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Garage Draws Visitors To Shopping Center

Jacob H. Gonzalez, P.E., Matthew Feagins

Very recently, the Marq*E Entertainment Center, had a pleasant problem on its hands -- in fact, a retailer's dream. Enormous crowds of patrons jammed into the center, one of Houston's premier entertainment venues.
The center's popularity, however, made it difficult for users to find available parking in the 2,849 space lot or to navigate to and from the drop-off and pick-up zones. And, it was going to get even worse with the onset of the widening of the nearby I-10 freeway that would take around 20% of the prime parking spaces away from the lot. A garage was needed, and it was needed fast!
The site location of the garage was the first puzzle that needed to be solved. As in most centers, the retailers wanted the garage located adjacent to their sites for the convenience of their customers. Unfortunately, that would create adverse walking distances for those users whose destination was not that particular retailer.
The design of a retail garage should be simple and easy to use. All parking spaces are located on flat floors, making them pedestrian friendly and enhancing security since all areas are visible on each floor. The vast majority of spaces are angled to help ease the parking process and their width is sized generously at 9'-0". Movie traffic -- with its surges in attendance as people rush to get into a theater and flow out after the movie -- necessitated that the garage, and access to and from the garage, be able to handle heavy traffic flow. A dedicated speed ramp system for the garage was planned to handle this traffic.
The vehicular ramping system was designed as an all-express ramp scheme where one ramp handled traffic from ground to level four, another ramp handled traffic from level four to level seven, and a third ramp handled traffic from level seven to level eight. All of these ramps were located away from the main pedestrian flow. Each level, except the fourth and seventh, can be completely shut down from vehicular traffic, individually or in combination, to provide control of levels during slow periods. This level of control can also be used to direct traffic to other levels as the garage fills, allowing patrons to proceed to the open levels quickly.
Just as the ramps were designed to handle the traffic surges, the vertical transportation was likewise enhanced to handle the pedestrian traffic. One of the key problems of many retail garages is that all pedestrian traffic is focused on one area of the center. That does not serve all retail customers well. In Marq*E, main vertical transportation was located at both the southeast and southwest corners of the garage, minimizing the walking distance to the center's two main northern entrances and distributing the pedestrian traffic to both ends. At each end of the garage, three large elevators and oversized stairs efficiently transport patrons to their destinations.
Before construction could begin, the existing wayfinding and parking requirements during peak times were studied and an operational plan was devised. The plan included implementing a shuttle program, complementary valets, drop-off/pick-up zones and the use of temporary lots. The shuttle program enabled employees to park off-site and ride the shuttle to and from the center, freeing up prime parking for customers. Two complementary valet areas allowed stacked parking and efficient drop-off and pick-up zones.
This plan was reinforced with signage and wayfinders to help create a smooth and pleasant experience for the customers. Upon project completion, an operational plan was created and implemented, ensuring smooth traffic flow.
From a design standpoint, the garage towers over the retail center and is visible from the freeway. The project team decided that rather than hiding the garage -- as is the case in many developments -- the garage should make an architectural statement and help draw visitors to the center. Computer renderings, with the center visible in the foreground, were developed to help design these elevations. The vertical elements were painted in bright, vivid colors to compliment the center's color palate and to give the garage a festive look and feel. The horizontal elements kept a neutral tone, leaving the focus on the colorful towers.
Currently, parking in the garage is free of charge, but provisions have been made for charging for parking in the future. Due to the traffic surges present at the center, it is anticipated that the garage would be run with pay-by-space meters. All patrons would pay at strategically located meters throughout the garage, rather than at pay booths at the vehicular entrance/exit points. Additional conduits have been placed in the garage to handle this future addition.
The Marq*E Entertainment Center Garage was a perfect solution to the over-crowded parking problem. It handles the traffic and pedestrian flow in an efficient and effective manner. And, the garage was completed before construction of the I-10 expansion began.

About the authors: Jacob H. Gonzalez, P.E., is a Project Manager and Matthew Feagins is a Parking Planner for Walter P. Moore's Parking Consulting Service. They are based in Walter P. Moore's Houston office and can be reached at JGonzalez@walterpmoore.com and MFeagins@walterpmoore.com

Article Abstract from January, 2005




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