About Mark Wright

Mark Wright is the executive director of the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT).

Celebrate: Bikes in Parking Lots

Look for lots of bicycle commuters today–it’s Bike to Work Day (BTWD). This annual special event is part of National Bike Month, which was started by the League of American Bicyclists (http://bikeleague.org/bikemonth) in 1956 and is observed each May.

BTWD is celebrated in many areas with special events designed to get commuters more aware of and comfortable with pedaling as a viable alternative to driving. For many local commuter assistance and mobility management programs, BTWD also serves as a great opportunity to recognize local leaders who have been (or could be) champions of bicycle commuting and hold public conversations about bike lanes, safety, and related issues.

Bikes play an increasingly visible and important role in today’s mobility mix. You might notice your bike parking facilities being much more heavily used on BTWD, particularly by folks who are trying cycling as a commute mode for the first time. After what was an unusually harsh winter for much of the U.S., would-be bicycle commuters might also use BTWD as a chance to team up with other cyclists, celebrate spring, and enjoy a change of pace.

This day presents an opportunity to engage with a niche audience that will use the quality of its BTWD experience as the basis for deciding whether biking to work is just a nice springtime event or the beginning of a realistic, long-term change in personal commute habits.

Property Owners Asked: How Safe Is Your Parking Lot?

Mark Wright

Does a nose-in parking configuration present safety risks? Are wheel stops enough to keep a vehicle from crashing forward into a building? How might demographics help influence parking lot safety planning?

These are just some of the questions that have been posed to commercial real estate development professionals in an online discussion via LinkedIn. The discussion comes on the heels of an article NAIOP (the commercial real estate development association) asked me to write for Development Magazine about vehicle-into-building crashes.

With the help of co-author Rob Reiter, the piece helps shine a spotlight on parking lot safety in general, with particular attention to what can happen around the edges — in the space where parking areas and buildings meet.

IPI has been wonderful about helping educate its members about these issues. The LinkedIn discussion this week offers a great opportunity to extend parking professionals’ perspectives and expertise to an audience for which parking — especially parking-related safety — is not always top-of-mind. (I think of it as cross-pollinating great ideas!)

As a fellow IPI member, I invite you to add your voice to this important discussion. Join the NAIOP LinkedIn group and give property owners, developers, and managers the benefit of your parking knowledge.

 

Fall is Pedestrian Collision Season

Mark Wright

It might not feel like fall yet depending where you are, but noticeably earlier sunsets should be a signal to parking professionals that pedestrian collision season is just about here.

Pedestrian accidents occur year-round, of course, but the autumn months are particularly hazardous as pedestrians and drivers both adjust to the seasonal loss of late-day light. Parking areas are as vulnerable to this effect as roadways.

Here in my home-base of Montgomery County, Md., county officials reported a 34 percent increase in the number of pedestrian collisions in parking lots and garages in 2012. They also reported that parking lot and garage incidents accounted for 29 percent of all pedestrian collisions in the county that year.

The Montgomery County Police Department looked at the incident data for all pedestrian collisions occurring in parking lots/garages in calendar year 2012 and found that 94 percent occurred in parking lots (as opposed to garages), 74 percent were the driver’s fault, and 31 percent involved a vehicle backing out of a parking stall or travel lane.

Every jurisdiction is unique, certainly, and some have higher or lower numbers of pedestrian incidents in parking areas. Nonetheless, parking professionals just might be the best people to help prevent these sorts of injuries.

IPI is helping solve the problem early in drivers’ education through dissemination of its free publication, How to Park: A Must-read Manual for Teen Drivers, (downloadable at www.parking.org/teenparking), which was developed in conjunction with AAA and the AAA Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education. Here’s a news release just distributed to teen and parenting media last week. If you’d like copies of the manual to distribute within your organization or community, contact Henry Wallmeyer at Wallmeyer@parking.org. You can even arrange to get copies printed with customized information and your logo on the back cover.

Are you teaming with pedestrian safety staff to address risks, educate drivers and pedestrians, add lighting, or take other steps to prevent accidents? Leave a comment below to share your efforts and lessons learned.

