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Parking: An Industry Poised for Disruption?

L. Dennis Burns

It’s a little funny looking back, but at one point in my career when I decided to stay in the parking industry, I remember thinking about whether there were any significant threats to parking as an industry. At the time, my primary alternative was the healthcare field, which in my opinion was in great disarray. I concluded that short of someone actually inventing the George Jetson Briefcase Car, parking as an industry was pretty safe. What a difference a couple of decades can make!

We have all heard the term “disruptive technologies.” A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry, or a groundbreaking product that creates a completely new industry. The term was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 bestselling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Well, here we are in 2015 and the while the briefcase car may still be a cartoon fantasy, we in the parking industry are facing the convergence of two potentially game-changing innovations: autonomous vehicles and with the Uber business model.

Promise and Perils of Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is real and advancing rapidly. AV technology offers the possibility of fundamentally changing transportation. Equipping cars and light vehicles with this technology will likely reduce crashes, energy consumption, and pollution—and reduce the costs of congestion.

Careful policymaking will be necessary to maximize the social benefits this technology will enable while minimizing the disadvantages. Policymakers are only beginning to think about the challenges and opportunities this technology poses. Parking industry leaders would be wise to also begin weighing the potential impacts on our industry.

A good place to start is by reading the report entitled: “Autonomous Vehicle Technology – A Guide for Policymakers” published by the RAND Corporation.

Uber’s Plan for Self-Driving Cars

In this month’s edition of the Mobility Lab E-Newsletter (Mobility Lab Express #69 – September 1, 2015) is “Uber’s Plan for Self-Driving Cars Bigger than Its Taxi Disruption.

The article discusses how Uber has fundamentally changed the taxi industry. However, its biggest disruption may be yet to come:

  • “The ride-hailing company has invested in autonomous-vehicle research, and its CEO Travis Kalanick has indicated that consumers can expect a driverless Uber fleet by 2030. Uber expects its service to be so inexpensive and ubiquitous as to make car ownership obsolete. Such ambitious plans could make its disruption of the taxi industry look quaint in comparison.”
  • “A study by Columbia University calculates that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxicab in New York City—with a passenger wait time of 36 seconds and a cost of $.50 per mile.”
  • “Going further to an economy-wide perspective, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates, as noted by writer and entrepreneur Zack Kanter that “autonomous vehicles would reduce the number of vehicles on the road by 99 percent, and the fleet of cars in the U.S. would fall from 245 million to 2.4 million.”

Still, should Uber’s plans materialize, the impact may not all be positive. Self-driving cars will greatly affect the job market, car manufacturers, dealerships, transit, and the urban lifestyle itself (not to mention the parking industry!).

Now is a good time for community leaders, urban development, and transportation thought-leaders—along with Uber and other shared-mobility providers—to think creatively together about the positive and negative aspects of this amazing transformation that may be coming in the next few decades. The ramifications are truly mind-boggling.

Holy Parking Challenges


Working for IPI and living in the suburbs of Philadelphia as the surrounding states and area brace for the September Papal visit has offered me an entirely different perspective on the parking and transportation planning necessary between now and then. All hotels in the tri-state area have been sold out for months. Rooms in regular homes are being rented out to accommodate the masses of humanity that will be pouring into the area. As a local to Philadelphia, I am curiously watching how the mass transit and parking challenges are being handled.

Photo credit: ©European Union 2014 - European Parliament.

Photo credit: ©European Union 2014 – European Parliament.

Our regional rail service has created an additional special announcement section to its website. Professionals there have marketed and announced the Papal visit day passes and the accompanying pricing for the Papal transit pass. These passes go on sale next week and are anticipated to sell out as fast as the 2015 Grateful Dead reunion concert. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has even created a new online ecommerce system that will launch when Papal passes sales begin. SEPTA has already announced regional rail station closings and which locations the trains will pick up and drop off passengers. This is in effort to accommodate travel demands and run express-type services. Just 18 regional rail stations will be in operation for the Papal visit. So this begs the question: Where will folks park? SEPTA is urging passengers to plan for a drop-off at or near the stations as crowds will be overwhelming and parking limited. Ridesharing and bike riding are means that are being promoted as to assist with the limited parking and seriously overwhelming crowds.

