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Self-Driving Cars: Urban Developers Designing Parking Structures to React to Spread of Autonomous Vehicles

No question about it — many experts believe self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles (AVs), are inevitable. It’s not a matter of "if," but a matter of "when." There’s still a long way to go before driverless cars without steering wheels and pedals dominate our streets, but many involved with city planning, bubbling over with AV zeal, are already preparing the way, like prophets wandering in from the desert.

There are still those out there who believe 100 percent autonomy on our roads is a pipe dream, but they’re among a shrinking minority. In the meantime, the true believers are gearing up for the conversion to self-driving cars.

Urban Delight

A couple of core beliefs are driving support of AVs: Driverless cars will eliminate the roughly 90 percent of car crashes caused by human error. And AVs will be key in curtailing an array of urban mobility issues. One huge problem city planners hope AVs will solve is downtown parking.

Although a recent study showed there are about eight parking spaces for every car in the United States, many of these spaces are in locations only sporadically utilized, like sports stadiums and shopping malls. There’s still a serious parking shortage in most urban areas. Vehicles that can drop off their passengers, park themselves in a spot outside the city or simply circle around until needed, and then return on their own when summoned would certainly solve inner-city parking issues.

Then What?

Let’s assume this shinny AV/car-sharing future will come to pass. What will become of the estimated 3,600 square miles of parking lots and parking garages, many of them in our inner cities? They represent some pretty pricey real estate.

An April 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times featured several architects who are among the AV true believers. Convinced that even car-centric L.A. will see personal-car ownership evaporate in the face of AVs and car sharing over the next 10 to 20 years, these planners and developers are preparing themselves for the redevelopment of today’s urban-parking infrastructure.

One Approach

Featured in the L.A. Times story is AvalonBay Communities. A residential complex in downtown L.A. earmarked for completion in about 4 years, AvalonBay will provide a parking garage designed to be easily converted from parking for 1,000 cars into a multi-use facility.

Many of today’s parking garages offer inclined floors that gradually climb from story to story. With an eye on the day when AVs and car sharing will eliminate the demand for expensive parking solutions, AvalonBay’s designers are building its parking facility with flat floors and ramps to simplify the garage’s conversion to other uses. Included in the conversion could be shops, restaurants, a gym or a movie theater.

Another nod to future conversion is the incorporation of 13-foot ceilings, offering the space required by a wide range of alternative uses.

What it means to you: The landscape of our cities will change, perhaps dramatically, with the conversion to self-driving cars and ride sharing.

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