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Parking Garages: More Than Meets the Eye

International Parking Institute and THP Uncover Advancements in Parking Garage Design.
According to the International Parking Institute (IPI), there are more than 150 million parking spaces in the U.S. Whether in a parking garage, paved lot or driveway, motor vehicles spend about 95 percent of the time parked. Today's parking facilities are more advanced than ever, often in ways that drivers might never expect. Experienced parking consultants will tell you that much more goes into the design of a parking garage than one might expect.

"So much more is known about parking than compared to 50 years ago," explains Shawn Conrad, executive director of IPI. "Parking garage designers and owners have always been concerned with certain basics, such as location, entrance/exit placement, flow of vehicles, layout, size and pedestrians. But today, issues like the psychology of parking, the effect of a parking facility on the surrounding community, sustainability, land use and aesthetics are increasingly important." 

Trends in parking garage design

Conrad points to several trends that accommodate consumer demand and driver preferences. "Advances in technology, design, materials and construction present many choices to planners, architects and engineers," he says.

Parking garages are not only functional; they also provide an opportunity for community planners and developers to create facilities that blend with the surrounding environment or are unique and artistic. Creative building exteriors and aesthetics enhance a garage's appearance.

According to Jim Millar, a parking garage consultant and president of THP Limited, another development making its way into parking facilities across the country is the philosophy of being environmentally-responsible. Garage designers incorporate green building principles, featuring sustainable materials, vegetated roofs, battery charging facilities, or alternative forms of transportation.

"Garage owners recognize that commuters such as bicyclists are under-served," he explains. "Some parking garages have been designed to provide bicycle storage and changing rooms for those who use alternative methods of transportation." In fact, many municipalities now require parking garages to provide bicycle storage.

With the state of the parking industry changing at such a rapid pace, it's hard to tell what the parking garage of the future may look like... but that didn't stop Conrad and Millar from offering their best predictions:

  • Advertising: Parking garages represent a blank canvas that enterprising owners can use to promote complementary services and entertainment. Some companies like CARSPAZE -- which prints photo-quality images on screens made of recycled materials and highlighted by low-energy lighting -- are already offering services that transform parking garages into advertising space.
  • Technology: Technology will leave an indelible mark on parking. From directing drivers through a garage to open spaces and helping cities to remotely monitor restricted parking zones, to paying for parking with cell phones and parking reservation systems, technology will make the possibilities endless.
  • "Park and Plug": Owners of electric cars will be able to "park and plug" in order to recharge their car batteries. Alternative refueling stations will emerge. According to the New York Times, as many as one dozen car manufacturers will introduce fully electric cars in the next few years. Some developers are preparing for the influx of electric cars by installing car-charging stations where owners of electric cars will be able to "park and plug in" to recharge their car batteries. One such example is Dell, which in 2009 completed construction of a series of solar panels that can provide power to parked plug-in vehicles. 

The "green" side of parking garages

Conrad and Millar state that "green design" is an increasing trend within the parking industry. "Green design is already big, but it is going to get bigger. Vegetative roofs for recreational purposes will increase in popularity. In addition, developers are becoming more informed about the other ways parking garages can be functional, but environmentally-friendly," said Conrad.

According to Millar, there is not yet a single set of parking industry-approved designations that a parking garage must follow in order to be considered green. Instead, Millar points to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines as a commonly-accepted measure of environmental sustainability.

"Following LEED certification guidelines means that very specific energy efficiency standards, landfill waste diversion and building construction standards are met," said Millar. "It is just another way for parking garage owners to hold themselves and their builders to a higher environmental standard."

Millar cited several impacts green parking garage design can have. For example, placing parking spaces under cover can limit the amount of solar heat the garage absorbs and re-emits into the surrounding areas. In addition, sophisticated lighting controls and new fixtures, such as LED lamps, can reduce glare, light pollution and energy consumption without compromising security.

Finally, there is the fact that many parking garage consultants are choosing to use environmentally-preferable materials throughout the construction process. Sustainable garages utilize additives and special concrete mixes that extend garage life and are made of recyclable materials.

Conrad and Millar predict that, just as new cars become more sophisticated and energy efficient, new parking garages will follow suit. Says Millar, "Parking garage designers are taking notice of the way consumer lives are changing, and adjusting their designs to accommodate emerging trends and driver preferences."

Founded in 1962, the International Parking Institute is the largest trade association representing the parking industry. Members include professionals from cities, port authorities, civic centers, academic institutions, hospitals, airports, theme parks, corporate complexes, race tracks, transit and transportation agencies, convention and sports centers, architects, engineers, financial consultants, urban planners, commercial parking operators and suppliers of equipment, products and services to the parking and transportation industry.

THP is a client focused consulting firm established in 1973 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The firm specializes in the functional design and restoration of parking garages; structural and architectural engineering services; restoration of building facades; and waterproofing related to new and existing buildings. Projects designed by THP are located throughout the United States and abroad. These projects share a gross worth in excess of $20 billion. 
International parking institute
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