Autonomous Vehicles and Ride Sharing Will Reshape Our Buildings, Our Cities, and Our Lives

by Foley & Lardner LLP
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When the first automobile hit roadways in the early 1900s, developers, planners, and city officials had to completely re-think the design and planning of cityscapes, both new and old. The era of narrow streets, communities defined by walking distance or streetcar line, and short-distance commuting gave way to massive boulevards, interstate highways, and the rise of suburbanization. These shifts in urban planning had the sole objective of utilizing the car to move as many people as quickly and safely as possible, without the limitations of public transit. But, because of this, cities themselves suffered, resulting in obsolete buildings being demolished, neighborhoods destroyed for highways, public transit being reduced or removed, and intimate communities ripped apart to shoehorn in 7-lane boulevards. Now, as autonomous cars, busses, and other next-generation technologies entering the mass-market, developers and city officials are again having to re-think how disruptive technologies will shape the way we live, work, and play in our cities.

Unlike urban planners of the past, cities and their planners are trying to integrate new technologies into their existing city-scape, rather than let that technology destroy the existing city and redefine how a city is built. Contrary to the change-and-destroy method of yesteryear, this means “future proofing” projects and city-wide masterplans. By future-proofing existing cities and future developments, planners and city officials hope to build structures that can accommodate and anticipate the changes in the way people commute and live in urban and suburban environments. This means designing buildings that can be retrofitted to convert parking structures to offices or living space, turning roadways to greenspace, or parking lots to parks and commercial spaces that add value to the urban and suburban fabric while still producing a return on investment for the city and developers alike.

As more people look to ride-sharing and car sharing services to meet their commuting and transit needs developers are anticipating a drop-off in personal car ownership and use of a personal car for day-to-day commuting. While current developments require parking space to accommodate commuters, the future might make these spaces obsolete. To avoid this predicted obsolescence, some developers are trying to figure out how they can repurpose these spaces for future use. This could mean the constructing of buildings with internal parking structures that can be converted to office, commercial, or residential space if demand for parking decreases in the future. This also means cities such as Los Angeles are studying how to repurpose their existing surface parking inventory which currently accounts for nearly 14% of the city’s footprint, or about 200 square miles of land, just for parking a car. Other cities are looking to for ways to possibly existing roadways into greenspace and repurpose existing automotive infrastructure for autonomous car staging or increasing pedestrian usage.

In San Francisco, the San Francisco Giants are looking at how they can incorporate the driverless futures into their Mission Rock project. In this 27-acre project, developers are attempting to designing future streets and street-frontage with a focus on prioritizing pedestrian pick-up and drop-off in the world of autonomous vehicles. Similarly, as e-commerce continues to rise in popularity and autonomous delivery trucks on the horizon, many apartment developments are building large storage and cold-storage areas into their footprint and delivery bays to accommodate this shift in consumer shopping.

Although developers and planners are focusing on future proofing their projects, it is not without risk. The cost to build a structure with future proofing in mind not only is more expensive, but in the scope of parking structures, it means fewer cars can fit compared to non-future proofed structure. But, the payoff later can make up for this cost. For instance, one convertible project design includes 117 spaces per floor to park cars, about 17 per floor fewer than if it were built using a conventional parking structure design. But, if this project is converted to office space or even residential living, the return on investment could be 2 to 3 times the return of keeping this a traditional parking structure.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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