Can a Parking Garage Be Beautiful?

Dave Feehan

Conventional wisdom among downtown and business district managers is that most parking garages are best hidden away or disguised, and that too many are downright ugly. But can parking garages be beautiful? Can they actually contribute to urban design and urban fabric? Can they fit into an historic district or a gleaming collection of state-of-the-art office and residential towers?

As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some might look at a very futuristic design and see beauty, while others might a structure that is jarringly out of place in relationship to its surrounding context. Some prefer simplicity while others prefer color and a more fanciful approach. Still, parking garages can be both functional and attractive, and a few recent examples are truly beautiful, even stunning.

Car Park One in Oklahoma City makes many of the “most beautiful lists, as do 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami and the Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Garage. There are also a number of European structures that show up on many lists (many have been showcased in The Parking Professional and in IPI’s annual Awards of Excellence competition—submissions for this year’s competition close soon.)

So what criteria should we use to judge the most beautiful garages? Here are a few I would suggest:

First, the garage must be visually striking. While many fine designs seek to make the structure relatively unobtrusive and nearly invisible, a garage must have a certain amount of attitude to be considered truly beautiful.

Second, it must be more than functional—it must be designed with users in mind, not just as an architectural statement.  Beauty is not just what you see from the street—it’s the feeling you get once you’re inside the garage.

Third, tasteful, thoughtful and effective use of color is important. We’ve seen way too many concrete brutalist designs and we’re living with these monstrosities today. Grey concrete is simply insufficient no matter how functional it might be.

You can check out some of the most lauded beautiful garages here.  Have you seen a particularly attractive garage lately? Let us know in the comments.

Recommendation from a Research Junkie

L. Dennis Burns

I confess: I have officially become a research junkie. The good news is that given my job, this is actually a good thing! The best part is sharing some of the great work that I have stumbled onto with friends and colleagues.

One really nice piece of work that deserves a wider audience is a study: “Driving Urban Environments: Smart Growth Parking Best Practices,” published by the Governor’s Office of Smart Growth in Maryland.

This study does a great job of capturing both the importance and the challenges associated with parking. It addresses the increasing concerns related to the downsides of an auto-based landscape that no longer holds the promise of progress and growth, but rather fosters congestion that steals precious time from our lives and creates significant environmental concerns. In contrast, this work promotes the promise inherent in smart growth strategies, recognizing that the future and vitality of our communities is dependent upon our ability to foster better planned, more environmentally protective, more sustainable patterns of development.

The promise of smart growth strategies, however, does not come without its challenges, and no aspect of development illustrates this better than parking. The following quote captures the essence of this work: “Parking requirements now drive many site designs, and are often the make or break issue for financing new developments. Too many quality smart growth projects remain on the drawing board because they simply cannot solve the parking dilemma. We need parking, but we need to re-think parking design, parking financing, and parking supply and demand to better meet the needs of communities, developers, and users.”

This study addresses parking management and design as a critical factor in the context of smart growth strategies for urban environments and reaffirms the key role parking plays in effective community and economic development.

I encourage you to check out this great piece of work.

One Size Fits All?

Dave Feehan

My wife and I just returned from a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We parked in the daily garage at Dulles International Airport, and I happened to notice the growing number of very small cars in the facility–Smarts, Fiat 500s, Kia Souls, Minis, and many others. One Smart was parked next to a mammoth Suburban, and had we been looking for a spot, I’m sure we would have mistaken the Smart’s space as vacant until we started to turn in and found a very small vehicle in the 20-foot stall.

According to one city’s municipal code, “The minimum size of a standard parking space shall be nine feet wide and 18 feet long. Parking spaces within enclosed garages shall have an interior dimension of at least 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. The minimum size of a compact parking space shall be eight feet wide and 16 feet long.”

What’s a parking operator to do? Sales of subcompacts have more than doubled in the last couple of years, and given other trends in society, we can expect that more people– especially young people–will buy and drive small, fuel-efficient vehicles, to say nothing of motorcycles and bikes. How do we accommodate all of these vehicles while keeping our customers happy?

Restriping is expensive and can be problematic. Sometimes the old stripes are still visible and confuse parkers. Does a Smart need the same amount of space as a Suburban? Obviously not. You could stack two Smarts in a typical space. And to make matters even more complicated, I drive a Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid and need spaces with charging equipment. Lots more bikes, motorbikes, motor scooters, and motorcycles are looking for parking spaces. Pass the Rolaids, please. Things are going to be messy for a while.

