What Lies Ahead for the Canadian Parking Industry?

It’s always fun to speculate about what the future holds. When it comes to parking, it’s particularly enjoyable because the industry is progressing so rapidly. Change has always been a hallmark of the industry as over the years parking designers, planners, and technology developers have worked  to keep up with the evolution of the car.

The last few years have been among the most exciting we’ve ever experienced. Recent years have brought the groundbreaking planning innovations of Donald Shoup and his many likeminded colleagues. They’ve also brought a host of design and maintenance innovations that have made parking facilities more useful and durable than ever before. And of course they’ve brought an incredible array of new parking technologies that have transformed the parking experience for drivers while making parking more manageable and cost-effective than ever.

But as exciting as the past few years have been, there are many more exciting parking developments right around the corner. From design, to planning, to technology, we are on the cusp of an extraordinary parking age.

It’s like that song from the eighties said: The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades.

Planning for the Future

Planning is one of the most exciting features of the parking industry today. Urban planning has undergone extraordinary change in recent years, and parking planning is keeping pace. Some of the most exciting urban planning approaches, such as New Urbanism and Complete Streets, revolve around making cities more pedestrian-friendly and reducing vehicle congestion on the streets. Parking planning plays a vital role in the success of each.

One of the most important elements of parking planning is to use parking resources to influence driver behavior. By strategically placing parking resources, cities and towns can encourage drivers to park and make the transition from driver to pedestrian sooner. This approach to planning can be an important element of a New Urbanist or Complete Streets plan.

According to Marcy McInelly, AIA, principal of the planning and design firm Urbsworks, and chair of the board of the Congress for the New Urbanism, this trend will continue in Canada’s cities. She thinks that cities will continue to make themselves more pedestrian-friendly while, at the same time, promoting public transit. Demographics are driving this as much as anything because Millennials value public transit more than previous generations, and they want to live in cities where they can easily get around by foot or via transit. Also, as seniors age they tend to drive less, instead relying on transportation services and public transportation.

“When I began my career, cities required that every new development have a certain amount of parking,” said McInelly. “Now, cities are emphasizing parking much less, recognizing that when we build more parking we have less space for housing, recreation, and other land uses.

“One of the most exciting recent trends is the unbundling of parking from new development,” continued McInelly. “It’s easier for developers to get financing on projects without parking. Since parking adds, on average, $30,000 to the cost of a unit, this approach permits the creation of much more affordable housing. If purchasers need parking they can purchase it separately.”

McInelly thinks that the introduction of self-driving vehicles will further promote this trend. As self-driving vehicles become more common, ride sharing will increase as well. Experts estimate that parking demand will decrease by more than 30% over the next generation, which will provide exciting urban planning opportunities to Canadian cities.

Finally, McInelly points to changing attitudes in the way planners view parking.

“We used to try to make parking facilities invisible,” says McInelly. “However today we’ve stopped trying to hide parking and are trying to make it beautiful.”

Tomorrow’s Parking Design

One of the reasons that parking designers have been able to make parking structures more beautiful is advances in precast concrete. The versatility of precast allows designers to work with virtually any exterior materials to create parking structures with facades that perfectly complement surrounding buildings. In essence, precast development presents designers a blank palate on which they can create any type of visual representation they please.

“Precast is perfect for contemporary parking design because it’s available in practically any colour, form, and texture,” said Brian Hall, managing director of the Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute. “As a result, parking facilities can present any type of exterior façade, including brick, granite, limestone, terracotta, and tile. Whatever specific aesthetic qualities a structures must provide, either to invoke a traditional appearance, blend with other buildings or structures in the area, or to inject a contemporary look of a company’s cutting-edge image, precast concrete can provide the solution and has almost unlimited design options.”

A variety of attractive patterns, shapes and surface textures can be achieved by using pre-shaped plastic or polyurethane form-liners as the casting surface in the manufacturing plant. The faithful reproduction of the form shape is due to the plasticity of the freshly placed concrete. The precast panel can be left ‘as cast’ or subsequent finishing by sandblasting or acid etching can further enhance the panel aesthetically. A designer can select form-liners that will provide fluted textures, rough sawn board, grooved barn board, fractured stone face, flagstone or simulated brick.  Entire panels or areas within a panel can be formed with a liner, and panel sizes can also be adjusted to suit the width and height of the liner.

