Where We’re Going…We Don’t Need Parking Lots

John Tomblin
Sofvue.com, OfficeAtlas.com, AirwestDrones.com


Remember the famous line from the 1980’s blockbuster film “Back to the Future” when Dr. Emmett Brown, the mad scientist says “Roads?  Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Now fast forward to 2019.  An amazing transformation is taking shape across the nation.  Major urban areas are consumed with parking lots and garage facilities everywhere. Protest groups are forming in various locations around the country touting “Zero Free Parking” zones, and debates are starting in major cities about parking lots and garages, and how massive parking facilities prevent land from being used more efficiently.  There was even a “No Cars Day” held in Paris on Sunday, October 7th of 2018.  These are signs that a shift has begun, and there are three trends to watch over the coming decade that will change the real estate landscape.

Trend 1.  Companies like Lyft and Uber are making a significant impact on transportation.  The days of “Never ride with strangers” has become “Call an Uber”.  Families that might otherwise need two cars are looking to ride-sharing programs that make it much easier and much more cost effective to avoid having a second car in the driveway.  Some parents, in lieu of a new car on their child’s 16th birthday, are giving their kids Uber Passes (with unlimited rides) and telling them they don’t even need a car.  Look for this trend to continue through the coming decade.

Trend 2.  Right out of the 60’s cartoon “The Jetsons,” autonomous vehicles are no longer science fiction.  Companies like Ehang, a Chinese company who have developed the EHANG184 autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) have already built flying prototypes, prototypes that have already successfully flown passengers to various waypoints.  Uber has jumped into the fray and announced, “Uber Air”, a concept vehicle (AAV) that will deliver aerial rideshare services by 2024.  Even Airbus and Audi have joined the race and announced they would have their electric passenger drone ready for the market in 2023.  Expect to see more companies enter this space, which is expected to grow exponentially in the coming decade.  Given the growth and capital being thrown at these ventures, it’s impossible that AAV’s will not become commonplace, and consequently, you’ll begin to see a shift in mindset regarding the need for parking, or at a minimum, a sharp change in the ratio between units and parking spaces.

Trend 3.  Autonomous Vehicle companies like Waymo, and it’s Waymo One vehicle, is now officially a commercial self-driving car service (owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, Inc.).  What people might not know is that Waymo’s driverless vehicle isn’t a new concept.  It began development in 2009.  That’s a decade ago when the top box office movie was Avatar, and you can’t drive anywhere in Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert or Chandler and not see a Waymo vehicle inside a minute or two.   Other major players already in this space include General Motors, Honda, Uber, Volkswagen, and BMW, to name a few.  As this trend in autonomous vehicles expands, and more people begin to embrace lifestyles that include not owning a vehicle, the demand for parking lots and garages can only move in one direction – downward.

Architectural design firms and developers have already taken notice.  More and more, there are renderings of future developments, particularly high rise residential developments, where parking garages and lots are replaced with lush landscapes, gardens and yes, even drone-ports.  Will regional malls still be built?  Absolutely, but expect to see parking lots with fewer spaces.  Will office, medical and retail developments continue?  Of course, and just like retail and mixed-use developments, expect fewer available parking spaces.

By 2030, as autonomous vehicles take to the air, expect to see a rising number of announcements of high rise housing and mixed-use developments designed and built with both a limited number of parking spaces and drone-ports, while in other developments, zero parking spaces for “traditional” vehicles.