Design of car parks become key project component

There is an estimated $121.3bn worth of road and bridge projects already underway or in the planning phase in the Gulf alone. Traffic infrastructure is central to this and car parking is integral.

ANALYSIS, Business, Car, Parking

There are numerous factors at work when considering the parking situation in the Middle East, particularly destinations that are expanding rapidly.

Not only is the sheer volume of cars, a high water table and often extreme conditions proving an issue, many countries are implementing green initiatives that demand innovative solutions.

There is an estimated $121.3bn worth of road and bridge projects already underway or in the planning phase in the Gulf alone. Traffic infrastructure is central to this and car parking is integral.

David Hill, CAPP, principal with Clayton Hill Associates and board member of the International Parking Institute, as well as executive director of Middle East North Africa Parking Association (MENAPA), asserts that parking, as part of the overall transportation infrastructure package, has moved on in the minds of developers since the economic crash of 2009.

“In previous years, Gulf region mega-projects focused on principal buildings and attractions, as well as residential commercial infrastructure, roads and highways,” he explains.

“This time around, project designers have been more thoughtful, carefully integrating support services and modern parking solutions with their overall designs,” he adds.

“Specialist partners are being sought for major parking structure expansions in Doha, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.”

As parking projects tend to be incorporated into larger programs, Hill argues it is necessary for specialists to work with larger local engineering firms that are well represented in the region.

“As parking is now emerging as a factor in integrated development, it is beginning to attract its own profile,”
he continues.

Gulf Traffic at Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre from 8-10 December, will see MENAPA hosting a day of parking industry-related seminars and panels featuring several regional and international speakers.

Topics will include smart parking and future mobility, ensuring all parking masterplans are sustainable in addition to case studies on growing economies and keeping pace with increasing vehicle numbers.

One company that has seen the evolution of the needs of construction groups regarding car parking options is Flowcrete Middle East.

It has been providing surfacing solutions such as Deckshield in the region for years, notably Deira City Centre car park, Dubai Mall and Dubai International Airport.

The company’s managing director, Vik Vithlani, says there is an expectation that the car park design market will “remain strong, as there are a significant number of large-scale projects currently being planned and a unifying factor for pretty much all of them is that they will require a car park”.

Dubai is a particularly strong area of opportunity at the moment, with both the Dubai Expo 2020 and the ‘Mall of the World’ currently on the drawing board.

Another key GCC development in the region is the Qatar World Cup 2022. However, the traditional car park is being challenged by robotic car park design. Last year MAG Group built the largest smart parking facility in the world, a nine-storey steel structure in DIFC.

Costing $22mn it boasts a capacity for 1,191 vehicles and even allows for a car wash, all monitored by one person.
The automated car parking solution is proving buoyant in the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular), Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to Park Plus Middle East’s chairman, HE Mohammed Al Qubaisi.

Al Qubaisi, who is also the UAE’s Ambassador to Singapore, agrees with Vithlani that the impetus given by Expo 2020 and the city’s ambition to be in the top 10 most sustainable cities in the world, makes Dubai “a clear candidate for expanding its robotic/sustainable parking footprint”.

“As far as robotic parking is concerned, we have moved from so called ‘rack & rails’ designs built with large steel beams that are expensive and present the danger of having single points of failure, whereas the whole, or large parts, of the system shuts down in case of failure,” he asserts.

“The new generation of robotic car parks is centered on Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV). The AGV technology has existed for decades now and is used in large factories (and even now in hotels and hospitals) all over the world.
“We are bringing this advanced robotic system to the parking world, eliminating dreaded bottlenecks found in traditional automated parking, since multiple robots work collaboratively on normal concrete structures.”

The company is currently working on its first project in the GCC, which is a 110 parking space residential building located in one of the most parking-congested areas of the city.

“We are confident we will be able to use this as a showcase for the region before the end of 2015,” Al Qubaisi adds.

There is definitely a demand for improved technology and greener solutions. GreenParking, the company behind Salalah and Sharjah Airport parking, Emaar Square, RTA HQ and DEWA’s EV charging stations, provides the complete spectrum of parking services.

Managing director Sam Alawiye says one of the most important factors that defines the changes in car park design development “is the constant increase of a number of cars in the cities, and thus, the intensity of the car flow and traffic”.

“It is essential for the success of the parking to have a design that can avoid operational problems,” he continues.

“Any mistakes in the design and circulation plan might cause frequent and unpreventable problems, so parking slot distribution, circulation plan, entry/exit locations, visibility, proper signage and safety are all elements that should be considered carefully.”

Further to the physical design of the car park are elements of technology that improve the efficiency and overall
car park experience.

Alawiye highlights the company’s Parkchips for visitors, contactless cards for employees and long-range cards for VIPs as an option.

“This system concept is currently the market leading technology in the UAE with more than 100 delivered systems,”
he asserts.

“Based on its read-write technology, the system can still operate even in case of network failure, which is not possible in barcode or read-only concepts.”

This creates savings on paper ticket technology, but is more reliable, particularly in desert conditions.

Vithlani highlights that environmentally friendly construction is “an increasingly important factor for developers”.

Flowcrete helped Abu Dhabi National Oil Company prove the green credentials of its new HQ. LEED credits were achieved by implementing a car park design with priority carpooling spaces that encouraged employees to share journeys to work.

Concurring, Al Qubaisi says “sustainability is increasingly a major concern”.

“Since our parking systems means having no fume emissions inside, the HVAC use is reduced to a minimum, so is the lighting.”

But he continues that the biggest demand “is the requirement for increased parking capacity in a given footprint”.

“Take Abu Dhabi where the Urban Planning Council is asking all new buildings to have parking integrated in structures,” he explains.

“With the water table being pretty high, as in most of the GCC urban areas, the cost of digging for parking is excruciatingly high. Since we allow developers to double the number of cars for the same footprint, our solution makes a lot of sense.”

There are of course challenges beyond catering to the demands of developers.

The main issues when it comes to coating car parks in the region are inextricably linked to the extreme weather.

This is a “particular problem” on the exposed levels of a car park, especially considering the high levels of UV, according to Vithlani.

“To counteract this issue Flowcrete is able to offer its Deckshield ED system, which is 100% UV light stable,” he asserts.

Al Qubaisi is facing a different issue. While Flowcrete has established and well-known solutions in the market, Park Plus is looking to break into the sector in the region.

“I would say the main challenge is a problem of perception and fear of being the first entrant,” he explains.

“The good news is that this attitude is not stopping a few pioneers to move forward with AGV projects in the region, some of them of substantial size.”

Vithlani believes the future of car park design is “like much of the construction industry”, in advancing its sustainable and environmental qualities.

“This includes not only manufacturing cleaner products, but also streamlining and improving packaging, transportation, installation, maintenance and end of life processes to reduce waste and lower a site’s carbon footprint.”

For Al Qubaisi, he is adamant that the future of car park design is AGVs. He adds that the company has met with the main civil defence departments, which have awarded blanket approvals for its technology.

While operating in traditional concrete garages, the system provides fire separation from floor to floor and “there are no big steel beam gaps abhorred by firemen”.

Further to this, the chairman highlights that more than 50% of typical downtown traffic is linked to people searching a parking space.

“As the GCC urban planning is evolving rapidly toward efficiency and sustainability and as the amount of space is finite in all cities, we believe we are here at the right time to help GCC countries embrace their green visions,” he adds.

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