FutureStructure

Oklahoma City Mayor Imagines a Future With Autonomous Vehicles

Mayor Mick Cornett said he expects driverless cars to give the city great opportunities to live more productive lives — if it plans correctly.

by William Crum, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City / May 11, 2017
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(TNS) -- OKLAHOMA CITY -- Mayor Mick Cornett put on his near-futurist hat Wednesday, giving the audience at the Mayor's Development Roundtable a glance at how autonomous vehicles will affect the city.

Cornett said he expected autonomous — computer-controlled, driverless — cars, trucks and buses to start showing up on Oklahoma City streets in the next four to five years.

Cornett acknowledged the difficulty in grasping that fact, after presenting a slide on the testing of autonomous cars, currently under way in Pittsburgh.

"All of us are in denial that this is really going to take place," said Cornett, who is on a federal advisory committee on transportation system automation. "It is such a drastic change.

"No technology has impacted the city more than will autonomous vehicles," he said. "It's going to give us great opportunities to live more productive lives — if we plan correctly."

Cornett spoke at the Cox Center downtown, at the last Development Roundtable he will host as mayor. He has announced plans to retire when his fourth term ends next year.

Cornett presented the 2017 Mayor's Award for Outstanding Development to the 21c Museum Hotel, which opened last year in the renovated Ford auto factory at 900 W Main St.

Cornett said cities will have to assess the impact of autonomous vehicles: "Do we need fewer parking garages? … Are people likely to commute shorter distances or longer distances?

"Are people just going to be dropped off where they're going and tell their autonomous vehicles to keep going around the block until I'm ready to go home?" he asked.

And the transition, as drivers share the road with cars on autopilot, "will create some havoc."

"The intellectual part of your brain will tell you that this is a good thing, it's going to be safer," the mayor said.

"The emotional side of your brain will say this scares me to death because I'm going to be driving against computers, robots, and it's got to be more dangerous."

Cornett said he turned to urbanist and author Jeff Speck for ideas on managing autonomous vehicles. In 2009, Speck consulted on plans to produce a more pedestrian-friendly Oklahoma City.

First, Speck told the mayor, "Autonomous vehicles are inevitable, so plan ahead." Among Speck's considerations, according to Cornett:

•Cities should decide how much traffic to allow, rather than fighting to accommodate hordes of traffic, to figure out how best to apply local traffic laws.

•Autonomous vehicles will collect a lot of data about the city. The data is likely to be very valuable and, "Jeff's advice to cities is to make sure you own your own data."

Cornett said the rise of autonomous vehicles could diminish transit and produce sprawl.

"A cheaper, easier commute might make it more likely for you to live farther away," he said. "If you're sitting in the luxury of the back seat of your car, you have a television, you have the newspaper, you may not mind if your commute is longer than it is today.

"How do we decide whether we want more sprawl or not?" Cornett said.

©2017 The Oklahoman Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.