How Driverless Cars Spell the End of Parking as We Know It

Self-driving technology could make the hassles associated with human-powered parking a thing of the past.

By Doug Newcomb

No doubt about it: Parking is a pain, especially if you live or drive in a dense urban area. But even if you live in the suburbs or a rural community, it’s still a hassle when you drive to, say, a large shopping center or attend a sporting event or concert.

Now imagine driving downtown, to a mall, or the big game and simply getting out of a fully self-driving car and having it go off and park itself. While it sounds like a fantasy, this scenario is quickly becoming a reality as automakers from Audi to Tesla develop self-parking systems. And autonomous cars will not only change parking as we know it but could also radically alter the infrastructure required to house vehicles as they sit idle up to 95 percent of the day.

Alain Kornhause, an autonomous vehicle researcher at Princeton University, told the website Curbed that as fully autonomous cars start to appear, “The biggest impact is going to be on parking. We aren’t going to need it, definitely not in the places we have it now,” he said.

“Having parking wedded or close to where people spend time — that’s going to be a thing of the past,” he added. “If I go to a football game, my car doesn’t need to stay with me. If I’m at the office, it doesn’t need to be there. The current shopping center with the sea of parking around it — that’s dead.”

Taking Parking Underground

And it’s also being buried. A huge mixed-use development project is underway just outside of Nashville, Tennessee and the developer has decided to include huge underground garage in anticipation of self-driving cars.

A representative of the company developing the underground garage told Car & Driver that “it’s the investment group bringing the dollars to the table for the project. They’re saying, ‘We need you to take [self-driving cars] into consideration.’ It really is a paradigm shift.”

In the city of Somerville, Massachusetts, a developer and Audi are collaborating on another project that’s anticipating the impact of self-driving technology on parking. Audi, which is planning to test its own self-parking technology in the garage to gauge how robo cars operate in a controlled environment, estimates that a 26 percent reduction in needed space could be realized with autonomous cars sharing the garage with human-driven vehicles. But if a garage were reserved exclusively for self-parking cars, the result would be a 62 percent reduction in needed space.

The reason developers are driving the move towards self-parking garages comes down to creating more space for residences and business instead of idle cars, especially in urban and high-demand areas. Amy Korte of the Boston-based architectural firm Arrowstreet told Boston.com that self-driving cars could cut 4 inches off either side of a space designed for humans, adding up to 21 square feet in total for each spot. “We can transform those floors into residential, hotel, office and retail uses,” she said.

Arrowstreet estimates that the advent of car- and ride-sharing services along with fully autonomous driverless vehicles could reduce parking demand in the U.S. by 61 billion square feet by 2035. That’s a lot of room for apartments and shops. But Korte also noted that if parking isn’t needed in dense downtown areas, it could lead to more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly streets. “There are a number of uses that will make our cities better,” Korte said.

For now I would just welcome not having to circle the block looking for a parking space or waiting for dawdling drivers to find one when I’m stuck behind them. And not paying parking tickets.


Read more: Coming Soon: Cockpit Cameras, So Your Car Can Keep an Eye on YOU

Originally published at www.pcmag.com.