Are city local governments and private developers that are building parking structures today with life expectancies of 50 years in the same boat as people who built horse stables in 1900? A number of companies have been at work in the U.S. refining a concept that has been working in Europe and Asia: the automated robotic parking garage.
I visited Boomerang’s model facility in New Jersey recently and I was impressed with how smoothly and efficiently it works. No up and down spirals, no slanted floors, and a building that can be used in any number of ways and can store any number of things besides cars.
California just became the second state to pass legislation permitting driverless cars. Several other states are considering such legislation, and Google, Toyota, and Cadillac are well into testing these vehicles. Add to these advances the acceptance of car- and bike-sharing programs, and in 20 or 30 years it may not be necessary to own a car, secure a driver’s license, or worry about tickets at all.
People living in urban areas will only need a smartphone (maybe worn on a wrist?) to summon a “personal transportation unit” that will pick them up, deliver them to their destination, and then proceed to either the next customer or a charging station. These vehicles may well use Segway technology, and will be relatively small, light, and electrically powered. Some people may still own more conventional vehicles, but even these will probably have driverless technology, obviating the need for traffic signals and reducing auto accidents to a very low level, thus reducing traffic congestion.
Automated parking structures can be built to be readily convertible to office or residential use once development patterns change, so there will be no need to tear down expensive conventional parking garages that are still structurally sound.
None of us knows for sure how fast these changes will occur, and how readily people will adapt to them, but think of the speed of innovation in other industries, and think of the energy savings and cost savings that could occur if we move in this direction. If I were a parking director for a city, hospital, university, or private development, I would think long and hard about this technology.