Parking Consultants: Expert Opinions
There are those times in life when you need to call in an expert. In the medical world, those experts are called specialists. In the parking world, they’re the consultants. “If you have a heart issue, you are not going to go to your family doctor for surgery,” said Timothy Haahs, president of Timothy Haas & Associates Inc., based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“You’re going to go to a heart specialist. It’s the same in the construction industry. Clients demand experts.”
From engineering and architecture to finances and operations to new technologies and urban mobility studies, consultants have the knowledge and experience to advise their clients in the parking world on the best way to proceed — and then make sure that plan is implemented in the most effective (and financially responsible) way possible.
Consultants set “the state-of-the-art standards and provide the best practices for design, renovation, planning, operations and management of parking and mobility,” said Mary Smith, senior director of parking consulting at Walker Consultants, based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
So, while consultancies may fall under other broader categories — be it engineering, architecture or operations — their expertise within the specialized world of parking makes them unique and, many of them would argue, more than makes up for what might be a difference in the initial fee from someone not as experienced in the industry.
“This is a specialty,” said Stephen Rebora, president of DESMAN, based in Chicago. “Parking garages are very sophisticated from an architectural and structural engineering standpoint so even if our initial fee is higher than a traditional engineer, we can actually save the client a tremendous amount of money through a more efficient design and provide added value to a project.”
“Experts know the latest in equipment and materials and how to do things more efficiently,” agrees Haahs, who pointed out that architects who specialize in building types other than parking “often contact us to take a look or give a second opinion.”
Providing Added Value
Saving money and adding value is something consultants emphasize. “I don’t think enough of the parking owners understand all the things we can do to help them,” said Clyde Wilson, principal of the Parking Network, which is based in Austin, Texas. The company provides financial and operations audits that help operators improve their services. “We can run the RFP processes to hire new operators or upgrade the equipment or offer advice on the new technologies that are available.”
One of the biggest issues overseen by consultants these days
is new technology.
Wilson said that part of their skill set lies in their ability to see the big picture. “We get to see everything,” said Wilson, “so we see the industry from a very objective point of view.”
Overseeing ongoing maintenance and determining necessary upgrades also falls under the purview of consultants. According to Larry Donoghue, who recently retired after more than 70 years in the industry, these operational responsibilities might include reviewing deck markings, signage, rates, concrete joints, perimeter walls, guard rails and lighting — which is especially important when it comes to the safety and security of a garage.
“If you’ve ever noticed, in the movies crimes tend to take place in the parking garage,” said Haahs. “So, in the past 15-20 years we’ve made a conscious effort to make the experience different.”
He also points out that the parking garage is often the first (and last) thing people experience in a destination, be it a university or hospital or office building. “We want to make sure it’s safe and secure,” said Haahs.
Tackling New Technology
Naturally, one of the biggest issues overseen by consultants these days is new technology, which is coming in at an increasingly fast rate. “We have a very objective view of whether a new technology is going to be beneficial for our clients or not,” said Wilson.
This is also important during the design of new structures. “With technology moving so quickly, what’s available today might not be the right product at the time that a building actually opens,” said Rebora. “We future proof by providing flexibility into our buildings so that we don’t preclude any future system from being adapted into that building.”
“Be skeptical of the claims of technology providers, confirm their claims to the extent possible before purchasing, mandate performance in contracts, and test before acceptance,” advises Smith.
Preparing for the Future
This is especially important when looking to the future. “The most important thing that parking owners can do today to prepare for the future is plan for parking to be ‘just enough/no regrets’ for the destination to thrive, with flexibility for the future,” said Smith. “Use data to plan flexibility of future growth of alternate mobility.”
“Parking has evolved,” said Haahs. “It has become more friendly and functional and inviting — and more of the core of a complex instead of peripheral. Now people can park and when they come out be embraced by green spaces and sitting areas.”
Although a lot of the talk in the industry has been about the big changes coming in mobility and transportation (for instance, autonomous cars and alternate modes of transportation), many of the consultants said they don’t feel that change is coming as quickly as predicted. “Disruption is coming, but it will be slower and less impactful than many predict,” said Smith.
“I think in 10 years you will begin to see slight change in some of the impacts but probably 20 years before there’s a dramatic change in what the parking industry looks like,” said Wilson.
Where they are seeing a dramatic change is in the aesthetics. “Architecturally, parking garages are starting to make major strides in becoming an artistic statement,” said Haahs, who pointed to the new Miami Design District’s new Museum Garage (for which he was the architect of record) as an example of what’s possible.
“The parking garage is becoming the envy of architects and artists because there is no set requirement for the facade and therefore the entire facade can become a canvas.”
“As an architect, it’s a joy to see people say ‘wow.’ That’s really special and why we do what we do,” said Haahs.
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at email@example.com