Sometimes a parking lot lies between you and your heart’s desire – reaching the café to buy a frappucino, enjoying a quiet moment along a shaded stream, dropping by your favorite lunch spot. Or perhaps the car-choked lot is the gateway to your workplace.
Parking lots are rarely places of delight and walking through one often feels like being trapped in a nasty computer game.
Well, a couple of us who regularly advocate for squeezing every possible bit of walkability into communities decided to get our own house in order. Witness the bright new path through our parking lot at the Planning Department’s headquarters in Silver Spring.
This walkway connects the Woodside Park neighborhood to the north with Downtown Silver Spring to the south, and places in between – such as shops and our favorite lunch destinations. We created what we consider to be an art piece and not just a path. It is painted a handsome shade of purple, carefully selected after weeks of color testing to be vibrant but not pushy – and to fit in with the pale brick and bright green foliage on our site.
The path also includes a wide, color-coordinated crosswalk that combines the big white stripes required by the County with bands of color in between that subtly shift between purple, green and orange.
Already, our new purple path and crosswalk are attracting couples with strollers, seniors, fellow workers, visitors to our building, people walking their dogs.
We want our path to inspire more paths through parking lots and more colorful crosswalks through driveways, so here are tips on how to add a path through your own parking lot. It’s easy to do. Especially if you own the parking lot yourself and don’t need to convince the owner to let you do it.
Here’s how we did it. We created a design according to best practices in path design and parking lot design in terms of dimensions and visibility; researched types of paint and measured the area of coverage and number of coats needed. We bought the paint at a local shop and did color tests (in the parking lot) – just like you would do at home choosing a color for your living room. Granted, our colleagues thought we were crazy at the time but it paid off. We did end up with a very handsome purple and used an acrylic paint formulated for applications on concrete and asphalt. It took two generous coats which took almost 50 gallons of paint.
How to make a colorful crosswalk. Our crosswalk is on property owned and maintained by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT). You must get their approval for a crosswalk project on the agency’s property. We did that. We used the approved white paint, with highly experienced Parks Department painters, followed the approved dimensions and then added color.
The most important thing to know is that MCDOT is very, very busy and does not have time to add color or touch it up when it wears off. Therefore, we recommend that you work closely with them and promise to maintain the colors in the crosswalk. Our design was inspired by the work of Carlos Cruz-Diaz who is a Venezuelan-French artist of great acclaim. He has created crosswalks in major cities that play with color and time.
Remember to design for people, bikes, cars, trucks. No matter what you do, the design has to work! You should design for good vehicular circulation, bikeways and pedestrian access. We made sure that the required dimensions for drive aisles were maintained. We made sure that emergency access and loading areas were not compromised. We only added paint.
Pick your color palette carefully. Genuine traffic paint is the best since it is meant to be driven over, over and over again, but comes in limited colors. It is fine if you like white, yellow and red. And don’t count on being able to mix the colors yourself to get variations. Pigments and color can be strange and mysterious, depending on the complex chemical make-up of the brew.
We also considered tennis court paint, but were not satisfied when we did our test swatch in the parking lot. So we selected a less durable paint for concrete that let us fine-tune the color. A good paint store specialist will also help you weed out colors that will fade over time in the sun. We picked a vibrant green, but our adviser knew that it would not last in sunlight. She custom-mixed a green for us using a yellow traffic paint base that will do better in the sun.
Plan for maintenance. There is no magic to paint on asphalt. It wears off – like gel nails do eventually. Really. Don’t be surprised when it happens. We have all seen what happens to plain vanilla crosswalks. Make a plan to return and refresh the paint. We will let you know about our experience as it happens. Stay tuned.