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A future without parking: The benefits of autonomous cars for cities


Researchers predict that autonomous cars will drastically reduce the numbers of cars that crowd our cities by shrinking the amount of space that's needed to park them. — dpa

Researchers predict that autonomous cars will drastically reduce the numbers of cars that crowd our cities by shrinking the amount of space that's needed to park them. — dpa

Researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada have published a new study in which they look at ways that an increased use of self-driving cars could bring huge benefits to the overall design and infrastructure of parking lots.

The researchers used a computer simulation to determine the perfect size of a parking lot that was entirely designed around accommodating self-driving cars – or autonomous vehicles (AVs).

"In a parking lot full of AVs, you don't need to open the doors, so they can park with very little space in between," says Professor Matthew Roorda, senior author of the study. "You also don't need to leave space for each car to drive out, because you can signal the surrounding AVs to move out of the way."

The report shows that a parking lot for AVs could hold up to 62% more vehicles than current lots. Another advantage is that the size of the lots can change to adapt to needs, as you don't need to paint more spaces and can "just signal the cars to rearrange themselves", says co-author Sina Bahrami.

"Right now, our downtown cores have giant municipal parking lots next to major attractions," Roorda says. "AVs could allow us to both shrink and relocate these parking lots, opening up valuable space in cities."

However, the concept is not yet fully-fledged. While having a massive grid-system parking lot has advantages – such as saving space overall – having these huge lots further out from city centres and main attractions has its downsides. For instance, this would mean longer wait times for cars, and as everybody orders their own car, this would create more traffic on the streets, especially during high-peak times in certain areas.

Another problem the report acknowledges is that this idea is based on a world where non-AVs have become virtually obsolete, and not on a reality in which a mix of the two are on the streets – which would call for the need of mixed parking lots.

So before the study's ideas can really be implemented, a full-scale transition of our driving habits and infrastructure needs to get underway. And while this is sure to happen sooner rather than later, a lot still needs to change.

"We're talking about large numbers of vehicles that can fully drive themselves, with no requirement for a driver to take over if something goes wrong," says Roorda. "There's a lot that has to happen before we get to that stage." – dpa
   

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