As technology develops toward self-driving cars, some urban planners are already studying how cars that park themselves without a driver might affect downtown parking. Most experts agree that autonomous vehicles (AVs) may generate the answer to relieving parking issues that affect crowded urban areas.
A couple years ago, I witnessed a demonstration of a Nissan Leaf that dropped off its driver and me at a location, navigated to an open spot in a parking lot half a block away and parked itself. The driver then retrieved the Leaf with a button on the key fob. The car honed in on the key fob and pulled up to the curb in front of us, allowing us to reboard and sit back while the Leaf drove to the next programmed destination. In the words of Mr. Spock, “fascinating.”
As with every other area impacted by AVs, those gazing into the future or creating plans for urban projects are forced to roll the dice on whether cars parking themselves will be a commonplace reality. If so, will it be 5, 10 or 20 years from now? Of course, it’s possible the technology will never take off.
In any event, such valet technology gives planners a lot to consider.
When we can trust vehicles to park on their own, there will no longer be a need for businesses, residential buildings or any other facility to provide adjacent parking. In a world where vehicles can drop off the driver and passengers and park themselves, it doesn’t matter if parking is blocks or a mile or two away. Moreover, special disabled parking could become as rare as public pay phones. When everyone valets, disabled-parking spots will prove irrelevant.
We trust robotics to spot-weld small joints on vehicle assembly lines and repair heart valves in humans, so it’s a fair assumption that — at some point — AV technology will be so advanced, cars will be able to park themselves within millimeters of one another. And why not? After all, there won’t be a need to open the doors for passenger exit.
The average width of a parking spot in the United States is between 8 and 9 feet. When parking planners don’t need to allow for passengers exiting, they can narrow the spaces to as little as 6.5 feet. That means increasing the number of spots by 20 to 25 percent in the same space.
There always seems to be a but. Although the thought of more parking berths in more remote locations has great appeal, planners must allow for dedicated areas where drivers and passengers can safely exit their vehicle before it hustles off to find a parking space.
Because of the higher capacity garages, one answer could be cannibalizing current curbside parking areas for valet passenger drop-offs. No doubt, there are other solutions, as well.
What it means to you: Self-driving cars will provide a lot of convenience beyond catching up on your paperwork while driving. Easing the hassle and stress of finding parking, particularly in crowded urban settings, is just one of the collateral benefits we can expect from AVs.