Study: Autonomous Cars Won’t Solve the Parking Problem

In hyper-dense cities where incentives to reduce car use and eliminate parking are already high, mass adoption of AVs won’t significantly reduce parking demand.

2 minute read

March 26, 2023, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Although supporters of autonomous vehicle technology tout the potential for AVs to revolutionize curb management and eliminate the need for parking lots and garages, a new study, somewhat ironically funded by AV operator Venmo, reveals that this will likely not be the case in cities with already limited parking. Kea Wilson describes the results in Streetsblog.

The study took a different approach than most theoretical models. “Rather than assuming that AVs would be a parking-reduction panacea, though, the researchers modeled a range of scenarios wherein the demand for car storage dropped by as little as 20 or as much as 80 percent — and asked tough questions about whether the specific parcels that drop in demand would free up would actually be redeveloped into an apartment building, based on existing market incentives, lot size, and other factors.” According to Nico Larco, director of the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon, the study indicates that “parking is not what is limiting development” in already dense and pricy neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Larco points out that most of the need for parking in a city like San Francisco comes from outside the city itself: “it’s people coming from the periphery into the center who are the ones parking their cars. If you don’t have massive geographic penetration, the amount of reduction you’re going to see is going to be a lot smaller…and unless you can get your business model to work in the downtown core and in the suburbs, you’re not going to have that scale of deployment you need to put a real dent in parking.” The mass adoption of AVs could have a more significant impact on parking demand in expensive but car-oriented cities like Los Angeles.

Larco questions the value of pouring billions of dollars and resources into AVs in lieu of investing in less glamorous, tried-and-true transportation options: “Would a bike lane, or some other, more mundane mobility [improvement], maybe have made more sense?”

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