With record heatwaves claiming the lives of hundreds in Washington, the issue of heat islands has garnered quite a bit of attention recently. The city of Portland, too, has some of the worst heat disparities between neighborhoods, which coincide surprisingly with the presence of one thing – a large number of heat islands created due to overbuilt parking lots.
However, closing them down can lead to public dissatisfaction and the inevitable mismanagement of traffic. The good news is that there are ways to design parking lots so they don’t become heat islands and instead help dissipate these deadly pockets of heat. But before we discuss the measures, let’s understand heat islands and their effects on the neighbourhoods.
What are heat islands?
As temperatures have risen globally and cities have expanded – both in infrastructure and population –urban centers have grown progressively hotter than their rural counterparts. In fact, in some places, the difference between urban and rural centers can be as stark as 22 degrees, according to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The main culprit behind arise in temperature is the ‘Heat Island Effect‘ – a phenomenon where an urban area is significantly warmer than outlying rural areas, mainly due to unsustainable human practices.
Primarily caused due to lack of vegetation, presence of dark surfaces, and, most importantly, large impermeable surfaces, heat islands can lead to many problems other than compromised public health, such as:
- Increased energy consumption
- Impaired water quality
- Elevated emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants
- Lack of vegetation
- Dark surfaces
- Large impervious surfaces
Overbuilt parking lots meet all of these conditions, making them one of the most problematic parts of urban infrastructure when it comes to mitigating heat islands.
Fortunately, green practices are finding their way into the world of parking, along with cutting-edge smart parking technologies. With their help, the adverse effects of large parking lots cannot only be eradicated but these spaces can be used to help improve the climate.
1. Automated multi-story parking systems
An Automated Parking System(APS) is a great way to reduce parking spaces. In a fully automated parking system, the car is usually driven up to the entry point. After that, the system automatically moves the park to an empty space. By doing this, APS takes advantage of a pretty simple concept – removing the passengers and drivers from the car before parking it.
Due to this, the space requirements are drastically reduced since no space allowance is needed for driving cars into the lot andfor opening car doors. There’s no need for driving lanes, ramps, or elevators as well. Plus, the ceiling height is also minimized as there’s no pedestrian traffic involved. Lastly, since these parking lots are usually multi-storeyed, the verticality helps pack way more cars than a regular parking lot.
With less usage of space and heat-absorbing asphalt, the heat island will slowly dissipate over time. In areas that don’t enjoy much footfall, parking lot managers can build relatively small lots with adequate vegetation to keep the temperature in check.
2. Reflective roofing
Heat absorption is a primary cause of heat island formation. That’s why having multi-story parking won’t help if it still absorbs heat. Fortunately, by just painting your roof with a reflective color, such as white, you can reflect a significant portion of heat.
There’s another creative solution to the problem of heat absorption. You can install solar panels up on the roof of your lot. As solar panels are also reflective, they’ll help prevent the formation of a heat pocket. Plus, you canuse the energy generated from the panels to power your parking lot. It’s a sustainable way to hit two birds with one stone.
3. Permeable surfaces
If you can’t avoid building a large parking lot, you can choose the right material and strategies to ensure that your lot does no harm to the climate. The best place to start is to replace the impermeable asphalt with something more porous. Though some amount of heat will still be absorbed, by avoiding or minimizing the use of asphalt, you will allow the surface to absorb water, thereby balancing the temperature.
Plus, the water will now have its way to the groundwater table rather than being collected as stormwater. This will allow the nearby vegetation to thrive, which will surely be accompanied by reduced temperatures. Having vegetation on your lot also helps, as it helps negate all the CO2 brought in by the cars.
Urban heat islands created due to overbuilt parking lots do pose a huge problem in regulating climate. However, with the proactive adoption of green measures and new technology, you can easily solve the water, energy, climate, and emission problems and build truly sustainable and smart parking lots.