Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Tech will make central-city parking spaces pointless, Gabe Klein tells Portland crowd

Posted by on August 14th, 2014 at 3:05 pm

klein at table

Gabe Klein, right, speaks to a panel of local transportation experts at the Multnomah Athletic Club Thursday.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The author of the transportation reinventions in Washington DC and Chicago offered some advice to Portland-area developers Thursday: start building for parking-free cities.

Self-driving cars will be available in a few years, predicted Gabe Klein, the former transportation director of both those cities, and they’ll mean “the end of parking as we know it.”

Klein, now a fellow at the Urban Land Institute, an organization for real-estate and land-use professionals, spoke to a room of local ULI members and other guests Thursday morning at the Multnomah Athletic Club in southwest Portland.

Once cars can drive for themselves by using cameras and radar-like technology to track the locations of other road users, Klein said, it’ll be cheaper for people driving in a city like Portland to catch a driverless taxi rather than pay to store their car downtown all day.

“Right now, cars sit 94.8 percent of the time on average,” Klein said. “The projection for autonomous vehicles is they will be active 95 percent of the time.”

In areas where real estate is valuable, Klein predicted that falling demand for auto parking will leave garages empty and their buildings unprofitable.

“If you’re building a parking garage, just stop,” Klein said. “Or at least build it in such a way that you can retrofit it as office space. … The real estate’s too valuable.”

Klein was a regional Zipcar executive before being recruited to run Washington DC’s transportation department. There, he introduced Portland-style streetcars, some of the country’s first modern protected bike lanes and the country’s second modern bike sharing system, Capital Bikeshare. When Rahm Emanuel became mayor of Chicago, Klein moved there and introduced bus rapid transit, a protected bike lane network and what’s now the continent’s largest bike sharing system, Divvy Bikes. He resigned as Chicago’s transportation director last year.

Advertise with BikePortland.

Departing from the predictions of other industry watchers that autonomous car technology is perhaps ten years away, Klein said it’ll be ready sooner.

“[Tesla founder] Elon [Musk] says he’ll have autonomous vehicles within three years,” said Klein, who Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat has described as her professional mentor. (Treat was in the audience Thursday.)

Klein also predicted that self-driving cars will improve road safety by reducing human error.

“People are distracted, people want to have a couple glasses of wine at dinner,” he said. “People know that computers are going to be better at driving than they are.”

Speaking on a panel of local experts reacting to Klein’s comments — which also touched on familiar themes about the resurgence of demand for city life and the popularity of low-cost street changes like bike lanes and street plazas — Jillian Detweiler, Mayor Charlie Hales’ policy director for housing issues, called his comments on the future of parking her “biggest lightbulb.”

Detweiler noted that the city recently kicked off a major effort to plan for its future parking demand.

“I’m now realizing maybe we need to be more forward-looking in all of that,” Detweiler said.

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  • Driverless Drives Driving? August 14, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Why wouldn’t making driving easier by not even having to actually drive just drive more driving and sprawl?

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  • Adam H. August 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Self driving cars do nothing to help fix the problem of auto-oriented urban design nor help improve walkability/bikeability. They encourage more sprawl by cementing auto-dependence.

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    • Mick O August 14, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      Citation needed. I think none of us fully understand the impact they will have and how they change the infrastructure needs.

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    • Michael M. August 14, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      They don’t? If self-driving cars are, as Klein claims they will be, active much more often than autonomously owned cars today, then you need far fewer of them, which means you need less space for moving them around and for storing them. That’s basically his point: in Klein’s vision of the future, we currently have a lot more parking than we will need in 10 years. Won’t we also have a lot more road space currently devoted to SOVs than we will need, too? Won’t it then be possible to convert that excess space to making other forms of transportation like biking and walking more comfortable and accessible? Generally, increased density is good for walking.

      You’ll have to explain your comment, because I don’t understand how self-driving cars “do nothing” to fix the problems.

