CATS LYNX Blue Line Parking Garages

Charlotte, NC, USA

Transit

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) Blue Line Light Rail Extension Parking Garages provide transit patrons with vehicular parking opportunities at significant convergence points along the system’s recently extended light rail line. Located on an alignment that connects major institutions such as the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with rapidly growing urban districts, the garages introduce a development pattern more oriented to the pedestrian and transit patron. Utilizing dramatic architectural panels that artistically celebrate the spacing of the stations, the rhythm of transit service, and the weave of the thoroughfares along the corridor, these garages also serve as striking beacons for the transit system.

Intended to serve as a model for future transit oriented development, the parking garages feature street level retail, a defined urban edge anchored by pedestrian scale plazas, and provide convenient pedestrian amenity. The retail components directly front and activate the street edges of the parking decks and catalyze adjacent development to continue orienting buildings toward the block perimeters, thus fronting the main thoroughfare and improving the urban realm, first and foremost, for the pedestrian.

Parking garages serve as the first experience a rider has with the transit system. As such, they are embarkation points toward their pedestrian experience of the city. user’s experience is critical when seeking repeat customers who drive transit revenue. The two parking garages feature a focused effort on the user experience from the time someone enters the site and the parking garage, navigate to a parking space, walk to vertical circulation, and exit the structure. Each experience requires a different solution, but is addressed consistently through the use of natural daylight, color and intuitive wayfinding solutions. Large bands of color, which stand apart from the predominantly white and grey structure, guide users toward the exit after parking. Daylight floods both stairs and elevators, providing an intuitive next step after finding the color-coded path. Each pedestrian entrance to the building is defined by a plaza at street level, further separating autos from the pedestrian path. These efforts result in successful passive security measures, ensuring a safe, welcoming and predictable environment for repeat patrons.

In an effort to further connect to users, the perforated metal screening elements at each structure are inspired by the alignment. At the University City Boulevard Parking Garage, the alignment is translated to the façade and depicted through the pattern on the screening feature. Each station is identified by a perpendicular line, speaking to the multiple layers of connectivity the light rail system provides, connecting by auto, bus, greenway and sidewalk to the urban fabric. At the JW Clay Parking Garage, the alignment is reflected on the façade through varied degrees of perforations in the screen. A station is illustrated by a dark, closed perforated panel, and as one moves away from a station, the panel becomes lighter and more open. As the entire alignment is wrapped around the building, stations that are further apart are rendered with increasingly open and lighter panels, and where stations are nearby, the panels are darker and more compressed. The design team met with the fabricator multiple times during shop drawing review prior to the fabrication of the screens to ensure accuracy and address any unforeseen challenges. As a result of this collaboration, what was originally detailed as a panelized design, was transitioned to a full off site fabrication and a single field installation, allowing the fabricator greater flexibility and control over the end product.

In addition to the design obstacles that directly impacted user experiences, topographical challenges necessitated an innovative response to standard parking garage design. Dramatic slope conditions on both sites required that a full level of parking be placed below grade at each structure. As a result, when combined with street level retail, two building faces of the first two levels did not allow for the necessary ventilation to meet the requirements of an ‘Open’ parking garage, where 20% of the elevation around the building’s perimeter must be open air. The team worked to manipulate grade, provided concealed openings around the perimeter and organized the vehicular ramp within the building to ensure the necessary percentage of openings were met.


Further challenges included the requirement to comply with the federal ‘Buy America Act’ as being part of the light rail infrastructure project. Each product specified was required to be thoroughly researched to ensure that it was sourced and produced domestically, through design and in construction. Additionally, the light rail project included the award of 16 different contracts, 7 of which touched the parking garages, either through underground utilities, roadway infrastructure, communications, station finishes, track and systems, or other. The coordination of these different contracts, both in design and construction, required continued persistence and attention to detail, so that original design intent was carried through to the end product.

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