It is so hard to park your car in New York City that since the early 20th Century inventors have been bent on finding a way to maximize the space in parking lots. From this need came a 1941 patent filed by O. A. Light, which would make it possible to stack three cars on top of each other. It was based on the schematic of an earlier patent filed in New York City by Max Miller which used hydraulic lifts to raise cars, leaving a roadway unobstructed. With the automobile boom of the middle of the last century came a boom in creative and automated ways to park them. But is it safe to park my car in there?

The lifts work in a very simple way. The parking attendant drives a car into an open slot in the stacks, and raises it to the top. In order to, for example, remove the top car, the attendant must first remove each car beneath it. The NYC Office of Technical Certification and Research puts each of these mechanical parking lifts through a rigorous testing protocol for their safety, as outlined in this bulletin. Here are some of the requirements for each lift:

  • Each above-ground level on the mechanical lifts must be able to hold 12,000 pounds (roughly twice the wight of a sport utility vehicle).
  • Only the parking attendant can operate vehicles into the parking lifts, and only they can operate the lift.
  • Each lift must also be able to withstand 1,000 pounds of additional horizontal force per level.

Stacked automated parking lifts are also useful for the rich car enthusiast with many cars. Newer lifts are much more automated, allowing for more cars to be parked even closer together, as the hydraulic lifts organize and retrieve the cars parked within. This past February in Van Nuys, California, the new establishment of a residential automated parking system broke ground, giving a futuristic spin on the stacked parking lots in the streets of New York City. Check it out:

Follow our Cities 101 series to figure out how stuff works in the city. Read our previous article on how land-deprived Singapore is handling parking using an electronic parking system.

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