How self-driving cars can transform Los Angeles, starting with its parking – Los Angeles Times

Posted: Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Even with the backing of companies such as Google, Tesla and Cruise, the idea of driverless cars toting us around in the near future seemed like sci-fi wishful thinking to many observers. That was until recently, when Toyota advanced from testing automated vehicles to announcing its plans to sell them by 2020. Driverless cars are no longer a matter of if but when — and, perhaps more importantly, with what consequences?

While researchers consider the ethical questions surrounding automated vehicles (e.g., should car computers prioritize their drivers’ safety, or others’?) and work out the remaining technical hurdles, it’s well past time to start considering what driverless cars might mean to residents of the city where the car is king.

One of the promised benefits of driverless cars (though not necessarily the models we may see on dealer lots in 2020) is the reduction of transportation infrastructure. In Los Angeles, perhaps the most profound change automation has the potential to bring is a decreased need for parking spaces. There are an estimated 18.6 million parking spaces in incorporated L.A. County, 14% of all the land. An estimated 95% of the time our cars do nothing but sit and occupy space. Road congestion isn’t simply a product of the commuters in front of you, but the loss of potential traffic lanes to curbside parking.

Off-street parking has its own costs. “The more downtown is broken up and interspersed with parking lots and garages, the duller and deader it becomes,” the urbanist Jane Jacobs once wrote. According to a 2005 study, the amount of space devoted to parking in downtown L.A. was a staggering 81% (albeit some of it verticalized in parking structures), compared to 25% and 31% in Phoenix’s and San Francisco’s respective central business districts.

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