Bad Drivers—Or Bad Directions? Confusing Parking Lots at Delaware Malls Cause Road Rage for Some

Snarling at the snarl: After a few close calls in local parking lots, one has to wonder: Who designs these hellish things? And why are these people still working?

My wife thinks I’m a lousy driver, that my depth perception is somehow flawed. As I point out yet again that the problem is really other motorists, I’m forced to slam on the brakes. A car has nearly swerved into ours. The driver hadn’t realized he was running out of road until a split second from too late. But in the poor guy’s defense, without a sign to warn him of the merge, how was he to know?
This didn’t happen on a major highway, where the consequences could have been fatal. It happened in a parking lot. And, somehow, it feels like the consequences could be fatal just the same. Delaware has managed to produce some of the most ridiculous parking lots in the annals of road building.
The incident happened near the U.S. 202 entrance to Brandywine Town Center, where drivers are quickly funneled from a two lane Brandywine Parkway to the left lane only after an unmarked entrance to an adjacent strip. That’s not to mention that, shortly before the merge, some drivers are trying to turn onto the parkway across traffic.
So much for safety. There’s also the inefficiency of the long, looping parkway itself and the labyrinthine lots it bounds. It seems the planners found it uninteresting to plot a simple, easily navigable grid of parking spaces. I’m a creative person, so I understand. But their design is beyond comprehension. The left-only exit onto Naamans Road doesn’t help. I’m no dummy, but it took more trips to the center than I care to mention to figure out how to escape the place. But maybe that was the planner’s intention.
Every time I find myself snarling at the snarl, my father’s words come roaring back from 35 years ago, when on a rare  trip to the brand-new Christiana Mall, he commented, with no small amount of irritation, “Whoever engineered these roads should be fired.”
At the time, drivers entered the mall lots off a two-lane Del. 7. It wasn’t the channeling of vehicles off the main road that was the issue, but the looping of roads around the lot. There was no straightforward way into the mall, no clear entrance to any one lot, except near the big anchors, and the signage was at best, not obvious. (This in a state that, I can say unequivocally, has the best road signs in the country.) You could see Strawbridges or Bamberger’s off in the distance, but there was no clear way to get there. To get out, drivers were forced to circle halfway around the one-way access road, then double back on the one-way outer road to escape the place. (Did I mention the joy of searching for a parking place during the holidays?)
Not that these two lots are the only bad ones. We’re plagued by them, but I can’t blame only the designers. It seems our own road engineers haven’t helped. I give you the so-called Metroform, a planning term that, for a short time, became the name of the formless knot of roads and expansions around I-95, Del. 7, the new Del. 1 and Churchmans Road. All the twists and turns were intended to direct cars safely to a slew of new retailers near the mall, but the driving experience was still hair-raising, the design obsolete before the “improvements” were complete.
So I watch with interest as builders re-do the roads around the mall yet again. Every pass through the construction on Del. 1 near the mall entrance, every merge from Del. 1 onto I-95 seems to involve a close shave. But it seems the new roads will, indeed, be better. The worst thing that could happen is that a car sails off the soaring new overpass.
(Mark Nardone suffers from a mild case of parking lot rage.)


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