As much as I would like to see the Pope in person, my car will stay parked in my driveway and I will be watching the happenings and events of the Papal visit from the luxury of my home!

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Funding America’s Transportation Needs

Shawn Conrad

Major media outlets across the United States are streaming headlines of the implications of the midterm election results. Analysts debate what the loss of congressional seats from the president’s political party will have on future legislation. While many may think I am referring to our most recent election results, these events were after the midterm elections of George W. Bush’s first term in office, when his party lost numerous congressional seats. What comes around goes around, or as New York Yankees great Yogi Berra stated, “Deja vu all over again.”

While Capitol Hill sorts through all of the upcoming changes and a wave of new government aides replace the old guard, it’s anyone’s guess what effects these changes will have on transportation reauthorization or fending off the insolvency of our nation’s transportation fund.

The issues being discussed and receiving the most attention are immigration, health care, potential tax reform care and, yes, the Affordable Care Act, which is going to get another review. While these are important topics and deserve attention, it’s important to remember that transportation funding runs out May 31, 2015.  Our colleagues at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) are showcasing options to raise the necessary transportation funding. These options include an increase on taxes for gas and diesel fuel consumption or charging drivers for miles driven. Of course, these ideas have their critics. But is not funding roads, bridges, highways, transit, light rail, and intermodal centers really an option?

As legislative leaders return from their victory parties or from licking their wounds, let’s collectively seek their attention on our nation’s worn infrastructure and investing in mobility.  An investment will have a positive effect today and help drive economic growth tomorrow.

Data-Driven Performance Improvement Part 2: The Porch

L. Dennis Burns

In my last blog post, I discussed some interesting projects relative to data driven analysis focused on improving performance in the arena of place management. The first example was from the Institute of Place Management in the U.K. Today, I wanted to share another great example of data-driven research as applied to a placemaking initiative known as The Porch at 30th Street Station, in Philadelphia.blog1

The Porch  essentially took a large underused plaza area in front of the city’s 30th Street Station and used a range of affordable placemaking strategies to activate this area. The graphic to the right illustrates the potential population that could be affected in the area.

Replacing what had been 34 parking spaces, this initiative leveraged 54 planters, 45 tables, 184 chairs, 28 umbrellas, 12 loungers, and 23 trees (and a tremendous amount of programming) to transform the area from an unwelcoming site to a place where thousands of pedestrians now congregate and interact every day. The transformation is really quite remarkable!

blog3 blog2Beyond the placemaking work of adding seating, shade, food, plantings, music, and a variety of other activities which have transformed this location, the thing I was most impressed with was the process used for measuring and monitoring the effect of the various elements to drive ongoing performance improvements in the area. Porch ambassadors and planning staff used observations and checklist tools, surveys, behavior mapping, pedestrian tracking, and counts to determine who was using The Porch: How long are they staying? Which furniture do they prefer? How is capacity versus demand at different times? Which amenities are most used?

To learn more about this approach, check out the University City website for more detailed information related to shaping public spaces.

Data-Driven Performance Improvement in Placemaking

L. Dennis Burns

I recently returned from the International Downtown Association (IDA) Annual Conference in Canada’s beautiful capital city of Ottawa. I have had a long and positive association with the IDA and have learned much from my downtown management colleagues through the years. This year was no exception.

Data-driven analysis is nothing new in the consulting or parking worlds, but two presentations at this year’s IDA conference took the application of rigorous data collection and analysis for two very different projects to a new level. I thought I would share these examples with you.lburns1

The first example was from Simon W. Quin, executive director of the Institute of Place Management (IPM) in the U.K. In collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, the IPM was exploring the performance-forecasting factors related to placemaking. Two hundred one factors were identified and analyzed relative to how much influence each factor has on the vitality and viability of a place and how much control a location has over the factor.

