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The Autonomous Vehicle Killed My Parking Garage

The advent of the autonomous vehicle is upon us, and it will have a profound effect on our lives, will displace jobs, and will kill the need for so much parking.

The initial assumption that autonomous vehicles would be individually owned and would require the same amount of parking space is being rethought as consumer comfort with the new “sharing economy” has increased swiftly over the past few years thanks to Uber, AirBnB, and others. A new paradigm where autonomous cars will most likely be shared and in operation constantly is in our future, with much greater flexibility of ownership (or non-ownership) and much less need for parking.

As parking becomes less necessary, as most of us transition from ownership to sharing, it will have a significant impact on the parking industry and on the built environment. A mad dash to retrofit existing garage space will ensue, and those that get creative will have the greatest opportunity to make lemonade from lemons.

In some cases, where parking structures were constructed with flat floors, the fix could be easy and profitable for all above ground space. With the demo of existing access ramps, installation of exterior windows and building cladding, and an extension of the buildings core, it can be converted into residential or commercial space that will command a higher price tag. For garage space that includes slanted floors or is below ground, the options are far more limited, and require far more out-of-the-box thinking.

One option may be to transform well-positioned parking garages into autonomous fleet charging and maintenance stations. Even autonomous cars will need to be recharged and serviced. Routine fleet cleaning, recharging, and mechanical servicing will need to be conducted on a daily or twice per day basis. Most electric vehicles have a range of less than 250 miles at present and take at least 30 minutes, or up to a few hours, to fully charge. By ensuring access to rapid chargers, and integrated office and service space, it may be possible to retrofit a traditional parking garage into a modern autonomous vehicle fleet home base. Additionally, electric charging stations don’t require access to open air like traditional gas stations do. Why not reserve part of the space for those that do choose to own their own vehicle to recharge in your underground service station?

Another option, developed by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), are called SCADPads, 135 square-foot individual living units that are made to fit into a single parking space. Micro apartments, like SCADPads, appeal to many as an affordable housing option, especially in large cities with a high cost of living. SCADPads were originally developed for integration into flat-floored parking structures, but with a little imagination, I can imagine installing them in a slanted floor structure with a stepped pattern (units stepping up or stepping down based on the slant).

With the slow but steady transformation of the power grid, and big advances in solar, wind, and geothermal, coupled with announcements from Tesla and others regarding their aspirations for deploying residential and commercial battery technology, it’s evident that designing and building large scale off-the-grid structures in an urban environment may become a possibility sooner than we think. Aside from new builds, it may become commonplace to retrofit existing buildings with batteries that store energy generated from solar or wind to be used during times of low energy output. Parking garages, even underground, serve as a perfect platform for the storage of batteries and associated tech.

Retrofitting to provide local distribution center space for high volume online retailers like Amazon is another potential option. Combined distribution, fulfillment, returns, and liquidation centers are now becoming the norm and locating centers close to consumer hubs is paramount for these e-commerce giants. Parking garages located in urban hubs are prime for repurposing and the slanted floors can play into gravity-fed automated fulfillment center design.

As manufacturing transitions closer to the customer, things like 3D printing and automated assembly will foster a new breed of real time hyper-local manufacturing and distribution. Why manufacture afar and deal with shipping, importing, time delays, and quality concerns when manufacturing can be done in real time and in the same vicinity as your customer? Parking structures will make the ultimate hyper local manufacturing facilities, with customers as close as the floors above!

As with any transition, there is no right or wrong option, just choices, some more creative than others. Some will be easy, some more challenging, and some will require creative solutions. The dawn of the shared autonomous vehicle is upon us, what will you do with your surplus parking?

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