Autonomous vehicles are already re-shaping how we think about driving – but as they rise in popularity, they’re also primed to have a major impact on parking, real estate and future city planning.

The use of owned or leased vehicles is reducing with the popularity of shared-ride service providers, environmental concerns, increased walkability, as well as autonomous vehicle (AV) technology.

The majority of residents who live in downtown Toronto use public transit and shared-ride services on a daily basis rather than keeping a vehicle. In fact, a report from the Ryerson City Building Institute, Future-Proofing Parking, estimated that only 24% of commutes will be done by car in 2021.

Research suggests that this may impact parking garages, condo parking spaces, and large-scale lots next to attractions – even allowing shrinkage and relocation of lots.

Winding Highway

As AVs become the norm instead of the exception, the physical act of parking may influence major change in large cities. With the ability to park anywhere after dropping passengers at a location, AVs can ultimately head further afield to find that coveted spot. In addition, they can park in more effective patterns, park closer together, and even relocate to let each other out when necessary. All of that considered, it could result in a lot of free space which could be put to more productive use.

Parking is quickly becoming ripe for change, with large pieces of urban space being freed up for more effective use. Now, the hunt is on for insight into alternative uses for these valuable spaces which are opening up as a result of this shift in transportation behaviour.

According to a recent article in the National Post, this all translates into a decline in the demand for parking spaces in the urban cores – essentially permitting further densification of economic activity, which can result in higher rents. At the same time, the article suggests that AVs will lower overall transportation costs and will cause a city sprawl and rent decline outside the city centre.

This re-shaping of real estate markets doesn’t stop there. The article went on to state that AVs are even likely to introduce a new type of land-use or real-estate class: the dedicated parking belt, where prices would be significantly lower than in the core itself and the distance more convenient than returning home.

Dark Parking Garage

The rise of AV use and subsequent freeing of flexible space, could also create mixed-use housing opportunities to meet changing demand. With growing populations and increasingly limited housing opportunities, solutions are being sought for much-needed residential spaces. In fact, HuffPost published an article last year stating that Canadian developers, such as RioCan REIT, are turning prime land that has historically not been put to best use – such as parking lots or low-rise retail – into housing.

Additional uses are also being explored for under-utilized or vacant lots, as a result of the current decline in vehicle ownership. Depending on the types of parking garage and appropriate nature of the structure, potential future uses could include self-storage, warehouses, or even hydroponic farming areas.

With this type of transformation and re-purposing comes a needed modernization of existing policies. The rapid decline of needed parking could even translate into a reduction in parking space requirements for builders. Whether that means building parking garages with adaptive re-use in mind, or relaxing minimum spaces required for residential buildings, a planning agenda would be beneficial to respond to the decline in demand for parking moving forward.

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