Autonomous Vehicles on the Horizon



One of the most interesting conversations which has begun in forward-thinking cities is how to plan for driverless cars, otherwise known as autonomous vehicles, or AVs.

Today, 90 percent of American Households own one or more cars, most of which are parked 90 percent of the time.

Experts have estimated there are now 1 billion parking spaces in America, which equates to four parking spaces per vehicle. Parking spaces consume a tremendous amount of valuable land.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has predicted that the era of private car ownership will peak within the next decade as networks of shared, electric and driverless vehicles become available and cheaper.

Within a generation it is very likely that instead of buying a car you will buy rides.

Uber and Lyft could be considered a forerunner to AVs and are serving as a training ground for “buying a ride not a car.” I use Uber and Lyft frequently and have had a very good experience with them, but of course they still have humans driving.

It will be surreal to get in a car without a driver and trusting it, but it is beginning to look like it will likely happen in our cities. In fact, the technology support companies that will provide the high-tech communications equipment that will be installed to allow AVs to function have been visiting America’s city halls over the past year, including ours.

When AVs become the norm, driverless cars will not be making any money if they are parked. And private individuals will likely need to own far fewer cars.

The implications for cities are on the horizon. Should we begin to reduce our parking requirements? Will vacant home garages be allowed to be converted to rental units? Should empty parking lots be used for affordable housing, urban parks, community gardens, office space? Where will the AVs recharge and be maintained?

Maybe not this Christmas, but at some point relatively soon, don’t be surprised if you find yourself buying a loved one a years’ worth of driverless car rides. I can already imagine the commercials.

Tom Barwin is Sarasota City Manager.

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