The Big Ride Can Be A Pain To Park

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — A while back the Ford Motor Co. set out to build the biggest sports-utility vehicle and, for all practical purposes, the automaker succeeded in doing that with the Excursion — but only if the Freightliner LLC Unimog, isn’t considered an SUV.

Freightliner says the Unimog is a commercial truck; however, some analysts have called it an SUV — meaning the Uni gets lumped into the same category as the Excursion, the AM General Hummer and the Chevrolet Suburban, four of the largest consumer production vehicles out there. So how do these stack up, size-wise?

The Excursion is taller than the Hummer and the Suburban, and longer than both — a full four feet longer than the Hummer. But the Hummer is slightly wider than the Ford and Chevy products.

As for a comparison with the Unimog, the Excursion is longer and has a wider wheelbase than the truck offered by Freightliner. But the Unimog is nine inches taller and nearly five inches wider than the Excursion. It’s also 11 inches taller and almost three inches wider than the Hummer. (For the record, Unimog is a Mercedes product and its name is an acronym for the German term "Universal Motor Gerät" for universal motorized unit.)

Granted the manufacturers don’t build these vehicles just to cruise city streets on a Saturday night. Instead, these were built for rugged off-road travel, and, in the Unimog’s case, for clearing fields and plowing a path through a heavily snow-covered rural road. Still, owners of these vehicles do tend to drive urban streets, and even attend an occasional event at the Van Andel Arena and dine at downtown restaurants.

So? Well, none of those places have drive-thrus, meaning that these big rigs have to be corralled somewhere downtown. So how many of the four can be parked — legally, that is — downtown? Try all. But, maybe not always comfortably.

Ellis Parking Co., the city’s largest private parking firm, has lots downtown and is currently building the Midtown ramp with Kent County just east of Monroe Avenue between Pearl and Lyon streets. According to Ellis Parking President Michael Ellis, the firm’s parking spaces run from 8 ½ to nine feet wide and 18 to 20 feet long.

At city-owned ramps and lots, spaces are measured differently. Parking Services Director Ted Perez said stalls are 8 feet 9 inches wide, three inches wider than just a few years ago. But the length of a space is really determined by the entire width of the bay. A bay can run between 57 and 60 feet with two rows for parking and a driving aisle. So how long are the stalls? Well, that’s a closely held secret in the public-parking business — but here it is.

The city’s yellow parking lines are 16 feet long. These could be longer but aren’t because the shorter the line is, the closer drivers park to the wall — leaving more room in the driving aisle. If the lines were 20 feet long, the theory is some drivers would park so their vehicle’s bumper would be at the end of the stall. These rigs would then cut into the driving aisle, leaving less room for traffic going in and out.

So how do the Big Four park? All fit in the longer, 20-foot spaces. But both the Suburban and the Excursion will stick out into the lot’s drive aisle when parked in the shorter, 18-foot-long stalls — the Suburban by three inches, the Excursion by nine.

As far as width goes, the spaces are wide enough to handle all four. But drivers may have a tough time getting in and out of these SUVs if there are other vehicles parked in the adjoining spaces. With the width of these vehicles ranging from 6.6 to 7 feet, even a nine-foot-wide stall doesn’t leave much room to swing open a big door — only about a foot or so on each side.

In addition, drivers may also have a tough time getting into a parking space if the stalls on both sides are already occupied, more so if these are filled with other big SUVs.

So far, Ellis said he hasn’t seen a Hummer or Unimog parked in one of his company’s lots. But he has seen a lot of Suburbans and Excursions deftly slid into the yellow-outlined stalls. “In terms of the Excursion and Suburban, we haven’t had any problems,” he said.

Perez added that the city has also lengthened some of its curbside metered spaces by two feet, extending these to 22 feet long to accommodate bigger SUVs, vans and pick-ups. “We still have a lot of 20-foot stalls,” he said. “But where we’re installing new meters, we’re making those 22 feet.”

By the way, shortly after Ford announced that it would begin production of the planet’s largest SUV, DaimlerChrysler AG revealed it had plans to build an even bigger one. At last check, neither Ellis Parking nor the city had any immediate plans to build bigger spaces.

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