By Mike Spack, PE, PTOE
Autonomous vehicles are coming – it’s a matter of when, not if. I believe they’ll be ubiquitous within twenty years and humans driving will be legal on public streets in 30 to 40 years. You can scan 8 Technological Changes that Will Revolutionize the Future of Transportation for a general primer of what’s on the horizon. This post focuses on how autonomous vehicles will change development (and savvy developers will push the envelope with some of these items).
Here are the Top 16 Ways I think Autonomous Vehicles will change Land Development:
- Roads, driveways, parking stalls, and drive aisles can be narrower as autonomous vehicles will handle tighter spaces better than human drivers. It is also likely that vehicles themselves will get smaller (Smart Car and Mini Cooper size).
- Roundabouts and traffic circles will be more effective than signals and all-way stops as they are easier for autonomous vehicles to navigate. This is good news as there’s a lot of wasted time at signals and all way stop signs (I get frustrated every time I pull up to a red left turn arrow later at night and have to wait thirty seconds for the cycle to change).
- Buildings can be closer to the road. No need for huge setbacks.
- Excess public right-of-way can be turned back for infill development.
- Right-of-way standards should get narrower. Developers should ask for narrower right-of-way on future projects. A transition could be easement in lieu of permanent right-of-way.
- Lower parking needed on site for new developments. Whether you use a robo taxi (think autonomous Uber) or your personal car drops you off at work and goes back home to park/charge. We won’t need as many parking stalls on site.
- Many parking ramps and lots will have excess capacity that should be repurposed (this is already happening).
- Not as much attention to access spacing. The safety benefits of access spacing are due to counteracting human error.
- Pick-up/drop-off areas will become more important. They will be grander for aesthetics and longer to accommodate onsite queuing.
- More drive-throughs or pick-ups for autonomous vehicles to pick-up packages at retail outlets and make deliveries (more things like BiteSquad).
- Travel Demand Management Plans should be more important than traffic studies.
- Need electric plug-in stations.
- Robo taxis will want places to park between fares. Owners may need to be concerned about these vehicles staging in their parking lot. Less driveways (and with gates?) will improve the property owner’s ability to control access and parking.
- Hertz, Avis, Ford, Uber, etc. may own a large portion of the passenger vehicle fleet. Vehicles will go to home bases on the fringe of the metro to park, charge, get maintenance, get cleaned, etc.
- Oil change, tire store, car washes, gas stations, etc. will disappear if there are large fleet operators that displaces personal vehicle ownership. Even if there is significant personal vehicle ownership, the car will drive itself to a giant (cheaper) hub to get serviced. This would likely happen on the edge of the urban area where land is cheaper and congestion wouldn’t be a concern.
- Will robo-taxis shift transit the way buses killed fixed street cars? Transit Oriented Design around fixed transit may go away. Aside – robo taxis could be much more equitable than fixed line LRT.
How to you see autonomous vehicles changing the face of land development? Post your comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts.