The Coolest Park & Ride Ever

As a rule, I try to keep my employer out of HAC, but recent discussions of park & rides combined with a bad case of Portland envy compel me to break that rule presently. For you see, my GGLO colleagues and I just responded to a call for concepts for Memorial Coliseum in Portland’s Rose Quarter. Our concept? Fill it with cars and make a gigantic park & ride out of it. Think I’m kidding? Go ahead, click those links. Here’s what we thunk up:

“We propose to repurpose Memorial Coliseum in a way that will foster Portland’s evolution into a model sustainable city of the future. Our concept begins with the counterintuitive conversion of the Coliseum into a colossal robotic parking garage. And it ends mid-century with the launching of a museum that celebrates the bygone era of the automobile.

“Portland has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, which will require a two thirds reduction in driving. Over the same time period, the Portland area is projected to grow by 90 percent. Fortuitously, this growth can actually help Portland achieve its GHG goals by increasing density; and the positive impact is maximized if growth is targeted in areas that are already relatively dense, such as downtown Portland. However, under current trends, fitting parking in high-density development places a severe liability on the creation of livable communities. Parking is expensive, consumes vast area, degrades the pedestrian realm, and hamstrings design.

“Our interim solution is to provide parking in peripheral locations, thereby reducing the need for cars to enter the city core, and enabling the core to develop without the impediment of parking. The Rose Quarter is an ideal parking location to serve downtown Portland, as users would have several public transit options to reach their final destinations. We also propose a pedestrian bridge across the river to facilitate walking.

“The Coliseum building is well-suited to hold a modular robotic parking system, and could accommodate roughly 5200 cars. Ideally, it would be one of several such ‘Mobility Centers’ that would ring downtown. Over time, as the city grows and reliance on cars declines, these facilities would be relocated to less urbanized areas.

“Eventually, when parking is no longer needed in the Coliseum, we propose convert it back to a civic use, namely the Car Memorial Museum. The robotic parking apparatus would then be repurposed to store museum specimens (i.e. cars), and to retrieve them on demand for close up display to museum patrons.”


Anybody still with me? A thought experiment, yes, but not completely disconnected from reality. Because parking is a chicken/egg dilemma: we’d like to be able to design cities for people not cars, but since people are so dependent on cars, we continue to design cities for cars, which keeps people car dependent. Our proposed park & ride “moblity centers” could help break that vicious cycle.

Of course there are any number of reasons why such a model might fail. The biggest challenge would be getting people to use the park & ride given that it would make their trips less convenient. People would need a some kind of incentive to do it, the simplest solution being to make parking much cheaper there than in downtown.

The concept could also be criticized for the same reason some object to allowing park & rides in Seattle’s station areas—it’s infrastructure that’s supporting car use. On the other hand, it might be praised for many of the same reasons some believe it’s okay to allow park & rides in Seattle’s station areas—because it’s temporary, and has many potential side benefits.

But really, the coolest thing about this concept is the final incarnation of Memorial Coliseum as a museum to celebrate the bygone era of the fossil fuels and the automobile:  the “Car Memorial Museum.” By mid-century, the expectation is that central Portland will have become so dense, pedestrian-friendly, transit-rich, and car-free that the Rose Quarter Mobility Center would no longer be needed, and the Coliseum could be restored to a civic use.

Picture walking up to any one of several observation stations inside the museum, pressing a button to select the specific car from the collection that you would like to check out, and then having the robotic parking mechanism fetch the car and bring it to you, in the same way it once retrieved cars for their returning owners. Methinks we’d have a hit.



46 Responses to “The Coolest Park & Ride Ever”

  1. Tony the Economist

    Best idea ever.

  2. nador

    that’s awesome!

    It’s been a while, but when I was in Minneapolis I seem to recall several parking structures connected to the freeway system. So as you exited the freeway, you immediately parked your car and then walked or hopped on one of the very very frequent buses zipping around downtown. I thought that was pretty cool. I think there were levels for residents/business/commuter/shopping.

  3. chaz

    Interesting concept, but it just sounds like a sattelite parking facility to me, since its so close into the downtown core that it wouldnt cut down signficantly on trip lenghts. And, the garages at the perifery could act as a barrier preventing connections to the adjacent neighborhoods (of course, the freeway does a pretty good job of blocking that access already).

    Parking is pretty cheap in downtown PDX already, so it would likely have to go down to free to compete.

  4. Matt the Engineer

    Main problem: Sprawl. Make it easier, faster, and cheaper for car commuters to get downtown and they will, on average, live further away.

    Main benefit: Taken to the extreme, you could have an all but car-free city, allowing much more dense and interesting neighborhoods.

    How do you take advantage of the benefit without suffering from the problem? Ratchet up the cost of parking downtown for each one of these you build. Try to set it at a level where you can charge for parking in these, but it’s still a comparative benefit compared to parking downtown. Over time make the city easier for pedestrians and harder for cars by widening sidewalks and adding streetcars.

