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Everything you need to know about parking gates

January 10, 2024
Hannah Michelle Lambert
Content Writer

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Parking gates are typically one of the costliest investments for your parking lots, and whether to install one or not is also one of the most important decisions you’ll make. That being said, it’s not always an easy yes or no answer. Tons of factors about your specific property can either make the investment completely worth it, or a big waste of money. The key is identifying what these factors are. 

In this guide, we’ll help you lean on Parkade’s expertise to make the best decision for your community. 

Keep reading to learn:

What are parking gates?

In short, parking gates are mechanized barriers you install to control the flow of traffic into a parking lot, or into a property in general. 

While the types of gates properties may opt for can vary from property to property,, they’re extremely common in multifamily properties, retail, and office buildings alike. While the first electric gate was created over a hundred years ago – all the way back in 1881 – they’re now widespread for their ability to seamlessly control parking. 

In order for these parking gates to work, they will need some kind of access control system to make sure the right people can get into the property. 

Some common types of access control systems are:

  • Ticket-based systems where parkers grab a paper ticket when they enter and feed it into the machine when they leave. These are most common in public parking lots and shopping centers.
  • Card access systems use magnetic strip cards that users swipe or tap when they enter, and they’re most common in private parking areas like office buildings or residential complexes. 
  • Automatic number plate recognition is a low-touch option that automatically reads the license plates of cars entering. This is effective in streamlining parking in busy areas or securing access in high-security areas. 
  • Intercom systems are a more manual access control method that involves drivers communicating with a security guard or attendant. 
  • Keypad systems are another classic method of access control where parkers can simply type in a code to get in. This is a common system in private parking areas with a limited number of users. 
  • Smartphone-based systems are becoming an increasingly popular option, where entry and exit are controlled via a wifi-enabled app, which may use QR codes, bluetooth or geofencing. This method allows a lot of flexibility from moment-to-moment, which is why many properties are now making the switch. 

Why are parking gates important? 

Unfortunately, using the “honor system” to ensure that everyone uses your parking lot within the guidelines you set is not always possible. Installing a parking gate can create a more reliable system to prevent someone who doesn’t have access from walking or driving into the garage.

While some properties opt for round-the-clock security to prevent unauthorized access, parking gates introduce the possibility to reduce your security spend by automating this access instead. 

Security

Out of all crime in the United States in 2022, property crime made up 82%. This has led many residents at apartment buildings to consider security one of their main concerns, both when looking for a new apartment and when considering whether to renew their current lease. 

This anxiety about their safety leads residents to specifically seek out apartments with great security in place, with 61% of millennials stating that they’re much more likely to rent from a property with secure electronic access. 

A gate gives residents an increased sense of protection. When compared to non-gated communities, a gate leads to a lower risk of crimes including break-ins, theft, and violent crime. 

When renters in a recent survey were asked about their preference for a gated or non-gated community, the majority of people stated their preference for a gate. Most of these respondents said they would be willing to pay an additional $25 for a gate, and 49% of that same group said they would pay up to $50. 

Improved parking behavior

Safety aside, parking that isn’t well-enforced can be frustrating for everyone. An unauthorized car often steals spots from your residents and shifts the burden to them to find somewhere else to park for the time being. 

We hear from so many of our customers how many one-star reviews they received before they got their parking problem under control. We talked to Clark Ennis, a manager at one of our client’s properties, and he stressed the necessity of a gate for their Denver apartment community. “We live in a downtown business district, so a gate is absolutely necessary. Without it, and a great system to manage it, our lots are filled with unauthorized cars.”

With no gate, anyone who isn’t scared of the possibility of being towed getting fined can drive right in and grab any spot they want. With a gate, they have no choice but to find somewhere else to park. 

This gives your residents peace of mind that they will come home to an empty spot. 

Time savings for staff

The peace of mind extends to your staff, too. When parking behavior is improved, your staff will be freed from fielding multiple complaints and dealing with the logistics of towing cars. 

It’s not uncommon for some staff to spend hours each week handling parking. Among all of the tasks involved in managing parking, enforcement of rules is one of the biggest challenges. If you’re able to use a parking gate to ensure that non-resident cars aren’t taking up valuable space without permission, you can hand back a significant chunk of time to your staff.

In some cases, staff can gain up to 97% of their time back when they don’t have to focus as much on making parking run smoothly.

What about tailgating? 

Of course, gates aren’t 100% fail-proof. 

We’ve all seen it: a driver cozying up to the car in front of them and gunning the gas as soon as the gate opens, sneaking their way into a parking lot they don’t have access to. 

