It's Like LEED Certification--But for Parking Garages

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jul 30, 2015

Consider the 55-story office building known as Bank of America Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. No, it’s not the setting of a Die Hard movie; it’s the unlikely home of cutting-edge parking design.

The Bank of America Plaza: Yippie-ki-yay, green parking fans. (Green Parking Council photo)The plaza sits on top of a garage with 2,128 spaces. And it offers innovations that have earned it honors as one of just seven in the nation with Green Parking Council (GPC) certification. Heard of LEED certification, a sought-after distinction for new buildings around the world? Well, the administering U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) decided that it doesn’t do garages, and thus a void was created.

“This was five years in the making,” says GPC executive director Paul Wessel. “Some people got the bug and wanted to build sustainable parking facilities, and if USGBC wasn’t interested we’d have to do it ourselves.” And so the parking initiative was born, and has now come full circle because Wessel says USGBC is now interested and in talks about “putting together a collaborative deal for the future.”

Canopy Airport Parking in Denver offers "juice bars" for EV charging customers. (Green Parking Council photo)Like LEED, the steps to certify a green parking garage are fairly tough to meet. Bank of America Plaza, one of two Brookfield-owned certified garages, does things in a big way. According to Trevyr Meade, program manager at GPC, the garage was more than 60 percent built with local labor, and recycles more than 50 percent of its garbage. It holds arts events and farmers' markets in a public space, offers 10 electric vehicle charging stations, and makes both ride- and car-sharing services available to tenants. There are also 100 bicycle parking spaces, and carbon dioxide sensors that circulate air when necessary.

Through ZimRide, neighbors who work in the building but might not otherwise know each other can connect and commute together. And they can also take advantage of Enterprise’s van pooling service. “It was Enterprise’s first opportunity to do a project with a multi-employer building, “Wessel said. “They were excited. Now people who, and I’m making this up, work for Deloitte on the 19th floor and Ernst and Young on the 21st can ride together.”

Enterprise's Zimride crew is about connecting people with commutes. (Zimride photo)Garages can gain points for, among other things, offering access to mass transit, providing bicycle sharing and parking (the subject of a recent GPC seminar), using low-VOC paints and energy-efficient lighting, cleaning with earth-friendly products, installing solar or wind power and managing HVAC systems, harvesting rainwater, and coming up with traffic-flow plans.

Along those lines, a new system soon to come online from software provider SAP allows connected drivers to sweep into and out of garages without paying or getting a ticket—the car recognizes the facility and handles all that in the background. Cambridge's Charles Street Garage has its own ticket-free payment system.

Parking at the Charles Street Garage in Our Fair City of Cambridge, Massachusetts includes ticketless entry and exit to save idling. (Green Parking Council)Also certified are Brookfield’s Silver Spring Metro Plaza in Maryland; BG Group Place in Houston; Canopy Airport Parking in Denver; Charles Square Garage in Our Fair City of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Forest Home Garage at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; and Westpark Corporate Center in Virginia.

“Sustainability is rising as a criterion by which students will choose a university, and that includes transportation systems,” said Bridgette Brady, director of transportation services at Cornell. “Cornell is so committed to green anyway that this was a pretty easy sell for us.” While at Washington State University, Brady dialed in a comprehensive city/campus bike plan, ride- and car-sharing, vanpools, park and rides, guaranteed rides home and active transportation.

Silver Spring's garage offers discounts for electric and hybrid cars. (Green Parking Council)In Silver Spring, a shared parking system books 120 percent of the garage’s capacity, better utilizing capacity as only 70 percent of the spaces are occupied at any one time. And online reservations reduce emissions-heavy idling and circling for a space. Two cars share vehicles are available, and there’s a 26 percent discount for drivers of alternative-powered cars and trucks. EV owners get four hours of free charging, and a pay-on-foot kiosk reduces cars queuing up and idling some more. Occupancy sensors control 98 percent of the lighting. Green cleaning supplies are used exclusively, and more than half of all waste is diverted from the landfill.

BG Group Place in Houston, with 1,118 spaces, incorporates a multiple-planting green roof, which retains storm runoff and guards against the heat island effect (which tends to make concrete-based cities hotter than leafy suburbs).

Note the green roof at BG Group Place. (Green Parking Council)These are not your granddad’s parking garages, but neither are they senior citizen gas guzzlers we’re stowing in them. As Wessel says, “Cars are getting smarter, people are getting smarter, and parking garages are getting smarter, too.”

It’s likely that a queue of garages will line up for certification, because green is catching on. At the San Francisco Airport, for instance, you can have your pick of places to charge your electric car.

Here's more about the green parking thang on video:


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