Developers, real estate gurus and transit advocates came together at the Gathering Spot last week for an insightful program called "Evolving Transportation & the Future of Commercial Real Estate." Hosted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the morning featured a keynote by Rutt Bridges, author of the new book Driverless Car Revolution: Buy Mobility, Not Metal. Bridges is a firm believer that self-driving cars are soon to become a new reality in our cities, and that the adoption of the technology has the power to transform Atlanta as we know it. Not just a novelty, these cars could help solve traffic issues that plague the city, supporters believe. While self-driving cars may seem pie-in-the-sky to many, Bridges is bullish on a timeline that could fill Atlanta roads with driverless cars in the not-too-distant future.
Following Bridges's address, he was joined by Jarel Portman, developer and co-founder of JPX Works; Sam Bond, General Manager of ride service Lyft; Rukiya Thomas, MARTA Chief of Staff; and Ellen Dunham-Jones, urbanist and professor at Georgia Tech, for a roundtable discussion. Each approached the topic from the perspective of their fields, offering a portrait of an Atlanta shaped by self-driving vehicles — a concept that would have seemed downright looney just a couple of years ago.
Dunham-Jones opened the discussion with a vision of parking decks being reclaimed as usable, inhabitable spaces that enhance the urban environment. With 93,000 parking spaces in downtown alone, she claimed that driverless cars could allow for a substantial reduction — between 40 and 90 percent — in the space we devote to cars. And future developments, without the need for so much parking, could better economize construction.
With the cost to construct parking in the city between $20,000 and $30,000 a space, a reduction of the required parking could save a substantial amount of money in every development. A proponent for good design, Portman offered that with the money saved from not having to provide high concentrations of parking, developers could instead put the money into creating more "engaging and inspiring" buildings.
While to many it seemed that self-driving cars would eliminate the need for transit, both Bond and Thomas offered up a different view, highlighting how the two systems could work in tandem to improve mobility for everyone. Bond noted that currently, one out of every five Lyft trips in Atlanta originates or ends at a MARTA station. MARTA's Chief of Staff laid out a vision where driverless cars could be timed to pick up transit riders at their origin, delivering them to transit stations to coincide with arriving trains. The feeder system would work thanks to an economy of scale, helping to bring a critical mass of riders to mass transit.