By Wes Guckert
Nationwide, urban population growth is outpacing suburban growth – reversing a trend that started over 100 years ago. In fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s urban population increased by 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010, outpacing the nation’s overall growth rate of 9.7 percent for the same period. This means traffic congestion in heavily populated metros has only worsened – and will continue to do so.
This trend will continue to make land space in urban settings more and more costly as developers and city dwellers look to snag top locations. Automated and Robotic parking garages can address this issue: they accommodate twice as many vehicles in the same space as conventional parking, which is an essential resource in urban areas where land is at a premium.
Robotic parking has been tested and proven, as well. Asia and Europe have been utilizing this technology for the past 20 years. The technology for robotic parking uses the same technology and philosophy that has turned Amazon, FedEx and UPS warehouses into models of automated efficiency.
The ability to park vehicles door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper allows robotic parking garages to save significant, premium space. A developer can build high-tech garages using 30-50 percent less land than needed for a conventional garage with the same capacity. That means twice the number of parking spaces can be accommodated in the same volume of space. It also means land acquisition costs are decreased substantially. That additional land can be used to develop retail, office, and residential units, which are more profitable ventures.
To put it in perspective, a 90,000 square foot office building (3 levels/30,000 square feet per level) on a four-acre parcel would require 297 surface lot parking spaces (based on 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet). In such a scenario, the combination of both the office building and the surface lot parking spaces encompasses the entire four acres.
With automated/robotic parking garage, 300 spaces can be achieved in a fraction of the footprint and 2.39 acres of land can be saved, if the garage is built directly under the building and 1.77 acres can be saved, if the garage is constructed behind the office building.
Why is this? Robotic garages use narrower spaces than traditional parking facilities because there is no need for drivers to get in and out of cars; the ceiling can be lower in these garages as pedestrians do not have to be taken into consideration; vehicles can be parked inches away from each other; and without the need for stairwells, elevators and ramps, less space is needed.
Beyond the physical footprint of the garage, robotic garages mean lower car emissions and reduced fuel consumption – cars are turned off as soon as they enter the parking bay. No longer do cars idle for long stretches of time when a sporting event or concert is over, nor do cars need to drive up and down ramps, which also contributes to air pollution. With robotic parking garages, fuel savings average 83 percent, while toxic substances in the air drop 68 percent for VOCs, 77 percent for carbon monoxide and 83 percent for carbon dioxide when compared to conventional parking systems, making them much more environmentally friendly.
Robotic parking garages are so much better for the environment in fact that there is an opportunity for 10-15 additional LEED points when developing a robotic garage versus a standard ramp garage.
Robotic parking enhances personal safety and security. In an automated parking garage, the driver simply drops off the vehicle at a convenient drive-in entry cabin. When returning to pick up the car, the driver can wait in a safe pick-up zone until the vehicle is delivered robotically. This system eliminates moving around in a dark garage, searching for a car.
Since there is no access by the public to the vehicle storage area, the risk of theft or vandalism is non-existent. As a result, the driver experience is comparable to a high-quality valet parking operation in which valet runners are replaced with efficient automated technology.
Beyond the vehicle owner, the car is actually safer in an automated garage. Without having to deal with pedestrians, strollers, bad drivers and lackadaisical parking attendants, dents, dings and scrapes are practically eliminated.
Types of systems
Depending on the facility, robotic, automated and mechanical parking all utilize a variety of technologies. The first type of parking system is the Life & Slide, which is for smaller garages, accommodating 15-50 cars at a time. Robotic parking, a second system, does not have a limit on the number of cars that it can service. The largest robotic parking facility in the world is located in Dubai. It is also known to be one of the most luxurious as well. The third type of system is robotic parking valet. This is the most economical when servicing a minimum of 200 cars.
Retrofits and Reuse
Given that automated and robotic parking are a perfect fit for densely-populated urban areas where land is at a premium, most buildings can be considered and converted into robotic parking garages – not just new construction and development. Cities are filled with old factories, warehouses and other existing buildings no longer in use. These facilities are ideal for converting into robotic parking garages. Retrofitting and giving new life to these older buildings will provide two-to-three times the amount of parking and costs are minimal since no major rehab work needs completed and the technology can quickly and easily slide in. The front of the building can even be saved and turned into restaurants and retail shops for increased revenue opportunities.
Much has also been written about the time wasted when drivers circulate blocks and drive around looking for street parking in cities. Not only does this increase frustration, at times it also hurts the very retail establishments drivers are trying to patronize. If drivers cannot find a spot, they simply give up and go elsewhere. If a robotic parking garage were available, it would allow for fast and easy parking for consumers and an opportunity to maintain restaurants, retail and residential facilities.
Other typical robotic, automated and mechanical parking works well for hospitals, universities and office buildings. In addition to urban residential buildings, restaurants and retail, these types of facilities often mean a high volume of people, most of whom have vehicles to park.
Robotic parking now offers city officials, planners, architects and developers an alternative that saves space and money, is environmentally friendly, and is much safer for citizens and consumers. The range of solutions address both new development and redevelopment alike – all proven for the past several decades.
Wes Guckert, PTP, is president of The Traffic Group, one of the nation’s leading traffic engineering and transportation planning firms headquartered in Baltimore. For more information please visit www.trafficgroup.com or contact the author at: [email protected].