The Driverless Future of Los Angeles

I landed at Los Angeles International Airport this morning, on the way to a friend’s wedding in Rancho Palos Verdes.

As the LA Basin spread out underneath our approach, I was treated to a wonderful view of the LA sprawl, which really can look beautiful in the morning sun, from thousands of feet up.

The 405 stretched from Beverly Hills in the north to Long Beach in the south, and the 5 shot from Downtown LA to Anaheim and beyond.

Los Angeles is the ultimate car city. Most sprawl, worst traffic, best status cars, largest parking lots. Everything.

What will happen when drivers are no longer needed?

Parking will be a big change. More so than any other city (I think), LA devotes lots of valuable land to parking. That prime real estate will become a lot more productive once the parking demand subsides.

Traffic will be another change. There are mixed views about whether driverless cars will improve traffic (better, faster drivers), or worsen it (more miles traveled).

Sprawl may actually change LA more than other cities. Southern California has already maxed out its sprawl capacity. Hemmed in by mountains to the north and east, the ocean to the west, it has sprawled south into Orange County and San Diego, but even there minimal rural land is available for further expansion. Unlike, say Houston or Phoenix.

So, in the optimistic case, maybe driverless cars spur infill and bring forth a denser but also less congested Los Angeles.

Originally published at on December 5, 2015.

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