Emerging Trends Shaping the Future of Parking

The fluctuating need for car parking spaces is a source of frustration and concern for city officials all over the world. In the US alone, there are said to be between 105 million and two billion spaces – which is potentially more than the number of cars in existence across the globe. While during busy periods, such as the holiday season, these extensive parking lots are likely to be filled, most of the time they sit empty and unused. 

This is wasteful when growing urban areas are constantly in need of more space for housing, schools, and business development. But an array of technologies and technical processes such as automation, the Internet of Things, and self-driving vehicles promise the potential transformation of parking lots and, with them, cityscapes themselves.

Automation

Automation has been introduced in many parking lots all over the world, and is proving to be an effective way of improving car parking efficiency. It generally involves an automated process of parking cars using machinery. 

ParkPlus in Boulder, Colorado, has installed a fully automated parking system in a business development site. When a vehicle enters the parking lot, it is scanned with lasers before it is elevated by a moving platform, which then transfers the car to a space. The system works like an automated storage rack, enabling four times as many cars to be parked in the premises when compared to a conventional parking lot. This is because the driver and passenger leave the vehicle before it gets parked, so there is no need to leave much space between cars.

Such systems mean that parking lots can be much smaller, or fewer would be needed because they can contain more vehicles. They also mean that parking lots can be further built up vertically, because a machine moves the vehicles rather than a driver.

The Internet of Things

The world has gotten used to the Internet of Things (IoT), which essentially refers to the communication between online devices. Such technology has been vastly beneficial in a variety of daily processes, including car parking.

A parking lot fitted with this kind of system allows drivers to see parking spaces in real time, using a website or app service. This means that a driver can find out if there is space to park their vehicle before even arriving at the site. The IoT in parking lots works almost as a more sophisticated version of the red and green light system that many parking lots already use.

One of the benefits of this kind of technology is the decrease in vehicles’ carbon emissions, as was reported in San Francisco. After the system was adopted in many of San Francisco’s parking lots, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced that the average amount of time it took a driver to find a space dropped by 43%, and miles travelled by those looking to park fell 30%. 

In addition to its positive environmental impact, this efficient parking method also means that more parking lots can be filled. Several filled parking lots is far better than many unfilled lots, so, if used well, IoT technology could allow cities to close some and reuse the space for urban development.

Self-driving Vehicles & Robotics

More and more vehicles are being fitted with ‘Park Assist’ technology. This refers to built-in computer systems that are designed to automatically help you park your car, whether this is an ordinary bay or a trick spot that requires parallel parking. Such systems are becoming easier to use and are more affordable than they once were, so it looks like self-parking and self-driving vehicles will one day become the norm. In fact, even a number of mid-range cars like the new Peugeot 208s, Vauxhall Corsas, and Ford Fiestas are being fit with Park Assist. When such technology is mainstream, another opportunity to reassess parking lots will be offered.

Park Assist technology allows cars to park more efficiently. Therefore, as with automated parking lots, it will be possible to have more cars parked safely in a smaller area than we are used to. Even cars that do not have this advanced technology can benefit from additional safety measures in the form of parking sensors. These allow a driver to safely and confidently reverse closer to barriers such as neighboring cars or walls. Some vehicles are factory-fitted with these sensors, but others may require booking for a car modification

As such technology develops, those excited by the motor industry eagerly anticipate the arrival of self-driving – or robotic – cars. It’s likely that one day, in a not-too-distant future, robotic cars will be mainstream. When this happens, city planners will have the opportunity to completely re-examine cityscapes. Robotic cars will be able to drive much closer together, meaning roads as well as parking lots can be smaller than they are now. This would open up space for alternative infrastructure.

As countries in every corner of the world cater to a growing population, the need to find more space for urban development will also increase. Car parking lots currently take up such a large proportion of space – particularly in the US – so these sites seem like a natural choice when considering where land can be repurposed. 

Neil Marchant is marketing and insurance specialist Keith Michaels.

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