// Whose Car is That, and Where Does It Go?

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By Chris Mutter

A large chunk of millennials and empty nesters are abandoning the car and replacing it with alternative transportation. Only 69 percent of 19 year olds had a driver’s license in 2014, compared with almost 90 percent in 1983, according to a new study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. Similarly, NPR’s “Like Millennials, More Older Americans Steering Away from Driving,” shared experiences of older Americans getting rid of their cars.

The need to own a car in urban centers is being reduced as our cities are becoming more walkable, live/work/play developments are growing in popularity, and as more transit solutions are being implemented and realized. Rates of registered vehicles per person, per licensed driver and per household are on the decline, according to the Pew Research Center.

“The increase is slight: 9.1% of American households didn’t have a car in 2015, compared to 8.9% in 2010, a 0.2% change that represents about 500,000 households. But the uptick is significant because it follows decades of decline in the number of car-less homes, since the Census started recording them in 1960, as car-centric planning increasingly made owning a car a necessity,” said Quartz on the Pew Research Center’s findings.

Fast-forward an unknown amount of time: if Americans are truly bought into the notion of no longer needing the traditional “two cars per household,” what happens to the existing parking structures built to sustain the model of yesteryears? How will we handle the logistical challenges of increased ridesharing and the emergence of driverless cars?

Imagine yourself leaving a professional sporting venue, tens of thousands of people flooding the gates walking to the street corner looking to find their Uber or Lyft service they have booked. Where do the thousands of cars wait for their clients and how do clients find their specific car? Luckily, Uber has already implemented new technology at select venues, including  at The Battery Atlanta, to handle increased riders. Instead of riders needing to find a specific car, they just get into the car of the next Uber in the queue at the Uber Zone. This has been a success so far for HGOR team members attending Braves games.

Though driverless cars seem like something out of “The Jetsons,” they are coming soon – an estimated 10 million will be on the road in less than three years. Where will these cars reside when not in service? How will our infrastructure systems such as our highways, roads and parking facilities be affected by the introduction of these vehicles into our lives?

As planners, we need to be proactive and design for the changes ahead, instead of being reactionary and forced to face mounting pressures from citizens, institutions and the changing built environment. Ridesharing wait areas at popular venues (like the Braves’ Uber Zone) can create a more efficient experience for riders and drivers. Having better connectivity allows users to more easily use the app. Planners can begin looking at parking lots and decks as being reinvented for social, retail and residential functions. Wired agrees: “It’s Time to Think About Living in Parking Garages.” Parking garages that remain should be designed to have smaller spaces to fit the smaller design of driverless cars. Parking garages will likely be moved to the outskirts of town as driverless cars essentially become a valet service, detailed in “Why high-tech parking lots for autonomous cars may change urban planning.”

The automobile is over 130 years old, and like the automobile itself, humans have grown and evolved in how we interact with automobiles and what we need out of them. The function of driver services and the birth of technologies like the driverless car will certainly foster another period of evolutionary change in our dependence on the automobile. To create better transportation for ourselves and for future generations, we need to change how we are designing for vehicles, or the lack thereof.

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