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Will driverless cars kill the parking structure?

Photo: courtesy HOK
Photo: courtesy HOK
August 05, 2014

With Google’s driverless car in the news again (see link to the Washington Post), it’s timely to start thinking about how fully autonomous vehicles might affect the built environment. The changes this technology could bring to historic patterns of urban development could be, well, historic.

A 2013 report from Deloitte highlighted how driverless cars could dramatically alter car ownership in the future, pushing the pendulum from ownership to rentals and ride sharing. There’s little need for parking, certainly of the expensive structured kind, in this scenario. And structured parking, with its sturdy and specific design requirements, may not be as easily adapted into profitable uses if the programmatic function of parking is disrupted.

Driverless cars could also lead to increased density in some critical-mass areas, like popular neighborhoods in Washington, DC (particularly with any future changes in zoning and height restrictions), but could also contribute to decentralization in others.

Traditional urban land economics could be disrupted as the decreased need for parking increases the supply of buildable land in central cities. For cities like Houston, which devote a large percentage of land to parking, this could have an interesting effect on real estate valuation.

Innovation as coupled with Moore’s Law isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The time is now to start thinking about how technology will impact urbanism +10 years down the road.

About the Author
Stephen Conschafter is a senior consultant based in HOK's Washington, D.C., office. With a passion for urbanism and the built environment, Stephen specializes in workplace strategy, urban planning and design, including trends and benchmarking, space utilization, master planning and site design. More about Conschafter.

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