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      • J_R August 15, 2014 at 8:24 am

        One reason a self-driving car will not “fix our transportation problems” is that it will allow the passenger (formerly a driver) to “do something productive” with his/her time. So, the self-driving car undoes the “time penalty” associated with going somewhere. This leads to an expansion of travel with more cars on the road. After all, if you can have your car (or shared car) drive you to Beaverton or Seattle or wherever, while you read, work, play video games or something “productive,” why not just do it?

        It might end up being the “all you can eat buffet” of transportation. If there’s not time cost to travel, just do it. So, more congestion, more fuel consumption, more global warming. Making it easier to move around is not the objective, but having self-driving cars readily available might encourage that. Maybe we won’t need as many parking spaces, but we might just end up filling the travel lanes with even more cars.

        That’s why some of us think self-driving cars are necessarily something to be wholeheartedly embraced.

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        • 9watts August 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

          “So, more congestion, more fuel consumption, more global warming.”

          But despite the hype about driverless cars changing everything (for the better) I’m far more interested in carless drivers. I predict we’ll see them much sooner and that their numbers will have a greater impact on our transportation infrastructure (needs).

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    • was carless August 15, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Considering that self-driving cars have not even been developed and introduced to the market yet, those are very bold predictions of the future!

      Here’s another more famous one: flying cars will soon replace all other forms of transportation.

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      • brick August 26, 2014 at 1:40 pm

        Here’s another: “Soon, you won’t need a horse to travel long distances.”

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  • Mick O August 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I hope he is correct.

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  • Granpa August 14, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Although there are few on this blog, there are many who like their cars, who like to drive and don’t really think about the inconvenience of trying to park. Gabe Klein may be right, except for the “few years” part of it. American Graffiti is representative of a car culture fantasy that still exists in more of America that this blog is willing to admit.

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    • Reza August 14, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Count me as one of the “few”. Driving can be enjoyable when you don’t have to do a soul-crushing commute in gridlock 2x a day. Not looking forward to a day where robot cars are mainstream.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 14, 2014 at 4:18 pm

        Worth adding here that Klein predicted that we’ll have the option to drive cars outside the limits of a city like Portland, but that in the city it’ll eventually be seen as too dangerous to leave driving to humans. So we’ll flip a switch at the border or whatever.

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  • IanC August 14, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Riiiiiigght… The economy is so good right now that “everyone” will be able to afford a self-driving, self-parking car within the next 3 years. I think this is unaffordable techno-fantasy.

    What will really free-up parking spaces is the decline of easily obtained oil.

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    • Kris August 15, 2014 at 7:50 am

      AC started to be offered in cars by the 1953 model year. By 1960 “and by 1960 about 20% of all cars in the U.S. had air-conditioning, with the percentage increasing to 80% in the warm areas of the Southwest.” … “By 1969, 54% of the domestic automobiles were equipped with air conditioning”. If we assume adoption will be similar, it will only take 15 years or so.


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      • davemess August 16, 2014 at 2:26 pm

        A/C and self-driving cars are not going to be very comparable. Electric vehicles are a much better comparison, and we have seen that is taking decades for them to really catch on (and that’s with huge subsidization from the government) (and I should remind everyone that we in Portland are way above the norm for the US in hybrid and electric vehicles). .

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    • Spiffy August 15, 2014 at 9:03 am

      oil no longer drives the car culture… cars will be electric soon and won’t need much oil… but people still want cars, no matter their energy source…

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      • 9watts August 15, 2014 at 9:25 am

        “oil no longer drives the car culture… cars will be electric soon and won’t need much oil… but people still want cars, no matter their energy source…”

        Please! Electricity is not a source of energy but a very expensive means of converting energy. Currently close to half of our electricity here in the US is produced by burning coal. Most of the rest requires burning natural gas which is nearly as bad for the future habitability of this planet.

        We are on the hook to phase out coal fired power plants. No one’s talking about phasing natural gas fired power plants yet, but when we come to grips with the fact that leaving the remaining fossil fuels in the ground is what we must do, the dream of an electric transport system will go poof.