Using a scatter graph to map the factors, some factors either did not have much effect or couldn’t be changed without significant effort or costs. However, 25 key factors were identified as being highly impactful and those for which place managers had a significant degree of control through which they could affect change.

lburns2These factors, which fell into the “Get on with it!” category in the top graphic, include many elements that are important to parking professionals. In particular, the factors of, walkability, accessibility and livability were prominent. Additional factors that could be embraced by parking and transportation professionals included amenities and elements related to the “experience of the place,” such as appearance, attractiveness, safety, and security.

This research effort is just midway into a year-long analysis and I look forward to following it as it evolves. You can learn more by visiting

In my next blog post, I will outline another great example of data-driven research as applied to the place making initiative known as “The Porch at 30th Street Station” in Philadelphia. The level of detail involved in the development and refinement of this place making project provides many potential lessons for parking professionals as we begin to embrace place making to improve our customer’s experiences within our facilities and campuses.

Glow in the Dark

Isaiah Mouw

If you happen to be driving through the Netherlands along the N329 highway anytime soon, you might suddenly feel like you’re driving through a Wachowski Brothers movie set. Studio Roosegaarde has developed glow-in-the-dark road markings that were recently installed along a 500m stretch of highway.

Typical road markings are made of reflective paint, but still often require energy-consuming streetlights to guide the way. The glow-in-the-dark road markings installed in the Netherlands charge using the sun during the day and then glow at night, eliminating the need for an abundance of streetlights and saving energy and maintenance dollars. Further plans for this concept involve creative solutions such as snowflake images that would glow on the pavement when the temperature drops below a certain point to remind drivers to be cautious of ice. This reminds me a lot of the Solar Roadways concept of using LED lights in solar-powered road panels to deliver safety messages to drivers as they drive along the highway.

All that said, I’m not sure if these phosphorescence markings would be of much to use to the parking industry. It would be neat to have parking lot spaces and signage glow in the dark, but not at the cost of eliminating lighting and decreasing the overall sense of safety in your facility.

What do you think?

Ray LaHood Knows Parking

Shawn Conrad

“America is one big pothole right now.” This line came from former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, in an interview Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 4.59.20 PMfeatured in the June issue of The Parking Professional.

Before interviewing Secretary LaHood, magazine editor Kim Fernandez knew he has a passion for fixing/repairing America’s infrastructure woes, but what she pleasantly discovered is that he also knows parking!

For 15 years, LaHood served on the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a standing committee tasked with looking after U.S. highways, bridges, rivers, public buildings, emergency management, and economic development. It was there that he learned how vital America’s transportation system is to keeping the economy growing, and committed himself to securing transportation infrastructure that remains strong and safe.

In a recent nationwide survey of local government officials conducted by IPI with American City and County magazine, IPI learned there is a disconnect in what many government officials know about the innovations and technology available in the parking industry. Happily, Secretary LaHood proves an exception to that rule. If you haven’t read the June article about Ray LaHood, please do so; you’ll enjoy his perspective.

To entice you to to pick up the the current issue of The Parking Professional, which features LaHood on the cover, I will leave you with four quotes. Enjoy:

“Transportation and parking are interrelated, and the government should help to mitigate congestion by encouraging further innovation by these private enterprises.”

“By increasing availability of parking options near busy destinations, we can help slow the sprawl of congestion. It is necessary and forward-looking to integrate parking policy and transportation policy in urban planning projects.”

“Infrastructure investment is intricately linked to quality of life for these reasons; infrastructure and economic growth go hand-in-hand.”

“One of the most important reasons for investing in American infrastructure is ensuring that the United States remains an economically competitive and viable global leader.”

Transforming Transportation


I spent a day and a half last week at “Transforming Transportation,” at the opulent headquarters of the World Bank in Washington, D.C., with hundreds of big thinkers from China, India, Russia, Latin America, and elsewhere. There was lots of excitement about ways sustainable transport can expand mobility while avoiding congestion, air pollution, and reliance on imported fuels. They also got it that Parking Matters®; as the mayor of Quito, Ecuador, pointed out, “If we keep current car ownership trends, we will have to park on the moon.”

