Self-driving cars are coming. Consider:
August 2012 – Google announces completing over 300,000 accident-free autonomous-driving miles.
September 2012 – California becomes the third state to legalize street testing of self-driven cars.
August 2013 – General Motors announces their desire to sell driverless cars by 2020.
August 2013 – Nissan pledges to bring “multiple affordable, energy-efficient, fully autonomous-driving vehicles to the market by 2020.”
September 2013 – Tesla Motors says it is working to produce a car capable of running on “auto-pilot” within three years. The autonomous car would allow the vehicle’s computer system to handle 90% of the control of the car.
One feature of self-driving vehicles is valet parking. You can exit your vehicle in front of your favorite restaurant, and tell the car to go park itself. Or unload at your favorite beach, and instruct your car to park on a non-metered street space inland of Coast Highway. When ready to leave, a smart phone app will recall the vehicle to pick you up.
This is great news for Laguna, and also bad news for Laguna.
Why bad news? You may have heard the rumor of plans to build a big metered parking garage downtown that would be completed in perhaps five years, just months before these driverless cars hit the showrooms. Proponents assume 25 years of increased parking meter income will pay for the garage. But would you pay for the hassle of parking blocks away when you have free valet service? Neither would I. What if the city borrows millions to build the garage, and in a few years it’s mostly ignored? What if parking meter income also declines? This is building a horse stable and feed lot at the advent of the horseless carriage.
So why is this great news for Laguna? Hundreds of on-street spaces currently too remote for village use will become viable village parking. ACT V can be fully utilized even without shuttles. Also, we haven’t yet committed to the village entrance garage. We can find a better use for that site and for $42.3 million.
Parking retrofit will maximize the intelligent car valet feature. The high school lot usually sits vacant at night. Imbedded sensors there, at ACT V, and at other city lots could register open spaces on the Internet. With no driver to exit a vehicle, smart spaces can be about 25 percent narrower. It will be possible to build a park on half the five-acre village entrance site, and still fit the current 400 parking spaces on the remainder without any parking structure. (Driverless parking allows between 133 and 200 cars per acre.)
I respectfully ask that in upcoming parking considerations, we abandon our horse-and-buggy mind-set in favor of 21st century solutions. Think about it. Laguna can have a beautiful village entrance and visitor-resident friendly parking too. And save a bundle!
Tom Halliday, Laguna Beach