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        • Kris August 15, 2014 at 10:03 am

          Marty McFly: This is heavy-duty, Doc. This is great. Uh, does it run, like, on regular unleaded gasoline?

          Dr. Emmett Brown: Unfortunately, no. It requires something with a little more kick. Plutonium.

          Marty McFly: Are you telling me that this sucker is NUCLEAR?

          Dr. Emmett Brown: No, no, no, no, no, this sucker’s electrical, but I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity I need.

          Marty McFly: Doc, you don’t just walk into a store and-and buy plutonium! Did you rip that off?

          Dr. Emmett Brown: Of course. From a group of Libyan nationalists. They wanted me to build them a bomb, so I took their plutonium and, in turn, gave them a shoddy bomb casing full of used pinball machine parts. Come on! Let’s get you a radiation suit. We must prepare to reload.

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        • Sigma August 15, 2014 at 11:06 am

          What about trains? Will they exist in your human powered future? No ocean going vessels, except those with sails? No flying machines, obviously. Globalization will stop and traveling will revert to the 18th century norms?

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          • 9watts August 15, 2014 at 11:50 am

            this is not ‘my’ future. You enjoy poking fun at what seems to you implausible about my descriptions but you aren’t so good at making the case for why this seems ridiculous, how things will unfold if constraints overwhelm our ‘preferences’ for the auto.


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            • Sigma August 15, 2014 at 6:39 pm

              Actually it is yours; you are the only person I have seen using the phrase “the future will be human powered.” So answer the question: will there be trains?

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              • 9watts August 15, 2014 at 7:15 pm

                will there be trains?

                I’m no oracle, but I’d venture that we’ll do our darnedest to hold onto trains as long as we can, and probably even a bit longer.

                The reason I bristle at your characterization of this as ‘my future’ is that I am merely describing it. It is not something I’ve dreamed up, but is to me more plausible than the other wishful futures we could imagine.

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    • Paul August 15, 2014 at 10:41 am

      The point heres is that you won’t need to own one. It wouldn’t make much sense if you can just beckon or schedule the right car/truck for the task with a smart phone. If the cars are active 95% of the time instead of 5% that means they won’t be sitting around, and therefore not owned by the average person. Sure people will own them, especially in the first few years, but I imagine we’d see car ownership drop all together and even more vibrant cities spring to life if there is more space for businesses to and not need to find/pay for parking. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see though. Hopefully this all computes into better walking/biking/transit cities in the end.

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      • Paul Swanson August 15, 2014 at 1:12 pm

        Dang, if I had just scrolled down a little further … you said everything I did … and then some!

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      • Marid August 16, 2014 at 9:10 pm

        I think the notion that people will give up cars altogether is held only by young people. The moment you injure your back or the like is the moment you realize that a large fraction of the population cannot ride a bicycle or even walk very far.

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        • 9watts August 16, 2014 at 9:14 pm

          I think the notion that people will have any say-so about whether to give up their cars when the time comes is held only by people who have not thought very hard about climate change.

          The end of the automobile isn’t going to come about because people stopped finding the car convenient, necessary, status-enhancing, or whatever, but because external constraints will cause the whole enterprise to stop being viable.

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          • Marid August 19, 2014 at 11:25 am

            ‘hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the human race is going to burn all of the extractable oil and natural gas in the ground. Gradually solar energy will fill the void and gasoline cars will be replaced with electric cars. The net result is a warm planet, wrecked for millennia, and lots of electric cars. Prove me wrong.

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            • 9watts August 19, 2014 at 11:37 am

              “The net result is a warm planet, wrecked for millennia, and lots of electric cars.”

              I’m with you on the likelihood of a hot, wrecked planet. But I’m far less certain there will be ‘lots’ of electric cars. To roll those out requires a substantial fossil fuel infrastructure we haven’t yet built and, it would appear, we can’t well afford. To do this requires that we come to terms with the failed promises of fossil fuels. We’re loath to do this and so will continue to diddle around until we’ve run out of options, including the wholesale switch to electric propulsion.

