Engineers search for parking perfection

Post by Mike Klassen in


Parkomat must have felt like the future at one time

When we someday dig into the archeology of the late 20th Century, there is no question we will marvel at society's contorted efforts to integrate the automobile into everyday life. Cars, whether we like it or not, are not going away until we cannot afford to run them anymore. It's a variant of another expression but probably more true to say that for many people they'll give you their steering wheel only when you take it from their cold, dead hands!

The other day someone sent me a funny and fascinating video clip about an underground automated car parking system built in Budapest by the Wöhr company of Germany. A great topic for, I thought, so I began researching the topic somewhat. Little did I realize that the search for urban parking perfection has been a long quest of engineers. There seems to be countless systems that propose to be the best for parking your car for you, with the lowest footprint on the urban landscape.

Wöhr's pitch is very Eurocentric. Let's keep the public squares open for people and hide the autos underneath. It looks like a great idea, but of course you have no idea on the return on investment without a lot of study. Burying these systems ain't cheap. I began to find more systems touted on YouTube, and all of them rely heavily on computer animation. That suggests to me that the automated parking systems are still for many cities stuck on the drawing board.

For example, there's Revo-park, with its computer animation that reminds me of the sets from a first-person shooter game like Quake. Then there is US-based Boomerang Systems who seem to diss all those mamby-pamby Asian and European alternative technologies with good old American ingenuity. Then there is this system from Israel, and the very important presentation by a gorgeous TV host. I don't understand Hebrew, but it's fascinating to watch nonetheless.

Then there is Assa's Chess Parking System, labeled as "the best parking system EVER"! They certainly have the best name of a manufacturer. Then there is the absolutely horrifying Parkomat (clip seen above) which promotes its modular parking towers to scale up and down based upon need. The buildings themselves look like bad airplane hangers, but situated in your downtown core.

To me the best vision for a car-friendly world has always been Disney's Magic Highway from 1958. This clip touts how "spacious, well-planned communities will be closely integrated with the highway system." It's a classic bit of wishful thinking by 1950s urban planners and the US automotive industry, who seemed to be working hammer and tong back in those days. Of course, those were the days when father went to work, and mother and child went shopping.

I guess it's fair to say that parking is an important business, albeit not a very efficient one. It's interesting to me that for all the energy some companies have put into these computer-controlled stacking systems, so few real world installations of them seem to exist. I guess we'll continue to park the old fashioned way for some time to come, that is unless you can get me to let go of the steering wheel.

- post by Mike


Kinda like a valet, only your valet is a robot instead of a person. I've heard of this in Japan where of course space is very tight.

The Thought of The Evening

"If it doesn't fit. If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." - O.J. Simpson defence attorney Johnnie Cochran

Guess what Mike,

A very similar idea, on a smaller scale though, was suggested by one of the designers on the advisory panel to the DP Board about a year and a half ago in response to the inadequate parking solutions presented. It was during a DP complete application for the building on the corner of Main Street and Georgia Viaduct (the one with the many, many art studios, low rents, long term tenants...)
Parking on the street and inside the individual garages facing the Viaduct on the North side was as I remember, very tight.

At the time I thought it was a brilliant idea. But don't tell that to the managers at the City Hall, if the idea doesn't come from them, that is, it won't fly.
At the time I was professionally involved with one of the artists residing in the building so I was in attendance.

Fascinatingly boring and completely out of whack meeting. Very disappointing show put by the three heads of Planning, Engineering and the other one...

You know, thinking that this clip is a demo of a Parkomat built in Budapest, a city open to new ideas, a city which I am very familiar with and fond of, and thinking that I now reside in an uninspiring Vancouver, directed by blazed individuals, all that comes to mind is:

'Szia Brent! Megnézed a bélyeggyűjteményem?':'Hey Brent! Would you like to see my stamp collection?'

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.


It's true that a lot of suppliers use animation rather than actual video footage which may be due to the fact they haven't built anything or that sometimes the actual installations are dark, somewhat inaccessible and difficult to shoot video. We managed to get some footage which can be seen here are we're about to shoot some more later this month.

At 5by2 we've been designing, manufacturing, installing, commissioning, and maintaining fully automated parking systems for nearly 20 years. In that time we've done 26 systems and we're about to start our 27th in a couple of months. 19 of our systems are in Amsterdam where fully automated parking is now accepted as a viable option for parking. I believe this has to do with the fact that reliability is so good in our systems that we have an immediate and credible answer to initial skepticism about these systems and once that confidence is shared by developers, architects and consultants in other cities around the world we will see more and more fully automated parking systems installed.

Vancouver's first major automated parking system is being installed under the Jameson mixed use project on Hastings Street. Soon we'll get a chance to watch it in action.

Having visited other automated parking systems in place, I can't help but think that if they do mis-function, it gives a whole new meaning to the term 'compact car'.

Back in the '80s, the Vancouver Port Corporation, as it was know then, sunk $2 million into the "Computaner," which was the same basic idea as the Parkomatic. But, gantries were cheaper in the end.

I look forward to the automated parking thingy at the Jameson project. Well, I look forward to the future news reports of the thing breaking down on a regular basis!

As a women without a GPS, here's a
recommendation to help solve Vancouver's parking problems:

Convert all those rarely used bicycle lanes to parking spaces, angled parking, facing in same direction as traffic, across the lanes and the extra space that would be used
by the proposed barriers. Perhaps a committee could be struck to calculate just how many parking spaces could be created simply by removing all the cycling debris from our roadways, and painting lines for parking spaces. And another committee to calculate how much money would be saved by the City!
WA_A_A_Y too easy, too economical for his nibs!

The city did remove some parking spaces to build the Dunsmuir bike lanes. However, even the remaining spaces are usually empty. Far more people are using the Dunsmuir bike lanes than parking in the remaining parking spaces on Dunsmuir.

On Granville Street, the parking spaces on the sidewalks are empty more often than not while the bicycle racks are often full. It would have been a much better use of the space to build separated bike lanes along Granville.

Back to the posting. I am always surprised by the negative reaction here to things like automated parking. It is much more space efficient.

The biggest advantage may be that as opposed to normal parking structures which would be difficult to transform to another use due to all the ramps and the low ceiling heights, the space used for automated parking could be more easily used for another purpose by just removing the mechanism. The mechanism could be reused at another site or recycled. As we are already seeing parking garages in Vancouver that are way underutilized as more people are walking, cycling and using public transit, this something worth considering.

I suggest that you visit my blog to see what the future holds in terms of Intelligent Parking Systems (ITS) and how such systems will have huge impacts on the future designs and sustainability of world cities.

When I received the Budapest video from a friend and did a little research I was surprised to find more U.S. examples than I expected.

This 2003 article cites a built example in New Jersey.

Here's an example of an Automated parker in New York City from 2009.

Here's the propaganda from a company that builds them:

(Also, a U.S. example of a standard (not automated) parking garage under an urban public space is Boston Common: )

A professional choice of the best car park system (ramp car park or fully automatic) depends on the location and the clients for this service. Cost reasons but also other facts (processing time etc.) in most cases (especially for short term parking) the ramp system is the better solution.
More information you can find in the German book "Parkhaeuser-Garagen", ISBN 978-3-211-89238-1 (second edition, SpringerViennaNewYork)

Check out!

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