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Automated Parking Poised To Transform America’s Cities

CityLift's puzzle lift automated parking system

Automated parking is not a new concept, but technological advancements in parking systems and vehicles, combined with cities’ further densification, have made American developers and city planners reconsider it as a viable, eco-friendly, space-freeing solution.

After World War II, surface-level parking came with suburban sprawl, permitted by America’s relative land abundance and the luxury in many places of building out rather than up. In cities, developers favored underground garages.

Overseas, circumstances were different. Germany and Japan relied on their automobile industries to rebuild their war-crippled economies. By the end of the century, as their domestic automobile ownership grew, the demand for parking in locations with limited space created the necessity for automated parking.

Encouraged by government incentives, automated parking systems proliferated. According to some reports, Japan now has an installed base of 1.6 million automated parking spaces.

This pattern repeated in China in the late 1990s, driven by a new generation of private car owners. Today, China represents the world’s largest automated parking market and is on the vanguard of research and development.

Illustration of CityLift's automated parking system.

Now, the U.S. is beginning to follow suit as job and population growth in cities continues. Surface-level lots can be eyesores, occupying space better used for higher-value housing or offices. The indications for conventional garages are dwindling, as the large rectangular spaces and resources required to build them become scarce.

According to CityLift CEO Scott Gable, whose Oakland-based company designs and installs automated parking, CityLift's systems offer several key advantages that make them more practical:

  • Save space needed for parking by 40% to 80%;
  • Are often less expensive than building a conventional garage;
  • Can be built faster and in modules;
  • Can, in some cases, be moved if demand changes; and
  • Can dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from construction and operation.

Given these benefits, Gable offered a preview of how he sees the U.S. automated parking industry evolving as developers leverage garage and surface-level lot alternatives. 

Option 1: Stackers

These are systems that lift one car up so drivers can park another underneath. While inexpensive to build, they are not driver-friendly. Having to move one car out to get to the one parked above is inconvenient.

Option 2: Semi-Automated Parking Systems 

“This is where much of the industry in the U.S. is today,” Gable said. “An example of this is the puzzle lift design, where the structure lifts and slides so that every car can be accessed independently.”

CityLift’s two-level Puzzle system at 528TLB Apartments in Oakland

These systems are affordable, highly configurable and solve most current parking challenges. They can be installed inside a building or on a surface lot.

Option 3: Fully Automated Systems

“These are the images most people have when they think of automated parking,” Gable said. “There are a number of these being built in the U.S., and they are best for tight locations where semi-automated systems still take up too much space.” 

Fully automated parking systems are like robotic valets, often including designated areas where the driver exits and leaves the vehicle and returns to pay to retrieve it. Unlike semi-automated systems, they need no attendant or personnel to operate. Upfront, these systems are more expensive, but in some locations may offer cost  savings that make them economical long term.

“The era of automated parking is upon us here in the U.S.,” Gable said. “At our company, we have seen a sea change in attitude about automated parking in the past two years. It’s considered the best, and frankly only, option to solve the immediate demand for parking today.”

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Related Topics: Scott Gable, CityLift Parking