A Design Perspective on Vehicular Access Control

Brian Kornasiewicz

Vehicles, in all their myriad forms, are one of the few programmatic constants for all CBRE | Heery projects.  Our buildings are not self-contained environments.  To function effectively, we rely on vehicles to provide everything from trash removal to mail delivery; they are also how most people will first interact with our projects.   People must be able to access the site, park or perform required tasks, maneuver, and exit- all in a logical, safe, and coherent manner.  When well done, this choreography is unnoticeable.  Conversely, a poorly thought out design often becomes a bitter memory.  Most of us can immediately recall specific frustrations with a poorly designed parking deck, inoperative access control gate, or confusing signage! 

For all user groups – owners, tenants, and visitors – the Vehicular Access Control experience can impact the reputation of a project just as much as a perceived fault in aesthetics or internal programming.  This isn’t exclusive to front of house areas; a building designed with unworkable or inadequate loading docks, overly-restrictive truck maneuvering space, or overhead clearance issues can turn an otherwise successful project into a Facilities and operational minefield.  In an emergency, the Parking and Access Control must accommodate first responder vehicles and access around the project, often in a manner contradicting the normal flow of traffic.  Failure to adequately address these critical issues can result in significant adverse consequences for the client, end users, and the A/E team.

Parking and Access Control requires input and solutions from a wide range of disciplines.  Luckily, CBRE | Heery is uniquely well positioned in this regard, as the full complement of required expertise can be found right here in house: Architectural design, Engineering (Civil, Electrical, Structural), and Facility Management, along with AV/Telecom and Security. 

The specific project typology will inform the site access, parking, and services required, with the footprint of the site, the terrain, and geographic location all playing a primary role.  Stadiums, military facilities, and hospitals clearly have different needs.  However, even similarly designed and programmed Spec office buildings on adjacent lots may have totally different requirements from each other depending on the tenant mix and Owner goals.  Codes and jurisdictional nuances will help to further define the exact mix of factors for the team. 

Approaching the project in a systematic manner can help you manage the numerous decisions that need to be made.  It starts by evaluating the site from the Perimeter inwards.  Remember – while most aspects of access control share similar features, a successful solution will be one that is custom tailored to the unique circumstances and nuances of the job. 

Does the site require perimeter fencing? If so, is it primarily aesthetic, or does it serve an actual deterrent function?  What level of deterrence?  Height is one consideration, along with the material and fence type.  Aluminum fencing is less expensive, but much less durable than steel.  Welded-wire makes for a less-obvious fence, but can be climbed and cut much more readily than a standard horizontal picket design.  Fencing can be made more robust using deeper foundations and thicker gauge metal, or substantially reinforced by bands of integrated horizontal steel cabling that can stop rapidly approaching vehicles.

At access points, you’ll need operable gates. These can be manual or automated; if the latter, power will need to be provided to the gate Operator, which should also be protected from vehicle impact.  Gates can be inward or outward swinging, or horizontal.  They can also be rolling or cantilever.  Cantilever gates (which are basically horizontal trusses with pickets added), are a popular choice since they don’t require the construction and maintenance of a smooth, debris-free track under the gate.  However, you’ll need to provide additional space when the gate is open; cantilever gates can be up to 1/3 longer than their rolling counterparts due to their back-end overhang required as a counter-balance.  Alongside the vehicle gates, you’ll need dedicated man-gates so that pedestrians can enter or exit the site independent from traffic.  For one-way traffic, you’ll need a minimum of 11’-0” clear road width; two-way traffic should be separated by a 1’-0” wide concrete curb or median.  Each direction of travel will require its own gate.  Many projects will also require the use of swing-arm gates; these can be a secondary line of vehicular security, a means to segregate visitor from staff areas, or the primary means of traffic and access control at dedicated parking areas.  Their motorized Operators will require conduit and power.  You’ll also want to protect them in some manner from potential vehicular damage.

In many of our projects, perimeter fencing is not a requirement. However, vehicle control still needs to be maintained, at a minimum to prevent hitting pedestrians or damaging components of the building or site.  The usual form of protection is raised concrete curbs (from 4” to 6” high) and bollards.  Bollards come in many configurations, and have a visual impact on the site that often is much more apparent than their small size would suggest.  They can thus be used as an aesthetic feature, or remain simply utilitarian.  Light bollards both protect and ensure pedestrian pathway safety.  Vehicle speeds, vehicle types, and what is being protected all need to be considered when looking at bollard height, material, distance from protected source, and anchorage method. 

