THE MAGAZINE

Fear of Parking

By Randy I. Atlas, CPP

Vulnerability Assessment

The first step toward parking lot security through CPTED is to conduct a security vulnerability assessment. Generally, in the United States, the standard of care dictates that the assessment include a criminal history of the site, a review of landscaping, lighting, stairwells, elevators, surveillance capabilities, access control equipment, and signage, as well as an inspection of revenue collection, supervision, and restroom facilities. The policies and procedures for the operation and staffing of the parking facility should also be scrutinized.

Many “who, why, what, when, where, and how” questions should be asked, including: What type of community does this parking facility serve—shoppers, commuters, students, or employees? How many cars frequent the facility and how quickly do spaces turn over? Are there clear lines of sight? Are there obstructions by walls, columns, or ramps? What are the hours of operation and how do those hours affect the user environment? Is the lighting all or mostly natural or is it manmade? Is man-made lighting at ceiling height? If so, what is the color of the ceilings and how are the lights placed? Is there a CCTV system, and if so, what are the details of the system? Are there ground floor protection measures, such as gates, screens, and barriers?

Additional questions should address vehicle and pedestrian entrances, whether there are required paths of mobility for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, the condition of the elevators, stairwell placement and visibility issues, and whether there is selective closing of lightly used areas.

On the Ground

At the ground level, garages need to define the perimeter and control access to deter unwanted pedestrian-level access to the facility. Controls can take the form of fencing, level changes, ground floor protection, and other architectural and environmental barriers that channel people to designated entry points and discourage others from hiding outside and inside the property or buildings.

Ground-level metal screening should be used to prevent or deter unauthorized access, while upper floors should be open with cable strung to prevent cars from overshooting the parking spaces and toppling off. Screened, rather than walled, ground levels and open upper levels allow natural surveillance and make it more likely that calls for assistance will be heard.

Ground-level screening should not be floor to ceiling, however, as that can give a criminal a way to climb to higher floors. It’s also a good idea, when space permits, to place short bushes close to the perimeter wall to discourage persons from climbing or cutting the screen.

Additional landscaping should be intermittent in size and texture. Instead of planting a solid hedge, it is more effective to combine low hedges and high canopy trees. All trees and bushes must be properly maintained to provide a good field of vision and to avoid creating hiding places. Plantings that are higher than three feet should not be placed within 10 to 15 feet of entrances to prevent hiding spots. Mature trees should be pruned to 8 feet.

Traffic engineers often encourage multiple access points to increase circulation patterns. However, this may not be the best approach. The more entrances there are, the more difficult it is to control the users and uses of the facility. The CPTED recommended method is to have one means of entry and exit for all vehicles. If the volume of traffic requires more, then each subsequent access point should have an attendant booth, access gate arms, roll down shutters for after-hours closure, CCTV, and good lighting.

Pedestrians. Unfortunately, it is often forgotten that while parking garages are designed to move cars in an orderly and efficient way, these cars are providing a means for people to arrive at a destination. Pedestrian access is one of the most commonly overlooked and poorly thought-out design features of parking facilities.

For example, full handicap accessibility is a key design consideration that should include dedicated handicap spaces, ramps, railings, and floor surfaces. Parking garages must include pedestrian crossovers and dedicated pedestrian paths, as well as adequate stair design. The location and design of elevators also needs careful consideration.

A primary rule is to avoid forcing pedestrians to cross the paths of the cars whenever possible. When such encounters are unavoidable, the design should create a safe passage for persons to move along until they come to a marked crosswalk that cautions drivers to take notice. Architects can design the pedestrian paths to intersect with, or pass by, the parking attendant station to create the opportunity for surveillance and monitoring.

Approved pedestrian entrances should be clear of obstructions and distractions to encourage use. Unapproved entrances on the ground floor should be securely locked in compliance with building, fire, and life-safety codes.

Toll booths. In the summer of 2006 at the City Place Mall in West Palm Beach, Florida, a parking attendant observed two men loitering suspiciously in the parking garage. She locked herself in the booth, but she did not have a radio or telephone to call for assistance. The robbers broke in with a baseball bat, beat the attendant, and took the contents of her cash drawer.

Toll attendants, such as the woman in this case, are thought of as guardians of the garage, but they are often targets of crime, because criminals believe that they hold the money. To protect these workers, attendant booths need to be situated in an area with a 360-degree field of view, be monitored and recorded by CCTV, and possess security glazing, duress alarms, and drop safes with signage advertising that the attendant cannot retrieve money.

The booths must also have adequate levels of security lighting with placement to support CCTV coverage. Lighting should be dimmable to allow a guard to see outside at night.

The attendant’s restroom should be located near the attendant booth in an area open to surveillance opportunities. The bathroom should be locked and have a personal alarm inside in case of attack.

CPTED-minded designers should exclude public restrooms from their designs because they serve as a natural meeting place for victims and predators and are difficult to secure without violating privacy rights. If the inclusion of public restrooms is unavoidable, then they should be placed so that the doors are visible from the attendant’s normal working position. The bathrooms should have open maze-type, “lazy S” entrances that allow cries for assistance to be heard. Panic alarms and motion-activated lighting should also be installed.

Structural Elements

If a facility is being newly built, then structural support elements should be round rather than rectangular. A round column allows for much greater visibility around the corners than a rectangular or square column. Also, the most CPTED-oriented ramp design is an exterior loop that allows floors to be level and to preserve unobstructed lines of sight. Where solid walls are needed, portholes with screening, windows, or openings wherever possible should be incorporated to create an openness that encourages and enables casual observance.

Stairwells and elevators should be located centrally and should be visible from the attendant’s position. However, the sides of many parking garages are enclosed to hide the perceived unsightliness of cars. In these structures, where stairways and elevators can exist in blind spots, CCTV should be placed to monitor comings and goings, and panic alarms and door position switches should be installed to alert the toll booth attendant that someone is in a stairwell.

Stairwells should be visible from grade level and be constructed of clear glazing materials to allow visibility from the street. Stairwell terminations at the lowest level should not offer accessible hiding holes. Those stairwells that exit onto the roof, if the roof itself is not also a parking level, should be secured to prevent unauthorized access.

Doors to mechanic rooms on the roof level should always be locked. Both basement and rooftop doors should be wired for door-position switches, intercoms, screech alarms, and signal transmission to security or police.

Elevators, like stairwells, should incorporate as much glass and high-visibility placement as structurally possible. For example, glass-walled elevators placed along the exterior of the building provide for good natural visibility by persons on the street and within the garage. In addition, they should have intercom capability to comply with ADA accessibility guidelines, as well as audible alarms in case of a breakdown.

The stairs and elevators of high-rise or subsurface parking garages that serve offices, residences, or other mixed uses should empty into a lobby, rather than going directly to business or residential floors. Persons exiting at the lobby are then forced to use another dedicated bank of elevators or stairs that can be subject to screening, access control, and surveillance by security staff if desired. 

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