October 2, 2003

Tight site parking problem? Stack those cars

  • With space becoming more scarce, developers are looking at unique parking solutions
    Cary Kopczynski & Co.


    Real estate development involves numerous challenges. One of those is parking.

    For most urban projects, the challenge of providing adequate parking is like shoehorning a large foot into a small shoe. For some projects, parking becomes a deal killer.

    Automated, stackable parking can be a solution. It’s an old idea. In fact, the use of elevators in multi-level garages predated ramps, which require larger building footprints and more complex structural solutions.

    In 1921, the Detroit Electric Co. built a free-standing garage to serve its office complex. By 1928, the profit potential of parking had become apparent as evidenced by construction of the 1,000-space, elevator-operated Kent Garage in New York City.

    Garden Street Garage
    Photos courtesy of Cary Kopczynski & Co.
    Cars in the Garden Street Garage in Hoboken, N.J., are moved between seven levels on vertical lifts at 420 feet per minute. The total volume of the garage is less than one-half that required for a conventional ramp-accessed facility.

    In 1931, a pigeonhole facility was built as part of the 34-story Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati. That garage provided more than 400 spaces on 16 levels, accessed by elevator and reached via an eight-lane entry/exit plaza. The garage operated until 1978.

    More recently, automated stackable parking was successfully used for the 324-car Garden Street Garage in Hoboken, N.J. High land costs and lack of available space drove the decision by the Hoboken Parking Authority, the owner, to use automated parking.

    Closer to home, stacked parking is being used in several Seattle area projects.

    The Bellora Condominiums uses single stacked parking lifts in eight stalls. The project includes four levels of subterranean parking, the first of which has a high ceiling. The owner took advantage of the extra height, which was required for other reasons, to provide stacked parking. Market acceptance has been favorable.

    Cristalla, a high-end condominium under construction at Second and Lenora in Seattle, will also use this system. Thirty-six stalls have been designed to accept stacked parking.

    Several types of automated stackable parking have become popular. One involves a circular buried silo. These have been used in Europe and Asia, with more installations planned.

    In a silo stack, a car is lowered by a centrally located elevator and then mechanically moved into a selected stall around the perimeter of the silo. Another system uses elevators and moveable tracks in square or rectangular configurations. This was the system selected for the Hoboken project.

    Bellora Condominiums
    The Bellora Condominiums in Seattle’s Belltown uses stackable parking at several locations where high ceilings create sufficient headroom.

    For smaller installations, the single-car mechanical lift like those used at Bellora is becoming popular. The device is easy to install and can be located in any garage where structural capacity and headroom allow. One downside is that the lower car must be moved before the upper car can be loaded or unloaded. It is attractive for those with a less frequently used second car.

    Automated stackable parking on a cost-per-stall basis tends to be more expensive. Although this may change as the technology develops, current costs are higher than for a conventional ramp-accessed parking structure.

    Space and volume requirements for stacked parking, however, are very favorable. Stacked parking typically requires less than two-thirds the area and less than one-half the volume of conventional parking. Thus, the trigger for its use is space and volume as opposed to cost.

    The exception is for sites with very high land costs. For the Hoboken project, land costs were exceptionally high. The reduced land requirements created by the use of automated parking resulted in a significant savings in land costs and slight savings in the overall facility.

    Automated stackable parking is not a solution for every parking problem. In fact, its higher cost is an obstacle to its use for most projects. For projects where space and volume are at a premium, however, or where sufficient land is unavailable, automated stackable parking can be an attractive solution.

    Cary Kopczynski, PE, SE, is president of Cary Kopczynski & Co., a structural engineering firm based in Bellevue.

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