Get Into the Swing of Parking Access Control

Vehicle access control systems are sturdier, faster and more reliable than ever. Campus parking professionals familiar with the latest gate technology, as well as the security and safety issues involved, should have little trouble finding the right gate system for their applications.

When in the market for new parking gates and access control systems, campus officials are usually most concerned with how they can best collect revenue and keep out vehicles that do not display permits. Traffic management is also a significant issue with large parking lots or structures, which often experience cars and trucks waiting in line to enter or exit.

Issues that may not come to mind when choosing a vehicle access control system, however, are the potential safety and security problems inherent in parking applications. Parking gates pose a safety and security risk because they handle vehicles that are heavy, potentially dangerous pieces of moving machinery.

A driver without any harmful intentions may cause damage simply because he or she is distracted and lets go of the brake at the wrong time. A terrorist on a suicide mission, on the other hand, may attempt to crash a vehicle laden with explosives through the gate and damage a building, along with its occupants.

Therefore, safety and – if the hospital, school or university being protected is high-risk – security should also be taken into account when determining which gates and access systems best meet the needs of a campus parking structure.

Barrier Arms Offer Speed, Durability to Campuses

In recent years, gates and gate operators have evolved at an extraordinary pace. Barrier arms are able to move at much greater speeds, so backed-up traffic isn’t as much of a concern as it was only a few years ago. Gates can also be heavier and longer.

Additionally, many gates and gate operators are now designed so maintenance is not as major a concern. Because of the decreased need for upkeep, heavy use (e.g. 1,000 entrances/exits per day) is less of an issue than before.

If guarding against pedestrian passage is not an issue, barrier gates may be the appropriate solution for a campus. This type is fast (some can go up or down in less than a second), making them ideally suited for parking structures that have a lot of vehicles coming and going. Very often, barrier arms are installed in revenue-generating or employee/patient/student parking lots or structures where the primary concern is control of traffic.

Most hospitals and universities install gates made of wood or other lightweight materials that will break away if a vehicle impacts them. Some campuses use barrier arms that have a foam barrier on the bottom. Both types of gates are installed so if an impact does occur, the vehicle involved is not damaged.

But if a facility is high-risk or if a gate is subject to repeated vandalism or abuse, crash-rated barrier gates might be more appropriate. Integrators who install gate systems sing the praises of heavy-duty barrier systems because they go through so much stress.

Regardless of the type of barrier arm installed, they will still allow pedestrians to enter and exit at will. This can pose a problem for higher-risk facilities.

Slide, Swing Gates Prevent Pedestrian Passage

If pedestrians are not allowed free access to a parking lot or structure, then slide or swing gates may be most appropriate. These products can also be crash-rated.

Both types can have electro-mechanical or hydraulic operators, but one of the biggest pitfalls of swing and slide gates is that both are slow. A slide gate usually only moves one foot per second. Because of this, tailgating and traffic back-up can be major problems.

If the gates selected are heavy, then hydraulic operators are probably the best choice. Maintenance and cost can be issues: These units should be heated, and their rails should be scraped for dependable operation.

Slide gates can also have chain-driven operators. This technology is the oldest, least expensive and probably most proven on the market. There are a multitude of brands available, and most are interchangeable.

Still, chain-driven gates can be noisy and not as attractive as other types of operators. If appearance is important to campus officials, then a swing gate may be the best option. Swings can have pickets and other ornamentation without violating safety codes. Another advantage to swing gates is that if they are hydraulically driven, they can lift up to clear a curb or driveway.

Vertical Lift Gates Often Save Space and Time

When installing a slide or swing gate, parking personnel must be certain there is enough space for proper operation. With a slide, there must be room to the side of the roadway. With a swing, there must be room in the direction where the gate is swinging.

If space is limited, then a vertical lift gate may be most appropriate. These units are often used in parking garages where space is only available above the driveway. They are also popular in urban areas with high crime rates.

Another plus to this type of system is that it may take less time to open than a slide gate because it moves vertically and has less area to cover. For example, with a 40-foot-wide driveway, if the gate only must be raised 20 feet, the amount of area covered is reduced by 50 percent compared to a slide gate.

Be Mindful of Pedestrian Safety, Codes

When it comes to safety, even if a separate pedestrian gate is installed and clearly marked, inevitably, someone will attempt entry via the vehicle gate. Safeguards then, must be in place to prevent pedestrian entrapment or injury. Photo eye and contact sensors are just some of the measures mandated by code (UL 325). Other details pertaining to gate construction can also be found in the ASTM Int’l Standard Specification.

A method to allow emergency vehicle access must also be provided. When power is available, fire department lock boxes, key switches, and siren, yelp or strobe light sensors will enable emergency access.

Some cities may also require a battery back-up system that will automatically open the gates should a power outage occur. If power is disrupted, a gate operator should provide some means of manual disconnection.

Proximity Systems Compatible With Most Controllers

Gate and gate operator technology as well as the safeguards that go along with it are meaningless unless vehicle drivers have some way of requesting entry.

Currently, proximity card systems are the preferred access control method because they are easy to use and affordable. Additionally, proximity systems all have standard interfaces so they can be connected to most controllers on the market. Despite these positives, one pitfall of proximity card systems is the ability of drivers to hand off cards to unauthorized users.

Another issue with proximity readers is their limited read range, which can be a hassle for a driver who hasn’t pulled close enough to the reader. Still, some prox readers are so powerful that they can act somewhat like automatic vehicle identification (AVI) systems.

AVI systems usually have transponders mounted on the inside of a windshield. A reader close to the gate (usually a barrier arm) senses the RF signal being emitted from the transponder, which then opens the gate. Some of the advantages of this type of system include increased transaction speed and improved safety (windows can remain closed and drivers don’t need to fumble around for their cards). AVI is considered by many to be the hottest trend in the parking industry today, although its cost can be prohibitive for some campuses.

Other access technologies used for vehicle access include RFID (especially for gated communities), keypads (an older technology for low-level security applications) and phone systems (for gated communities). Smart cards are also being incorporated, particularly in high-security locations.

Wireless solutions are also gaining traction in the parking access control arena.Even license-plate identification, which is currently used in revenue-generating parking applications, may be incorporated in the future. The cost of the technology would have to be significantly reduced before it could be widely adopted.

Confused? Consult With Other Campuses

As with any parking project, the type of equipment selected should be appropriate for the application. Other parking professionals, integrators and access control equipment manufacturers are all excellent sources of information.

              Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine and can be reached at

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the September/October 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo