Ask The Experts: How to Start a Parking Project

East Texas Precast is the leader in precast parking structures in Texas, but we get questions from all over the country about parking projects. We took some of our most commonly asked questions, and went to the experts for the real answers: Cesar Diaz, Noli Alarcon, and Chad Snyder (Bios below).

1. How does someone determine the number of parking spaces they need?

Cesar: Typically, this answer would come directly from the Owner who would, at that point; have a very good idea how much parking they would want at the very least. We would check this wish list item against local codes to assure that we are providing, at the very least; the minimum required parking for such building typology.

Noli: Number of spaces typically comes from the owner based on supply and demand. Sometimes, we will do a supply and demand study to determine this.

Chad: The number of parking spaces are determined by where the development is located or zoned, and the demand generators that the project will have. As the future of the automobile evolves municipalities have been looking at reducing required parking in some locations. Many cities have enacted no parking requirements in locations zoned as downtown business districts to encourage development and promote alternate means of transportation to reduce vehicle congestion in downtowns. Other areas of dense development have utilized methods such as special parking districts or areas to reduce parking requirements.

Once the zoning has been determined these demand generators are applied to parking requirements for each demand generation type. The base parking requirement is generated through the city zoning regulations. Every city has base parking ratios identified for most uses. The parking ratios are applied based upon the type of use that it is: square footage of office space, square footage of retail and restaurant space, number of keys for hotel, number of bedrooms for multi-family residential are but a few of the use types.

Most cities allow for a further reduction through the implementation of shared parking or reductions for adjacency to mass transit such as rail. Shared parking, a concept pioneered by the Urban Land Institute, is the ability of mixed-use types in a single development to effectively share parking resources due to various factors such as: the peak usage time of the various uses, the reduction for alternate means of transportation to the development and accounting for the number of vehicles that are already parked on-site for one use and visiting another use without the need to move their vehicle. Some cities have provisions for the calculations within their ordinance, but a parking study by a professional parking consulting firm can be provided to assist with defining the correct number of spaces that the development will need.

2. If you had a client who was considering either a parking lot or a parking garage, how would you help them make that decision?

Cesar: We would run different scenarios playing both; the amount of land required for each versus the budget necessary to support such decision. In some instances, the obvious tends to jump out – especially when land is scarce.

Noli: Obviously, parking lot is much cheaper than structured garage but it really depends on their location, master planning and type of patrons. In urban location, real estate is premium and structured garage maybe more practical. Ditto with healthcare and retail business who want to attract and cater to clients and patrons. For schools located in suburban or rural areas, parking lots could be the norm.

Chad: The determination between a parking lot or parking garage should be based upon the correct parking solution for that particular development. Sometimes proving new parking is not always the answer. The first determination in order to expend capital costs should be to investigate if there is a real demand or perceived demand. If there is a demand can the demand be solved with the construction of new parking or utilizing transportation demand strategies. If there is a perceived demand can you enhance the wayfinding to the available parking.

There is a definite capital cost difference between a surface lot and structured parking garage. Some factors to consider are the price of the land, density of development and walking distance that you expect your users to walk. If the price of land is inexpensive then a surface parking lot is a more viable solution. The issues associated with surface parking is the lack of development density that it provides, less sustainable development due to the large footprint of surface parking and the longer walking distances required for the users. Traditional malls in suburban environments are an example that highlights these issues.

3. Are there any guidelines for when parking users should have free vs. paid parking?

Cesar: Typically, in a retail scenario (at least for our area) parking tends to be a free amenity since it is viewed as paid parking would dis-incentivize potential clientele. Such is not the case up North where land is more scares and land is more valuable. Having said this, in a public office building scenario, where the Owner does have much control over its employees’ parking, it is very typical to see third-party ran paid parking garages. In closing, there are no established guidelines as to the when; this decision is driven by the business model the future Owner brings to the table.

Noli: There many factors to this but it will boil down to the owner investment. If the garage is part of a bigger establishment like hospitals and malls, free parking can be afforded by their other business. Airports and offices and some urban schools are typically the uses that can demand higher fees for parking.

