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Self-Driving Cars Will Make Urban Planners, Real Estate Developers Rethink Everything

The modern American city is already beset by a wide range of shortcomings when it comes to transportation infrastructure. Designed largely around providing smooth, steady passage to droves of human-driven automobiles, in many cases, lanes and parking spaces have failed to keep pace with an ever-growing supply of traffic, leading to frequent gridlock and a deficit of free parking accommodation.

Self-driving cars and alternatives to America’s tradition of personal car ownership – such as ride-sharing and ride-hailing services – could provide a solution, but city planners, legislators, and real estate developers will have to rethink just about everything. A recent article from website Curbed discusses some of the myriad changes that will need to be effected in order to make our transition to an autonomous-vehicle (AV) future a smooth one, and the list is long.

At present, streets usually take up about 25 to 35 percent of a city’s total surface area, with little room to grow. But just because ride-share and ride-hailing could mean a reduction in the total number of cars per capita in a city, that doesn’t necessarily translate to fewer cars on the road; it’s reasonable to suspect that many autonomous fleet vehicles would be in near-constant operation throughout a given day. Meanwhile, Curbed says that there will likely need to be a rethinking in road design to put less emphasis on parking in a static location, and more on expedient pickup/dropoff zones.

That’s an entirely different type of traffic flow that roads haven’t generally been designed for.

At the same time, while parking will remain important for older, human-driven cars and to provide “staging areas” for self-driving fleet vehicles not currently in-use, a reduced need to provide parking space could help real estate developers. Not needing to provide so much parking to – for example – tenants at new residential developments would free up additional valuable space.

And then, there are concerns over the possibility that easy access to cheap transportation could cut into city revenues. With fewer consumers paying for parking or receiving fines for speeding or running out their meters, cities will lose much of those vital revenue streams, while automakers and tech companies will reap the benefit of cities’ extensive investments. Usage fees or congestion pricing might need to be implemented to offset that loss.

There’s plenty more to consider, of course, as automakers and tech companies work toward ushering in the era of self-driving car fleets and disrupting the model that’s been the norm in the United States for a century. For a more in-depth look, visit

Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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