Automatic parking garages have been popular in Europe for years, where land is expensive and scarce. These garages are now attracting interest from domestic developers because American cities are faced with the same land issues, closing the gap between the construction cost of traditional spaces ($14-18,000) and automatic garage spaces (about $20,000).
How does it work? A driver pulls the car into a room roughly the size of a one-car garage. The car is driven onto a pallet, a large tray with grooves for the tires. Once the driver has left the car and picked up a ticket from a nearby machine, the pallet descends into the floor to be stored into an oversized warehouse. To retrieve the car, the driver swipes the ticket and the car appears on the pallet, pointing towards the exit. The retrieval process takes about 90 seconds.
There are numerous advantages to an automatic parking garage. For the driver, the car remains untouched, protected against theft, scratches and dings. Most important, the automatic garage won’t take a joyride in your mint condition 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California.
For the developer, the garage maximizes profits and offers a cost savings in construction and operation. Over two times as many spaces can be crammed into an automatic parking garage because ramps are removed and clearance in the storage units is smaller than a traditional garage. Labor costs are reduced because the garage is largely run by a computer. Insurance costs are also lower because the human element is removed.
The garage also has environmental implications. The garage eliminates traffic congestion, exhaust fumes, and car noise because cars remain off while in the garage.
So when will we see these in the U.S.? One opened this February at 123 Baxter Street in New York, and another has been in operation for several years at the Camden Grand Parc in Washington, DC.
Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, USA Today, Boston Globe