Parking is back as office equipment after COVID – Business Observer


It makes perfect sense. If you’re trying to avoid a contagious disease, drive your own car to work. Even if that stranger on the train or bus wears a mask, as pretty much all public transportation systems require, you don’t know their vaccination status, and just to stay on the safe side …

It is proven that more and more people follow this logic. The trend creates a conundrum for office owners and their tenants, companies that employ workers who use space: where do you park all those cars as people. back to office? It is as if parking spaces have become essential office equipment with easily ordered lunch, access to outdoor space and correct air flow.

Before the pandemic, paid parking lots and parking lots in urban centers – including those that office workers used regularly – were about to go out. Remote support applications such as Uber and Lyft, the micromobility boom, especially with bicycles and office bicycle storage and the general appeal of the so-called 15-minute city, as well as the immense value of these garages and parking lots given their location, seemed to see them go. Dozens of garages and lots had sold since the middle of the last decade explicitly as redevelopment opportunities for condominiums, offices and other uses, and did not necessarily include parking in their plans.

These include New York developer Millennium Partners’ Winthrop Center, a 691-foot-tall mixed-use replacement for Boston’s largest municipal parking lot, and the Ivy Station of Lowe Enterprises and Aecom Capital – anchored by the offices of entertainment giant WarnerMedia – which this year opened in a former parking lot near a streetcar stop in Culver City, Los Angeles County. There have also been major fillings via redevelopments in Denver, Chicago, and Charlotte (and a few more besides the Winthrop Center in Boston).

Until March 2020, it seemed like more Americans than ever were going to train, take the bus, ride their bikes, or just walk to the office.

Today, however, statistics indicate a growing demand for parking spaces for office-based commuters. Nowhere is this clearer than in the country’s largest commercial real estate market.

The New York and New Jersey Port Authority reported on September 28 that traffic between interstate bridges and tunnels was close to pre-pandemic volumes, while the number of PATH riders on the roads that connect New Jersey and New York by train was down 62% from August 2019. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that manages New York City’s subway system, reported that the number of metro users had exceeded 3.1 million on September 30, a post-pandemic record. It typically carried 5.5 million runners before the pandemic. Same day use of the MTA bridge and tunnel – the agency oversees the Verrazano-Narrows and RFK bridges and the Queens-Midtown tunnel, among others – was broken down only 1.8% of pre-pandemic levels, according to the agency. About 954,000 used its bridges and tunnels.

National figures also reflect what happened in New York. More people are driving.

Auto use fell about 45% in March and April 2020, when the pandemic began, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). Since then, the rate has recovered sharply, but is still far from what it was before COVID-19. With the delta variant, more people returning to work can use their cars, said Andrew Gross, national spokesperson for the AAA (who, incidentally, works from his home in Arlington, Va., And plans to take the DC metro when he returns to the office part-time). But these people are overwhelmed by the number of people still working from home.

New York City has said it is not about to relax or reverse its anti-car policies in favor of public transit, which have resulted in many Manhattan streets being closed to motor vehicles. the transformation of these streets into pedestrian shopping centers; and the promulgation of a network of cycle paths throughout the borough.

“As we come out of this pandemic, we cannot afford to continue as usual in our transportation system,” said Scott Gastel, deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, in an e- mail. “People returning to their cars just mean traffic jams and pollution, which is why we continue to make record investments to improve bus service, expand our network of cycle lanes and continue the process of implementing the pricing of congestion. “

In New York City, parking is notoriously expensive, and the city was built on the assumption that a majority of workers would take the subway, commuter train, or bus to work. At JLL, which manages more than 739 million square feet of office space across the country, Elizabeth Mitchell, vice president of office process and project management, recommends buildings use technology to help meet the parking needs and expectations of post-COVID building occupants.

“We have seen a reduction of around 70% in public transport. [use] when COVID first hit, ”she said. “And we subsequently observed an even decrease in the number of people entering the office. As people returned to the office, we saw the number of public transportation increase, but we wanted to proactively start creating solutions for our customers and tenants, so buildings could handle the increase. the number of drivers.

As transit ridership is rising from the depths of the pandemic, driving is on the rise even further, Mitchell said. Creating more parking spaces “is a challenge”, she added, “so it goes to optimizing the use of space”.

Parking solutions that are smart, or using app-based or computer-based technology to help people find parking spaces near their destinations, were there even before COVID, she said, but the virus has made the adoption more necessary, for things such as “being able to reserve parking in advance of time, [and] be able to check on your phone where parking may be available.

An example of such technology is Spothero, which offers drivers the option of reserving and paying for a private parking space in advance, often at a price lower than the retail price displayed on parking lot signs. It says on its website that it serves more than 30 cities, including New York, and has parked more than 40 million cars since 2011. Another, FlashParking, provides garage owners with a suite of cloud-based services that enable them to operate more efficiently.

On the last Wednesday in September, Manhattan Plaza, a 998-space garage in Hell’s Kitchen, was charging $ 33.50 for two hours, according to A 200-space garage at 350 West 42nd Street operated by Icon Parking Systems was charging $ 56 for two hours.

At Spaces USA, the big innovation was to provide drivers with a contactless parking solution. The system is designed to dial a number on entry and exit. Many drivers configure it to be able to use Siri or Google Voice. Drivers can also pay in advance via a reservation, but they still log into the system on entry / exit. Dialing the number takes about five seconds. It’s faster than queuing for a car, rolling down a window, and hopefully being able to reach for a button or a ticket. MMost payment lane exit systems take at least a minute to navigate through the payment.

Jerry Skillett, executive chairman and co-founder of Spaces, who said he had been in the parking business for 40 years and had managed “thousands” of parking lots, said it was just one “happy coincidence” that the company’s technology has proven to be beneficial to health. -conscious drivers.

“We’ve all grown up dialing a phone number since we were 6 or 7,” he said. “We were able to build on what you already knew how to do. “

Skillett said he believes that in the future, even if office owners sweat the idea that working from home won’t go away and long-term workers are more likely to visit the office three days a week rather than the old-fashioned five, parking operators will continue to do well.

“People love their cars,” he said. “The demand for parking will continue to increase. It just looks different. There will be less 9 to 5, and maybe there will be people who work less hours in the office, less days in the office, arrive at different times. But the only thing you can say for sure is that they will drive, that they will park, and that is not going to change.

One entity that claims to see little to no change is real estate mogul Scott Rechler’s RXR Realty, which controls 20 New York City buildings totaling 18.8 million square feet, including trophies such as the Helmsley Building. straddling Park Avenue just north of Grand Central Terminal, 75 Rockefeller Center and the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea.

“I take the train every day,” said David Garten, senior vice president at RXR. “I not only see my car on the train being fuller, I also see very good grip when wearing masks. Yes, there are one or two people who do not wear a mask. But the MTA tries to apply as much as possible. “

With vaccination rates in New York City approaching 75% and on the rise, RXR is confident that things are getting back to normal, including normal patterns of transit use. You risk death and injury while driving your own car, having nothing to do with the virus, Garten noted.

Increasing transit ridership is absolutely critical to our recovery, ”he said. “If everyone came back, but they drove a car, the impact would be catastrophic.

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