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    • Paul Swanson August 15, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      Why own a car when you can order up a self-driving car from Zip-Car or Avis, using your smartphone app, have it arrive at wherever you are and deliver you wherever you want to go to? It’s going to be cheaper than ownership … no insurance, no fuel or maintenance … and you finally won’t be bothered that you can’t get your vehicle into your garage due to all the stuff you are storing there.

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    • SteveG August 16, 2014 at 7:21 am

      Gabe wasn’t saying that we’ll all own them. The cars will be owned by a carsharing company, not by individuals. They’ll be driverless taxis.

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  • Paul Atkinson August 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I will sell my car and buy a self-driving model as soon as it’s realistic. Driving isn’t a sport, it’s a dull repetitive task: we have computers for that.

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  • J_R August 14, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    While I think that self-driving cars will come to pass and will be an important component of the transportation system, I think it is preposterous to claim that “autonomous vehicles is they will be active 95 percent of the time.”

    Think about it for a minute, all transportation facilities (highways, bikeways, and public transit) are virtually unused during the hours of 1 am to 5 am with relatively little use from 10 pm to 6 am. Do you really think that autonomous vehicles will be non-operating for less than one hour per day? Even if you shift mail and package delivery to the wee hours of the morning, that doesn’t add up to 95 percent utilization. I don’t want a stream of vehicles going past my house 24/7.

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  • Brian E August 14, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Seems like Klein is predicting a self driving Taxi. If the car is in use 95% of the time, it must be shared between different users. Essentially a Taxi. Eh?

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    • Sigma August 15, 2014 at 7:05 am

      It also assumes abandonment of the ownership model. So within the next decade, rich people will stop buying fancy BMW’s and will carpool with their garbage collector in a one-size-fits all autonomous taxi circulator. No way that happens. And women: get in a car you have no control over with a strange man? Great idea! Car ownership is far too ingrained in the American psyche. Disregarding the technological availability or the affordability question, this will happen over generations, if ever.

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    • DaveB August 15, 2014 at 8:02 am

      You’re on to something: Google Ventures invested in Über…

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  • benschon August 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I made this same observation about parking demand a few months ago! (https://twitter.com/SchonbergerBen/status/471700747860459520) The way cars consume space is terrible for cities. Even if driverless cars just got rid of that, it would be a huge boon.

    Another view: http://daily.sightline.org/2013/06/04/a-self-driving-future/

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  • Todd Boulanger August 14, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Well…we should make traveling (driving and cycling) a pleasure outside the UGB (CBD) much like the designers of the Blue Ridge Parkway did in the 1930s before the Defence Highway Act made most of our roadways into boring corridors that do not respect or reflect the landscape (no sense of place). Bicyclists and Drivers Unite!

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  • Granpa August 14, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Back in my halcyon days I was promised a flying car

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    • Braaainz August 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      My generation want promised flying cars. We were promised a dystopian militant corpocracy surveillance state.

      Guess my generation was more realistic than yours.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    …plus ….anyone with a spare car or two sitting around their driveway or in the curb lane better sell it before the bottom drops out of the market place for used cars, assuming Gabe is right.

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  • gutterbunnybikes August 14, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Sing it with me now

    “Ohhhhh Yoshimi…..”

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  • eli bishop August 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    it will be at least 15 years before self driving cars/taxis reach as far as Outer SE. Car2Go doesn’t reach past highway 205.

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  • Scott H August 14, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Self operating cars are almost guaranteed to kill or injure fewer people than human operated cars. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a good thing.

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  • Bill Stites August 14, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    With all respect to the fellow, a few years out is naively optimistic. Economics aside, such a complex task as driving requires tremendous real-time input – and consistently appropriate responses. Human beings are very good at sensory perception, albeit with many shortfalls due to being distracted, drunk, incompetent, etc.

