03.23.2022 The shape of car parks to come

March 23, 2022

Some 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by the year 2050. It is the century of the city-makers. Urban densities are having an effect on regeneration projects. Today 80% of the new residential accommodation in London can only be afforded by 8% of the population. There has been a massive change in land values and car park sites are valuable plots. Between 2015 and 2026 London is predicted to grow by the size of Birmingham. How can we make a brief for our clients out of this?

New technologies are very important. Electric vehicles are now commonplace on our streets. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are on the way, though potential growth rates are fiercely debated.

Here at PCH, we recently conducted a study, looking at how a car park could evolve, using the refurbished Ruskin Square multi-storey in Croydon as a test case. In our 2030 scenario you get an increase in densification within an existing structure as the transition occurs because you park AVs closer together, but you need a lot more drop off and pick up space.

Customer-use patterns will be an important factor in the future. Tony Seba, a lecturer in entrepreneurship, disruption and clean energy at Stanford University, USA, has looked in depth at the issue of transport as a service. Seba’s prediction is that private car ownership is going to decline by 80% by 2030. However, he expects that via transport as a service, the total amount of mobility will increase, but it will be shared cars, Ubers and shared AVs.

There are a lot of ambitious and even outlandish ideas about recovering urban space. The British architect, terry Farrell has optimistically envisaged motorways being returned to cycle routes and landscape. A more cynical view has been adopted by transport writer Christian Wolmer in his entertaining book Driverless Cars: On a Road to Nowhere, which is about how the driverless ar revolution really is a load of nonsense, and how it is driven by the car industry and by government. Nonetheless, the reality is that urban density is going up. Interestingly, the latest London Tube map includes walking times between stations because the capacity of the  network is such that they are recommending you walk because it may be too crowded on trains.

Which way tomorrow?

The existing UK stock is around 4,750 multi-storey car parks, of which 10% are in need or major investment decisions. Where do the owners and developers start? First, they have to acknowledge all the factors at play, which often work on different timescales.

Technology is changing, and changing fast.. In IT the 18-month cycle of change means investment decisions are usually on a two you time horizon. Car technology works on a 5-10 year cycle, but we have an 8-year average ownership and it is 14 years average showroom to scrapyard. In the world of property, city developments typically function on 10-30 year time frames for investment decisions. Then there are customer use patterns.

All of these interaction are constantly changing. Designers and developers thus need to analyse what is happening in the city locally. They need to look at how technology is evolving but be sceptical and look at what’s actually happening. The key thing is customer use patterns. Having absorbed all these factors and put them into the business case, then you can design your building.

This is an extract from an article that originally appeared in Parking Review. See the article in full here