San Diego Business Journal

Let’s Park Old Transportation Planning Notions

By Peter James MacCracken Originally published July 27, 2017 at 2:53 p.m., updated July 27, 2017 at 2:53 p.m.
   

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Peter James MacCracken

— Our “relationship” with the automobile is changing. Not one step at a time, but at a rate that is almost unimaginable. But imagine it we must — especially urban planners — or risk being like the buggy whip manufacturers of the early 1900s.

We have adopted our parents’ relationship with the automobile by owning a car that spends about 95 percent of its life parked, either in a garage, in a parking structure or on the street.

That is just so 20th century.

I am no expert, but it seems ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles, and increasing pressure on urban real estate, is changing that relationship. So when I hear about plans for parking structures and spaces, I ask what that infrastructure will be turned into when we no longer need it. This gets more than a few blank stares.

It’s not just the game-changing ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. It’s because technology and economics are converging. We’re not in the 20th century any more, Toto.

Last month, RethinkX, an independent think tank focused on technology-driven disruption (www.rethinkx.com) issued its first report, “Rethinking Transportation.” Its conclusions are mind-boggling.

By 2035, it estimates that 95 percent of all U.S. vehicle trips will be in autonomous, on-demand, electric vehicles. Technological advances will make this possible and economics will make it happen — the average household will save $5,600 a year in transportation costs.

Future of Big Oil?

Let’s game things out a bit. If true, this means giant steps toward eliminating car ownership and parking, fewer vehicles needing fewer traffic lanes, ubiquity driving economy (trips will cost 10 percent of what they cost today). The oil industry should be scared witless.

Is this crazy talk? In 1970, Alvin Toffler published “Future Shock,” and one of his main points was that change is happening at an ever-accelerating rate. 1970 was nearly 50 years ago. The world-wide web is only 25 years old, and it fundamentally changed the way we manage information. In only 10 years, the smartphone changed communications and computing.

The interesting thing about yesterday’s “crazy talk” is that it is today’s anachronism.

Divining the future is tricky stuff, indeed. Some people will read this and conclude it is just plain wrong. Others will think it is an order of magnitude further out than a scant 20 years. I have had those conversations.

What if this is wrong because it will happen sooner? The latest edition of TIME has two articles that suggest my premise is conservative. One predicts flying cars by 2020. Another predicts cheap, private jets that don’t require pilots. Layer those possibilities on top of RethinkX’s conclusions and maybe the Jetsons’ era is right around the corner.

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