The traditional gray banded parking design is a thing of the past. It has been replaced by garages offering creative and vibrant designs that will serve as architectural focal points in communities across Canada for years to come.

Tomorrow’s Technology Today

The rate of advancement for parking technology has been dizzying. In just a few years we’ve seen the introduction of pay-by-phone and other smart phone-based technologies, sophisticated software programs that streamline parking management, and access & revenue control equipment that makes frictionless parking possible. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology.

Some of the most exciting technological advancements can be found in parking guidance. Sensor-based guidance systems are already popular for helping drivers quickly and easily find open parking spaces. In the future, though, they’ll be used in a number of creative ways that will provide extraordinary benefits to drivers and cities alike.

For instance, parking guidance will be the key to the success of the connected vehicle. In the not-to-distant future, all we’ll need to do is punch our destination into our vehicles’ on-board GPS and, not only will it lead us there, but it will also know where the closest available parking is and take us directly to that space. If we want, our cars will even pay for that parking space and alert us when our meter is about to expire. The connected car will make commuting, shopping, and going pretty much anywhere in our cars a breeze.

“How will your car know where to take you to park?” asks Tim Flanagan, principal of Sentry Control Systems. “The answer is parking guidance. The only way the connected vehicle is going to be able to do all of these things is for sensors to collect data about which spaces are occupied and which are free, and transmit that information to the city’s transportation grid.”

According to Flanagan, a city-wide network of parking guidance sensors will provide many benefits to drivers and the city alike. The advantages to drivers are obvious: a quicker and more convenient trip to the city. But cities will also derive numerous benefits, including dramatically reduced roadway congestion, safer streets, and less unnecessary fuel consumption and air pollution. Cities can also derive financial benefits by increasing occupancy of parking spaces because cars won’t be fruitlessly looking for spaces and giving up.

Another creative use of sensors will be found in dynamic pricing. Traditionally, cities and private parking owners have found themselves managing an incredibly valuable asset without a mechanism for fully realizing that value. Unlike with products and services, there was no simple and effective way to adjust parking rates as market conditions change. Now, however, parking sensors can work in conjunction with customized software to continuously monitor occupancy levels and automatically modify pricing in real-time. If occupancy rises above a certain level of occupancy, the price is raised accordingly; if it falls again the price is dropped. In the coming years dynamic pricing will allow owners and operators to base their pricing on utilization, rather than on guesses about how full or empty their facility will be.

“The financial benefits to cities and owners are obvious,” said Sentry’s Flanagan. “However, the concept also promises to provide important customer service advantages too. For instance, it will make it easier to offer frequent parkers valuable loyalty program benefits. Drivers will also benefit from lower prices when they park during off-peak hours.”

Payment technologies are also on the cusp of a number of important advances. We are all familiar with the EMV chips that have been introduced to our credit cards. The EMV standard is designed to offer a level of secure encryption that will make it harder for criminals to steal our credit card data when shopping. The parking industry has been slow to adopt the standard, though EMV equipped parking equipment is making its way into garages.

“Here in Canada, we are much further along than in the US,” said Renee Smith, president and CTO of Parking BOXX. “For municipalities and private owners who have yet to make the transition, my recommendation would be to look for equipment with Near Field Communication that can handle both chip and tap payment.”

Smith says that tap payment represents the future of parking payment because of the flexibility and security it offers. Being able to accept tap payment will also provide a competitive advantage by permitting facilities to accept payment via Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and other tap payment applications.

A final innovative technological solution that’s poised to gain popularity in the coming years is the remotely managed command center. The Remote Command Center works with fully automated parking facilities, eliminating the need for operational or on-site staff (particularly when a location has gone ticketless). Off-site Command Center staff handle all administrative functions, including billing and credentialing. A 24/7 monitoring service continuously reviews the performance of facility equipment, and parkers have direct access to live support through the facility’s PARCS equipment.

“This is a brand new concept that’s already taking hold in the US,” said Brent Van Loggerenberg, president of Remote Command Center USA. “It’s going to be equally popular in Canada because owners can save tens of thousands of dollars a year by eliminating the need for onsite staff.”

Canada’s Parking Future

We may be living in the most exciting era of parking that Canada has seen. From constantly evolving planning and design approaches to the introduction of new technologies and ways to use those technologies, today’s parking industry would be all but unrecognizable to parking professionals of a generation ago. And in the coming years, the march of progress will continue to an extraordinary degree.

By Bill Smith

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