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June 25, 2022

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In Our View: Planned automated parking garage smart step

The Columbian

It is not quite the self-driving cars of the near future nor the flying cars of science fiction, but a proposed building at The Waterfront Vancouver represents a transportation wave of the future.

Plans for an eight-story, 277-unit apartment complex include an automated parking garage that uses robotics to park cars and fetch them. As The Columbian reported: “The system saves space by allowing users to drive their cars into a bay, where a system of robotics delivers it to a shelf and back on demand. It also conceals parking from the street, according to plans.”

The saving of space and the concealing of parking are the key elements, reflecting the continuing evolution of American cities. Some 40 years ago, cities were dotted by full-block, ground-level parking lots, the kind that led famed New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable to write after a visit to Portland, “Someday, some American city will discover the Malthusian truth that the greater the number of automobiles, the less the city can accommodate them without destroying itself. The downtown that turns itself into a parking lot is speeding its own dissolution.”

Urban areas have since recognized that truth, increasing their focus on mass transit and alternatives to ground-level parking.

All of which lends intrigue to the prospect of what is believed to be Clark County’s first automated parking garage.

Automated parking has been successfully deployed in other parts of the world, where limited land has brought the issue to the forefront. Depending on the design, automated garages typically can handle about twice as many cars compared with a similar-sized traditional garage, and a 2,314-car garage in Kuwait has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest.

But while automated garages are common in Asia and the Middle East and somewhat common in Europe, American attempts at development have seen middling success. A 2015 article from the New York Times detailed the failure of garages in Miami, with one developer saying: “Americans are not used to this method of parking. On the one hand, it is exciting. On the other hand, it can be confusing or overwhelming.”

Such confusion should not scuttle promising technology that can improve American cities and enhance the quality of life in densely populated areas.

Automated garages can reduce the amount of space required for parking; typically are less expensive to build and operate than a traditional garage; and can lessen the emissions that come with driving through a parking garage looking for an open spot. There also are safety benefits that come with leaving your car in a bay rather than walking through a garage, and environmental benefits that come with reduced lighting and ventilation where the cars are stored.

Americans often are obsessed with their vehicles and with the idea of endless wide-open spaces through which to drive them. But modern cities require a different kind of thinking. In order to provide adequate space for residences and businesses, limiting the space for parking is essential to maximizing the potential of urban areas. Automated parking garages should be a key element of that quest.

Plans for an automated parking garage at The Vancouver Waterfront have not been finalized, and details will need to be scrutinized. But it is an intriguing idea that could help propel the development toward the future.

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