makes it difficult to beat out another car to a far away spot, just like what happened to me.
  • Never wait behind another hovering car – doing so effectively “doubles” your waiting time from nine minutes to 18 minutes.

“I need to park now!”

Know where to look: According Tom Diamond, the president of Chicago-based Remote Sensing Metrics, parking lots tend to fill up in the shape of a bell curve, with the greatest vehicle concentration in front of store entrances. If you’re in a hurry and need to park immediately, follow these tips:

  • Diamond says that mall parking lots are rarely full; the key is knowing where to look. Avoid the spaces immediately in front of store entrances – these are invariably full or packed with folks hovering for an open space.
  • Look for spots in locations that are equidistant between entrances, which is the “bottom” of the bell curve. The spaces are generally free, and actually a shorter distance to the entrance than parking at the very back of the main entrances’ parking row.
  • In crowded parking garages, head straight to the top (or bottom, if it’s an underground garage) rather than waiting it out on the first few levels. Taking a flight of stairs is great exercise, and you’re more likely to find immediate open spaces on the top levels.