When developing a project where the site geometry is complex and space is limited, clients often ask: how can we maximize the parking program?
An automated parking system [APS] can be the answer—fitting the necessary parking into far less space at less cost, with proven technology. For example, a volume that might hold 100 cars in traditional form might hold 125-135 cars with an APS. Cars are stacked vertically and side by side, and the equipment eliminates the need for room for driving or walking room. Safety and a valet-like user experience are advantages, as drivers simply stop in a central location and don’t need to wander through a garage.
GLY and ZGF Architects are currently incorporating an APS within a Seattle healthcare and research campus expansion, providing parking for 165 cars below a six-story patient care tower. As interest rises among our clients in other sectors, we find ourselves sharing key considerations that can help drive the decision to use an APS and determine the right partners. Following are some of these factors, with a focus on options analysis through procurement.
Options Analysis + Selecting the Provider
Typically, the pressure is on to decide whether to pursue an APS early in a project’s design. This is due to the large variation in below-grade massing, structure, power needs, and APS equipment characteristics. Another reason is because public reviews consider factors such as parking counts, building volumes, and entries before land use permit applications can be approved.
A thorough options analysis should detail APS concepts along with traditional approaches, with rough massing, stall counts, cycle times to park and retrieve cars, ROM costs, and numerous other factors. Thankfully, while APS is new in our region, proven providers exist around the world.
For our healthcare and research client, we used a multi-step approach for the best analysis and a competitive selection. This was successful, and we’d recommend a similar approach for your first project. Later projects can be streamlined in some areas. Here are a few guiding steps:
Bring in an expert to provide enough data to choose whether to pursue an APS—performance criteria, structural and electrical needs, ROM costs, etc. We worked with CityLift at this stage. Along with GLY’s analysis of traditional garages and the shell of the APS parking concepts, this provided enough information for the client to commit to an APS.
Engage top providers in a pre-qualifications and learning process. We talked to Harding Steel, CityLift, Parkworks, and Utron. Systems vary substantially, so be prepared to ask a lot of questions to get into the details: structural configuration, number of lifts needed, ability to visit factories and operational systems, lead times, the potential for EV charging, references, construction hoisting, who installs and maintains the system, and much more. Begin with informal discussions, then shortlist the appropriate firms.
Conduct an RFP and selection process, developed with knowledge gained during the prequalification process. This stage requires detailed performance commitments, which can be the driving factor in which systems meet the project needs. When a client is choosing a new concept, it’s important to really understand not only the costs but the operational aspects and user experience as well!
Rendering of a Wöhr Multiparker 730 system.
Harding, based in Denver, ultimately provided the best fit for the client’s needs. The Wöhr Multiparker 730 system, built in Germany, offers an efficient layout, quick cycle times, and a fast prefab approach. Drivers will pull up at a central location and their cars will be whisked away by a vertical and horizontal track system.
This choice has several advantages inherent to any APS. The APS floors are flat, with no ramps, so the space can theoretically be converted to other uses someday. The smaller excavation and simpler below-grade structure were faster and less disruptive to build. Safety and user experience are advantages as noted above—patients, families, and staff won’t need to walk through a garage.
Timely building permits
Building permits require special attention, so it’s in your interest to work with a code consultant experienced with APS implementation. Since the car hoists are only for cars and not people, different codes apply vs. elevators, and different authorities have jurisdiction. A code expert can point to the right places and make sure plan reviewers understand the relevant codes. Discussions with jurisdictions should begin early to overcome any learning curve.
Optimal cycle times
The cycle time to retrieve a car is worth real analysis. Some of this is about feel, and some is math. Will drivers feel like the system is fast, or become impatient? How many cars can the system handle at peak demand, both entering and leaving? How does this compare to a traditional garage? This helps frame the analysis of cycle times and the number of lifts each provider recommends.
Accommodating electric vehicles
Remember to account for electric vehicle [EV] charging requirements as you consider an APS and manufacturers. The Harding/Wöhr system will accommodate this within the APS parking racks. Seattle requires a minimum percentage of parking stalls to be EV-ready. As time goes on a client might want to upgrade further parking stalls to accommodate EVs. Be sure to address additional equipment in your project planning and RFP process.
So far, Seattle has APS systems in healthcare and high-rise residential projects, one each. More will follow, with varying advantages depending on the site and sector.
An APS can fit a site with odd geometry due to utilizing lifts in lieu of long, wide vehicle ramps, so they might be the only choice for really small sites that want parking. Factors such as user experience, cost, and schedule can be intriguing benefits even on a large site.
For example, APS systems could be used successfully in hotel and multi-family buildings based on the compact nature of these projects in urban environments and the need for high parking densities.
Wöhr system components after fabrication in Germany, October 2021.