Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Ideas for Parking

If there is any single factor that works against urbanization in America, it is the automobile. Ever since cars became cheap and widely available in post-war America, automobile-centered development has encouraged suburbanization at the expense of central cities. Automobiles require significant space to move (travel lanes being at least eight feet), accelerate and decelerate (60-0 length being at least 150 feet), park (150 square feet). Automobiles also require refueling infrastructure (gas stations, that is). Not to mention the pollutants, safety hazards, and so on...

But let's back up a second and address a specific problem the cities face in dealing with cars: parking!

If a normal parking space requires about 150 square feet, and if a city wants to attract middle class residents into its downtown core, we can guess that there will need to be space for at least one car per two downtown residents. (The 1-car-per-2-people figure is a commonsense number that I believe is realistic for middle class residents). Ok, that means that the space requirements of every downtown resident just increased by 75 square feet. If an ordinary city-dweller needs at least 600 square feet to live, the need for parking increases the square footage demand by twelve percent.

That twelve percent is particularly problematic when you consider the difficulties involved in expanding parking across multiple levels. To the best of my knowledge, there are few parking garages greater than ten stories. The practical limitations involved in driving up and down ten floors are quite real.

All of which gets me to the latest miracle in parking: the automatic parking warehouse! According to the NYTimes, a company has just installed New York City's first. If you've ever seen a robot-controlled palette-based warehouse, this will come as no surprise to you. Basically, you have a giant warehouse with multiple levels on it. On every level, there are rows and rows of pallettes. On each pallette, you can store a car. A central computer controls the moving, insertion, and extraction of pallettes (cars, that is). So you pull up to the car elevator, get out, hand your keys to the attendant, and the system whisks away your vehicle to the subterranean depths.

The great thing about this system is that it reduces the total square footage needs for parking, and it makes it possible to store vehicles on many more levels than a traditional garage. I don't know if parking warehouses are going to save cities, but they do balance out the equation a bit in favor of urbanization...


Anonymous Cameron Frye said...

"It could get stolen, wrecked, scratched,
you name it.

Oh, how I will never forget those words! Take it from me, Cameron Frye, never leave your car in a parking lot. I once trusted my buddy Ferris Bueller and parked my dad's prized Ferrari in a lot... Well, if you don't know the story, here is what happened:

From Ferris Bueller's Day Off

The Ferrari pulls into a large parking garage.

Ferris, Sloane and Cameron get out. Cameron's having fits.

We can't leave the car here!

Why not?

Because we can't! I want it back
home where it belongs!

What could happen to it?

It could get stolen, wrecked, scratched,
you name it.

I'll give the guy a five to watch it.

What guy?


He smiles with relish at the car. 6'6", 240. An IQ that equals his hourly wage. Shoulder-length hair stuffed into a hairnet Gold teeth. Earring. Goatee.


The Attendant swaggers over to the car. Ferris slips him a

You speak English?

Since I was three.

Great. I want to you take extra special care of this vehicle, okay?

He pats the Attendant on the arm. He smiles.

Like it's a beautiful woman.

I appreciate it.

The Attendant very gingerly gets into the car. Ferris turns to Cameron. The Ferrari pulls into the lot very slowly, very carefully. No squealing tires, no revving engine.

See what a finski can do to a person's attitude? He's going to treat it like a beautiful woman.

Yeah, sure. Whip it with a stick and piss on the hood.

Oh, please, Cameron. Do you have to be so graphic?

She heads down the street.

This is so right!

Ferris nudges Cameron on. They exit the garage and head
after Sloane. A long beat and the Ferrari creeps down the exit ramp of the garage. It's gone in the entrance and out the exit. Another attendant jumps in the passenger side. He's skinny, tall, with a huge knit hat willed with dreads. He lets out a spirited laugh and the Ferrari peels out of he lot. It heads down the street away from Sloane, Ferris
and Cameron.

8:48 AM  

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