    Of course GGLO isn’t in control of any of this, but could work to sell the overall solution.

  5. Joe G

    I’m with Matt on this one. And me thinks that Portland is the most likely place for this to occur. The possibilities are endless.

  6. Martin H. Duke

    I can’t tell if this is serious or not.

    Regardless, the kernel of truth here is that there will always be parking. Seattle will never be Manhattan, and yet there are lots everywhere on the island.

    Tax the hell out of it, discourage it, yes. But there’s always the exception that has to drive and you have to accommodate them too.

  7. Chris

    very creative idea in concept. The economics seem questionable given what I know about the costs of large mechanized parking systems plus a building rehab. As Chaz @ 3 says, the rates would have to be low enough to attract usage, so the public would presumably be on the hook to subsidize the thing. Seems that costs would be very important to know. If the goal was to limit the congestion on downtown streets and thereby improve the quality of life downtown, this may have a public purpose worth subsidizing.

  8. wes kirkman

    Gronigen, Netherlands implemented this scheme for their center city. A few parking garages on the inner beltway meant people can visit the city but leave the car out of the center city. Result is their inner city streets are only two or one lane wide rather than four or five. Would be nice to change 4th and 2nd ave in our downtown into two lane streets.

  9. Brian Tang

    I once took an architecture class were we looked at drawings for a similar idea someone had for limiting auto traffic in downtown Philadelphia back in the 1950s. Your version is much more appealing, though. Perhaps because it doesn’t involve tearing out huge portions of the city and erecting giant, spiral-shaped concrete parking garages with direct access from the freeway…

  10. Wells

    Dan, as a Portlander, my perspective on your company’s proposal for the Rose Quarter is not supportive. Most Portlanders favor preservation of the Memorial Coliseum arena for original purposes – sporting events, athletic facilities, exhibitions, concerts, Rose Festival Parade staging and start, the WWII and Korean War Memorial monument, etc.

    The popular reuse concepts begin from that starting point. From there, leading Rose Quarter concepts include hotels, view condo/apartment buildings, restaurants/shops, clubs/bars, etc.

    This sort of development pattern will increase traffic. To add traffic that is not related to district activities will probably be too much. The I-5 South/I-84 East on-ramp may be closed and traffic directed away from the Rose Quarter to reduce traffic problems there, bad at the I-5 nearby interchange. Portland’s MAX LRT system is designed to reach the metropolitan surburbs and offer motorists the means to reduce driving into the central city, which may make a parking garage there work at cross-purposes.

    Portland has considered a perimeter parking garage #3 along I-405, adjacent to the MAX line on Morrison and Yamhill as part of Mayor Katz’ “Bridge the Divide” project for capping I-405. The proposed trio of parking garages above I-405 blocks there were uniformly massive, ugly and too single-purpose.

  11. James

    Now, this phrase describes exactly my complaint against the lack of parking a link stations… “car-to-transit transfer locations” Adequate transit will never come to where I live (or where I work, for that matter) but I’ll drive to transit and park the car if there was a place to park it. Wrap the parking structure with retail and residential on the outside.

  12. Dr. Density

    Clever concept GGLO, especially as a retrofit. It’s also quite poetic that it eventually becomes a car museum/mausoleum. It seems to be an excellent way to handle hugeass car capacity.

    5200 cars is a super efficient use of urban land next to high capacity transit not to mention the value of capturing the embodied energy by re-using the existing buiding. The surrounding neighborhood could theoretically develop with hardly any new parking if this garage was available as a common resource (assuming they help pay for it).

    I’m curious if just two drive exits and 16 elevators could handle a peak load like a big concert or sporting event? That’s 325 cars per elevator. Would we need to go have a dinner after the basketball game to avoid the rush? I really have no idea how long it would take per car when you factor in the non-automated people futzing factor. Dan, let me know how long that would take.

    Apex Sky Park’s biggest automated garage in Dubai is only 1300 cars (not finished yet), so I think this would be the worlds biggest. Does portland want to be know for this world record? That would be a mixed blessing I think.

    Now as a commuter and resident parking facility where the demand is more spread out, it may be quite workable and part of very incremental/sustainable means to less car dependancy through increasingly aggressive/lower parking ratios. It can also be shared with day commuters and residents.

    I’m also curious if by “flexible use” you intend to use the ground floor as some sort of an assembly space? It would take a pretty substantial structural seperation to separate 4000+ cars with gas tanks hovering above? I’m not sure if that is desirable or possible. Tell me more on how that could work.

    It’s a great concept regardless and worthy of at least honorable mention. It’s also worthy of more discussion and analysis. Thanks for letting us know about it.

  13. spencer

    Ha! Awesome idea. could people just abandon their cars in this place as museum artifacts?

    Seriously though, why didn’t you apply the same tactics to one or both of the nearby bridges? If I’m not mistaken they too are “by gone” products of the automobile culture. The museum could have extended across the river.

