FutureStructure

6 Insights About Autonomous Vehicles Cities Should Know

Cities should be thinking about how they are going to address the inevitable onset of autonomous vehicles, beginning yesterday.

by / May 5, 2017

A new Bloomberg Philanthropies report digs into the impact self-driving vehicle technology will have on cities across the world — and it's big.

“The advent of autonomous cars is one of the most exciting developments ever to happen to cities,” former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg said in the report, Taming the Autonomous Vehicle: A Primer for Cities (PDF), released May 4. “If mayors collaborate with one another, and with partners in the private sector, they can improve people’s lives in ways we can only imagine today.”

The nonprofit released the report as a way to inform cities that the grace period is quickly expiring for thinking about autonomous vehicles (AVs). With each passing week, new pilots are announced or companies are showing off their latest development in self-driving vehicle technology.

While many AV manufacturers have put an expected deployment rollout around 2021, in order for cities to prepare themselves for this short window, precautions must be taken now.

The report breaks down six major questions, framed as "who, what, when, where, how and why," that circle the conclusion that autonomous vehicles in their many forms are coming, the only real question is whether cities will be prepared in time.

The report compiled six keys for cities insights for city officials to know about the future of AV integration on city streets.

1. The Window for Action is Closing: Although they may seem like a distant technology, when economies of scale begin to kick in, or the proportionate cost savings is gained by an increased level of production, this technology could rapidly expand. The report predicts that when costs for AVs fall, they will spread more rapidly than traditional automobiles did in the 20th century.

2. AV Deployment Makes Sense in Cities: Cities by their very nature consist of dense populations living and working in a limited geographical space. Traditional vehicles, due to their bulky and often oversized nature, do not often mix with the finite space available. Autonomous vehicles could reduce the need for parking spaces and garages, minimize lane spacing and open up more living space for residents.

3. Highway Testing is So Passé: According to the report, most testing in the AV space has been done on high-speed highways — but this is already obsolete. The greatest impact, and largest market available, will be in revolutionizing intra-city mobility.

4. Change in Mobility Driven by Aging Population: In less than 15 years, the world will have more than 1.4 billion people over the age of 60. While mobility options lessen with aging, autonomous vehicles could keep the elderly moving and more independent.

5. Cities can Leverage Power over Developers: Because the emerging market is brand new, cities have the opportunity to set the rules — if they act quickly. Cities can shape markets to focus private-sector attention and investment on the needs of cities and underserved populations.

6.Cities are Just One Piece of the Puzzle: The best case scenario for the implementation of automated vehicles include reduced congestion, elimination of human-caused crashes, increased mobility and more space devoted to public spaces, among many others. In order to maximize the good and minimize the bad, according to the report, cities must tap all stakeholders and keep them involved. Such a complete transformation of the transportation system will need help from experts across all levels of government, academia, and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is working with the Aspen Institute to bring mayors and senior leaders from several cities together with leading industry and policy experts to help cities explore the questions and hopefully come up with workable solutions.