City officials who want to alleviate parking shortages in downtown Berkeley are examining several strategies, including computer-assisted parking.
Robotic Parking Inc. of Leetonia, Ohio, the manufacturers of “Robotic Parking,” offers one solution: the company’s patented Modular Automated Parking System.
According to the Robotic Parking web site (www.robopark.com), the system uses lifts, pallets and carriers to move cars through the garage. No attendants are required.
Cars travel on the pallets through the garage using flexible transfer. Parking customers leaves their cars in a pallet in a secure entrance area and the system moves the car to an open space. Customers would retrieve their cars by reinserting a ticket and waiting for their cars to appear in a forward-facing position in the exit bay.
According to Robotic Parking, the technology is the same as what is used to transport cars on assembly lines everywhere.
The beauty of its promise is that Robotic Parking, which has a project under construction in Hoboken, N. J., uses half the space required by a typical parking lot outfitted with ramps, the company says.
For a structure like the city’s Center Street Garage that could mean its 420 spaces could be doubled if the building had computerized-automated parking, or those spaces could be retained in half the space required now.
A similar system already exists in Patrick Kennedy’s building on Oxford Street, The Berkeleyan, a mixed-use residential structure. Other buildings owned by his Panoramic Interests company have them, too.
The Berkeleyan uses a hydraulic mechanized system manufactured by Klaus Parking, a German company. There are 38 parking lifts in its large first-floor garage where cars are stacked in tiers of three up to the ceiling.
Residents turn a key to bring the upper tiers down to street level, and in about 45 seconds, their cars arrive ready to drive out the door or the reverse.
“They are working without incident and to the universal relief of all,” said Kennedy. He said he is unfamiliar with Robotic Parking but advocates the concept for built-out cities like Berkeley.
The Center Street Garage is due for seismic retrofitting or it will be demolished and replaced. A third possibility is building up to three more floors above the five already existing floors.
George Paskowitz, manager of Off Street Parking, estimates that 80-plus cars are held on each floor of the Center Street Garage, which is the only city-owned garage downtown.
Mayor Shirley Dean has proposed the city investigate the feasibility of robotic parking for the Center Street Garage, but the item was postponed at Tuesday’s City Council at the request of Councilmember Kriss Worthington. It will be discussed at a later meeting.
Dean suggested the parking alternative would be financed with a self-supporting bond and with funding from people who would benefit from more parking spaces.
Robotic parking could be one part of the solution to the parking crunch downtown, she said. A Transit Pass Task Force has been formed to develop a proposal for an annual citywide pass for unlimited rides on AC Transit; more housing downtown, bicycling and walking campaigns are other avenues, suggested by the mayor.
Deborah Badhia, executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, would back robotic parking if it were proved to be a feasible option to provide additional parking.
She said due to construction, the downtown already has lost on-street parking spaces.
“The most important thing for our membership,” she said, “is a net increase in parking in the downtown.”
Some losses are temporary but others are permanent, she said.
“Metered spaces are the most valued thing downtown to shoppers,” Badhia said “Meters in front of stores mean cash sales at registers.”
Planners are looking down the road to the time when all the new construction is completed and more potential parkers are distributed in the downtown.
But there are mitigating factors, said Badhia. For instance, future arts district customers will arrive more in the evenings after the daytime population goes home.
Councilmember Dona Spring, whose district includes downtown, said she is open to the possibility of robotic parking if it is feasible.
She said she has seen pictures of Kennedy’s hydraulic lifts, but said that use is different because it is for residential buildings.
“It’s quite a bit more costly to move around a lot of cars,” she said.
“I think increasing the parking at Center Street could be the lease objectionable alternative, rather than taking space that could be used for housing.”
Worthington disagreed with the focus on one particular location.
“I think we need to have a balanced approach addressing neighborhood and business issues throughout all the business districts in the city,” he said.
He cited a Transportation Demand Management Study that the city already has begun in the Planning Department, in cooperation with the university.
He said he agreed with a letter to councilmembers from the Chamber of Commerce that the proposal for studying robotic parking should be coordinated with the transportation study.