  14. Wells

    It has a snowball’s chance in hell.

  15. dan bertolet

    Ah shux Wells, why’d have to go and pop our bubble like that!

    But guess what: out of 95 submittals, ours was selected to be one of 20 that will be presented to the Stakeholder Advisory Committee:

  16. Wells

    Congratulations on the idea making the final cut, Dan. Bask in the glory. I don’t question the concept as much as whether Portland’s Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Quarter is an appropriate location for such a parking garage. You understand.

    I’m very familiar with all the garage locations. The only one that makes sense is #3, but you’ve located it few blocks south of the ideal site next to the MAX line. Hey, do these pants make my ass look huge? :^)

  17. Dave

    Planetizen has picked up the story.

  18. Christopher

    @Brian Tang. It was Louis Kahn and Edmund Bacon that proposed that plan for central Philadelphia. The idea was to make Philly (which has notoriously narrow streets) car free. Bacon is of course Kevin Bacon’s father and was Philly’s planner for much of the post war years, and is actually credited for both saving central Philadelphia through preservation and building a revitalized, post-industrial water front, but also through encouraging Philly’s strengths as a walkable community and encouraging the development of housing in the central city instead of allowing offices to take over downtown like happened in so many other cities.

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  20. Ryan Kedar

    An automated parking garage at the outskirts of a congestion zone is an ideal way to conserve city centers for pedestrian use. The congestion zone pricing, as practiced in London, is key to forcing drivers to park away from their offices.

    The commercial possibilities for an automated parking structure should not be overlooked. The pedestrian traffic would be sufficient to support shopping and offices in the vicinity of the “car station”. The lower floors could be integrated with the streets by placing retail stores at street level. The waiting area for drivers to await retrieval is an opportunity to create an engaging social space.

    The efficiency of car retrieval has to be maximized by enabling drivers to call their cars ahead of arrival. The structure could easily become faster by predicting when a certain car would be retrieved based on past patterns, and moving it closer to the elevator in order to speed up retrieval.

    I’m curious what solutions you’ve come up with for integrating the exits and entrances to the street for easier merging into streets and prevention of traffic backups.

  21. dan cortland

    @12 “It’s also quite poetic that it eventually becomes a car museum/mausoleum.”

    It would be less costly to erect a central, grand statue of figures representing Stupidity and Waste. Keep some artist from starving. Upcycle the 5200 cars into bike parts and farming implements.

  22. CarFreeInBigD

    Wrong. This is the coolest park and ride ever:

  23. Wells

    I went to the Memorial Coliseum open house, Dan, and had a look at GGLO display. One artist’s rendition you haven’t shared struck me as a deal killer. The spectacular views from inside the coliseum through the high glass walls will not be enhanced by the lines and stacks of parked cars directly opposite and open to that view, as if they are somehow compatible. It’s not what I’d call elegant or elevating. Good luck on your new gig at Publicola. Try to learn something from Portland and don’t try to impose car-centric Seattle thinking there. The deep-bored tunnel is a product of the car-centric mindset.

  24. Mark Holland

    This is a ridiculous idea based not on sound planning but on hatred of the automobile. The death of the automobile is pure fantasy. Personal transportation will never go away. Automobiles will become cleaner and greener as we switch to electric, compressed air, or other as yet unknown technologies. Is anyone from HAC aware of the explosion of new designs in the automobile industry? The hostility in the above comment from Ryan Kedar about “forcing” drivers is a perfect example of poor design philosophy. Just put a stick in their spokes. Tie their shoe laces together and laugh when they fall. Ha! Ha! Now maybe they will “give up” their cars. Maybe. More likely they will become so frustrated and angry that they will not listen to real sustainable design ideas when they are presented. If people learn that a long, soggy walk to work is a consequence of “sustainable design”, it will never fly. Good design should work for everyone, no matter what their mode of travel. Wells also makes a good point. Views matter. There is no beauty in a design philosophy rooted in hatred of “the way things are”. Personal time and convenience matter. Aesthetics matter. People matter-all of them. The utopian, utilitarian, elitist and hostile tone of most ideas I read on HAC is the greatest threat I can see to a real sustainable future. Your intentions may be good, but your marketing is awful. If your design ideas are really better than the status quo, then you should have no problem selling it.

  25. Wells

    The parking garage proposal won’t fly for many, many reasons. The GGLO proposal was the worst.

    Portland adheres to New Urbanism’s principle of travel “choice”, not restriction. There are four basic urban/suburban modes of travel: cars/trucks, mass transit, walking, bicycling. Portland modelling demonstrates that cars/trucks need not be eliminated in order for the other modes to function adequately.

    Downtown Seattle does not have an efficient mass transit system nor pedestrian infrastructure for pleasant walking, safe crosswalks and safe bicyling. Theorizing about car-free downtowns, Seattlers put the cart before the horse.

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