Automated Parking – Its Time has Come
John Van Horn
“You must engineer to the requirements of the automated parking system, not to the dreams and unquenchable desires of the developer,” said Ari Milstein, Executive Director for AutoMotion Parking Systems. “You must do the numbers – the machine runs as fast as it runs, which is usually about 2 minutes per [retrieval] procedure.
“What changes based on the design of the operations and movements are how many 2-minute procedures does it take to get a car delivered, and even more important, several cars delivered?
“If the parking system is constantly moving cars around to prepare for the upcoming tasks, it is not readily available to deliver a car when requested,” he said.
Responsible for the company’s automated parking venture, Milstein works with real estate developers and other partners to maximize land-use and development opportunities utilizing new automated parking technology. He talked with Parking Today about why the technology hasn’t grown more quickly in the U.S.
“There are a number of issues,” Milstein said. “First of all, there were some well-publicized less-than-perfect automated systems installed nearly 15 years ago. Banks are conservative, more conservative than developers. They simply said, ‘If you have automated parking, you aren’t getting a loan.’ The automated systems quickly went away.
“In addition, cost factors lengthen the adoption curves of new technology. People just stopped considering it as a viable option. They saw perceived risks, real or not, and that was enough to slow many projects.”
Milstein pointed out that automated parking is not a global solution.
“It’s an excellent solution for urban projects where there are high land values and high density. Plus, certain cities (such as Chicago and Los Angeles) have added rules to make this not a machine, but a standard garage with some automated features. They continue to require concrete slabs, ventilation and walkways around each vehicle.
“These are not elevators that carry people,” Milstein said, “but some cities seem to treat them as such.”
“However, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and others have taken these systems for what they are — machines that move cars around and store them and when asked, return them to their owners, automatically. And you find successful automated garages in these cities.”
One of the most important parts of supplying automated parking systems is to provide service that is focused on the parker, Milstein said. “You are dealing not only with the machine, but with the parker. You must look to long-term fixes when you see a problem. These systems are not like elevators — that is, when one goes out, there are others to take its place. You have to respond quickly and fix the problems permanently.
“What we are doing is parking, not just storage,” he said. “The mistakes are made when we build automated garages that don’t function like garages. You really don’t care how long it takes to retrieve a vehicle in a storage situation. In an automated garage, that time is critical.
“You can’t design to a price point,” he went on. “You are moving tons of metal millions of times. You must have a simple, robust, durable infrastructure. You have to keep it simple – never more than one car in front of another. Any more than that and you create significant delays.
“If you rely on the computer to predict what order the vehicles will be retrieved, you are setting yourself up for failure. You can’t predict the unpredictable,” he said.
“You must not put the machine in the position of shuffle cars. That takes time, and time you don’t have, when a parker arrives to pick up their vehicle. Just because someone tells you they ‘won’t be back ’til 4 p.m.’ doesn’t mean they won’t be early.
“I can’t say it enough – ‘Keep it simple.’”
Milstein noted that there are many working successful automated systems in Europe. “One reason is that they have strict engineering standards. The automated garages must meet these standards or they can’t be built.”
Asked why articles in the mainstream media stress the failures, he shrugged: “We go weeks and weeks with no issues, but if there is one small problem, I hear from everyone — the parker, the operator, the owner. There is nothing to talk about when a system is running smoothly.
“We need to build the garages to prove the concept,” Milstein said. “But we must be careful and consider all aspects of the garage, including space and size. There are boundaries, and you must not cross them.
Take Hoboken, NJ, for example. It’s running successfully now, but is servicing only half as many cars as it was originally designed to handle. Some of these limits are set in stone.
There are about 10 successful automated parking projects in the U.S. Milstein’s company has developed three of them. The largest, he said, is about 75 cars. “We have proved that the concept works on a smaller scale. Now we have to take the next step.
“Our customers comprise major institutional real estate lenders, developers, private equity firms, along with city governments. They have seen the success of our New York facilities, experienced the functionality of our garages, and interacted with our customers. Only then are they willing to fund and develop projects — with proven automated systems that are properly engineered,” Milstein said.
The milestone will be Willoughby Square in downtown Brooklyn. The automated underground garage will park 700 cars. AutoMotion Parking Systems, which has a Principal in common with the American Development Group, will build and run the garage.
The technology for the automated garage is crucial in getting the project built, Milstein told The New York Times. The excavation is costly and complex; several buildings need to be protected, and the subways run just 4 feet from the property line. But AutoMotion uses limited ramps and driving lanes, significantly reducing the space that must be excavated, Milstein told The Times. In addition, the machinery that racks its cars can pack more vehicles into a smaller space than a traditional underground lot, increasing efficiency, he said.
“While digging and excavation are expensive, we will be able to eliminate 1.4 million cubic yards because of our technology, which makes the project financially feasible,” he told The Times. The garage is projected to open in 2017, and with it, AutoMotion will have a total of 2000 automated spaces in New York.
“As land becomes a shrinking resource, opportunity will expand,” Milstein said. “When done right, automated parking is a joy for the parker. Customers come back because of the automated feature.
“When done properly and executed properly, it’s the preferred way to park.”
Contact John Van Horn, Editor of Parking Today, at