German climate and transportation expert Daniel Bongart argued that “Parking pricing, congestion charging, license plate auctions are keys to financing sustainable transport.” We heard about solving the “last mile” problem for parkers and commuters in Hangzhou, China, with “The Biggest, Baddest Bike-Share in the World.” Now boasting 240,000 trips per day on more than 60,000 RFID-tracked bicycles, it is projected to grow to 175,000 bikes by 2020.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, keynoting with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, emphasized that transportation change can happen quickly at the city level where the streets–and parking–are controlled. He’s working with mayors of the world’s megacities to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency around the globe. Their C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, recognized Park(ing) Day last year.

The event affirmed that people from across the globe are realizing Parking Matters®. The response to my supplementing the handouts on the official table with Green Parking Council and Green Garage Certification information was so strong that I had to keep replenishing the stack!  As the parking industry pulls together to help parking become part of the solution, the solution-seekers are realizing our contributions.

That’s a very good thing. The challenge is profound and upon us as World Bank President Kim compellingly explained, “If things go badly, by the time my three-year-old son is my age, the oceans will be 150 percent more acidic, coral reefs will be melted away, fisheries will be completely disturbed, and every single day, food fights and water fights will occur somewhere in the world. Working on transport is part of this moral responsibility we have to the cities of today, and to future generations.”

Putting Parking into its True Context

L. Dennis Burns

I recently looked back over some archived files and articles and was struck by an observation: there is always an “implicit context” behind any article or work of research. This applies not only to my own work, but on a larger scale to all the research and reports that I reviewed.

In the older parking work, the context seemed much smaller and rather insular to industry-specific topics. Most pieces were specific operational subsets of fundamental parking management areas, such as revenue control, facility maintenance, or other operational functions.

At some point about five or six years ago, a gradual shift began away from the strictly operational to a broader, more strategic perspective. This broadening of perspective began to lead to discussions of how parking interacts with a wide range of other related professions, including planning, urban design, economic development, downtown management, etc.

I recently developed a new presentation on The Transformation of America’s Parking Paradigm. One of the sections in this presentation discusses the new context through which I now view parking. A series of slides discusses a set of criteria or concepts that form the context base I use when I consider the application of parking design and management strategies. Consider this list of topic areas:

  • Density.
  • Third Places.
  • Scale.
  • Walkability.
  • Mixed and Multi-use Development.
  • Street-Level Activation.
  • Adaptive Re-Use and Infill.
  • Vitality and Energy.
  • Local Character.
  • Safety/Security.
  • Sustainable Transportation.
  • Accessibility/Integrated Access.
  • Multi-modal/Mobility Plans.
  • Parking Strategic Plan.
  • Active Transportation/TDM Integration.
  • The “Experience Economy.”

The list could go on and on, but it is clear to me that as a profession we have come to recognize that the work we do goes much further than the mere temporary storage of vehicles. Parking, by its very nature, is a connection point within the framework of our transportation systems and our communities/institutions at large. They have a natural complexity and importance and deserve special attention. It is encouraging to see that many thought leaders from other disciplines and professions are beginning to come to this same realization. With this new infusion of diverse perspectives and resources, who knows what the parking context might look like in another decade.

MTI: Claiming a Seat at the Table

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

Sally Ride’s passing gives us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of exploration and the profound impact research can have on our society.  In our own sector research is equally critical. The Mineta Tranportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University announced yesterday their award from the U.S. Department of Transportation  of a $3.49-million grant to study “transportation research, workforce development, technology transfer and education.”  MTI will be teaming on the project with colleagues from Rutgers University, Howard University, University of Detroit Mercy, Grand Valley State University, Bowling Green University, Toledo University, the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Pennsylvania State University.  No doubt, the consortium’s work will produce findings that will positively affect us all.

In looking over the list of schools included in the work I can’t help but think of the fine parking professionals at or near each school who I hope will be included in the effort.  Experts such as Tad McDowell at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and Clayton Johnson from the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority, to name two, are seasoned parking and transportation professionals who would bring a tremendous amount of practical experience to the table.

Research is critical to expanding our knowledge base, and it’s exciting to hear about efforts that are directed at our field.  To get the most of the effort, the right people need to be included. In this case, the MTI and its colleagues need to look no further than their own communities to find capable, smart, talented people who can help them ensure their efforts bear the most fruit.