    Sure, computers are better and quicker at many driving-like tasks, but it’s shortsighted to think that all possible scenarios can be pre-considered in the vehicle’s systems. Some ‘learning’ will be part of the system’s self-improvement mechanisms, but not before some serious tragedies at the mercy of the automaton. I might have to agree, however, that today’s accepted level of carnage on our roads may be worse??

    I have a lot of respect and confidence in Elon Musk, but it’s one thing to perfect the lab routes, and quite another scenario to have many of these vehicles bobbing around our streets … scary at best. 10 – 15 years sounds much more realistic in real-world contexts.

    Finally, do we really believe that machines never malfunction/make mistakes? I’ll concede that they may make fewer mistakes than humans, but without consciousness of consequences such mistakes could be hugely catastrophic on a regular basis.

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    • Spiffy August 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

      1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

      2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

      3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

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  • Pat Franz August 14, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    When the first robot car runs over a kid, the already too rosy timelines will suddenly look blindingly naive.
    No matter that human drivers do it every day. When a technology that you don’t understand or control does it, that’s scary.

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    • Dan August 15, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Maybe robot cars can be designed with safer exteriors, like inflated vinyl or something, that wouldn’t almost exclusively be designed with looks & aerodynamics in mind.

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  • TonyT
    TonyT August 14, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Totally disagree. To the tune of about 34,000 dead people every year. Humans are terrible drivers.

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  • Joseph E August 15, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Elon Musk has consistently overpromised and underdelivered. I don’t expect to see self-driving taxis in the next

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  • Joseph E August 15, 2014 at 12:15 am

    … 10 years. First, let’s see some self-driving buses on fixed routes. If the Orange Line busway in Los Angeles can be automated, that’s a start: it has a 95% separate right-of-way. Then, add some routes with street-running.
    Until we see fully-automated trains and buses on simple, fixed routes, it is hard to believe that individual taxis will be able to take passengers to every point in the city safely.

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    • Spiffy August 15, 2014 at 9:15 am

      I don’t want to ride on public transit unless there is a live person on it somewhere to intervene when people get ugly…

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      • Tom D August 15, 2014 at 2:48 pm

        Spiffy, do you avoid elevators? Does it make a difference if the vehicle moves horizontally or vertically?

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  • Cory Poole August 15, 2014 at 12:23 am

    self driving cars will fundamentally alter the notion of car ownership. Once you can join a car share that comes to you door and drops you off wherever you like not many people will feel the need to actually own a car. I do think it will take more then 10 years to filter older cars out of the system but I do think it will happen. I would trust my life to the cold reason of a google car over a human driver any day. (even if that human driver is myself)

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  • Chris I August 15, 2014 at 7:49 am

    If you have ever been to real America, you know that the idea of widespread autonomous vehicles in the near future is a pipe dream. The majority of Americans see their cars as a status symbol, and many of them wouldn’t trust the automated system, because they are ignorant about technology, and believe that they are safe, skilled drivers. We can’t achieve many of the benefits of autonomous vehicles until they have completely replaced traditional vehicles. And how long is that going to take? You have cars that are 50+ years old still driving around right now!

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  • Rita August 15, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Chris, the car=status symbol seems to be dying out with our generation. The (non-rural, at least) youth of today don’t necessarily see getting a car as the key to independence, adulthoood, etc. Instead, it’s an expense to be endured if they need one.

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    • Chris I August 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      I just got back from Houston on Wednesday, and what I saw there does not mesh with what you are saying. Even in the Portland area, this is true. The majority of the young (under 30) people that I work with (in Gresham) are just as bad as my parent’s generation. The only difference I see is that they play more video games, so they drive a bit less.

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  • Oregon Mamcita August 15, 2014 at 8:54 am

    When the ULI visited the Central Eastside last year, they said this:
    “Portland needs to reconcile how freight traffic can safely coexist with pedestrians, bicycles and mass transit. Parking is a concern, too. The ULI group recommended parking structures around the new TriMet stations in particular.”

    Everyone guesses at the future. My prediction: we are all wrong.

