The Future of Parking


The Future of Parking

Editor’s note: At the 2013 IPI Conference & Expo, Mary Smith, Senior Vice President of Walker Parking Consultants, presented a keynote titled “Game Changers,” which reportedly was “sobering” and “thought provoking.” Parking Today caught up with Smith after her talk, and the following interview was the result. “Parking has changed more in the last 10 years than in my first 28 in the industry,” Smith said. “In addition to technology changes, transformational, demographic and cultural changes are happening, and revolutionary changes to parking are visible on the horizon.”

PT: What are the transformational changes that have occurred already?
Smith: In my IPI talk, I discussed a lot of demographics and “futurist” visions of land use and development, many of which are already happening.
Some 88% of people under age 30, who are known as the Millennials, or Generation Y, want to live in urban areas, not suburban. They aren’t into the car culture of the past; the percentage of kids under 20 who have drivers’ licenses has dropped significantly. As one wag said, Millennials want smartphones not cars.
Five years ago, I was among those who said Americans love their (big) cars and will never give them up. Not anymore. I have three pretty successful kids, raised in Indiana. When the oldest went off to college, I never would have predicted that today, not one of them drives to work.
There are also serious concerns about the other end of the demographic spectrum, the baby boomers. The vast majority live in suburbs or rural areas with little or no transit. They are going to want to “age in place,” staying in their homes. One recent study recommended significant increases in subsidies to transit, as well as sidewalks and other improvements to help seniors who can no longer drive get to transit. That seems pretty wasteful of scarce resources to me; when my 90-year-old dad finally had to stop driving, he couldn’t have walked 100 feet, much less several blocks to transit!
Household sizes also have gone down significantly in the last 20 years and changed composition from the traditional nuclear family. Although the Census Bureau projects relatively slow population growth – less than 1% annually through 2050 – we will still need to build 38 million new homes over that time frame. The vast majority will be urban, not suburban.
PT: So what does more urban living mean to parking?
Smith: Parking spaces needed per unit for residential will go down, and development will be increasingly mixed-use and transit-oriented. That means more shared parking, which often results in a 20% or more reduction in parking spaces.
PT: OK, fewer spaces and smarter parking in the future – I don’t hear anything radical, though, so far. When I talked with you at the Women In Parking reception at IPI, we talked about the really revolutionary thing: self-driving cars, also known as autonomous cars. Can you explain when they are coming and how they will change parking?
Smith: Well, I don’t believe that self-driving cars will “destroy parking,” as you said in your PT Blog, but they will change it significantly. All the manufacturers are working on various aspects of “telematics,” which will combine in self-driving cars.
Ford, for example, expects to sell cars in 2017 that will be able to drive themselves in “platoons” down freeways, adjusting their speed immediately when vehicles move in and out of the lane, faster than humans can react. Therefore, the traffic jams that occur when the first vehicle just taps the brakes, but every subsequent vehicle hits the brakes progressively harder until 20 cars back traffic slows to a crawl or stops, will be avoided.
Google is the leader in fully-self-driving vehicles, which they have now driven 300,000 miles on public streets with zero accidents. They are expected to be available to the public by 2020 and probably reach “mainstream” by about 2025. By mainstream, I mean be attractive to many purchasers, rather than [just] “early adopters” of the technology.
That would reduce some parking demand, because your personal car could take you to work and then go park on the fringe somewhere or even go back home.
PT: Again, that seems to be a good thing, from sustainability perspectives, but not really “revolutionary.” You said that every article about self-driving cars almost uniformly mentions a huge and beneficial reduction in parking needed in the U.S.
Smith: The real revolution will be “subscription” driverless cars, marrying the ZipCar model or taxi model to autonomous vehicles. According to several recent reports, the cost to use a self-driving or autonomous car will be less than half of the cost to own and operate a private car, per mile driven.
One study, by the Earth Institute at Columbia, found that Ann Arbor, MI, could support 18,000 subscription driverless cars; it also estimated that each driverless car replaces 15 private cars. Given that there are multiple parking spaces for every registered car in a community, I am being very conservative in saying that if they really get to 18,000 subscription cars, it would eliminate the need for at least 120,000 parking spaces.
Will subscription car services really penetrate the market that far? Probably not, but it certainly is an even more radical reduction in parking than occurs with shared parking, mixed-uses, and transit-oriented development.
All those Millennials (and, admittedly, the rest of us) could drive and text safely! They already don’t really want to own cars if they don’t absolutely have to. Those who say they can’t use transit to commute to work for a variety of reasons will be drawn to it – the ability to read or work while commuting, like rail commuting, but door-to-door and on-demand.
And it deals with the aging-in-place problem, too. My dad could have stopped driving at 85, when he probably should have, and been driven to his doctor appointments and shopping, and stayed at home, with a little more daily help, rather than being forced into assisted living. …
And it will affect all land uses. Universities are ideal for this concept; subscription driverless cars may be even more cost-effective than campus buses. Airports will probably need more terminal curb for pick-up / drop-off and a lot less economy parking.
It won’t happen overnight, at least partly because the average car on the road today is 10 years old. But over time, there will be a decline in parking needed at “destinations” such as workplaces and shopping (both existing and new), which will be even greater than the decline at residential uses.
On-street, surface lots and parking structures will be taken out of service and repurposed to
higher and better uses. Maybe most on-street parking will need to be changed to 15-minute
pick up-drop zones for autonomous vehicles.
As always happens with urban development over time, the lowest quality stuff, frankly, is taken out of service and replaced by better quality development, with some parking, albeit less than today.
PT: What is your biggest concern?
Smith: “Right-sizing” what we do in the next decade for an unknown future that will likely start to be really felt by about 2030.
What about parking structures that are built to last at least 50 years? Financing projections for new structures built in 2015 or 2020 with a term of 20 years or more, by bonds or other sources? Public-private partnerships (P3s) that are also 30-year or more contracts? What about residential parking that is secured solely for resident use but will not be needed?
What we don’t know is how much demand will be impacted, and how quickly the transition will occur. We are having enough trouble projecting demand in transit-oriented development today, as there is not adequate sharing of data based on actual experience after they open.
PT: So why don’t you see that as the virtual destruction of the parking industry as we know it?
Smith: I see opportunity. Most of the new parking that is built will be urban and paid, rather than suburban and free. Our industry is driven by the urban/paid stuff, not suburban/free parking!
More parking will be automated mechanical, partly because proportionately more new parking will be residential and ideally suited to automated parking. More parking will be underground, with more “podium” development as we see elsewhere in the world. I am working on a project in Doha, Qatar, that will have 10,000 spaces under 26 downtown blocks of redevelopment, with one operator for all of it and more than 200 parking gates!
Parking in 2030 will be more complicated to design and operate, with shared parking, “nesting” and many other considerations to manage who parks where. Again, there will be lots of opportunity for parking professionals, because nobody can do all those things better!

Mary Smith is a Vice President at Walker Parking Consultants. She can be reached at

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