 

 

WikiLots

Mark Wright

Mark Zuckerberg sent me a check the other day, enclosed in a thank-you card that read, “Thanks for your data. Here’s our royalty payment for its use. Keep up the good work. BTW, I’m wearing an Edward Snowden mask to this year’s FB company Halloween party. Bwaahaahaa.”

Then I awoke and realized it was all a dream. Nobody’s paying me for access to my personal information. Darn.

It was still early, so I went back to sleep.

Then Julian Assange texted me. His message read: “We believe everyone has a right to free parking. So, we’ve started a website called WikiLots, which will locate and aggregate your vehicle’s parked location 24/7, using data already being broadcast by your vehicle and augmented by fixed and mobile cameras (typically plate-reader-equipped police cars). WikiLots will set the world free, free, free…”

Then I awoke and realized it was all a nightmare. Nobody cares or tracks where I drive or park, do they? Nah.

In real life, I read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal (When Your Car Is Spying on You) in which Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., observes that Nissan plans to have affordable driverless vehicles on the market in 2020. Those vehicles, he says, will automatically share a lot of data about us.

“Nothing is stopping private operators from creating databases of plate numbers, faces, and identities — cross referenced by matching photos you and others post online on your Facebook profiles and elsewhere. These will be indexed by place of residence. Stores will know who you are the minute their cameras catch your plate arriving in their parking lots.”

That means a row full of occupied parking spaces is basically just data on a stick. It’s a yummy treat for any entity — corporate or government — with a sweet tooth for information about who we are, what we do, where we go and what we like.

What role should parking play as this new era of über-data dawns? Is the parking profession meant to promote its benefits or defend users against its excesses? Are parking pros destined to be proactive participants or passive bystanders in this trend?

It’s still early. Sleep is so tempting — yet suddenly so elusive.

 

Precious and Invisible

Mark Wright

If you’ve seen “The Hobbit,” you’ll recall the scene in which Bilbo Baggins slips the gold ring on his finger and becomes invisible, thus eluding a creepy character named Gollum. Gollum, becoming more frustrated by the moment, searches for Bilbo — right beneath his nose — in vain, scrambling around and wailing.

If “The Hobbit” is new territory for you and you think Tolkien is something you might deposit into a parking garage pay slot, this will just sound weird, but bear with me here: the whole tale is really about parking. There are pride-fueled battles over sacred territory. There’s a key to a door no one can see. Wayfinding is complicated by a map that can only be read in moonlight. And walking paths are fraught with peril.

The movie reminds me of my recent site visit with a couple of colleagues to a massive parking facility in a major metro area to check out some safety features and pathway striping. Standing against a ground-level wall, we watched — wide-eyed — as drivers and pedestrians violated one another’s boundaries like so many orcs and elves, although no swords were drawn. Drivers ignored arrows. Pedestrians ignored clearly-marked safe paths of travel. The color-coded lines were right under their noses, but seemed invisible.

Unfortunately, the garage has no wizard on hand to impose order and point out steps to take to protect precious lives. This peaceful chaos echoes the movie scene in which the raucous-but-jolly dwarves invade Bilbo’s home and pretty much do whatever they want. I exaggerate slightly, but, really, the experience is an eye-opener.

Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum takes place in a confusing subterranean maze called the goblin tunnels. He’s glad to make his escape. I can relate to his relief. Like Bilbo, we emerged from this place surprised, changed, and wiser.

As Tolkien writes in The Hobbit (chapter 4):  “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.”

Innovative Parking Garage Safety

Mark Wright

Thanks to some smart choices by Brookfield Properties, plus innovative design work and fabrication by their solutions providers, patrons at the recently revitalized FIGat7th parking garage in downtown Los Angeles are better protected from wayward vehicles.

“The structure itself is about 16 years old, and was in great need of an update as well as safety improvements,” says Warren Vander Helm, managing partner of the Parking Design Group. “Our client wanted to make the garage more appealing and the wayfinding clearer while at the same time making it safer for pedestrians.”

