November 20, 2018

Mechanized parking system rules get first look

San Mateo Officials Weigh Zones, Operations for Popular Technology used to Store Vehicles


Whether to limit the construction of mechanized parking systems to downtown or commercial zones in San Mateo and require attendants to be present while they operate were among the considerations city officials weighed this week in reviewing new regulations for the emerging technology .

Up for review before San Mateo’s Planning Commission were rules aimed at defining the approval process, operations guidelines and safety and ADA requirements for parking systems using mechanical lifting devices to stack or store vehicles. By using mechanized systems to store cars when they are not needed, the technology can eliminate the need for the drive aisles and pedestrian access found in most standard parking garages and free up space in a building for other uses, explained Jonathan Wicks of Walker Consultants, a consultant hired by the city to research the systems.

Wicks explained different types of mechanized parking systems have been developed, among them a system in which a driver pulls a car into a bay and leaves it before it is transported by automated technology to a parking space. He added mechanical stackers allow at least two cars to be stored in the same space as one. Wicks also acknowledged the disadvantages of the systems, which can include lengthier car retrieval times and challenges for drivers of oversized and small cars, which may not always fit into the bays or platforms used in the systems.

Residents and some commissioners raised concerns about allowing mechanized parking systems in residential areas and whether electric vehicles and cars of large or small sizes could be accommodated in them. But for Commissioner John Ebneter, the systems were one tool of many the city could explore to reduce the number of developments built with too many parking spaces, which he noted can drive up the cost of building projects.

“I think that these devices should be used,” he said. “They can be a plus for not only low-cost housing but also the overall cost for residential and commercial properties.”

Acknowledging mechanized parking systems may be especially beneficial for downtown zones where parking spots are limited, San Mateo Park resident Virginia McIsaac advocated for officials to take a phased approach to allowing them in the city and concentrate on allowing them downtown first. With concerns residents of buildings with mechanized systems might park on the street outside their buildings in between running errands, McIsaac cautioned officials against giving them the green light in neighborhoods where street parking is already tight.

“I would like you very much to think about doing a very slow rollout of this and keeping it from residential … until you have a firm idea of the impact,” she said.

Several commissioners agreed with McIsaac in limiting the use of the systems to downtown and commercial zones, with Vice Chair Mike Etheridge adding he wanted to prevent the queuing of cars awaiting entry into the systems in residential areas. Commissioner Ellen Mallory said she preferred to see the systems built outside of the downtown historic district to ensure they blend in with their surroundings.

Ebneter was among the commissioners and residents who also advocated for requiring operators of mechanized parking systems to staff them with an attendant to assist drivers who are not familiar with the system and also address power outages or mechanical issues that may arise. Citing concerns about burdening an understaffed city department with more work, he was less keen on requiring manufacturers of the systems to update the city with an annual systems report detailing vehicle retrieval times, failure rates and queuing impacts, but the measure gained favor with the other commissioners.

Commissioners also considered rules requiring a minimum platform size designed to fit some 85 percent of cars on the road today and a minimum of two spaces or 15 percent of the total number of parking spaces in the system — whichever is greater — to be provided as non-mechanized surface parking for ADA accessibility and cars that can’t be accommodated in the mechanized system.

In response to concerns about where electric vehicles would be charged in mechanized systems, Wicks said there are some versions that can include charging stations within the mechanized stalls, but noted they can also be installed among the surface stalls. Commissioner Ramiro Maldonado advocated for increasing the number of surface spots created when these systems are installed to be able to accommodate cars that don’t fit within the system.

“I would suggest increasing the percentage of surface stalls to 20 percent,” he said. “That gives individuals that are trying to do more short-term parking more flexibility.”

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