Black Friday Proves We Have Too Much Damn Parking!

At most big box stores, the parking lots occupy far more land than the stores themselves, and those lots suck up additional resources from our towns.

For years, we’ve been told that parking lots need to be large enough to accommodate peak parking demand. Sure, they’re not full on any given Tuesday, but we really need them on those big shopping days! (Or so the developers claim, as they tear down residential housing for commercial parking spaces that will never be used.)

On Black Friday, the Dick’s Sporting Goods store I visited had 155 empty parking spaces in their 261 space parking lot. This means that, on what is purported to be the busiest shopping day of the year, 62% of the available parking spaces were vacant.

Dick’s was not alone. Everywhere I went, I found oceans of empty asphalt, despite crowds of eager shoppers bustling inside the stores.

So what’s up with that?

My initial thought was to blame our local zoning ordinance for its high parking minimums. And while this is certainly a factor, it doesn’t appear to be the actual cause. As it turns out, national chains have their own development standards, which often far exceed local zoning requirements.

In Tulsa’s recently updated zoning code, parking requirements received a makeover. A retail store in a commercial shopping district is required to provide a minimum of 2.5 or 3.33 spaces per 1,000 SF of building. (The lower number is for CH and Mixed-Use zoning, which includes many of our older/historic “main streets.” In these areas, the first 5,000 SF of building space is exempt from parking requirements. Downtown has no parking requirements whatsoever.) While Donald Shoup would correctly argue that these requirements are both precise and wrong , they are a big improvement over our previous zoning code that required even more parking and treated every neighborhood like a 70’s suburb.

Here’s the rub. Many national retailers require around 5 parking spaces per 1,000 SF of building size. This is true of national chains as diverse as REI and PETCO, and it appears to be the case for Dick’s Sporting Goods, which has 261 parking spaces serving its 50,220 SF building.

Since every parking space takes up about 300 SF of land (once you factor in driveways and aisles), this means that every 50,000 SF of building area is accompanied by over 75,000 SF of asphalt. And on Black Friday, when the parking lot at Dick’s was 60% vacant, it means that 46,500 SF of space—an area nearly as large as the store itself—sat empty.

That’s a lot of space to waste on the “busiest shopping day of the year.” But it’s nothing compared to a “normal” shopping day, which looks something like this:

Image Credit: Google Maps

Why do I care? Because all that wasted space means we’re building and maintaining a lot more public infrastructure than we need to. If you’ve been following the Strong Towns movement, it makes you think. When every destination is bloated by excessive parking, cities must provide and maintain additional miles of roadway and manage more water, sewer and stormwater lines than they otherwise would. At the same time, we receive fewer tax dollars per acre of land within our city limits because of the poor use of space. It’s an inefficient system that hits municipalities–and taxpayers–directly in the pocketbook.

All this just because a bunch of national chains want twice as much parking as they need on the busiest shopping day of the year. Maybe it’s time we started paying closer attention to the math.

This article was originally published by Sarah Kobos on Strong Towns,

Sarah is an urban design nerd and community activist from Tulsa, OK. Her superpower is the ability to transform almost any topic into a conversation about zoning. Whenever possible, she explores other cities and writes about urban design and land use issues at

The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.</i>

Share this story and pictures of your own city’s unused parking scenes all over social media using #BlackFridayParking