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City Planners Need to Start Preparing for Autonomous Vehicles Now

If recent experience with Airbnb, Uber and scooter-sharing is anything to go by, waiting for autonomous vehicle (AV) operators to decide the future of urban AV deployment will not create the cities that urban planners hope for. [1]

According to Bern Grush and John Niles of mobility company Harmonize Mobility, cities need to start preparing for AVs now, irrespective of how far away the tipping point of becoming reality actually is. Because when that point comes, it might be too late. If cities want to reap the benefits of AVs – less congestion, solving the last-mile mobility problem, freeing up prime urban real estate from parking – they cannot afford to get caught out.

Grush and Niles argue that cities should “identify the tasks and metrics needed to intentionally channel AV technology toward enhancing urban liveability rather than simply consume what will be on offer”. But most helpfully, they have provided a template for how cities can start doing just this in the form of keystone questions to consider (which we have paraphrased below):

  • What are the characteristics of attractive communities in a world where household vehicle ownership is no longer a necessity?
  • How can AVs be integrated with public transport or leveraged in other ways rather than just replace current car use patterns?
  • How to regulate AVs so that the majority of travelers experience satisfactory trip services (desirable, prompt, clean, comprehensive service area)?
  • What steps and changes to infrastructure are needed to manage curbs and pickup locations to avoid making congestion worse?
  • What should be done with parking spaces as they become freed up and who should benefit?

 

Personal comments

Now is indeed the time for the cities to start thinking about some of the central questions proposed by the authors – like what they envision a liveable city with AVs to actually look like and how to avoid some of the possible pitfalls along the way.

It would be a shame if the arrival of AVs just further cements the dominance of automobiles in cities where cycling, for example, could actually make more sense as the primary mode of transport. Starting to think about AVs now, with the help of the template suggested by Grush and Niles, will guide cities to ponder over fundamental questions such as what the most advantageous and desirable use-case for AVs will be in specific city settings. Another really interesting question the template leads its users to ask is how superfluous parking spaces and garages might be utilized? Will they be sold off and turned into new shopping malls, or reclaimed as public spaces – and can current city planners do anything now to influence the direction of such decisions in the future?

 

Written by Bobby Chen, RISE Viktoria.

 

Sources

1. 2019-12-03. Cities Can Prepare for Autonomous Vehicles Now?