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Morphing Parking Building Features

January 23, 2020

Fernando J. Sanchez

With cities continuing to densify, higher populations are leading to increased pressures on many fronts – existing infrastructure; mass transit and mobility systems; energy requirements; and, most of all, better management of available resources. Acknowledging that the overarching goal in response to these pressures is driving toward more sustainable city development, many responses focus on the management of parking spaces and the evolution of vehicle storage systems in direct relation to mobility systems.


Adequately addressing the changing behaviors of city dwellers should drive future morphing of another city resource – vehicle storage and parking spaces.


Readily available data suggests that parking spaces, and more specifically, the storage of vehicles, are inefficient uses of resources - both physical and financial - as their impact on city development seems contrary to meeting sustainable goals. However, less parking is not necessarily the best response. Adequately addressing the changing behaviors of city dwellers should drive future morphing of another city resource – vehicle storage and parking spaces.


Whether reducing ordinance driven parking ratios for different activities or implementing newer technologies on vehicle storage systems, the responses seem to fall into two categories:


• Practices that affect city-wide system scale; and


• Features that can be implemented at the building scale.


Both categories include responses that make use of newer technologies that affect how parking spaces are housed with both on- and off-street systems. Ultimately, both responses attempt to increase mobility through affecting how the destination (home, work, health provider, or entertainment) is reached and/or implementing building features that future-proof buildings to change mobility methods and demands.


On a city-wide scale, transit hubs are increasing the supply of parking spaces at exchange nodes to provide storage for expanding commuting crowds. Given that more and more vehicles will be either hybrid- or full-electronic powered, parking and mass transit agencies should consider whether a higher percentage of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations should be provided. In California, many developers are starting to include higher ratios of EV charging stations within parking buildings – six percent of total parking supply is the minimum required, while 10 percent is the highest threshold within the codified voluntary measures. 


At the same time, EV charging systems, like ChargePoint and Tesla, are continuing to extend and increase their charging infrastructure. Housing additional EV charging stations would seem appropriate at these transit nodes. A given parking building then would need to consider the increase in power requirements and any additional infrastructure needed to support higher EV charging parking spaces (i.e. switchboards, conduits, and mounting areas for the charging equipment).


Continuing at the city-wide scale, commuter habits have increased the use of ride-shares, scooters and bicycles, which in turn, increases the interaction in a now more complex street use. Bicyclists, scooters and traditional vehicle drivers now must share an already crowded street and sidewalk. 


Given the restrictions being placed on these systems by local city agencies, some modifications to the existing parking buildings would be to act within their vehicle storage nature and allow for or increase provision of areas to store bicycles and house pick-up and drop-off areas for scooters and ride-shares. Modifications could include sectioning off areas that do not fit a passenger vehicle but could allow for safe maneuvering of bicycles and/or scooters. Security of these areas becomes the higher priority and additional cameras would need to be considered for patrolling or monitoring them. 


Other features to consider are accommodations for ride-share pick-up and drop-off areas that improve mobility at the street – dedicated entry and exit lanes could be integrated to prevent vehicle idling at the curb. Similarly, curb dedicated dugouts to remove idling vehicles from moving traffic could be included. Many of these can be incorporated directly into the parking building or development, but can have impacts such as the need for taller height clearances if incorporated inside the building.


At the building level, the trend has been for developments to increase parking supply yields in conjunction with decreasing parking demand. Some systems that can increase parking supply are the Automatic Vehicle Storage and Retrieval Systems (AVSRS) that range from partial-mechanical systems to full-automatic systems. These systems can increase the supply of parking in a given development. 


A parking lift can provide a second elevated parking space over the same footprint, while a fully automatic system can provide upwards of 15-20 percent more spaces over the same footprint – consideration of any of these systems should be based on the type of use or, more importantly, based on the expected peak-demand. Each system has its own use methodology and the associated cost increases are based on the complexity. 


Developers and parking designer-architects should consider the associated impacts: taller height clearances for machinery and the stored vehicles, additional fire protection per local fire authorities (greater density in fire sprinkler coverage, additional access walkways, etc.) and increased physical equipment area requirements (intake/output bays, motors, hydraulics, switches, etc.).


Following the building scale and NetZero goals are features such as power generation systems that could be used to supply the higher power requirements of EV charging stations and/or AVSRSs. Photovoltaic array systems – more commonly referred to as solar panels – have been a common part of “stand-alone” parking buildings due to large open-to-the-sky surface areas. Increased efficiencies of solar panels have continued to develop, making on-site power generation more attractive in light of additional power demands. 


Solar arrays can be installed in various forms. “Eyebrow” canopies at the perimeter, “tree-like” posts at specific locations and whole-level trellis type systems can satisfy both the power demand requirements and aesthetic considerations. In similar fashion to the EV charging station, solar panel features will require keen attention to integration of the architectural, structural and electrical building systems. Additional rooms will be required for battery storage if energy generation is not fed back to the grid. Conduit runs will need to be carefully planned for day one provisions or future expansion of the system. At a minimum, additional empty conduits of the right diameter should be strategically placed as needed.


The evolution of parking buildings, in conjunction with more sustainable environments, requires careful evaluation of the possible features to include – either in an existing or future parking building. Many of the current responses address both city-scale and building-scale features that affect any one development by allowing achievement of sustainable goals, but require careful integration with the building systems – specifically the electrical and fire protection systems. It appears that, given the trend toward more electric vehicles, evolving the parking building from storage to service will require developers and parking designers-architects to consider systems that generate power onsite and provide power for the higher mix of electrical vehicles anticipated. 


Fernando J. Sanchez is an integrated design director with McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. He is based in the San Francisco office and is focused on the company’s parking design-build market. He can be reached at fsanchez@mccarthy.com.



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