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.
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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