City planners are now thinking about how emerging technologies will integrate into so-called smart cities, and driverless cars are set to become a crucial component of that infrastructure. You’ve probably heard a lot about how self-driving cars will change your experience on the road, but the changes to come go much deeper than that. Autonomous vehicles will fundamentally alter our cityscape and architecture to conform to the new patterns of transportation that will come about.
The fact that Uber is investing big in self-driving cars indicates the industry desire to transform the personal automobile culture into a shared, service-oriented model. No longer will people own their own cars and drive them around. Rather, they’ll call up a robo-taxi for a ride and get picked up within minutes.
Urban planners know that cars today sit parked 95% of the time, but that will change when the cars drive themselves. Even if someone owns their own self-driving car, they can put it to profitable use by loaning it out when it would otherwise sit unused. Fewer cars hanging around parked most of the time means fewer cars in general and a much lesser need for parking space.
Existing parking lots and garages will be relocated outside city centers, and space they formerly occupied will be repurposed for things like parks, shopping centers and high-density residential and business buildings. Space currently used along streets for parallel parking can be turned into more lanes for self-driving cars or bicycles, or changed into walkable green spaces.
Fleets of shared self-driving cars will be in high demand, and if optimized appropriately, will have little need to park. They’ll simply go to their next job or hover a short distance outside the city center.
You will no longer need a garage near or attached to your home. More people will turn their garages into an extra bedroom, living room or a rental unit. Driveways will become more yard space or covered paths to the street for pickup and dropoff. In general, the new residential architecture will return to the garageless styles of the pre-automobile era.
With the ability to work or sleep while moving down the road, commute distances will increase, which opens up new relocation possibilities. Small, quiet bedroom communities 100 miles or more outside cities might become the new exurbs.
Automobile safety has long been a major concern. “Millions of Americans are injured or killed annually in car accidents,” says Newsome Melton Law Firm. Proponents of driverless cars say the rate of accidents will drop when computers rather than people dominate the road, but the roads themselves could also change to help reduce injuries and fatalities. When the vast majority of vehicles on the road are self-driven, streets might be transformed into dedicated, walled-off corridors for safety, with intersecting pedestrian bridges and tunnels.
City planners typically design with 30-year projections in mind, which puts them squarely in the timeframe of a fully driverless society. If planners aren’t thinking about the driverless city now, the results will be less than ideal because ready or not, the self-driving cars are coming.