AUTOMATIC DELIVERY

In the end, commodity is still king when it comes to parking. But as land becomes more costly everywhere, and as developers look to bring new high-rise projects into dense urban areas, the very way we park is changing.

Robotic garages started coming to the United States about five years ago, mainly to the New York metropolitan area. Often used in land-starved European cities, automated parking garages can glean up to 50 percent more spaces than traditional parking decks by stacking cars one on top of the other in racks. In a fully automated setup, drivers pull into a parking bay, where the car is turned off and whisked away for storage by robotic machinery.

The garages cut back on emissions and on staffing costs, since no attendants are necessary. Still, at an average of $25,000 per parking space to develop, they are by no means cheap.

Lee Lazarus, the president of Manhattan's A.P.T. Parking Technologies, says the payoff comes in other ways. “Land values have increased so much that development costs have brought about a change in the perception of parking,” Lazarus says. An automated garage can shrink the space taken up by parking, allowing more revenue-generating space to be designed into a given development.

In major metropolises, Lazarus notes, developers are trying to get more out of smaller parcels of land. A.P.T. is about to install one of its garages as part of a $200 million project under development by AIG Global Real Estate Investment on the Boston waterfront.

“The site is completely landlocked on the Boston Harbor, and they could not fulfill their parking needs unless they used automated parking,” Lazarus says.

A.P.T. is also on the short list of vendors under consideration for a high-rise office project being designed by Hickok Cole Architects in Washington, D.C. “We basically have to use a mechanical parking system because of zoning requirements in D.C.,” explains Mark Arnold, a senior project manager who has since left the firm. “You have to have a certain amount of parking for the height of the building.”

Before Hickok Cole could include mechanical parking in its program, it had to go before the District of Columbia's zoning board for approval, which it received. Lazarus says that architects have been instrumental in getting mechanical parking onto the radar of planning officials; as a result, his firm is now working on projects in five cities. “Because a lot of architects have raised this issue with municipalities, the municipalities are beginning to embrace the idea,” Lazarus says.

In the D.C. project, Hickok Cole plans to use the mechanical parking system to reduce the 9-foot-by-19-foot standard space normally required in a D.C. self-park garage. “In this situation, you don't need to get access to a car, so it allows you to increase the number of vehicles you can put in,” Arnold explains. “Where we would have had room for nine cars in a traditional garage, we now have room for 43 cars.”

Bob Woodward and Deep Throat could never have met here.