Robo-parking garages: Does the U.S. need more?

Can the U.S. expect to see more automated parking garages in downtowns?
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

The United States has an estimated 2 billion parking spaces, but only about 3,000 of those are robotic-parking spaces in parking garages that do something like this:

These impressive parking garages are more popular in Europe and Asia. China alone has 170,000 of the robo-parking garages. But should the U.S. aim to increase its lot of robo garages? Besides looking really cool, there are real benefits to this type of infrastructure in dense cities.

As Jack Skelley reports at Urbanland, automated parking garages save a lot of space, reducing required parking square footage by 50 to 75 percent. According to Skelley, one of these garages can park 250 cars per hour with 32 cars moving at one time.

"If you have high-density development, it makes sense to have high-density parking," says Donald C. Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA. "Talk to any developer: they say for small or irregular sites, robotic parking is the answer to space constraints. It will unlock the real estate potential of many urban infill sites."

Another thing to consider is price. Robo garages can cost $25,000 to $50,000 per parking space. It might seem like a lot, but when you compare it with underground parking structures the costs are comparable or even cheaper. Per space, underground parking can cost $25,000 to $70,000.

But there are some obvious concerns about the automated parking garage. The first, and most obvious, is that malfunctions in the computers could potentially damage cars or cause inconveniences. Plus, would the systems be less efficient than a normal parking garage in situations when there are high volumes of cars looking to park at the same time? But a less obvious issue is the fire code, considering the high number of gas-filled cars stacked so close together.

"From a fire-code standpoint, a lot of municipalities find it very difficult to plan for them," John Hammerschlag, a development investor told Skelley. "In Chicago, they’ve forced people to install concrete to separate the floors. The whole fire issue has to be vetted, and this has certainly not been done at a national level."

At this point, these high-tech garages seems to make sense in places where you don't have to get to your car multiple times each day. High-density residential or hotels in dense cities might be the first places where these structures become more prominent. Though it might be awhile before you can expect to see robo garages throughout U.S. downtowns, if safety concerns can be met, they might soon become less of a novelty. In fact, more these parking structures are already coming to Hollywood.

Photo: Flickr/Adam Franco

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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