Luckily, there are several ways to ensure people aren’t outsmarting your gate.

Speed up close times

If your gates shut quicker, drivers are going to be a lot less likely to try to squeeze through and risk damaging their car. 

Consider this situation: A car in front of you just went through the gate, and it’s now been open for a while with no sign of movement. Even the most compliant drivers are going to be tempted to sneak through. Compare this to a gate that closes relatively quickly and drivers are a lot less likely to take the risk. 

Even with safety mechanisms in place that will prevent gates from closing on cars, knocking this close time down by just a few seconds (but still in compliance with minimum close times for your area) will make it a lot less likely that someone freely drives through. 

Install cameras

Cameras will make many people think twice about tailgating. When someone knows that their face, car, and license plate are being recorded, they’ll resist the urge to break the rules for fear of repercussions. 

Even fake cameras can do the trick as long as they’re in a clearly visible area! 

Add warning signs

Sometimes, unless the rules are made crystal clear, people won’t follow them. 

Adding a simple sign that states only one car at a time is allowed to pass through the gate can reduce the number of people who attempt to tailgate. You can even warn that they’ll incur a fine of a certain amount to really prevent unauthorized access. 

Especially if your gates move a bit slower than usual, this sign can eliminate any uncertainty around when cars are and aren’t allowed to enter. 

Require proof of entrance to exit

One of the biggest deterrents of tailgating in commercial parking garages is the “lost ticket pays maximum” warning. This same strategy can be applied in residential parking lots, too. If a car bypasses your access system – whether it’s a ticket, mobile app, etc. – their access can be restricted to get out. 

Their solution at this point would either be to pay a larger fine if the lot is paid, or press a help button that leads to them getting caught red-handed into order to exit the parking lot. 

Quarantine zones

Although it comes with its own set of problems, some properties see success in creating “quarantine zones,” where a car waits in between two gates until the one behind them closes. This ensures that cars behind them are not able to sneak through the gate into the property. 

A developer we talked to implemented this with mixed results. While it does cut down tailgating, this can lead to cars getting stuck if they have trouble accessing, whether for valid reasons or not, and cause a major backup at the gate.

Types of gated parking

Gated parking is not a one-size-fits-all operation. There are a variety of gate types that have their own benefits and drawbacks, depending on the specifications of the property at which they’re installed. 

Here, we’ll go over the most popular options that property managers tend to opt for. Each of these gate types can be operated manually or automatically. 

Swing gates

Swing gates are one of the most popular choices for a gated parking area, because they’re relatively easy to install and simple to operate. 

The caveat here is that you need ample space to allow the gate to swing inward or outward, so this style isn’t always possible. 

Additionally, with gates that swing in, you run the risk of causing damage to cars as the gate opens. When the gate is configured to swing in, properties need to take extra steps to make it clear where the “safety zone” for cars to wait is. Often, this is signaled by a sign paired with a pillar or painted stripe on the ground. 

One attractive quality about these gates is that they come in a variety of materials – wood, steel, aluminum – so they can be customized to match the aesthetic of the surrounding area. 

The design of the gate will determine the level of security it provides. If the gate is built into a fence or wall on either side, unauthorized pedestrians will be less likely to trespass. If the gate is freestanding, it will primarily prevent unauthorized cars from entering your property.

However, one restriction is that these types of gates legally need to remain open for at least 15 seconds from the last car passing through to avoid damage to people and property, opening up the possibility of tailgating. 

Slide gates

When space doesn’t allow for a swing gate, a slide gate is a great alternative. These gates run on a track and slide horizontally when opening, parallel to a fence or wall. 

These gates tend to be a bit more discreet because they can function like a pocket door, shifting in and out of view, so they may be a popular choice for properties that want a more minimalist look, when compared to swing gates. 

There are also a variety of options for the appearance of these gates, typically providing a choice of various materials like wood, steel, and aluminum. 

The level of safety a slide gate provides is similar to that of the swing gate – the design may be more or less effective at preventing unauthorized pedestrian access, but the legal standards around minimum close times may leave you open to the possibility of tailgating. 

Roll-up gates

If a property needs a really space-efficient gating solution, roll-up gates are a great option. 

Similar to a garage door at a single-family home, these gates work by rolling upward into a compact coil. Since these gates operate vertically, they can often fit in areas where space doesn’t allow sliding or swinging gates.

Of the four gates mentioned here, roll-up gates tend to provide the most security, since they are very difficult to surpass. Speed roll up gates are especially popular due to the quick pace that they can open and close. This speed makes these gates a highly popular option at high-traffic properties to avoid backups at the gate.  

