Gone are the days of people sitting at intersections manually tracking cars or stretching tracking tubes across four lanes of highway. Traffic studies have gone high-tech. Using cameras with special software or activated Blue Tooth technology, The Traffic Group can gather data on traffic volume, vehicle classification, and trip generation without concern for weather or employee safety. “The industry changed less than five years ago,” states Wes Guckert, Professional Transportation Planner and President of The Traffic Group, Inc. “What we use now is a much safer technology, a much safer method for everyone involved.”
The Traffic Group, located in White Marsh, provides precision traffic engineering and transportation planning for public agencies and private developers. Founded by Guckert, a retired veteran, in 1985, The Traffic Group has worked on a variety of projects over the years including Cole Field House at the University Maryland College Park, Annapolis Mall, the Metro Stations at Owings Mills and Greenbelt, Department of Transportation offices in Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Texas, and Virginia, as well as projects in Mexico City, Indonesia, and Dubai. Guckert has also testified as an expert witness for planning boards and commissions in California, Minnesota, New Jersey, and here in Maryland.
Although The Traffic Group performs about 120,000 traffic counts each year, don’t let the name fool you. The Traffic Group does more than count cars. The services they provide help determine road improvements, signal and sign location, lighting plans, land usage, public facility and capacity issues, security measures, and federal funding. “We’re a full-service transportation engineering and planning firm. Our goal is to help every client find reasonable and sustainable transportation solutions,” says Guckert.
Many people complain about traffic issues believing that little thought or planning is involved. In fact, the opposite is true. Decisions involve engineering, 3-D modeling and precision planning. Roundabouts are an example where years of data and analysis have converged to illustrate their superiority over a traditional four-way stop or signaled intersection. Given the right set of circumstances, a roundabout can reduce emissions from idling vehicles, decrease delays, and reduce accident frequency and severity.
Another example where data and technology have led to innovation is parking. For anyone who as ever tried to find a space in the city or found his or her vehicle vandalized in a garage at the mall, parking is not only a hassle, but it can be dangerous as well. “We are championing a movement – a solution – that is long overdue in the United States,” explains Guckert. “Robotic parking.”
Robotic parking refers to several types of systems where a robotic mechanism, not the driver or valet, parks the car automatically. Unlike the stacked parking systems seen in places like New York City where a hydraulic elevator or arms lifts the cars to stack vertically, robotic parking systems move the car in all directions and independently of each other. The robotic technology provides a much more efficient use of space and resources for the developer and an easier experience for the car owner.
How does it work? A driver enters the garage building by choosing an open entry bay and driving onto a palette or tray. Once inside, the driver turns off the vehicle and exits the bay. With the new smart technology systems, the driver enters information into an ATM-like kiosk and is on his or her way. Meanwhile, the computer-controlled robots lift the steel trays the cars are parked on and shuttle them into an available space. Nothing ever touches the vehicle. The cars are parked in spaces nearly half the volume of space required by a traditional garage by eliminating ramps, reducing driveways, and parking cars closer together. Upon your return, you retrieve your car via the kiosk. Depending on the information you provided at check-in, your vehicle will be maneuvered closer to the retrieval area and primed for delivery when you arrive, shortening your wait time to as little as two and a half minutes. New smartphone technology also allows you to message the garage computer that you are coming back earlier or later than expected so that it can optimize its location in the garage.
“These [robotic parking garages] have been used in Europe for years. With their high-population density and limited land, robotic parking is a perfect solution,” assures Guckert. “Well, the same thing is happening here. Our large cities like New York and Los Angeles are running out of land and having to accommodate more people. We have to look at different ways to solve the problem.”
The benefits to the developer, the vehicle owner and the community at large are numerous. “The developer saves about 30 to 50 percent on land acquisition costs,” Guckert states. “A 90,000-square-foot building with 315 parking spaces needs about three acres of land, however the same building with a robotic parking garage only needs 1.25 acres. With land scarcity and prices at a premium, that can add up to enormous savings.”
Vehicle owners will enjoy the convenience, the speed and the added security. “Safety is paramount. The Department of Justice reports that 1 in 12 rapes and 40 percent of sexual assaults by a stranger happen in parking garages. And in Europe, auto thefts and break-ins are non-existent in robotic parking garages.” Not only is a vehicle owner and their valuables safer, but so is the actual car. With no pedestrians, strollers, new drivers or bad parking attendants, dents and dings and scrapes are virtually eliminated.
Robotic parking garages are also better for the environment. In addition to fuel use, nitrogen and carbon dioxide output is 83 percent less than a conventional garage, and carbon monoxide output is 77 percent less. “The cars are turned off when they enter the bay,” Guckert points out. “There’s no driving around and around looking for an empty space and no idling while waiting in line to exit. Additionally, because there are no pedestrians to accommodate in the garage, there is no energy expended to produce lighting or for air conditioning. Those modifications can add 10-15 points toward LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.”
Because there are fewer building requirements for a robotic garage, they can be designed to aesthetically fit with their surroundings – a real bonus in residential or historic areas. Guckert shares that the first robotic garage in the United States was in a residential neighborhood in Hoboken, N.J. The garage’s façade was designed to look like the front of the surrounding homes with windows and brick so that it blended in instead of standing out.
Although the construction costs for a robotic garage may run slightly higher – $18,500-$28,500 per space compared to $15,000-$25,000 for a conventional garage structure – developers and owners recoup that cost in overall development savings, land savings and future revenue. “With the increased capacity in a smaller footprint, there’s opportunity for more revenue generation from additional vehicles and development, and the operations and maintenance costs are lower per space per year,” assures Guckert.
Guckert and the rest of his team at The Traffic Group are taking their message on the road. “We’re letting architects and developers know that robotic parking is not a fad. The technology is here. The cost/benefit analysis supports it. Our communities need it. Its time has come.” I95
The Traffic Group, Inc.
9900 Franklin Square Drive Suite H
Baltimore, MD 21236