A walk in the Park
By Matthew J. Jobin, AIA
For all their opulence and grandeur, casinos are still required to have functional aspects; a prime example being the casino surface lot or parking structure.
Since the most popular casinos attract tens of thousands of visitors each day, the parking lots and structures are massive in size and capacity. In Las Vegas, casinos such as Caesars Palace, the Rio All-Suite, the Bellagio, and MGM Grand each feature parking facilities with well over 6,000 spaces. Beyond Vegas, the facilities are even larger: the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla., features over 10,000 spaces; Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., and Sandia Resort & Casino in Albuquerque in N.M., each have over 13,000 spaces.
However, more and more parking designers and planners are ensuring casino surface lots and parking structures are more than just massive storage areas for vehicles. Casino surface lots and parking structures are becoming attractive, sustainable community assets thanks to green design principals, innovative stormwater management practices and innovative technologies.
What parking owners are learning is that “going green” means lower operational costs and a greater commitment to protecting the environment for generations to come. All of this is achieved while preserving the traffic flow efficiency and functional aspects of parking that are critical to the success of any casino.
LIQUID ASSETSMost surface parking lots are made of pavement, an impervious material that does not allow stormwater to properly filter into the soil. To combat this problem, surface parking lots have traditionally been built with pipes, curbing, gutters, and drains to channel stormwater. However, the stormwater is often contaminated with many types of petroleum residues, fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants from parking surfaces. The water also enters a municipality’s sewer system at an unnaturally high rate and volume. According to the United States Geological Survey, impervious materials generate two to six times more runoï¬ than a natural surface.
A system that includes porous pavement and stone reservoirs is one way to fix such a problem. Stormwater passes through the porous pavement and collects in a reservoir located underneath the surface. The stormwater is treated for the aforementioned containments and the temperature reduced before being directed toward a municipality’s sewer system. The stormwater is also released at decreased volumes and at a much slower rate than in a typical drainage infrastructure system, guaranteeing the municipality’s sewer system is not overwhelmed.
Another effective “green” approach to treating stormwater involves rain gardens. This design element involves the creation of landscape islands featuring specially engineered soils and specially selected vegetation. The soil and plants collect runoff water, and help lower nitrogen and phosphorus levels. Rainwater is collected in a stone reservoir below the surface, and either absorbed into the ground or collected in pipes and discharged into the municipal system.
Today’s parking designers and planners are also utilizing bio-swales to reduce the negative impacts of a surface lot. Bio-swales are modestly sloped, planted areas that are strategically placed around a surface lot. Stormwater captured in the bio-swale moves down grade; the vegetation helps remove any pollutants. The stormwater is then gradually infiltrated into the ground over a period of hours or days.
SURFACE ISSUESThe materials traditionally used for parking surfaces are being reevaluated, particularly since these materials (black asphalt, for example) absorb the heat of the sun and can contribute to the phenomenon known as urban heat island effect. This is when a metropolitan area is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas. Urban heat island negatively affects communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.
A number of permeable and semi-permeable substitutions can be used to reduce such an effect, including gravel, pervious concrete, wood mulch, turf blocks, and natural stone. Also, the planting of trees and various canopies can provide shade.
Another more revolutionary solution involves asphalt solar collectors, which are currently in the research phase. Asphalt has many advantages as a solar collector. For example, it can continue to generate energy after the sun goes down, unlike traditional solar-electric cells.
Other factors being reevaluated include the size of a surface lot. Large parking lots use a significant amount of natural resources to construct and maintain. Also, many surface lot designs call for more spaces than actually necessary, since it’s a common practice to set parking ratios to accommodate the highest hourly parking during peak seasons. By determining average parking demand, a lower maximum number of parking spaces can be set to accommodate vehicles.
The size of parking spaces should also be reexamined. Many surface lots feature unnecessarily large space dimensions, which only contributes to the overall size of a surface lot, thus making its ecological footprint more significant.
IDLE THOUGHTSCasino parking structures can also benefit from “green” design elements. Parking designers and planners can utilize building materials such as precast, recycled concrete or concrete containing recovered materials. Also, any concrete areas in a parking structure can be cured with low volatile organic compounds (VOC); meanwhile, painted surfaces can be covered with paints that contain low levels of VOCs.
Designers and planners are implementing “living roofs,” which are composed of trees, grass, and other vegetation. Living roofs are situated atop a parking structure, and help reduce water runoff, as well as urban heat island effect. Designers and planners are also eliminating the need for costly round-the-clock lighting to illuminate a structure’s parking areas. This is being accomplished through the use of large openings that let in natural light, as well as precast window openings and light cores that run from the roof of a structure to the bottom level. These natural lighting strategies also enhance security by improving visibility both from within and outside the structure.
Technology is also playing a prominent role in the design of “green” parking structures. Pay-on-foot kiosks allow patrons to pay for parking before they get into their cars to leave, which shortens the long lines leaving a structure, thus minimizing the amount of time patrons spend waiting in idling vehicles. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, idling vehicles emit 20 times more pollution than those traveling at 30 mph.
Entry/exit strategies are also being used to combat the issue of unnecessary idling. These strategies include reversible lanes, which are used as entrances during peak entry times and then changed over to exits during common departure times.
The “green” revolution has reached the casino parking industry, as more and more parking designers and planners are joining the ever-growing legion of individuals concerned with climate change, and its effects on natural habitats and species. Without a doubt, the industry is strongly committed to taking responsibility for protecting the environment for future generations.
Matthew J. Jobin, A.I.A., is an associate/project manager for Rich and Associates. Jobin, who has been with the firm since 1983, works closely with parking planning staff in studying parking facility alternatives, including programming, site planning, design analysis, cost estimating, and construction phasing. He has been instrumental in the design of more than 300 parking structures. Jobin can be reached at email@example.com.