The material can vary for these gates, but for residential communities, aluminum is a popular option. It’s lightweight, which helps it move quickly, and is affordable compared to other gate materials. 

Barrier arm gates

Arm gates are popular at shopping centers and other commercial parking lots, but are also a common choice for residential communities. They’re simple to set up and tend to be the most cost-effective solution. 

These gates consist of a pivoting bar or arm that lifts to let cars drive through. Many drivers love this option because it’s fast and efficient. Not only do drivers enjoy the speed at which they can enter or exit, but an arm that lifts and lowers quickly also helps keep a lot more secure by preventing tailgating. 

However, due to the structure of the gate, it’s extremely easy for pedestrians to pass through by walking around or under the arm. 

Some properties opt for more of a hybrid solution to get the best of both worlds. During the day, they use an arm to make sure people can get in and out of the garage quickly, but at night, they seal off their garage with a roll-up gate. This is a great option for properties in areas where being security-conscious is important, like downtown or high-crime areas. 

And of course, there’s always the option of whatever wacky type of gate this is. Not so sure many people go for this one.

What brand should you choose?

Once you decide what type of gate to install, next you need to pick the supplier. And there’s no shortage of brands of parking gates out there. A quick Google search for “parking gates manufacturer” yields enough results to make your head spin. 

Some of the most popular options we hear from customers are LiftMaster, Elite Access Systems, DoorKing, and Rytech. HySecurity is typically touted as the best high-end option. 

When you’re looking into different options, you want to prioritize finding a gate that is durable, reliable, and easy to operate. 

Consider which gate will give you the lowest maintenance costs if they get damaged. Developer Eric Levin from Mac Properties always recommends magnetic breakaway arms – if a car runs into the gate, instead of the entire gate being damaged, just the arm will need to be replaced. 

On top of this, a great warranty is crucial. Since even products from the best brands have hiccups from time to time, consider the customer support provided by the manufacturer. What happens if your gate breaks at 2am and you have a line of people waiting to get in? This can leave both your team and your residents frustrated

A great brand provides round-the-clock support and repairs and will keep replacement parts fully stocked so you won’t be stranded with a non-working gate for long.  

Another important consideration when installing a gate is its compliance with UL 325. This is a safety standard that’s in place to minimize risk of damage. It states that you need at least 2 entrapment protection devices for each direction of travel. Essentially these are sensors that stop movement when a person or object is sensed. Many brands of gates have built-in systems for this, but an additional, external device is often required. 

The downside of parking gates

While parking gates can be a great solution for keeping your property safe and secure, they don’t come without their downsides, too. 

Cost

One of the most notable downsides is the large price tag associated with parking gates. 

When you make the decision to install a parking gate on your property, a several thousand dollar bill is looming. The typical bare minimum cost of a gate for a commercial residential property is $20-25,000, according to Mark Lehman from Power Access Control, an access control company in Atlanta, GA. He mentioned to us that the average cost for a simple 2-lane gate system is closer to $55,000. 

Of course, these costs can increase or decrease based on the manufacturer and gate type you choose, but either way, it’s not cheap.

The cost of a parking gate doesn’t stop at installation, either. You also need to consider the costs associated with ongoing maintenance and repairs. Sometimes a repair can cost tens of thousands of dollars and a wait time of several days for resolution. One customer told us, “your gate is one of the most expensive things you’ll have on your property. We’ve paid $30,000 for one repair before.”

All of these costs are a major consideration when developers are making the decision to install a gate or not, since they’re typically looking to minimize costs that are not absolutely necessary. So this decision will need to be balanced with security needs and the potential to offset these costs in other ways.

Maintenance

Cost isn’t the only consideration when it comes to maintenance. You also have to consider the time needed to invest in keeping your parking gates operable and safe. 

Of course, you need to make sure to repair any damage caused by other cars or vandalism. But you also need to conduct routine maintenance checks. These gates are heavy and at times complex pieces of machinery, so they require some extra attention to make sure they’re kept in good working condition.

UL 325 comes back into play here, because in order to be compliant, the required sensors must be operational. 

Typically, it’s recommended that you have someone come out to inspect your gates at least quarterly.

During these regular inspections, hired professionals:

  • Test and calibrate your sensors
  • Lubricate any joints to avoid damage caused by friction
  • Check your safety mechanisms 
  • Ensure your emergency power system is in order to keep your gate operating in the case of a power loss
  • Take a peek at your electrical systems and wiring to make sure there are no red flags

Another maintenance concern that may arise if you install a gate is the roads. 

