Mobility+

Today’s multi-storey car park: tomorrow’s mobility hub

In this study the Mobility+ workfield investigates the potential benefits to existing urban car parking structures that result from changing modes of transport and proposes solutions for repurposing these centrally located facilities in preparation for the future.

Photo: Sorry Imkirk via Unsplash

The changing demands of the city
Different modes of transport have historically determined the infrastructure - and therefore the development and expansion - of our cities. However, in order to achieve a successfully operating city, the correct balance has always needed to be found between structure and infrastructure: the latter primarily tasked with efficiently serving the former.

In the previous two centuries, with the invention of new modes of transport and in order to provide for increased urban populations, mobility provision increased within our cities and our infrastructure changed accordingly. With Henry Ford at the helm, car ownership became affordable for the middle class, resulting in profound changes to the urban landscape. These developments in mobility also resulted in much new housing provision being pushed to newly created suburbs and satellite ‘new towns’ – out of which the modern-day commuter was borne.

Recently however, largely due to environmental, health and safety concerns, there has been somewhat of a backlash against those developments, with many cities now limiting the use of cars within city centres, promoting car-sharing services and alternative modes of transportation, regulating parking and discouraging car ownership.

These developments have in turn led car manufacturers to change their vision and strategies and to redefine themselves as ‘Mobility Providers’. This approach is in fact not entirely new. Back in the 1990s, after recognising the potential of internet technologies and their associated possibilities for vast data harvesting, Jacques A. Nasser, former CEO of Ford, first proposed that car manufacturers should reinvent themselves as mobility companies in order to market transport as a service. This vision has since become commonplace and car manufacturing companies are now competing in a somewhat frantic search for fast ways to adapt.

Photo: Peter Hershey via Unsplash

Enter self-driving cars and car sharing services
New concepts for mobility, such as self-driving cars and car sharing services, will not only benefit the health of the planet, they will also benefit human health on a daily basis. Audi recently joined forces with the MIT Senseable City Lab to develop the ‘Road Frustration Index’, a means to measure driving-induced stress across 30 metropolitan areas in the US. Their research has already revealed some quite astonishing results - most notably that peaks of stress experienced by car drivers can be close to that experienced by a sky diver jumping out of an aeroplane.

Sensor-based, autonomous cars offer the promise of taking the stress and frustration out of driving (presumably after we have grown accustomed to not actually being ‘in the driver’s seat’). Stress concerns aside however, automated communications from car to people, car to car and car to city can also help to maximise efficient road and parking space use. In fact introducing a utilitarian organisation to car parks will make it possible to free up valuable space in existing car parking structures. But what then would be the most beneficial use of these buildings that were designed and built for the sole purpose of storing and accessing parked cars that require people to drive them?

According to recent research - also carried out by Audi - space-saving of up to 60% could be made by adapting existing car parks for self-driving cars. This roughly translates as a savings of two square metres per car. This can be achieved because there would no longer be the need for direct human access to cars, and so safe walkways, staircases and elevators would become obsolete, and extremely efficient parking spaces in continuous rows could be implemented. We believe that the traditional, purpose-built multi-storey car park could then evolve into a highly efficient mobility centre, with the only publically accessible area necessary being dedicated to a pickup / drop off point in the front of house.

The space saving possibilities of storing automated cars also means that smaller car parking facilities that are integrated within office and residential buildings will be able to support more volume and thus vastly reduce the need for nearby street parking.

Photo: NX Vision via Unsplash

However, mobility centres need not stop at human mobility. The space created and the automation involved could in fact enable vastly improved logistics for urban areas. Back of house areas can be retrofitted to become new transportation and logistics hubs which are connected to other transportation systems. These structures can capitalise on their context by becoming centrally located logistic distribution centres and transportation hubs, connected to drone technologies, underground delivery pipelines and autonomous boat and lorry transport systems. 

Integrated residential and office parking facilities could become local logistic hubs, while airport and train parking facilities can be used as hubs for longer distance, intercity mobility services. These parking areas can also be used as city transfer services by introducing Park & Share or Park & Earn schemes.

Private initiatives and investment from mobility providers can also be encouraged in order to ensure continued development and optimisation, whilst promoting new mobility strategies within these centrally located hubs.

Photo: Thaddaeus Lim via Unsplash

Authors: Ergin Birinci and Alexandra Virlan
Header image: Collage with photos by NX Vision, Zach Meaney and Sorry Imkirk via Unsplash