Joe Derhake Joe Derhake is the CEO of Partner Engineering & Science.

LOS ANGELES—Parking structures may soon become a thing of the past, with the advent of autonomous vehicles. In the latest webinar from Partner Engineering & Science, Joe Derhake, the CEO of Partner Engineering & Science, and Brian Soublet, deputy director and chief counsel at California Department of Motor Vehicles, imagine a Los Angeles with driverless vehicles and how the new technology might affect both our roadways and the commercial real estate and development markets.

“Technological change is accelerating. If you are a developer, you know you are going to be building your project into the future, and you know that to realize a return on your product, it needs to serve society’s needs for 15 to 100 years,” Derhake says at the opening of the webinar. “How do you anticipate what society will demand from real estate for the next 50 years? When cars go driverless, it is going to change commercial real estate in a more fundamental way. It will change how civil engineers like me design buildings. The most important thing in real estate is location, but location is a derivative of transportation technologies.”

Skeptics, he says are worried about the technology as well as safety, and government regulations; however, once the technology is available to consumers and building codes evolve, Derhake is sure that this technology will have a tremendous impact on the commercial market.

Soublet shares this sentiment, saying that the technology will not only affect existing and future commercial real estate, but also our existing infrastructure. “We know from Caltrans that our existing infrastructure is not going to grow, so we to figure out how to use it more efficiently,” says Soublet. “Since autonomous vehicles can detect each other, they don’t need as much space in a lane.” Derhake expands this idea to parking in commercial buildings, where there may not be as much space needed between cars—assuming the car parks itself and you don’t need to open the doors—or a need for parking spaces proximate to the entrance of the building.

Safety plays a huge role as well in this discussion. Soublet imagines that autonomous driving could greatly reduce the 32,000 vehicle fatalities in the US each year, 10% of which are in the state of California. Soublet adds that in addition to safety, this technology has the potential to decrease traffic and thereby enhance quality of life, saving Los Angeles drivers alone 8.6 days 24-hour days annually spent in traffic. “Autonomous vehicles promise to provide a safer and more efficient use of our roadways,” says Soublet. “That is the promise of the future that we see with the adoption of autonomous technology.”

Manufacturers testing this technology, however, will have to follow a long list safety standards, including keeping $5 million in bond, insurance or self insurance, ensure the technology meets the federal motor vehicle safety standards and that the technology will obey traffic laws. Beta testing permits have been issued to 105 cars in California for 370 drivers.

The impetus of the discussion was not only that autonomous vehicles will reshape the real estate landscape, but that developers should be taking changing technologies into consideration when designing properties. In fact, Derhake says that there are office developers that have left several parking-structure floors adaptable to alternative use should parking regulations change in the future. “L.A. could never be New York, because it is a car town, and we could never get the density to create that energy. But, maybe, Downtown Los Angeles would change substantially,” says Derhake. “We would need less parking lots and parking garages, and perhaps those would be redevelopment opportunities.”