By David Rich

The parking industry began discussing sustainable parking nearly two decades ago.  At first the entire concept seemed counterintuitive. How could builders design structures to maximize performance while minimizing waste and actually improve the environment?  The idea now no longer seems so foreign and through creative design we can create parkades that minimize the impact of vehicles on the environment – at least while those vehicles are in the parking facility.

Initially, the primary focus was on green roofs, recycled content, PV solar arrays, and operational strategies.  Idle reduction was also a primary key area of focus.  If we could design entrances and exits that minimize idling time, the amount of exhaust emissions created by queuing vehicles could be significantly reduced.  As for design features, early ideas were admittedly modest. Some parkades had green roofs that reduced their carbon footprint; others included solar panels and green screens. In the infancy of green parking, designers did what they could to promote sustainability, but it was a learning process and left much room for improvement.

Sustainable Approaches

Sustainable strategies have matured significantly over the past twenty years and play an important role in promoting green parking. Sustainable parkades often integrate technologies and strategies such as energy efficient lighting and ventilation systems, guidance systems that assist drivers in finding an available space more quickly, electric vehicle charging stations, carsharing programs, and micro-mobility options.

They also include stormwater management practices like bioswales, permeable pavement, and other strategies that reduce runoff.  Many of these stormwater management strategies can also collect rainwater for re-use in landscape irrigation, hydrating landscaping or even for cleaning and maintaining the parkade itself. By recycling rainwater, this design element can reduce costs and the need to use city water for these functions.

Biophilic design or Phytoremediation can also play an important role in sustainable parking. Phytoremediation uses certain types of living plants to clean the pollutants from the air. When you consider the emissions from vehicles in and around a parkade, it’s easy to see why phytoremediation can be such a powerful tool benefiting the local environment. Landscaped walls through which living plants are placed on special screens on the exterior walls of parkades—essentially a wall of shrubbery—can also be used to absorb carbon.

Sustainability can be promoted within the structure as well. One of the most effective strategies is to pursue designs that permit as much natural light as possible to be introduced throughout the parkade. The more natural light is used to illuminate a parkade, the less electricity has to be used for lighting. Natural light is most commonly introduced through window openings on parkade walls, but central light cores extending vertically through the center of a parkade can also be very effective. Not only do central openings allow for natural light to penetrate interior areas, but they also have the added benefit of providing a convenient location for snow disposal during the chilly winter months.

Undeniably, for safety and customer service, electric lights are still essential. The use of modern LEDs can provide high levels of illumination while requiring minimal electricity to operate. This lighting element can be further enhanced by staining the interior ceilings and walls of the  parkade white or another light color to reflect lighting throughout the facility and enhance visibility.

Game Changers

While all of these features have significantly impacted the industry, the true game changer in sustainable parking has been the advent of parking’s technology age. The introduction of advanced PARC and APG systems to get people in and out of parking facilities quickly, reducing vehicle idling, has been essential. The increasingly common use of frictionless parking suites featuring combinations of technologies that can include PARCS, LPR or AVI, pre-booking, and parking guidance systems, currently makes the parking process much easier. These systems can virtually eliminate queuing by recognizing individual vehicles, permit entrance (and ultimately, egress), and charge the driver for the transaction automatically.

Perhaps the most crucial technology in promoting sustainability is parking guidance. Parking guidance systems monitor the number of available spaces in a facility, or even on a specific floor, at that given moment.  This information is transmitted to strategically located signs to be seen by the driver. Some systems even use a series of highly visible lights (green for available, red for occupied, blue for HP) to guide drivers straight to available parking. In the largest of structures, these systems can reduce the amount of time it takes to find a parking space by as much as 20 minutes. This reduction in travel time, can significantly reduce vehicle emissions. When you consider that the largest parkades can provide parking to tens of thousands of vehicles, it’s easy to see how important the impact of parking guidance technology can be.

The next generation of parking technologies will revolve around smart parking, and they will extend the impact of green parking outside of parkades into the wider community. Cities are beginning to introduce apps that provide access to information about the location and availability of private and public parking throughout the city. With these apps, drivers can look at their mobile devices to see where parking is available and how to get there. Some systems will even let drivers reserve parking in a particular parkade before they leave the house. By eliminating the search for parking, these apps reduce roadway congestion and the exhaust that’s created by vehicles circling city blocks looking for parking.

To that end, Transit Oriented Development is still an important element of green parking. Many parking facilities have bus or subway stations attached to them. And lately, micro-mobility has become just as important. Forward-thinking owners and operators (not to mention their parking designers) are including micro-mobility elements into their designs. In these parking facilities, people can park and then rent bikes or scooters to take them to their ultimate destination or multiple destinations. The idea is to feed last mile activities, rather than encouraging people to drive from one destination to another in the city.

Taking the Lead

Twenty years after we started talking about green parking, the idea no longer seems counter-intuitive. In fact, owners, operators, and designers are taking the lead in promoting sustainability. By challenging old ways of thinking, implementing creative design, and introducing new technologies that make the parking process easier and quicker, parking professionals are not only moving the parking industry to sustainability but now are at the forefront of the green revolution.

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