Physical deterrents like gates and fencing are just one half of a comprehensive access control design. Equally as important are the electronic and data-driven components.  The most wide-spread form of access control is the card reader.  This pedestal mounted device reads a radio frequency from a card, key fob, or windshield-mounted transponder; make sure the pedestal is mounted on the driver’s side of the access lane, and at least 9’-0” from the gate it is operating.  These rules of thumb also apply to ticket machines, ticket booths, and minimal-security guard stations.  You will also need a straight-line approach to the card reader.  During the initial design stages, it is very important to be cognizant of the car queuing space you will need to provide.  Traffic backing up into other drive lanes or into roadway right of ways can be frustrating and dangerous, and will result in unhappy tenants and visitors.  One recommendation- leave at least a three car-length space between the curb cut and gate.  Ground loops are another way to provide automated opening of gates, and can assist the flow of traffic.  Care must be taken during the design process to coordinate the locations of the ground loops with the traffic flow pattern and intended traffic / parking mix.

One critical but often overlooked aspect of access control is signage. Poor signage can be frustrating, needlessly time-consuming, and even dangerous.  Conversely, a well-thought out program of signage can salvage otherwise poorly-designed projects.  Signage should include a mix of road painted and post-mounted signs, in the appropriate fonts and sizes based on distance and speed.  Increasingly, “smart” signage can assess minute-to-minute parking capacity, with entrance signage displaying the number and location of spaces empty or filled.  Another often-overlooked aspect of access control is weather protection.   A well-designed and carefully located canopy can protect drivers from rain, wind, and sun.  However, the canopy height is critical.  A too-tall canopy provides little protection, while a low canopy runs the risk of being hit by a vehicle.  To avoid this situation, and to protect structures with low floor to floor heights, crash bars with the maximum allowable vehicle clearance should be installed near the perimeter of the site, and well away from the actual canopy or parking structure.

In addition to cars, the accommodation of trucks is a critical aspect of almost all projects. The specific project type is of primary importance; it will dictate the size, function, and number of trucks required to be addressed.  The site plan will need to be evaluated for truck turning space and paths of travel.  Programs such as Autoturn allow you to test various scenarios (straight line, backing up, three-point turns) per truck size, and will overlay a site or civil plan with accurate diagrams of wheel paths and clearances.  If possible, trucks and service vehicles should be segregated from car traffic at access points and paths of travel.  In all circumstances, the most important truck on any project site is the Fire Truck.  Clear routes of travel around the building will be required, and designated Emergency Vehicle entrance(s) located with an appropriately placed Knox Box for entry access / security overrides.  One important but often overlooked criteria is the sheer weight of Fire Trucks.  If they are traveling over a structured portion of the project, a more robust design than usually anticipated will be required.

Don’t forget about the Back of House.  While not as glamorous as the public components of a project, a well-designed service area and dock are crucial to project success.  As such, it should be studied with care. For example, most deliveries made to an office building are done by panel trucks, which don’t require a loading dock.  However, major tenant moves could involve a full 65’ long 18-wheeler; a truck of that size will need a 4’-0” high loading dock for safe operation.  With smaller trucks, 2’-0” high or 1’-0” docks are adequate.   All buildings generate trash.  That means a dumpster or trash compactor located in the loading dock or service area.  Garbage trucks often lift the dumpsters in an overhead manner- in an enclosed dock, that means a higher overhead clearance requirement than is often anticipated.  A compactor will need power; some facilities will need dock levelers, ramps, or other specialized equipment.  In many cases, a dock office will be required for supervision and security.

With all these numerous factors, it is easy to see how Vehicular Access Control is one of the primary determinants of a project’s overall site design and daily operation.  Numerous decisions need to be made and solutions evaluated, so the importance of setting aside time during Schematic Design and DD for this process can’t be underestimated.  The Owner / Client should be involved as early as possible as well, especially with the wide range of costs involved and impact on the final project.  Done successfully, Site Access Control greatly contributes to a safe, efficient, and well-organized project with a high level of satisfaction for the client, visitor, and tenant.