I went to Denver a few weeks ago and got stuck at the airport. Why? I refuse to take taxis, and had dimly remembered that the Mile-High City had a robust light rail system. No problem, I’ll take it downtown … or so I thought.

It turns out that, despite being a very green city, Denver’s downtown-airport link is still only a line on a planner’s map. They're working on getting at least near the airport, it seems. I called my hotel and they said to take a $60 cab. I am congenitally unable to do this, both because I’m cheap and because I believe strongly in public transportation. Finally, I had to admit defeat and take a $15 shuttle bus, which was as green as it got.

But if you live in Denver, help is on the way by the end of the year. Not the rail link — who knows when they’ll build that — but Green Park, without question the world’s most environmentally friendly auto storage facility. You could argue that parking for 4,400 cars is inherently a blow to the Earth, but this project, a collaboration between green-oriented and Connecticut-based ProPark with Vancouver’s Greenswitch Capital, is doing as much mitigation as possible.

How green? Read on:

  • There will be both a solar photovoltaic farm and eight vertical-axis cylindrical wind turbines on site to provide electricity, plus a 300-foot-down geothermal bore hole to heat and cool the 23,000-foot administrative building.
  • Green Park is going for LEED Gold status, the second highest rung on the ladder. To that end, the structures (including two large, open-air canopy buildings) will be built mostly from recycled and local-content materials. All outdoor and much of the indoor lighting will be from energy-efficient LEDs.
  • All 15 shuttle vans will be powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) — or at least they will be if they can’t run them on methane from a nearby landfill.
  • The "juice bar" will provide free electric vehicle charging for a number of vehicles. Fuel-efficient cars get preferred parking.
Why Denver, I asked David Siegel, managing director of ProPark Real Estate Advisors. “The opportunity came up,” he said. “And the demographics of Denver are very favorable. It’s the fifth busiest airport in the country for passenger traffic, and the 10th busiest in the world. Traffic went down last year, but much less than everywhere else. And the site gave us the opportunity to utilize a lot of the concepts we’ve been trying to introduce into parking.”

ProPark, with 350 locations under management, lease or ownership, has started small. It has EV charging at the Neon Garage in New Haven, Conn., and at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass. Its large garage in New London, Conn., will have so much solar capacity that authorities there tell me they’re in search of a partner to buy the excess electricity. (The daily paper turned them down.)

As I’ve written, there is huge opportunity for greening parking lots and garages. Paul Wessel, the former director of traffic and parking for the city of New Haven and now a green parking consultant to ProPark and others, agrees. “We’re an incredibly car-dependent culture,” he said. “The beauty of the green parking management concept is that it says can we do this more sustainably. We can move parking from a mere space-for-dollars transaction to something more meaningful. Green parking takes a mundane burden and turns it into an opportunity to think differently about what we do everyday. We can drive differently, we can park differently, we can live differently.” Amen.

By the way, I got a ride back to the airport in a van driven by a self-help guru who’d lost his lucrative lecture income in the recession. Geez, you’d think that when times are bad people would need these guys even more. He might be out of business here too, if Denver ever builds that rail link.

MNN homepage photo: Green Parking Space 

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