Two things that stand out are the use of bollards to provide protected paths of travel for pedestrians traversing the new Level 1 loading area, and an innovative steel platform at the Level 8 pay-on-foot machines. There, two pay stations are located against the wall nearest the elevators, which means patrons using the machines have their back to approaching vehicles — a significant vulnerability.

“Brookfield wanted to protect the patrons — not to mention the pay stations — from being run into, but this is on the eighth floor of a post-tension slab parking garage, so core drilling large bollards into the floor was impossible,” explains Rob Reiter of Blockaides, Inc. “The answer was to build a steel platform that the machines would sit on, with steel bollards built into the platform to provide protection.”

The platform, says Vander Helm, “is just slightly up off the floor so enough structural members can go underneath. Now, instead of simply hoping that no driver would ever have a mishap near the machines, companies like Brookfield Properties can install pay stations virtually anywhere and be confident that safety has not been compromised. It’s a great, affordable solution.”

Parking Lots and Trash

Mark Wright

On a recent trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, I noticed a small sign placed along many of the area’s hiking trails that simply said: ‘Leave no trace.’ The signs apparently help, as I saw very little litter.

Back here at home, though, I see no such signs—but plenty of litter. I’ve watched people deliberately throw trash on the ground as they walk down the street or get into or out of their car in a parking lot.

Keep America Beautiful, Inc. (KAB) says more than 51 billion pieces of litter hit U.S. roadways each year. It’s an $11.5 billion problem annually, with business picking up the tab for $9.1 billion of that, followed by governments, schools, and other entities.

Trash is also a big environmental problem, particularly when plastic items slip through storm drains into local watersheds and out to sea. KAB spokesman Rob Wallace tells me research reveals that litter on the ground tends to attract more litter. “A littered environment creates a social norm that littering behavior is acceptable and that there is no penalty (either criminal or social) for doing so,” explains Wallace. “Therefore, a littered area is more likely to receive even more litter.”

Rick Siebert, Chief of the Division of Parking Management for Montgomery County, Md., says his jurisdiction discovered a counter-intuitive solution to excessive trash in county parking facilities about 15 years ago: removing all trash cans.

“People would bring garbage bags with them to work and dump them in our trash cans,” says Siebert. “And if the can was full, they’d stack them on top or leave them beside the can, which then drew vermin.”

Siebert says the county now has an outsourced crew go through each garage at least once a day and clean up. “When we took the cans out, litter went down—no more free dumpsters.”

How about you? Do your facilities have trash receptacles? How do you keep parking areas free of litter?

Those little trail signs in Maine make me wonder: Would a ‘leave no trace’ campaign work in a parking lot?

Keeping Your Herd in the Corral

Mark Wright

Sometimes when I look out at a busy parking area I see a herd — a moving multitude of four-wheeled wildlife — penned into a corral. Let something spook a member of that herd and there’s no telling what will happen.

At those moments, the fence around that corral better hold. The ‘fence’ might be a wall, a guardrail, or a line of bollards.

On August 4, 2012, a driver got honked at — twice — while trying to back out of a space in a multi-level parking structure in San Diego. Flustered, he confused his gas pedal for his brake, drove into a guardrail and went over the side.

That fence didn’t hold. As a police officer said to a 10News reporter at the scene when describing the guardrail that failed to stop the vehicle: “It…wouldn’t take a lot to go straight through that.”

Why did that guardrail have all the stopping power of toothpicks? I asked veteran consultant Jerry Marcus, owner of The Parking Advisory Group LLC in The Woodlands, Tex., to speculate.

“One possible explanation for this failure is poor maintenance of the facility’s barrier systems connections,” said Jerry. “Most likely, these connections were designed to code standards. Unfortunately, in many cases the every day wear and tear in a parking structure goes undetected. Patrons bump walls, connections deteriorate in the open air, and operators don’t take enough care to wash down corrosive ice melting chemicals frequently. An annual schedule of inspections will go a long way to keeping those ‘cows’ home.”

Coincidentally, ASTM International is developing a proposed new standard for testing low speed vehicle barriers, which is important news for safety-conscious designers and engineers.

What experiences have you had with parking area barriers? And how have standards and maintenance practices helped you keep your customers safe? All comments welcomed.