While not the case for many multi-family buildings, some communities have public roads running through them. If you put a gate in front of these roads, it is now on your company to maintain those roads, not the city. This is more common in situations like an HOA than in apartment complexes, but is nonetheless important to consider at the outset, as this can come with significant time and money commitments. 

Liability

Unfortunately, as with any piece of heavy machinery, there are risks of damage to guests or guest property. The most common situation that we see customers dealing with is a gate hitting a car while closing, either as a result of the gate functioning improperly or a car tailgating. 

While the standards around liability can vary from situation to situation, or jurisdiction to jurisdiction, you can potentially be on the hook for damage caused by your gates. 

There are even law firms that specialize in parking gate cases.  

Any malfunctions in the system can lead to this damage, further highlighting the importance of regular maintenance checks. However, damage can also be caused by someone tailgating. Even in these situations where the person who experienced the damage was in the wrong, the liability is not totally clear. 

Hassle

Anyone who has visited a friend, dog sat for someone, or made a delivery to a complex with a tricky gate situation knows how much of a headache it can cause. When you put up a gate between your property and people trying to get in for valid reasons, it’s going to cause a little inconvenience. 

Even new residents can experience frustration upon moving in if they have yet to receive whatever access method your property provides. 

Many access systems can provide a whole slew of issues on their own, too:

  • Fobs or clickers are one of the most common solutions to gate access. These are extremely easy to lose and expensive to replace. Plus there’s the hassle of having to assign them and enable them in the system.

    Additionally, many fobs function like the one listed below, which is essentially just a code covered with a case. That means that anyone can buy a generic version, type in the code, and create as many working clickers as they want. This creates a major security risk.


All of this doesn’t take into account non-resident access, either. 

  • Keypad systems may seem easy, but can raise security concerns as residents share codes with guests, who may then circulate them even further outside of the community. One of our customers attempted to avoid this issue by rotating codes weekly, but this quickly became time-consuming and messy to communicate.
  • RFID tags or stickers are becoming increasingly common, but they can be finicky and only work at certain angles, leading to delays and frustrations. Long-range readers are typically more reliable, but their price tags are typically much higher than short-range readers that require a tap.

The pains of access management

No matter what access system you use, provisioning and de-provisioning access can be the biggest hassle of all. 

When a new resident moves in, or a new staff member joins the team, you’ll need to add them into the system. If you’re using a physical access device, you need to keep meticulous records of who has which device so that it can be turned off if lost. 

Often, this process is pretty haphazard. One of our customers, before adopting parkade as their parking management solution, “handed out clickers like candy.” This makes it impossible to track who has clickers and how many, as well as being expensive.

Additionally, when people move out, you’ll need to de-provision the device. This is something that many complexes may forget to do. A failure to do so can not only leave you with extra costs needed to buy new access devices, but it also leaves you at risk of extra fobs floating around, potentially sacrificing your security. 

One of our customers mentioned the inconsistency in their previous processes before Parkade, “Sometimes, I’ve heard of leasing managers tell a resident that they could probably still get by with parking there after they moved out. It was just really inconsistent and hard to keep track of who was allowed to park there, since ex-residents may have working tags, too.” 

Whatever access system you select, a centralized and sustainable management process is crucial for keeping things from getting out of hand. This is a major reason that many companies are now opting for an app-based system to skip the hassle of physical access devices altogether and give visitors a simpler and more secure way to gain access. 

Do you need a parking gate?

Hopefully we’ve made it clear by now that this question isn’t quite as simple as you may have originally thought. While there are tons of benefits that your community can experience when installing a parking gate, there are several drawbacks as well. 

You don’t want to invest thousands – or even tens of thousands – of dollars and hours of your time into a parking gate if it’s not a necessity for your property. But you also don’t want not having a gate to put your residents’ safety and ease of parking at risk. 

So we’ve talked to several of our customers who have been faced with this same question and asked for their insight into what helped them make the best possible decision, and whether they’re confident they ultimately made the right choice. 

From these conversations, we identified several key indicators for when you should and shouldn’t install a parking gate. 

Don’t get a parking gate if: 

  • You’re in a very small, rural area where you don’t have to worry about non-residents trying to sneak in due to a lack of public parking at facilities near you. 
  • You have an open community philosophy, meaning you don’t mind if non-residents park in your lot. Often, this is the case in communities that have more than enough parking space to share. 
  • You have space constraints that don’t give you enough room to install a parking gate. Some properties can’t be retrofitted for a gate due to a variety of space regulation issues, the primary usually being that there isn’t enough space between the gate and the road, potentially leading to traffic backing up into the road. Parking consultant Jeremiah Simpson from Kimley-Horn mentioned to us that you need about 20-25 feet of flat space per car that will be queued at your peak hour traffic load to avoid congestion issues. 
  • You have a very limited budget and won’t be able to invest in a high-quality parking gate.
  • You have a very small assigned parking that you can reliably enforce, so you don’t need to worry about controlling your lot with a gate. 
  • You want a frictionless experience for your residents and guests. Some properties don’t want parkers to have to deal with the hassle of a gate and would instead like to use a digital solution, like Park Mobile or Parkade, to allow people to pay for access to a numbered spot. 

