How Garages Could Be Rededicated

Self-driving cars will not only have an impact on how we move and how we will be, they will also change the transport infrastructure. It is important to note that simulations for cities such as Lisbon, Singapore, New York, Ann Arbor or Munich showed that drastically fewer cars are needed.

If you consider that in Germany every car is moved for an average of 38 minutes a day, but parks for 23 hours and 22 minutes, and in the USA the situation is no better with 54 minutes of average daily driving time, then you quickly realize how poorly the resource car is used today.

A study looking at commuter data from Lisbon concluded that the same level of mobility can be achieved with a tenth of the number of vehicles. A fleet of 26,000 taxi boats could cover the mileage of 203,000 vehicles currently driving in Lisbon. This would free up an area of 210 football fiields that would no longer be parked and could be used for other purposes. A study for Singapore came to the conclusion that one out of three cars can cover all traffic in the city-state today. And for New York City, MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Institute calculated in a simulation that 3,000 self-propelled taxis could replace the current taxi fleet of 13,000 for 98 percent of all trips. Ann Arbor in Michigan, on the other hand, which today houses 120,000 cars, could manage with 18,000 shaved, autonomous cars. And a study of Munich, which today is home to 700,000 cars, concluded that 200,000 private cars could be replaced by 18,000 robotic taxis without sacrificing mobility.

And the parking spaces are not cheap. The cheapest paved city parking lot in the USA on a relatively cheap plot of land costs around four thousand dollars, whereas the most expensive parking lot costs sixty thousand dollars. And it is located in a shopping center in Seattle. The usual cost of parking in an above-ground garage is between twenty and thirty thousand dollars, and underground parking costs forty thousand dollars. Also in Germany, real estate managers calculate the construction costs of an underground garage parking lot to be between 30,000 and 40,000 dollars, and for a street parking lot 10,000 dollars. If you take into account the fact that there are four parking spaces for every vehicle, the value of all parking spaces exceeds that of all cars in the country.

But what do we do with all the parking garages that become vacant? One study, for example, estimates that 25 percent of the additional space in San Francisco becomes available. Demolition is an expensive solution. Or maybe it will be cool to live in a parking garage. Similar to the lofts that are so popular today, which were created from old warehouses and factory buildings, old parking garages could become popular residential properties.

And this is exactly what is shown by an example of the former Knightley’s Parking Garage in Wichita, in the US state of Kansas. Opened in 1950, it served for years in autocentric America as the embodiment of the obsession with cars. Originally even equipped with its own parking service, which took over the car and parked it for the owners, it was then converted to self-parking in 1980. In 2009 the garage was closed due to lack of demand and became a magnet for homeless and drug addicts.

Newly renamed Broadway Autopark, the Knightley’s Parking Garage became a complex with 44 one-bedroom apartments. The 1950s charm has been retained and continues through the building. Each of the 65 square meter (700 square feet) apartments has a balcony. The ground floor has offices, as well as a club house gym, dog washing station and other residential services.

However, it is not so easy to convert a garage into apartments. There are sloping surfaces that were intended for the ramps. The room height is lower than in apartments, and garages are surprisingly “bouncy, so they have to be reinforced afterwards.

With the expected change in mobility behavior and the coming technologies such as autonomous cars, urban planners and building owners are already thinking about the subsequent use of garages in their current planning. Some garage projects in Denver, Houston and Los Angeles are already being planned, which would also allow alternative uses.

This article was also published in German.


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