Chad: The debate of free versus paid parking is a contentious issue amongst many. Most places that have paid parking do so because of several factors. If surrounding properties have paid parking, then your development has to have paid parking in order to make sure the parking you have is used for your development. If your parking is free then there is a risk, depending upon location, that it could be being taken up by employees or visitors that are willing to walk to find free parking. Paid parking is used to help turnover in the spaces for visitors.

Paid parking is also used as a revenue source. In most instances, parking has to be subsidized by the development. There are maintenance, operating and security costs associated with parking. Implementing paid parking can provide a revenue source to offset these costs. In some cases parking can provide a significant revenue source, such as airports.

4. How can I optimize a parking lot/garage for both long-term renters and daily users?

Cesar: Accessibility, security and control. These three points are typically very high in the requirements list of every Owner.

Noli: This is usually done with shared parking analysis coupled with supply and demand study above.

Chad: Parking for daily and long-term require two different approaches. If the parking facility has controlled access and paid parking, the access and revenue approach should be considered. Long-term, residential or contract parkers utilize proximity or automated vehicular identification (AVI) to control access. These systems should allow for the ease of operation and use for the frequent parkers.

Daily or transient parkers require a revenue collection system that utilizes a pay-on-foot machine or cashier in the lane. Automating the revenue collection system reduces the labor required to operate the garage and increases the throughput for exiting, but there is a reduction in customer service. If customer service is a priority then there should be a parking ambassador available to assist patrons when necessary.

The segregation of these two user groups is preferred if the layout will allow for it. This not only enhances the entry and exit experience for the frequent parkers, it can provide an enhanced sense of security for instances such as residential parkers that prefer to have a dedicated parking area or space which is segregated form transient users. This increases the user comfort level and passive security within the parking garage.

Another avenue for enhancing the user experience for transient or daily parkers is the use of technology. The implementation of a Parking Guidance System can improve the parkers experience by directing the motorist to the available parking spaces without having to drive down the parking aisles searching for the available space. These system utilize technology such as ultrasonic sensors or camera-based technology to monitor the spaces for occupancy and feeds data to directional signage boards mounted in the garage to direct the motorist to the space. These systems can utilize a multitude of colors to identify spaces such as accessible and reserved. The systems increase the overall efficiency of the garage and provides for a more sustainable approach to the operation of the garage.

These are a few items that can enhance the overall experience for the parker.

5. Are there any other questions you get asked in your introductory meetings frequently?

Cesar: Very often Owners want to feel that they are getting the best value for their money. They want to make sure that the consultant they hired is working for them and their best interests. They want their consultants to run all different type scenarios and bring all the results to the table so the Owner can make a well-informed decision.

Noli: Things like traffic impact study, air quality monitoring, latest tech on parking guidance systems, pro forma financial analysis to determine revenue collection rates, ROI, etc. Note that some of these are not in my wheelhouse but we have other office expertise for them.

Chad: The number one question is related to the cost and how the efficiency of the design can improve the overall construction cost. Such as, what are the primary differences between and precast and cast-in-place parking structure

If you have any more questions that you'd like to ask feel free to contact us at East Texas Precast or any of our friends in the parking industries below.


Cesar A Diaz
Architecture graduate from the world famous University of Houston with over 25 years of experience at various levels and project phases. Currently works at Goree Architects on various building and construction typologies include: Office, Commercial, Retail, Restaurant, Industrial.


Noli Alarcon

Principal and Vice President at TimHaahs, Inc. Master’s Degree in Structural Engineering, Columbia University, more than 30 years experience in parking planning, design, and consultation.


Chad Snyder

Senior Parking Consultant for the Parking Services Group at Walter P Moore in Houston, Texas. He has 25 years of experience associated with master planning, design, and technology in the parking industry. Chad is involved with projects from conception to completion, with a resume that spans domestically and internationally.


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East Texas Precast

P.O. Box 579,

Waller, TX 77484

Phone. 281-463-0654