FutureStructure

How Beaverton, Ore., Is Preparing for the Onslaught of Autonomous Vehicles

The length of time for change to occur is shrinking, says Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, who noted that by the time cars are fully automated, flying cars may be part of the equation.

by / October 5, 2017

Denny Doyle has served as Beaverton, Ore.'s mayor since January 2009 after spending 14 years on the Beaverton City Council.

Beaverton has a strong mayor form of government, so Doyle also acts as the city manager, managing the day-to-day operations of the city — which includes assessing new technologies like autonomous vehicles, and the effects they will have on the community.

Doyle also serves on a variety of local, regional and national boards and committees, including the board of the National League of Cities and as vice chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Task Force for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How does Beaverton being part of the larger Portland urban area influence your transportation planning, particularly when looking at new technologies like ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles?

Well, we have a regional government called Metro, and they set up all the land use for the region. So we are used to working as a region on things. Not every city wants to, but I think we can do that. This has to be a regional approach because it can't just stop at the boundaries of the central city. It's got to be the whole area. And there's plenty going on in Washington County. There's 12 cities involved and they meet monthly as a group of mayors. There are issues that can come up, but I think the whole automated transportation stuff is still under the radar. It's not really conscious for a lot of people. And it's coming. That's why I have staff now starting to look at it and trying to understand what is it we have to do and how much it's going to cost us.

Where do you go for information on this?

Well, we get on the Internet and we talk to companies that have talked to the bigger cities that are trying to set things up. So we try to learn from them — right now, most of the attention is in the big cities and I guess it makes the most sense. But there's a boatload of people living in the suburbs, including first tier suburbs like Beaverton, and it's got to be done together because it's a regional issue and it's going be a national thing.

So how do you address the first mile, last mile issue, which seems to be perhaps the biggest one in a community like yours?

I think that ride-share is the answer there. We are adding bus lines through our regional provider, Tri-Met, but you can't cover every block in the suburbs with a bus, so we have to work with ride-share services, and we welcome them. We don't regulate. All of them are in there. We don't regulate taxis either. We just don't do that for a bunch of reasons. And it seems to be working. And our light rail system, in some of the heavy employment zones, they actually have buses now from our regional transportation provider that get people off the light rail system right to factories, right to production plants, and bring them back. So we see more opportunities to do that and it's pretty cost-effective.

Everything we can do to encourage people to use mass transit, we want to do that. I'm on a committee for Tri-Met and we've tried to figure out where we could get funding to really buy down the cost of a light rail/bus monthly pass for people who would benefit the most. The mechanism to make that judgment is there. It's a new approach and I was excited the Legislature put it into the transportation package. It's going to serve a lot of people.

And what about parking in your community — any changes in your planning on this?

Right now there's plenty of parking around. But we just hired a parking guru to try to figure out if we are underestimating our need for parking. We're trying to avoid building parking garages. As autonomous vehicles come along, as people don't have cars, you don't want to build monuments to concrete that cost a lot and then be stuck with them. That is, unless, you make it so they can convert into housing or office space. Then it's a good risk to take, but if you don't do that, you're making a mistake.

So you are planning with that — planning a decrease in the parking space needed.

Yup. You know we're trying to turn the downtown area into a spot where the millennials want to live. No cars. We've got light rail running right through the heart, but that was the whole purpose of the mass transit coming out from Portland out west to Hillsboro. And they went out east to Gresham. Parts of this system is going on 35 years old.

And the whole region has one more large segment to put in. Then we'll have hub and spoke in all directions. But that's a multi-billion dollar project, so we've got a ways to go. But we're hoping in 10 years to have that complete. We're not giving up.

Do you have any words of advice for communities that aren't as far along?

Get going. It's coming. And if you think about it, in all seriousness, if you think about how the length of time for change to occur is shrinking. Who knows what we're going to come up with. By the time we get fully automated, we'll probably have cars that fly. So we've got to be on the lookout. We've got to encourage people to be serious about it.

I see just in talking with you, you're excited. You say, "Bring it on." And that's certainly advice to somebody, because you're not going to hold it back.

You're not going to. And I'm telling you, I look at it just, if you regulate, the theory if you automate the cars and driving, you don't have to build more roads. You just use what you have more safely, more efficiently. So if we can get that, make the roads safer, our insurance goes down and people can be more productive while they're riding. But I even have friends who bought cars with automatic backup — they're too afraid of it. They won't use it.

And you know, in the Tesla, they've had one or two accidents. Well, that doesn't mean it's a failed program. How many accidents do we have people making the wrong decision at an intersection? So we have to be patient and get on with it.