June 2002
0223 1314-SDTDC

Designating Parking Areas on Unpaved Surfaces

Marty Willbee, Recreation Technician

As the popularity of our national forests grows, greater demands are placed on areas to park, view, and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. In the past, parking areas that were not defined with asphalt and/or striping were adequate to handle traffic. However, as more people use recreation areas, the need to direct traffic and provide an orderly arrangement for parking increases.

Considerations for designing effective traffic flow and parking arrangements include:

  • Clearly marked designated spaces for emergency or other kinds of access.
  • Adequate pullout and turnaround areas to ensure visitor safety.
  • Clearly designated parking areas for visitor use.
Figure 1-Stacked parking in an unmarked parking area.
Figure 1. Stacked parking in an unmarked parking area.

The goal of the project was to conduct a search for suitable products or methods to designate parking on unpaved and gravel parking areas. The ideal method would increase visitor enjoyment both by eliminating confusion and stacked parking problems and by reducing traffic problems in busy areas.

 Figure 2-Traffic congestion and stacked parking.
Figure 2. Traffic congestion and stacked parking.

Researchers learned two important facts from this project.

  1. If a design is provided, a majority of visitors will use it properly and follow directions.
  2. In order to increase the pleasure, ease of use, and safety of visitors, the Forest Service needs to provide them with directions to follow in parking areas.

Researchers conducted a search of products to identify those that seemed best suited to designate parking on unpaved and gravel parking areas and were cost-effective in their application

Wheel stops
Landscape timbers or railroad ties
A traditional parking lot was laid out so it could easily be recognized by visitors. Landscape timbers, the least expensive product at approximately $2 per timber, were chosen to delineate the parking perimeter and parking spaces. The 8-ft timbers were primed, painted safety yellow, and drilled with 1/2-in holes at a distance of 8 in from each end of the timber.

Figure 3-Primed, painted, and drilled timber ready for installation.
Figure 3. Primed, painted, and drilled timber ready for installation.

The timbers were anchored around the perimeter of the parking lot with -in rebar. When the layout was complete, the timbers, which appear as wheel stops, define the parking lot and the parking spaces.

Figure 4-Rincon Fire Station crew helps install timbers.
Figure 4. Rincon Fire Station crew helps install timbers.

Figure 5. Defined parking area and spaces.

Cement stops
Cement stops can be used in place of landscape timbers. They are installed similarly but at a much higher cost. They are also much heavier. Plastic or rubber stops, or parking blocks Plastic or rubber stops, or parking blocks can also be used in place of landscape timbers. Like the cement stops, cost and weight are a factor. Each stop or block costs approximately $75 and weighs 35 lb.

Chalk or paint lines

Chalk, lime, or paint are often used to identify parking on unpaved areas. Using a liner or striper is recommended when applying the line to delineate parking spaces. The price of the striper ranges from $100 to $300. Striping an area is a temporary method. Since the weather is always changing, restriping should occur as needed.

Construction whiskers or stake chasers
Construction whiskers or stake chasers are heavy-duty polyethylene bristles secured by a metal band. They can be attached to wooden stakes or hubs, or nailed directly into the ground. To delineate parking spaces, the construction whiskers were installed with a 60 penny (60d) nail, 6 in apart and 10 ft in length. Around the perimeter of the parking area, the whiskers were installed 1 ft apart. Yellow colored whiskers were tried, but because their color blended in with the surrounding vegetation, a fluorescent pink was used instead. A lime striping was also used over the whiskers to outline the parking spaces. It was discovered that visitors did not recognize the area as parking, but instead associated the fluorescent pink whiskers with a possible construction zone. If a sign was used denoting this space as a "parking zone," visitors may have used it. In the future it may be advisable to use whiskers as markers at the top and bottom of each stripe for ease in restriping when the chalk or paint lines fade with use.

Road Oyl® Resin Modified Emulsion
Road Oyl® is used to stabilize the soil so stops can be installed for a more permanent parking area. Application rate is 1 gal/yd2 per 1-in depth. The Road Oyl® is a more expensive alternative at a cost of approximately $310 for a 55-gal drum. For large parking lots Road Oyl® can be purchased less expensively in bulk quantities. Other methods of delineation are available to mark parking spaces and areas. Rocks and logs at the site may be readily available as native materials. Products such as bollards, stakes, signs, and reflective markers are available in a number of catalogs including EMED Co., Inc., Global Industrial Equipment, P.S. Plus, Seton Identification Products, Barco Products Company, and Allstate Traffic and Safety Signs.

The recommended ways to delineate parking areas are striping and landscape timbers. These methods meet the need to control and organize vehicle parking. Visitors recognized them as symbols for parking and responded accordingly. The landscape timbers are effective and people organized their vehicles in a parking pattern. When chalk lines are added to the center of the large lot to further delineate another parking area, people not only used this simple mark to line up their vehicles, but they also repeated the pattern closer to the road without having a chalked area present. In high-use recreation areas, such as southern California where these methods were tried, it may be advantageous to pave and use striping to delineate parking areas. This improves safety and achieves maximum utilization and efficiency. In areas that get high use only occasionally or seasonally, landscape timbers and striping may be sufficient.

Figure 7. Shows pattern of vehicles arranged using landscape timbers and chalk lines. Note the vehicles in the foreground that line up without the use of chalk lines.

If an area is overcrowded or insufficient parking area is provided, monitoring and management control may be the best way to manage high-use areas.

Finally, the most significant observation of researchers was that when an area was laid out to be easily recognized as an orderly way to park, people responded, which resulted in increased safety and enjoyment for all.

Wheel stops were installed in August 2000. At the same time, the center of the parking area was marked with chalk. One year later, the timber wheel stops remain in place and are being used. The chalk lines are gone, but visitors park in an organized manner throughout the parking area.

TD logo
For Additional Information Contact:
Project Leader, Recreation Management
San Dimas Technology & Development Center
444 East Bonita Avenue, San Dimas CA 91773-3198
Phone 909-599-1267; TDD: 909-599-2357; FAX: 909-592-2309
E-mail: mailroom_wo_sdtdc@fs.fed.us

Information contained in this document has been developed for the guidance of employees of the Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), its contractors, and cooperating Federal and State agencies. The USDA assumes no responsibility for the interpretation or use of this information by other than its own employees. The use of trade, firm, or corporation names is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official evaluation, conclusion, recommendation, endorsement, or approval of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable.

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