Driverless Cars Will Revitalize Downtowns

Major city centers, such as San Francisco and New York, will undergo a Renaissance as driverless cars become the norm.

There are roughly 4 million street parking spaces in New York City. That’s 14 square miles of parking spots. An area about half the size of the island of Manhattan. Or $700 billion in real estate value.

San Francisco has exactly 441,541 street parking spaces. In square footage, that’s about the size of Golden Gate Park. (The city did a study. Apparently, a better use of tax dollars than housing the homeless there.)

Point is: In our car-crazed country, we use a lot of territory to park our cars.

And those parking spots must be near the places people want to be – malls, stores, entertainment venues, parks and offices. What’s the point of driving if I won’t be near my destination when I get there?

As a result, we’ve tolerated all the by-products of that. Air pollution from idling cars. Honking horns. Roads crowded with parked cars. Assaults on our senses that we’ve learned to grin and bear for the greater good of having our personal chariots nearby.

Idyllic Downtowns in the 1890’s

To make the point, let’s go back to the year 1890. Before the age of cars.

New York City didn’t have a single one of those 4 million parking spaces. What it had, instead, was horses. Those horses (according to the 89th Annual Report of the Board of Health) deposited 500 tons of manure on the streets of New York. Every single day. 62,000 horses adding nearly 185,000 tons of manure to the New York panorama/grid each year.

These horses, wrote one authority, were “an economic burden, an affront to cleanliness and a terrible tax on human life.” He could have added their smell to that description, too. The residents, however, knew no other lifestyle. They accepted the everyday nuisances for the larger convenience the equines provided.

When “horseless carriages” came along in the early 1900’s, they changed the face – and smell – of New York City. The city was revitalized. Its population grew dramatically. And so did the quality of life.

Soon, in our era, those “horseless carriages” will be driverless carriages as well. Imagine it — Every vehicle is essentially a taxi, taking its human cargo to the destination, but not required to stay there, once the drop-off is made. That carriage (or “car” for short) could go anywhere, and wait for its owner to summon it when needed.

Just as we built parking lots for vehicles and airports for planes, over the next two decades we’ll be building staging areas for driverless cars, awaiting word from their owners to be picked up. Outside the core downtown areas.

  Related:Why I Can’t (but Must) Wait for My Uber

More Idyllic Downtowns in the 2030’s

Meanwhile, our downtown air will be cleaner. Our streets will be quieter. Fewer quarters will be hoarded for parking meters. And we’ll have millions of former parking spaces available for public use.

The “manure” of our horseless (but driver-required) carriages will be gone.

If you’ve ever been to Zermatt, Switzerland, Fire Island in New York or Mackinac Island in Michigan, you’ve experienced the joy of car-free living. Our cities are set to follow suit.

On September 27, 2015, Paris enforced its first car-free day. Vehicles were banned from many parts of the city. Nitrogen dioxide levels dropped 40 percent. Noise levels dropped by half.

But with driverless cars dropping off their owners, regulations will not be required to get these benefits.

For urban aficionados, this will be thrilling. We’ll be able to inhale our downtowns, have a latte on the street (there will be 4 million new locations in New York alone), listen to the soft sounds of music wafting out of cafes and restaurants. Perhaps even have a conversation with someone you just bumped into, in the middle of a cross walk.

Best of all, it shouldn’t require much regulation or forced changes of behavior. It will be a natural outgrowth of the new Dryve generation.

With the streets clearer, I might even choose to ride a horse.

Article written by: Charles Bogle 3.0.  Submitted: 2/28/17

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