Ordinances Aim to Enhance Safety

Mark Wright

Two local jurisdictions recently responded to vehicle-into-building crash tragedies with code changes intended to prevent vehicle incursions into storefronts:

Florida: Miami-Dade County amended its zoning code on July 3, 2012, with Ordinance No. 12-47 to require the placement of “anti-ram fixtures” in shopping centers. According to a statement from Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, the measure’s sponsor, the ordinance “stipulates that these anti-ram fixtures will be placed in shopping centers when head-in parking is located adjacent to a storefront installation. The fixtures will be installed along the outer edge of the sidewalk to visually and physically separate the vehicular and pedestrian areas.”

New York: The Town of Amherst has been working on a change to its building codes for a number of months now, in an effort led by Councilman Guy Marlette to reduce injuries and property damage from such incidents. (The Amherst Bee reported earlier this summer that there had been 32 of these crashes in the area over the course of a year — a number considered average by the local police.) The ordinance would require “vehicle impact protection” adjacent to certain parking spaces and structures specified in the law.

“The changes that I will be presenting to the Amherst Town Board will serve to provide a safer environment for the public,” Marlette says. “While bollards are one such solution, we are also looking to include landscaping and a reinforced structure internal to the outside wall. Our changes to the building codes will also afford the developer the opportunity to redesign their parking lots to reduce the potential for vehicle/wall impacts, resulting in an overall safer design.”

Have similar ordinances been proposed or passed in your community? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

Tuesday at the IPI Conference & Expo: Recognizing Achievement, Peering into a Crystal Ball

Mark Wright

Casey Jones (right) presents Roamy Valera with his Chairman's Award

Gary Means, CAPP, and Kim Jackson, CAPP, cranked up the spotlight Tuesday morning to present the 2012 IPI Professional Recognition Awards. Noting that the awards are given to parking pros who “exemplify excellence in their work everyday,” they presented plaques to:

  • Heather Medley (Texas Tech University): Parking Staff Member of the Year
  • June Broughton (Texas A&M University): Parking Supervisor of the Year
  • University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Transportation Services: Parking Organization of the Year
  • Rachel Yoka LEED AP BD+C, CNU+A, CPSM (Timothy Haas & Associates, Inc.): Parking Professional of the Year

Next, Board Chair Casey Jones, CAPP, presented the Chairman’s Award to Wanda Brown (UC Davis Health System) and Roamy Valera, CAPP (Standard Parking Corporation). Casey expressed his deep appreciation for their service and shared comments—both touching and amusing—from board members about both of them. (Hint: watch for salsa dancing at next year’s IPI Conference & Expo in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.!)

The Future of Parking

Attendees were then invited on a journey into the future of parking and mobility by Dr. George Hazel, FCIHT MICE FCILT OBE, chairman of MRC McLean Hazel. Opening with an adaptation of the blue pill/red pill challenge Morpheus issued to Neo in “The Matrix,” Hazel observed that while staying with an operational/regulatory “blue pill” view of parking and mobility is perfectly OK, trends around the globe reveal a whole new “red pill” paradigm centered primarily around the customer that savvy parking pros can leverage to their benefit.

Mobility will have to be seamless, be end user-focused, and offer customers value, he said. We need to think of this future as a retail model, not an operational model, he added, offering examples from around the globe of new apps and services that put the customer at the center of parking and mobility.

The question, said Hazel, is: Who’s going to shape, lead—and make money from—that “red pill” future? “If you don’t do it, someone else will. Maybe Google? Maybe Walmart? Who knows?”

He said he hopes a partnership model emerges, but it’s not clear yet in the journey who will do this. “The parking industry has a crucial part to play in cities in all sorts of ways,” he observed. But we need to understand these trends and explore potential business models.

The Expo

Exhibitors and Conference attendees enjoyed several hours on the show floor. Since the show opened, they’ve been joined by reporters from several news outlets. Yesterday, CBS’s Sean McLaughlin stopped to chat with parking professionals including Rachel Yoka, vice president of Timothy Haahs & Associates and the 2012 IPI Parking Professional of the Year.

Lunch was again served in the Expo hall, and attendees took advantage of education sessions before and after show hours.