Do get a parking gate if: 

  • You’re in a central area where non-residents are often looking for parking, like near a city center, a sports arena, metro line, etc. Gates can help to eliminate illegal parking and can even offer the potential to capitalize on this visitor parking by charging, if you have the space for it. 
  • You have complicated parking rules that are difficult to enforce without a gate. For example, one of our customers has a multi-level garage, and certain people are only allowed to park on certain levels. Adding gates between restricted areas makes this much easier to enforce. 
  • You’re in a high-crime area. Resident safety should always be a top priority for property managers. If you live in an area where your residents may be at risk of any incidents caused by trespassers, a gate can help cut down these risks and reduce your potential liability. 
  • You have extremely limited parking availability. If the amount of parking spaces available is already minimal, you don’t want to add any additional stress to your residents by giving non-residents or guests access to your lot. Adding in a gate as a barrier can nip this possibility in the bud, and prevent you from having to invest more time and energy into tracking down vehicle owners or calling tow trucks. 
  • You want to charge for parking, so it becomes easier to “pay off” the cost of gate installation and maintenance. You can even raise parking prices accordingly to further offset these costs, and it’s a critical consideration when developers are building out their pro forma for a new build. Properties can make several thousand dollars per month by charging for parking — one of our clients rakes in $85,000 in a single month alone. Plus, the increased security a gate provides can often justify higher rent prices as well.
  • Your residents are demanding it. Whether your residents are asking for a parking gate for one of the reasons listed above, or for some reason that is more specific to your property, it’s worth hearing them out. If neglecting to get a gate may impact your reviews and resident retention, it’s probably an investment that you can’t afford to not make. 

Maybe you only need a gate in some areas

Depending on who you have going in and out of your parking lot, you may only need to restrict some areas with a gate. 

Fully gated parking is typically the best option for properties that are strictly residential. But for properties that may have retail visitors or want to leave spaces for leasing office parking, a nested gate may be a better option. This helps you balance convenience and security. 

Either of these options can be used for either structured or surface parking.

Reap the benefits, with fewer downsides

If you’ve gone through all of the scenarios listed above and come to the conclusion that a parking gate is the right choice for you, Parkade can help. 

We’re not a gate installer, but we are a parking management platform. We can help you maximize all of the best parts of installing a parking gate, while minimizing a lot of the messiness that comes along with them. 

Typically, buildings with gates have their parking operating within two different systems — one to control garage access, like Kastle, and a separate one to manage parking, like Yardi, or even a rudimentary spreadsheet. This lack of communication between systems is often the crux of the most tedious and time-consuming issues that come with parking gates, and opens gaping security holes, because your parking data and parking access are not in sync. 

Parkade syncs these two things together, eliminating a major inconvenience.

With Parkade’s parking gate access integration, our install partner adds a small wifi/cellular-equipped dongle inside your parking gate control box. This dongle connects to Parkade, giving anyone with a valid parking spot the ability to open the gate directly from their phone. 

This means that you won’t have to worry about managing fobs, rotating codes for a keypad, or using a call box to manually trigger the gate opening, though you can continue to use those systems too if you just desire Parkade as a backup access method. Both long-term tenants and guests who book parking in advance on the app can open the gate with a tap on their phone. 

We also offer a web-based booking flow — if you want to allow the public in your garage. This is ideal for one-time visitors who don’t want to clutter their phone with more apps, like a retail or gym patron. Instead, they can simply scan a QR code on the outside of your building/gate, pay for parking in seconds, and proceed through the gate with no hassle. 

In addition to the ease that Parkade brings to a property’s parking access and management, many of our customers are also excited about the prospect of starting an additional revenue stream.

A Parkade-powered gate gives you the ability to easily provide guest parking and charge for it. Almost all our customers are able to generate additional thousands of dollars per month, helping to significantly offset — or even surpass — the costs of maintaining a parking gate. The boosts in parking revenue are typically around 20% for customers, but some have experienced up to a 159% bump

So with Parkade, you get easy access and additional revenue. If you need to install a gate, Parkade is a no-brainer companion. 

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