Long Live Parking
Melissa Bean Sterzick
Every once in a while, my children tell me that the sun is going to explode and the Earth and everyone on it will be burned to a crisp. This is usually just an existentialist plot to avoid cleaning their rooms, but it never works. I calmly assure them that the sun has at least another 100,000 years to go, and by then, we’ll be long gone. They still have to clean their rooms, but I feel good for having offered some healthy reassurance.
They worry about earthquakes and tsunamis, too, and because we live in California, they are having extra special panic attacks about the drought. I’d like to thank their teachers for convincing them that the taps will run dry within the month. I worry about it, too, and am careful about water use in our home, but I don’t say anything that might add to their terror. Their school is doing a plenty good job on that.
When kids learn unhappy truths like these, their lack of experience causes them to focus on the threat without an understanding of its context. What’s hard for them to grasp is that the timeline for the end of the world is immense. So many other terrible things have to happen before the actual apocalypse occurs.
The timeline for our state’s water woes is much more tangible, but there is reason to hope a solution will be found. California is not going to become a desolate wasteland covered with dry bones and empty buildings – no matter how many people outside the state wish for just that scenario. It might even rain.
It’s the same every time self-driving cars come up in a conversation about parking. People start to think the end of parking is near. Self-driving cars will just run around on a conveyor belt and never need to be stored anywhere. People will be able to safely talk on the phone or send text messages because their cars are paying attention to the road for them. Everyone will want one, because they run on leftovers and never have accidents.
It is indeed likely that self-driving cars will be on the roads within the decade. I’m not an expert, but from what I read, they won’t be completely autonomous, but at first, will still need an operator to change lanes or increase speed when the system reaches its limit. The next stage will be the car that can complete a programmed route without any help from its driver, who, in fact, will still sit behind the steering wheel just in case the car goes haywire.
What I can’t connect is how these cars won’t need parking and when they’ll really be affordable for the entire public. If they magically disappear when they’re not in use, it will just mean more parking for those of us who still like to drive our own annoyingly dependent vehicles. And when I say annoyingly dependent, I mean easier to talk to, easier to repair, and less threatening for those suspicious of complicated machinery that’s smarter than they are.
The “connected” self-driving vehicle is another animal entirely. It’s going to follow other vehicles based on data they all share with a network. I see this framework as a real glitch for the ordinary American driver, because it involves the words “follow” and “share.”
While millennials embrace an economy of sharing, there are still a lot of people in this country who value autonomy above nearly all else. There’s a reason “sitting in the driver’s seat” is an expression that we all know describes who’s in charge. People who don’t want to be in charge of their own cars are already taking public transportation.
The scientists and engineers developing self-driving cars hope to provide the world with safer transportation that uses less fuel, and gives drivers time to do things besides drive when they’re in their cars.
Their goals are admirable. I don’t think any of them really intend to eliminate parking, and even if they did, they face some steep challenges.
The timeline for a world of autonomous cars that might or might not, but probably will need parking will be accomplished only when, at the very least:
1. Early models have shown themselves to be reliable and safe.
2. Later models have crashed and burned, had their bugs worked out, and we all accept that there is no perfect machine.
3. Everyone can afford one, and all the roads are equipped to support them.
4. Every person who drives agrees to drive one.
The timeline is considerable.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader, occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.