Today at the Conference & Expo

It’s Free Expo Hall day! There is no charge to visit this year’s Expo today and guests are welcome.

Also today are a general session keynote on How to Maximize Media Opportunities and Speak Parking Matters®, the IPI/ACT Summit on TDM: Transportation Tools to Support Parking Program Effectiveness, more educational sessions, and the Viva la Fiesta industry closing event (tickets required), which should be a bang!

An Electric Day in Phoenix, in More Ways than One

Mark Wright

Monday proved another productive, enlightening day at the IPI Conference & Expo in Phoenix, Ariz. After Executive Director Shawn Conrad, CAE, walked attendees through scenes from IPI’s first 50 years during Monday’s breakfast keynote session, Chair Casey Jones, CAPP, recognized current and outgoing members of the board, followed by the presentation of the 2012 IPI Awards of Excellence. (read more about this year’s winners in the July issue of The Parking Professional).

Keynote speaker Britta Gross, director, Global Energy Systems and Infrastructure Commercialization, General Motors, then took the stage with a simple message about a complex topic: Parking is very important to alternative fuel vehicles.

She outlined the three major options for fuel and propulsion systems on the market: plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), extended range EVs (EREV), and battery EVs (BEV). After talking about the technology behind her company’s Chevy Volt, she urged parking professionals to become familiar with EVSE (electrical vehicle supply equipment) suppliers, and recognize opportunities to make parking facilities EV-friendly. Toward that end, she concluded with seven steps to consider:

  1. Identify parking facilities where vehicles park for two or more hours.
  2. Prioritize residential (overnight) parking.
  3. Identify existing 120V outlets in parking facilities.
  4. Reach out to electric utilities for information.
  5. Consider 240V EVSE installations..
  6. Consider a valet parking solution to facilitate access to nearby EVSE installations.
  7. Explore solar power for EVSE installations for even greater sustainability benefits.

 

Florida Prize Winner Excited to be in Phoenix

Jacqueline Sablain was taking in the sights and sounds of her first IPI Conference & Expo, meeting people at her table during the Monday, June 11 breakfast keynote, when she found herself in the spotlight.

IPI Executive Director Shawn Conrad, CAE, welcomed Jacqueline during his opening remarks, noting that she was attending the show as the winner of the Florida Parking Association’s (FPA) Carol Easterling Scholarship Award grand prize for front-line employees. Here’s her winning video!

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As head clerk in the University of Central Florida’s Parking and Transportation Services office, Sablain said she focuses on turning negatives into positives. “I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible and looking for anything that helps us with our customer service,” she said Monday morning.

High on her must-attend list during the conference: the “Going Green” Arizona State University campus tour on Wednesday, and the “Parkaholics Anonymous: 12 Step Intervention” educational session on Tuesday that focuses on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s program.

Expo Hall Opens to Fanfare

After Monday’s Awards of Excellence program and keynote address, parking professionals flooded the Expo hall to meet with vendors from all segments of the industry. Many attendees noted the larger size of the hall as compared with past years, and later returned Monday afternoon for a reception that was complete with live music, refreshments, and a slice of IPI’s 50th birthday cake.

Today at the Conference & Expo

Tuesday kicks off with a general session keynote by Dr. George Hazel on “The Future of Parking in Cities” (read more about that in the November 2011 issue of The Parking Professional), and the 2012 Professional Recognition Awards. A full morning and afternoon of educational sessions and off-site facility tours are complemented by lunch and several hours in the Expo Hall, with even more Power Pitch offerings. it’s going to be a full day in Phoenix!

Hitting the Wrong Pedal

Mark Wright

Witnesses said it sounded like a bomb going off.

The sound they heard was no bomb. It was a 76-year-old woman driving her Toyota Camry through the glass entrance of a Publix supermarket in Palm Coast, Fla., on Saturday, April 14.

Store cameras caught video of the car coming from the parking lot, crashing in through the windows, sending a baby carriage — and its three-month-old occupant — flying, and hitting other people before coming to rest on top of an 83-year-old man.

News reports said the driver mistakenly hit her car’s gas pedal instead of the brake.

