Magazine

Parking Is Easy at BWI

John Van Horn

Baltimore/Washington International Airport officials not only were concerned with telling their parkers there was space in the garage and on which floor it was located, but they also wanted parkers to be directed to the exact space that was available.
If you have 400 spaces on a floor, the 10% that are available can be hard to find. There may be 10 rows of 40 cars each and four spaces available on each row. Or worse, no space is available on five of the 10 rows, and more "in the back." The parker then spends time and energy searching for, rather than going directly to, the available space.
The solution at BWI was to take the parking direction from the entrance and continue it on to the floor, row and space. This required a system of sensors seldom seen in a parking garage. Not only were the floors monitored so the computerized count system could note the number of spaces on each floor, but also a sensor at each space tracks its availability.
The specially developed detector, equipped with pilot lights, is installed above each parking space. It constantly checks whether a vehicle is present, or not, and immediately sends its observations to a central computer. The computer processes these data in order to update the information supplied to the parkers by easy-to-understand informational and directional signs, which are installed on each level.
As soon as the parker is confronted with a choice of direction (floor, zone, aisle), a sign points out the route to take, or to avoid, with the help of numbers and green or red arrows. Then all the parker has to do is follow these indicators to find a vacant space that is clearly indicated by green LED's on the detector.
The central computer indicates, in real-time, the occupancy rate of the parking garage by level and by zone. If required, the control center can count the number of places reserved for regular customers and deduct them from the total vacant places. The data centralization enables the operator to selectively control certain critical zones.
When an entrance detector indicates that a vehicle is entering a section that is almost full, the control center can bar further access (with advanced FULL display) for a time sufficient for parking. After this delay, the control center verifies whether there are still vacant places. If there are, the next vehicle is allowed in. This procedure prevents congestion and aids in maintaining smooth traffic. If necessary, the central computer allows manual control of the display signs. This enables a zone to be closed for painting, maintenance work or special reservations.
Parkers are notified at every turn of space availability. Automatic signage directs them to the proper row and then to the exact space available. They can see the green light above the space from the end of the row. They know immediately where space is available and the direction they need to drive to reach it.
Several statistics are possible, such as the number of occupied places, the number of entrances and exits open, and the number of vehicles present during any designated time frame. All data are available on a file that can be monitored via network. A written log can be produced of various events, such as the date and the time of an alarm and its acknowledgement; the general parking lot situation for statistical analyses; a list of parking spots where the authorized occupation time has been exceeded; and so forth.
Other information can be transmitted by the system, such as excessive heat indicators, excessive carbon monoxide levels, violence alarms, etc., with precise location of the signal's origin.
Facility operators are informed continuously as to the number and location of available spaces. Vehicles abandoned or "stored" in the facility can be easily spotted (they have a yellow light), and can be tagged or booted as necessary.
According to Bill Lins, Director of Airport Technology at BWI, the information at the operator's fingertips gives them the best possible control over their garage. "We can make operational changes based on minute-to-minute changes in available capacity. Plus, our customers can move in and out of the airport more quickly. It's a win/win."


Side Bar 1

Benefits to a parker:
* Assurance of trouble-free parking
* Easy-to-see signs and lights, visible from 100 yards
* Takes the guesswork out of finding a space
* 100% accurate in real-time
* A fraction of the time to find a space
* Eliminates stress
* Saves fuel and tires
* Comfort and convenience
* Far less risk of damage to vehicles
* Navigation with familiar and easy-to-understand informational and directional signs

Article Abstract from February, 2005




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