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  • Jake August 15, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Me: “car. Take me to IKEA”
    Car: “location not found, please speak new command”
    Me: “take me to IKEA…PLEASE. I need a new flimsy bookcase”
    Car: “Confirmed. Route set for Fat Cobra”
    Me: “What? No, cancel request. New request”
    Car: “request cancelled, please state new request”
    Me: “take me to IKEA near Airport Way”
    Car: “processing request. Setting route for Airport”
    Me: “No not the airport! IKEA! Jesus Christ…”
    Car: “cancelling route, rerouting to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”
    Car: “request cancelled”
    Me: “Take me to the place with the cheap meatballs.”
    Car: “setting route for IKEA”
    Me: “Thank you. Finally….”
    Car: “This vehicle has experienced a malfuncion and is no longer in service. To reset vehicle, open hood and unplug main power supply battery cable. Wait 30 seconds then plug back in and wait for rebooting process to complete. If problem sill exists, call the customer service phone number….which we wont tell you.”

    Me: “Fu*k it. I am riding my bike.”

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    • 9watts August 15, 2014 at 9:41 am


      I’m laughing so hard I started crying.

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  • Dan August 15, 2014 at 11:23 am

    The future will be awesome:


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  • GlowBoy August 15, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Wait … just because cars will be self driving in a decade or two, this guy thinks people will suddenly treat them as appliances and stop owning them? If people only looked at cars as a way to get around, everyone would buy either a base model Prius, Leaf or Chevy Sonic, and be done with it.

    Somehow I think a lot of people will still buy a car whose styling, color and image matches the identify they want to project to the world. Some may want roof racks to carry their skis, the ability to actually bring their dog with them or tow a boat trailer, or seating for six – things beyond the ability of your typical transportation appliance. And many of them will still option them up with various creature comforts and distinguishing customizations (leather, heated seats, touchscreen infotainment systems, sunroofs, tinted windows, fancy wheels and tires, nonfunctional spoilers, etc.), sometimes to the tune of adding 50% to the price of the base model.

    Why would this change? Sure, being removed from the act of driving will take a lot of the magic for some (even though being stuck in traffic so much of the time doesn’t appear to have done so for most), and sure, there is a trend among Millennials and others of being less enamored with the automobile. But somehow I still think most people with the means will still want their car to be THEIR car.

    Might car ownership drop by 20% or even half? Environmental concerns, cost and density may make that happen. But autonomous cars being active “95% of the time?” That’s not even true of Zipcars, Cars2go or taxis today. What planet is he on?

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  • Maria August 17, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I remember when the Segway was supposed to revolutionize inner urban transportation. I don’t think anyone at the time predicted it would end up inside airports and on city “walking” tours and the like. We’ll just have to see where the driverless car finds its niche. It might be someplace no one is imaging yet. I really like the idea that it could be a viable low cost alternative to cabs, especially if one could come pick you up wherever you might be located like a chauffuer would.

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  • Josh August 21, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Self-driving, self-parking cars will eliminate one of the significant disincentives to driving your own car into a city — the time penalty of having to find parking and then walk to your ultimate destination.

    Once cars can park themselves, you can get a ride to the front door (working while you ride), hop out, and let the computer find a place to park. Essentially, every private car becomes a chauffeured towncar.

    For purely utilitarian trips, a driverless taxi may be as efficient as a driverless private car, but how many of us keep nothing personal in the car? How much more would we personalize our cars if we weren’t the ones having to drive them?

    Give me a driverless car and within a week I’ll have installed a breakfast nook, cooler, clothing storage, bookcase, and A/V system. Give me a driverless full-sized van and I’ll add a stove and shower.

    You think any generic taxi is going to beat that on raw efficiency? Maybe in poor neighborhoods where every penny counts…

    If you’re building a downtown parking garage today, make the layout flexible to accommodate many *more* cars, parked more closely than any human could manage. You’ll want to be ready for an “automated only” section with narrower lanes and narrower stalls (nobody needs to open the doors while parked), maybe even double-stack sedans since you won’t need ceiling heights for people to walk.

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