The parking race: Clever alternatives to pay-and-display and multi-storeys

With more cars on our roads than ever, we need clever alternatives to pay-and-display and multi-storeys – and designers are getting in gear. Jonathan Weinberg reports

Monday 14 December 2009 01:00

Trying to park your car in any major UK town or city these days is enough to give anyone road rage.With space at a premium, pulling your vehicle between a set of white lines and avoiding a fine has become such a skill that it could yet become an official Olympic sport for London 2012.

So imagine seeing your car lifted up by a mechanical arm and constantly rotated 360 degrees along with five others, or placed inside a giant helium balloon and floated above the ground. Or how about leaving your motor in a giant underground hive housed in its own honeycomb-shaped capsule or inside a parking wall which displays a photo sent from your mobile phone to ensure that you remember where you dropped it off?

Bizarre as they may sound, all of these methods could provide a solution to our growing parking nightmare. Over the past 18 years, the number of registered cars in Britain has risen by more than 10 million, leading to our roads getting busier and ever more crowded.

The outlandish ideas seen pictured here are all from a competition dreamt up by Nissan and website Designboom to encourage people to think outside the parking box. It asked entrants to use Nissan's Qashqai model as inspiration to challenge urban parking conventions.

Contest winner Tanzim Hasan Salim, from Bangladesh, believes his "rotary" design has what it takes to ease congestion and make parking an art form. And he doesn't mean simply doing a parallel movement without hitting the kerb. "The concept of rotary parking derives from the Ferris wheel," he explains. "With this machine, up to six cars can be parked automatically one after another from a roadside parking space for only one. "The cars are picked up by means of strong electro-magnetic arms which are adjustable by hydraulic systems. The device is anchored to the pavement and requires very little footprint. Once parked, the cars can have a joyride which would also be a spectacle, adding to the urban fabric."

Since the parking meter was invented in 1935, boffins have constantly searched for new innovative technologies to control how and where we park our cars. But from the multi-storey to pay and display, or even recent advances such as charging by text message, the general convention has been to draw a rectangle bay, surround it with white painted lines and plonk a vehicle inside.

World-renowned designer Karim Rashid, a judge in the contest, believes these new inventive ideas will pave the way for a different kind of thinking, and cites existing innovations including parking garages in New York which have cranes to stack cars on top of each other.

"The Rotary Parking Machine is such an obvious yet original solution, you would have thought that it would already exist," he says. "There's a real serious issue with parking right now. From my experience, whether I arrive in St Paulo, Moscow, Bratislava, Belgrade or London, the automobile is really congesting cities. It's a mess."

At Westfield Shopping Centre in west London, its parking experts are also breaking convention by using intelligent software that leads motorists to one of 4,500 spaces using directional lighting.

Green means a space is vacant, red warns that it is occupied, blue is for those with disabled badges and orange lights show the bay is reserved for parents with prams. The centre also displays the current free number of spaces on its website, and has 30 charging points for electric cars.

Paul Buttigieg, general manager of Westfield London, says: "We believe in investing in every aspect of our customers' journeys. The system in our car park is a sophisticated and modern 'smart' car park. This makes the process much quicker and therefore also eliminates congestion."

But for the future, some of the other highly-praised entrants in the Nissan contest could come to fruition. They include the Helium Parking system which its creator believes shows that the answer to the problem was above us all the time.

Contestant Nikolay Ivanov Kolev explains: "There is room, but it is 'upstairs'. This parking unit can be easily lifted and managed as its weight is reduced by several cubic meters of helium.

"Each unit can be fitted with an autonomous hydrogen propulsion system, or hooks to be lifted by elevators. Flying parking lots will help at big public events like concerts and fairs."

Also on the drawing board from competitors was a London Eye-style big wheel that allowed you to drive into a pod and park; a revolving underground system with space for three cards that moves up and down like a screw and cars with robotic arms that can paint a space for themselves wherever they want to stop. The judges were also wowed by the Solasis Light Tower, which according to creator Klaud Wasiak can use solar panels to reflect light from the cars and generate electricity for the National Grid. "A parked vehicle is wasting city space," he says. "This concept gives the car a conscience; it can contribute back and have more purpose throughout its daily use.

"Solasis is a solar light tower that generates electric power from sunlight by focusing concentrated solar radiation reflected from the car's photovoltaic panels and mirrors onto a heat exchanger mounted in the tower. That energy is then fed back into the grid powering vehicles and buildings."

Another runner-up called Parkscope was commended for its use of mobile-phone technology to turn boring parked cars into something more visually appealing. The building has an LED wall façade which lets each driver leave their own photo on it sent from a mobile handset by MMS. Each photo on the wall represents a space in the car park so you never forget which one your vehicle was left in.

Jean-Pierre Diernaz, of Nissan Europe, believes those behind the ideas are definitely on the right lines. He says: "We pride ourselves in challenging convention through design. The entries we have received as a result of this competition challenge the way we currently think and look to the future."

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