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April 9, 2021

Automated parking garages vs traditional parking structures: What’s the difference?

The world is opening up for business after a tough year. Owners, developers, and architects are getting excited about new construction projects, but they probably don’t look forward to planning for parking. With traditional parking lots and structures, there’s not a lot to get excited about. But there are options, including automated parking, that offer real advantages over surface lots and parking structures. Here’s a look at how traditional concrete parking structures compare to automated parking garages to help developers understand their options.

Conventional parking has been called costly, inconvenient, and a poor use of valuable land. Donald Shoup is a UCLA professor of urban planning and author of a popular book called The High Cost of Free Parking.  Shoup notes that in Los Angeles, parking takes up 40% more land than all city’s the freeways and streets combined.

If you’re planning a project and evaluating both traditional parking and automated parking structures, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

Profit potential – Faced with rising costs, developers are looking at all aspects of their projects for potential savings and profit opportunities. In the past, parking often was considered a necessary expense, and a challenge to profitable projects. The inability to meet parking count requirements has sidelined many projects permanently. Automated parking has the potential to change all that. The limitations of traditional parking underscore why developers and architects should consider automated parking options for all current and future projects, and increase profits up to 5X on saved space.

Conventional parking garage

Land use – Massive parking garages that have been built around the nation since the 1950s mean that cars, not people, occupy some of our nation’s most valuable real estate – which can no longer be used for housing, stores, green spaces, or workspaces.

Shoup predicts that parking garages and surface lots in LA and other cities will be repurposed as our cities grow and their needs change. As urbanization continues and we develop better-faster-cheaper-cleaner ways to get around our cities, many existing parking structures will be torn down and redeveloped into housing, office, and retail space. In contrast, automated parking garages can save from 40% to 80% of space.

Safety: Pedestrians wandering through parking garages looking for their cars and distracted drivers looking for a parking space are a dangerous combination. According to the National Safety Council, more than 50,000 crashes occur every year in parking lots and garages in the U.S. These crashes result in approximately 500 deaths and 60,000 injuries every year. Automated parking systems efficiently store and retrieve cars and eliminate the need for pedestrians to walk around and look for their cars.

User experience:
As a driver, you may have had the experience of paying to enter to a garage only to find out it’s full. The lack of transparency in availability is something that can be addressed by technology, but even “smart” traditional parking garages cannot surpass their structural limitations. Parking costs every driver in the US about $345 in wasted time, fuel, and emissions, according to INRIX. Automated parking systems make it simple to know exactly how many spaces are occupied and available at any time.

Payment systems: Confusing payments systems and signage often contribute to a lack of transparency for drivers trying to find the best price on parking. In addition, parking garage operators often have no attendants on site to clarify parking payment confusion. The result is that to avoid the possibility of getting a ticket, US drivers  end up overpaying more than $20 billion a year, or $97 per driver, according to a 2017 study.  Today’s automated parking systems typically use mobile apps to simplify parking payments and can be equipped to manage EV charging as well.

Repurposing: Many industry analysts believe that traditional parking garages are heading for extinction. That’s especially true in areas where property values are higher. Ride-hailing services and the emerging market for autonomous cars will change the way we use space in our city centers. Concrete parking garages are more difficult and costly to repurpose than automated parking systems such as puzzle lifts that employ a steel frame that is not attached to building columns and can be disassembled to repurpose space.  

Health concerns:  Some parking garages now include warning signs urging customers to avoid spending long periods in parking garages due to concerns about harmful chemicals in engine exhausts. Older parking structures in particular were often built without adequate ventilation in mind. Since cars are moved by mechanical means in an automated parking system, C02 and other harmful emissions are greatly reduced.

Automated Parking garage vs traditional

Sustainability of materials: Concrete has been called “The most destructive material on earth” in a Guardian article that describes the dangers of concrete to humans and the planet.  The article notes that concrete is responsible for 4% to 8% of the world’s CO2. Only coal, oil and gas contribute a more significant amount of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. Concrete also absorbs about 10% of the world’s industrial water use, a severe issue in water-stressed regions. Automated parking garages are primarily built of steel. Most of the steel installed in today’s projects comes is recycled, and the modern steel manufactured today is close to 100% recyclable.

Cost to build and maintain: Real estate development projects worldwide have felt the recent impact of risings costs. From property prices through labor and materials, costs seem to be trending upward. When comparing automated parking garages and concrete parking structures, it’s important to factor in the cost of steel vs. concrete materials and the ongoing cost of maintenance and repairs. Automated parking systems require regular maintenance, which can be cost-effective in proven systems like puzzle parking lifts. Concrete also requires regular maintenance and repairs to protect the steel rebar used to reinforce concrete’s tensile strength.

Time savings: The time spent circling the garage for a parking space and waiting to enter and exit a parking garage adds up over time, and Americans on average spend 17 hours per year searching for parking, with New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington DC taking the top spots for the most time-consuming parking. Automated parking can eliminate the time required to find parking and store and retrieve vehicles.

Questions about how to compare automated and traditional parking solutions?

You can learn more about CityLift Puzzle LiftTM systems and puzzle parking and other custom parking solutions at our website, or check out the videos at CityLift’s YouTube Channel.

To get started with your own Puzzle Lift Parking project, contact a CityLift Smart Parking Concierge today.

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