Ken’s View: Don’t Give Up Your Parking Space Yet

By Kenneth W. Betz, Senior Editor

Ideally, mixed-use venues are about a density that makes them walkable and cars a thing of the past. But architects and planners know better than to write off parking just yet.

Not that it couldn’t change, mind you. In fact, some people are quite sure that it will. RethinkX, an independent research group with offices in London and San Francisco, says that “within 10 years of the regulatory approval of driverless vehicles, 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand Autonomous Electric Vehicles (A-EVs) owned by companies providing Transport as a Service (TaaS).

I can hardly wait. People will be trading their cars in for acronyms. And this Transport as a Service Thing. Didn’t we used to call that a bus? Don’t get me wrong. The idea of a driverless Uber appearing on demand has a certain appeal, but who’s going to clean up the food wrappers on the floor and scrub the graffiti off of the dash? But I’ll admit it can be argued that a couple of tons of steel, rubber, and plastic just taking up space in a parking lot or driveway most of the day and night seems a tad wasteful.

Somehow this on-demand thing will result in fewer cars on the road, dropping from 247 million in 2020 to 44 million in 2030, according to the report. I assume this means individual auto usage will be maximized because the car doesn’t park, it just goes off in search of another passenger. I guess that makes sense. But if you’re talking about ride sharing, then it’s just another bus.

In addition, using TaaS will be four to 10 times cheaper per mile than buying a new car, and two to four times cheaper than operating an existing paid-off vehicle, by 2021, the report continues.

That’s great news, especially as long as you’re not at all involved in the auto industry. If you own stock, you might want to consider selling it now; as demand for new vehicles plummets, 70% fewer passenger cars and trucks will be manufactured each year, the report predicts.

Likewise, if you own a parking garage, I suppose selling it before the market for car storage facilities dries up wouldn’t be a bad idea.

By the way, it’s not that people haven’t already thought about the future of parking garages. Several architects I’ve spoken with over the past year have advanced the idea that a parking garage might not always be a parking garage and should be flexibly designed with that in mind. That’s because not just any parking garage is going to easily convert to other uses. Floors will have to be flat, not sloped, and the depth of the average garage may well work against residential adaptive reuse. Still, adaptive reuse is not out of the question.

The problem is that none of this has happened yet. Apple’s new campus, Apple Park in Cupertino, CA, is said to have 11,000 parking spaces. Except for encouraging, even making it necessary, for employees to drive to work, the place is claimed to be an ecological wonder. The naturally ventilated building is said to require no heating or air conditioning for nine months of the year. In addition, Apple is planting 6,000 trees. Apple trees, maybe?

Couple of questions here. Mightn’t Apple have located its new digs somewhere closer to public transportation? OK, maybe that wasn’t an option. But, if the TaaS scenario I just described comes to pass, what is Apple going to do with all those parking spaces? Will Apple own a fleet of A-EVs just for employee use or will local residents have to vie with Apple workers for a ride to work in the morning? And, either way, won’t that still pose an area traffic problem? To be fair, the company boasts an extensive shuttle network, provisions for cyclists, and all that.

No question, this is disruptive stuff, but I suppose this will all work itself out. Eventually. But wait, remember flying cars? Now I hear that drones will change building design and appearance and how they are used. At least that’s what Mark Dytham, co-founder of Tokyo-based studio Klein Dytham Architecture thinks will happen, according to an online architecture magazine. He predicted that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would replace road-based trucks for deliveries, meaning the buildings would have to provide a place for them to land—and it won’t be loading docks in a back alley. Maybe they could alight in that 11,000-car parking lot.

There’s more. Dytham also predicts the rise of people-carrying drones. Perhaps I spoke too soon when I implied that the flying car scheme wasn’t likely to happen.

For now, I’m hanging on to the parking space for my ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle just in case. — Kenneth W. Betz, Senior Editor

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