IVGID GM’s Corner: Autonomous vehicles’ impact on Incline Village | SierraSun.com

IVGID GM’s Corner: Autonomous vehicles’ impact on Incline Village

Steve Pinkerton
GM’s Corner

Steve Pinkerton

The transformation begins this week. In Pittsburgh. The quiet disruption of the automobile industry is about to go public.

Specially trained Engineers will be "supervising," not driving, autonomous Volvo XC90s and transporting Uber passengers to their destinations in the Steel City.

Uber and Volvo signed an agreement to spend around $300 million to develop an autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021. Nissan and Ford are also hoping to have an autonomous vehicle available for purchase within the next five years.

So what does all this have to do with Incline Village?

Incline Village likely wouldn't exist if there hadn't been two major disruptions in the transportation business last century: mass production of the automobile and the creation of the interstate highway system.

In addition, all of our venues are primarily accessed by automobiles and therefore require an ongoing investment in parking infrastructure.

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Right now we are in the early stages of working with the community to update the Master Plan for all of our recreation facilities. The Master Plan will guide how we allocate our precious financial resources in the future. While we don't have a crystal ball, having a working knowledge of future issues and trends can help us avoid allocating funds in a manner that may be incompatible with the world of tomorrow.

For example, I would argue that the increase in ride sharing services and the rise of autonomous vehicles will greatly reduce the demand for parking at all of our facilities. As ride sharing services become more prevalent — especially when they no longer require a driver — many of our users may own fewer cars or no cars at all due to the availability of low cost ride sharing services.

Our cars spend 95 percent of their time in storage. We have 253 million cars in the country and nearly one billion parking spaces. Many futurists believe that autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of vehicles by 75 percent and the number of parking spaces by up to 90 percent.

Since most vehicles will be in the business of providing rider services instead of personal transportation, vehicles will spend far less time in storage. In addition, electric vehicles require far less space for the engine and self driving cars don't need to leave space between vehicles for the driver to exit the vehicle. This would allow parking spaces to be much smaller.

This huge reduction in parking storage will free up land for other uses. It will also free up future funds that are currently dedicated to the operation and maintenance of parking facilities.

Bottom line, it is a game changer for the future of land use and real estate development for every community. In addition to changing local land use patterns, it will also greatly impact where we live and how often we travel.

Cities will be able to open up large swaths of commercial parking areas to new development. New development will be less costly without the need for large parking structures and lots. This could open up more land in our city centers for housing and additional open space.

Conversely, it may also lead to far more urban sprawl. Automobiles could replace steering wheels with desktop computers — allowing employees to spend their commute time on the clock.

Scientists have studied work patterns over a number of centuries and have found that one hour is the typical limit for a one way commute to the workplace. Workers in search of low cost housing in the exurbs could break through this historical limit with the advent of the autonomous, lightweight, low fuel cost automobile.

These smaller cars will also take up less space on the highway, and traffic will be smoother. Eliminating human drivers will likely reduce the number of phantom traffic jams that come from inconsistent speeds and lane changes. Thus, overall highway capacity should increase without adding more lanes.

Second-home communities such as Incline Village could see an uptick in both permanent and part time residents. We already have several bay area companies that offer a "Tahoe Friday" benefit to allow their employees to get a head start on the weekend by working at the Incline Village office one day a week.

Imagine how many workers will decide to work from their car on Fridays and/or Mondays so that they can spend more time at their home at Lake Tahoe.

How will this impact owner use of our facilities? It certainly won't reduce demand.

None of us can be sure of how quickly these trends will become reality, but understanding the future is critical to planning our capital facility needs.

"GM's Corner" is a recurring column from Incline Village General Improvement Distinct General Manager Steve Pinkerton, who will discuss issues and offer updates regarding various district matters. He may be reached for comment at steve_pinkerton@ivgid.org.