The Publix accident occurred just one day after a new report [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) spotlighting the problem of pedal confusion made headlines.

The Associated Press announced the report, noting:

Accidents in which drivers mistakenly hit the gas instead of the brake tend to involve older female drivers in parking lots, a new government study has found.

One of the study’s most striking and consistent findings was that nearly two-thirds of drivers who had such accidents were female. When looking at all crashes, the reverse is true — about 60 percent of drivers involved in crashes are male, the [NHTSA] study noted. Another finding: Gas pedal accidents tend to occur more frequently among drivers over age 76 and under age 20.

While the prominent role of pedal confusion comes as no surprise to anyone tracking media accounts of vehicle-into-building accidents, the report’s spotlighting women drivers is nonetheless provocative. I hope that rather than inciting finger pointing, NHTSA’s work leads both to greater awareness and to a better understanding of why drivers of either gender or any age mistake the gas pedal for the brake.

Have you encountered such accidents in your own parking facility? Did they result in any changes in how you configure spaces or keep cars and pedestrians safely separated?

Stormwater Solutions: Saving Money, Saving the Earth

Mark Wright

Standing in the middle of a parking lot on a bright sunny day can play tricks on your senses. It looks like a parking lot. It feels like a parking lot. It even sounds like a parking lot.

Go out there while rain is falling, though, and you realize something different: that parking lot is actually a stormwater management system. Unfortunately, many lots make all that stormwater somebody else’s problem by simply dumping runoff into the sewer system.

Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Ill., decided its commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability demanded a greener approach to its parking lots, especially because the local sewer system was already capacity-challenged.

They invested in a 400-car permeable interlocking concrete pavement (PICP) parking lot. PICP is a system that includes layers of aggregate material beneath the concrete pavers that let stormwater trickle down while pollutants are filtered out.

“Using PICP allowed us to eliminate unattractive and space-consuming detention ponds,” explains Jay Womack, ASLA, LEED AP, who recommended the system to the college; he was director of sustainable design at Wight & Company, Darien, Ill., and is currently director of landscape and ecological design for WRD Environmental in Chicago. “We were designing a new LEED Registered (Silver) residence hall for the college, and making the hall’s parking lot ‘green’ by using PICP just made sense.”

PICP systems can also save money by negating the need for a separate water detention facility.

Have you used PICP in your own parking facilities? Was it for new construction or a retrofit? And what has your experience with it been so far? All comments are welcome.

Giant Twinkies

Mark Wright

I’m staring through a tall expanse of picture windows at a parking lot as I tap out this post on my iPad. The windows are just about the only thing between me and the parking spaces a few feet away that house vehicles pointed directly at me. A very shallow curb extends a few feet out from the building.

Sitting here is stupid, given my history. But it’s a bright sunny day. The big windows draw my eyes out toward a beautiful blue sky. And I’m watching every vehicle that pulls in so I’ll be ready to leap if one of them fails to stop — or if a driver’s foot mistakenly hits the gas instead of the brake.

None of the people around me seem concerned as vehicles come and go from the spaces a few feet away. They’re chatting. They’re reading. They’re using mobile devices.

Well, far be it from me to interrupt them (“Who the heck was that wacko…and what’s a bollard?”).

If a parking professional sat next to me, of course, he or she would surely notice something missing. White-lined parking spaces? Check. Blue disabled-only symbols where appropriate? Check. Proper drive lane widths and clear sight lines? Check.

The missing element: a safety barrier between vehicles and the people sitting here behind all this glass.

An observation by the ever-insightful Homer Simpson seems fitting: “You know that little ball you put on your antenna so you can find your car in a parking lot? That should be on EVERY CAR!”

Ditto for safety barriers—bollards, boulders, planters—whatever’s appropriate for the site. Why shouldn’t every parking facility use them?

If we were to ask Homer for an idea about protecting pedestrians and building patrons from moving vehicles in parking areas, his answer might be, “Ummm, giant Twinkies?”

I’d hate to block that great view in front of these picture windows with four-foot Hostess products, though. (D’oh! Now I have the munchies.)

What are your thoughts? Post them in the comments below.