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How self-driving cars will help solve America’s parking problem

cars in shopping mall parking lot
Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

America is overparked. In Los Angeles, for example, there are 9 parking spaces for every car. Nationally, 250 million adults have access to more than 700 million parking spaces. That adds up: The U.S. dedicates an area the size of Connecticut to parking.

The big picture: As an alternative to personal car ownership, self-driving cars will allow cities to be rebuilt around people. Ride-sharing fleets in particular could transform the use of valuable urban real estate, turning the asphalt jungle back into spaces communities can use for anything from dedicated bike and scooter lanes to on-street parklets or even housing.

Today, the average vehicle is in use only 4% of the time. By contrast, studies suggest that self-driving fleets will be in use more than 75% of the time. A more efficient fleet means less time parked — and more space to repurpose. In San Francisco alone, over 50 parklets have sprung up across the city since Rebar Group converted the first parking space back in 2005.

When self-driving cars do need to park (at low-demand hours, for instance), they can do so more precisely than a human. While parking lots currently budget around 325 square feet per car, Audi estimates that self-driving cars will shave as much as 30% off that number, saving roughly 2,000 square miles of parking.

They will also save riders time: In Westwood Village, a shopping strip in Los Angeles, consumers spend approximately 95,000 hours each year circling for parking — that’s 11 years of wasted time, in just one small stretch of roadway.

What to watch: As shared and autonomous vehicles continue to change our transportation choices, we should expect to see the footprint of our cities change with them.

Jody Kelman is director of the Self-Driving Platform team at Lyft.

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