Many new luxury cars can already parallel park and car companies are working on more advanced parking assist technology. Tesla commercials portray a near future where drivers exit at the entrance to a parking facility and the car does the rest.
Soon, some parking garages will be adapted with sensors or special paint to assist vehicles, using currently available technology, to stack up in garages, millimeters away from one another. As cars become more networked with one another, it’s easy to imagine 150 cars parking in a space that currently holds 50, with the cars shuffling out of one another’s way to allow one of their own to return to its owner.
At the same time, companies like Citifyd in Portland are developing systems that allow for under-ulitilized private parking to be more-easily made available to the public. City centers might see a rapid inflation in the effective supply of parking, undercutting efforts to reduce car trips to downtowns and business districts.
Parking demand at airports, hotels, and entertainment destinations is already being reduced because of new ride share, ride hailing, and car share services. We could see a rapid shift in the economics of downtown parking with demand dropping as supply is increasing. Some lots and garages would be redeveloped, but much parking in city centers is under productive buildings, it’s here to stay for a long time.
This narrative should make any developer or development agency think twice about investing in new long-term parking assets. Operators of newer structures will be at a major disadvantage, due to debt service, when competing with older facilities.
Transportation officials should consider the impact such a shift would have, parking prices at private garages could drop rapidly, including more driving in the short run. Entry-exit parking surcharges could discourage driving, particularly during peak hours.
Parking reformers should seize on this narrative when working to oppose new publicly funded parking structures and when arguing against existing parking requirements. Every new stall built is a bet against both these emerging technologies and against our efforts to combat climate change and congestion. We’ve probably already built more parking then we’ll actually need, and we definitely built more than we should have.