Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Changing Mobility Structure and The Death of Parking


It was probably pretty common to argue about politics over Thanksgiving weekend with your families.  I got into a discussion about parking. And yes I told them this might be on the blog.  My parents live close to a town in California called Walnut Creek.  It's a compact walk-able center for shopping in the San Francisco Bay Area and very walk-able when you get out of the car. 

But you have to get there first.  The BART station was built too far away from downtown for it to be ultimately useful as a shaper of parking policy and the Macy's parking lot is soon going to be charging for the privilege of storing a vehicle while you shop.  I have no doubt that free parking will continue to exist, however this argument might not have even been taking place in 20-30 years.

The Death of a Parking Space

Currently there is a call to hold horses on parking development due to the coming revolution of autonomous vehicles.  Quotes from articles on news sites go like this...
“The flow of any retail follows the function of parking,” explained Weilminster at the Nov. 9 event at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead. Self-driving cars are also expected to reduce the need for parking decks, which cost between $25,000 and $40,000 per parking space to build.
This from an article in the Atlanta Business Journal about how technology is going to change real estate development. But that is a future prediction. But what about now? In Houston, it's already real...slightly.
City officials are somewhat reluctant to attribute the loss to any one cause, but data show parking meters along Washington and nearby began pulling in less money per month right around the time paid-ride companies such as Uber and Lyft entered Houston in February 2014....
Meanwhile, sales tax collections in the district appear unaffected by the parking rules, based on city data.
According to the Houston Chronicle, parking lots that would usually support revelers are used less based on the data. Of course we don't know if its directly because of ride hailing services, but it would be a good hypothesis.

I also had former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz on the podcast recently and he lamented the focus on parking and told members of the audience who were revitalizing storefronts to just wait to build new parking.  Below is the shorter snippet on his relevant comments.

"I would not be investing in parking at all, for at least five years.  Let's just see how it plays out"

Others are noticing what Dave and planners are starting to say out loud.
"They’re saying, 'Don’t build parking lots, don’t build garages, you aren’t going to need them,'" said Councilman Skip Moore, citing city planners at national conferences across the country....
...significant pressures are aligning which should give pause to investors in automobile parking garages. Garages are typically financed on a 30-year payback, either by cities or private investors. But they could find themselves holding the un-payable back-end of a 30-year note, when folks stop driving within the next 15 years...
Even technology VCs are getting in on the action. Marc Andreesson said this to The Verge
There are mayors that would, for example, like to just declare their city core to [ban] human-driven cars. They want a grid of autonomous cars, golf carts, buses, trams, whatever, and it’s just a service, all electric, all autonomous.  Think about what they could do if they had that. They could take out all of the street parking. They could take out all of the parking lots. They could turn the entire downtown area into a park with these very lightweight electric vehicles.
He also talks about flying cars for high end users which makes me think that autonomous vehicles will be on the surface with the plebes and flying cars will be for the "landed gentry" as it were.  I'm starting to see the Jetsons come to life in my head right now.  Or maybe the Star Wars planet of Coruscant where the lower to the ground you live, the lower your social status. 

A Future of Autonomous Vehicles

I would very much like to ban driving from dense urban cores.  With adequate subway, bus, and delivery systems, there would be no need for small vehicles that only carry one or two people to be so hulking and wasteful.  And perhaps it will end up like Ghent, in Belgium.
“It was a rather radical plan to ban all cars from an area of about 35 hectares,” recalls Beke. “With every decision you take, there can be some opposition – but I never expected a bullet, of course.”
There were protests outside Ghent’s city hall: businesses were afraid they’d lose their customers, elderly residents were concerned about being cut off from their children. But Beke stood his ground, and although a few businesses that relied on car access had to move, today the city centre is thriving.
Or maybe we'll have a new paradigm with moving sidewalks or those tubes from the Futurama cartoon. Though that seems like a lot to maintain and we know how often elevators break down at subway stops.  But imagine if arterials were just moving walkways?

Imagine how many people could move without a metal frame surrounding them?  What could be done with all that parking we free up?  There is more than enough space in cities today to make room for everyone.  It doesn't even have to look like the densest places of our wildest dreams or nightmares. It could be cozy.  And supported by a good transportation system.

Three Ways of Autonomy

Another article that I read recently discussed the three ways of future autonomous cities.  In a report put together by McKinsey and Bloomberg, a typology of places was put forth to describe how cities will adopt autonomy.
Cities like Delhi, Mexico City, and Mumbai ("clean and shared" category) will focus on the EV part of the equation in an attempt to reduce pollution...

...Meanwhile, a second type of city characterized by sprawl (think L.A. or San Antonio) will still privilege personal, private car ownership, even if "autonomy and electrification allow passengers to use time in traffic for business or pleasure."...  

...But a third type—densely populated, high-income places like Chicago, Hong Kong, London, and Singapore—will move away from private car ownership toward shared AV mobility, the report says. People may travel more overall, because picking up an Uber AV will be relatively cheap and easy...
I think typologies are a great way to break down ideas but this is a bit too simplistic given what we discussed earlier about pedestrian central cities and the reduced parking possibilities.  I think we'll see a mixture of these things based on urban form and pedestrian policy.  And it's possible there will be pockets of pedestrian oasis free from big vehicles all together that aren't a part of central cities.  That is if we get policy right. 

I know that car companies don't see this human centered future. Yonah Freemark documented this idea of heaven and hell. They see the money that can be made selling a car, or a car service, or anything that will make for exchanging currency.  But who knows what the future brings.  I'm just watching for the trends.  We might want to start thinking of what we want the future to look like though before it looks at us.    

Back to Thanksgiving

So back to Thanksgiving and Walnut Creek.  This discussion about a need for parking wouldn't happen in 20 years. We won't have to worry about cars crashing over sidewalks and won't have to pay for parking.  And the goods we buy can be delivered to our door  Just another sunny day in California.  

That is....if we get the policy right.

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