Could I Live in a Parking Space?

Frank L. Giles

Today’s big cities are more congested than ever, and it’s not just the traffic and parking that are in high demand: living space is at a premium as well. For every car on the road, there has to be a place to park. The same is true for people.

What if we could live in the same-size space our cars do? Could you live in a parking space? The students at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) asked that question and through a massive amount of collaborative ingenuity and creativity, the answer seems to be yes.

The average parking space is about 9 by 15 feet, give or take. The students at SCAD have undertaken the task of transforming spaces at their Atlanta campus parking deck into livable micro housing units, each complete with a kitchen, sleeping area, bathroom, and shower. These micro units, called “SCAD Pads,” are due to be occupied by selected SCAD students this April. The students will log their daily living experience using social media.

If this concept takes hold, you may one day ponder living in one of the spaces you manage. So what do you think: could you live in a parking space? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

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 20 Years From Now

Dave Feehan

Are city local governments and private developers that are building parking structures today with life expectancies of 50 years in the same boat as people who built horse stables in 1900? A number of companies have been at work in the U.S. refining a concept that has been working in Europe and Asia: the automated robotic parking garage.

I visited Boomerang’s model facility in New Jersey recently and I was impressed with how smoothly and efficiently it works. No up and down spirals, no slanted floors, and a building that can be used in any number of ways and can store any number of things besides cars.

California just became the second state to pass legislation permitting driverless cars. Several other states are considering such legislation, and Google, Toyota, and Cadillac are well into testing these vehicles. Add to these advances the acceptance of car- and bike-sharing programs, and in 20 or 30 years it may not be necessary to own a car, secure a driver’s license, or worry about tickets at all.

People living in urban areas will only need a smartphone (maybe worn on a wrist?) to summon a “personal transportation unit” that will pick them up, deliver them to their destination, and then proceed to either the next customer or a charging station. These vehicles may well use Segway technology, and will be relatively small, light, and electrically powered. Some people may still own more conventional vehicles, but even these will probably have driverless technology, obviating the need for traffic signals and reducing auto accidents to a very low level, thus reducing traffic congestion.

Automated parking structures can be built to be readily convertible to office or residential use once development patterns change, so there will be no need to tear down expensive conventional parking garages that are still structurally sound.

None of us knows for sure how fast these changes will occur, and how readily people will adapt to them, but think of the speed of innovation in other industries, and think of the energy savings and cost savings that could occur if we move in this direction. If I were a parking director for a city, hospital, university, or private development, I would think long and hard about this technology.

Goldilocks and the Three Parking Approaches

Brett Wood

I am sure you have all heard the cautionary tale of Goldilocks, about a young girl who entered the house of a family of bears and tried their food, chairs, and beds. In the story, Goldilocks is not a fan of the food, chairs, and beds of the larger bears, but the baby bear’s items are just right!

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Has Brett lost his mind? He’s blogging about a children’s story.”

Let me get to the point. We’re going to examine differing parking planning philosophies like Goldilocks would.

The traditional method for defining parking needs included looking in a manual or a dusty old city code ordinance and doing a simple series of calculations that defined parking needs based on a building’s total square footage. Let’s call this the “Too Big” approach. Typically, codes are based on sampling of suburban sites, which begs the question, “Why are we applying suburban parking practices in our downtown?”

Newer methodologies include “shared parking,” which has drastically changed the way we plan for parking. Under this philosophy, the planner would look for compatible land uses that might be able to share a common pool of parking spaces. The analysis would use typical time of day patterns to predict peak and hourly parking conditions. The problem with this approach? We are still using generic parking generation rates that come from a small sample of sites, which can still result in a misrepresentation of parking. Let’s call this the “Slightly Too Big” approach.

The newest form of planning takes the form of “Right Sized Parking,” and is a concept that aims to localize parking decisions by factoring in unique conditions such as transit, user characteristics, and actual demand attributes. The intent of this approach is to better define parking demand, reduce (or sometimes enlarge) parking needs based on actual community characteristics, and provide more developable space. It is based on local data, either collected continuously or modeled in parking planning applications.

Given the state of urban planning, smart growth, and increased efficiency through sustainability measures and infrastructure reduction, isn’t it time parking got it just right? The next time you sit down to think about how you manage your community’s supply and demand, think about Goldilocks and just the right size.