Will self-driving cars accelerate development?

Parking lots, garages and street-level parking could be converted into other uses

Self-Driving Car (Credit: Travis Wise via Flickr)
Self-Driving Car (Credit: Travis Wise via Flickr)

If driverless cars and buses become the standard mode of transport, developers could have a lot more land to play with.

Parking lots, garages and street-level parking could become less vital, leaving more room for projects, an executive focused on the self-driving car and autonomous vehicle space said at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s annual real estate awards Friday.

“In some cities, as much as 25 percent [of available land] is used by parking,” said the executive, Jim Barbaresso of HNTB, who was the event’s keynote speaker.

Surface lots, for one, could be repurposed into staging areas for self-driving, rideshare vehicles where they could be recharged and refueled while waiting for the next pickup, he said. On-street parking could be converted into pedestrian and green spaces.

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Some developers are building parking structures so that they can be converted into other uses down the line, including at projects like at River Landing Shops & Residences along the Miami River.

“If you build a parking structure,” Barbaresso said, “you should make sure to look at ceiling heights and shaft and duct work to supporting repurposing it in the future for office or residential space.”

Automated minibuses and trams could circulate people easily within residential developments, commercial projects and business parks, becoming an amenity for developers. The systems could also transport residents to major transit hubs, saving them the drive to a train or bus station, he said.

But driverless cars and the rising use of ride-sharing services may not benefit all sectors of the real estate industry. Researchers are predicting that the self-storage industry could be hit the hardest by advances in self-driving technology, suggesting that because people will own fewer cars, they’ll use their garages for storage space instead of self-storage facilities.