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What Will Driverless Cars Do to Cities?

nissan auto car
(Image: Getty Images)

When thinking about cities of the future we get images of tall skyscrapers, flying vehicles, and robots everywhere. Right? Some of us do at least. Though that may come true one day, urban planners and technologists are looking at a much closer future. They’re looking at driverless cars as a big game changer in how cities work. What will driverless cars do to cities? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Think of the world we live in for a moment. Nearly all cities on this planet have been impacted by cars. In fact, right now we have nearly 1 billion cars on the planet and 2 billion expected within the next two decades. That many cars gives urban planners an itch to start thinking about how this vehicular surge will impact cities in the future. Technologists working on driverless cars are becoming more and more interesting to urban planners because the two will have to work together to handle urban growth and the impacts of driverless cars.

Why driverless cars though? The answer is very simple actually, parking. Consider for a moment how much of our land mass is taken up for parking cars. Empty lots, parking decks, street parking, and every single garage and driveway in the United States adds up to a pretty sizable chunk of land. Nearly 3,600 miles are used up simply to park the vehicles in our nation. This adds up to being the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined!

Driverless cars are not going to be an over night sensation. There is still a lot of public hesitance regarding these automated vehicles. Regardless, even a slight increase in their use will off set a substantial amount of land allocated for parking. For instance, a car would drop an individual off and then return to its allocated spot and not the real estate in front of homes. In turn, that extra plot of land in front of the house can now serve a purpose other than a spot for the wheels to hang out. Urban planners are interested in seeking out information regarding what could be done with all that extra space. Sure, the drive way seems like a small piece of property when compared to the neighborhood, but by adding all those parking spaces up we get a very large area of land. Future uses could include anything from private gardens to micro energy farms for the immediate region.

Regardless, as technology continues to progress it will drastically impact urban planning. This is not the first time planning and vehicles have been in the same conversation of course. City planning took a huge turn when affordable cars and highways became more frequent in the United States. Similarly, driverless technology is going to open up some pretty amazing possibilities in our cities so long as urban planners are looking ahead.

This driverless future is still quite a ways away, but for city planners the change is definitely on the horizon. Science and civic planning work very well together to ensure safety, comfort, and efficiency. With in two decades some surveyors are projecting that the United States will be home to nearly 2 billion parking spots. In the event that driverless technology does become standard, planning for how to flip those parking spaces into more useful plots of land is of paramount importance.

So, exactly how much parking space could self driving cars save us? A...LOT...get it?