Driverless car revolution is coming
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
Transition will be tricky, so planning needs to start now
The connection between land use and transportation has been well-established, but it’s about to get even more important. Like a lot of other aspects of the world today, technology is the big driver. In the case of autonomous vehicles, that is literally so.
As plainly evident in recent business development initiatives by Google, Apple, Uber, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Tesla, and many other companies, driverless cars are coming, and coming fast.
The implications for cities, from transportation operations to urban planning and urban design, are enormous. Yet cities are only now coming to grips with this seismic transformation. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania warned that most Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) weren’t taking into account the mainstream arrival of driverless cars in their long-range regional plans.
The ramifications for urban landscapes are extensive. Driverless cars – an equally appropriate label is crashless cars – will obey speed limits and follow one another closely; they will cruise along in a constant state of tailgating. Streets in cities can thus be narrower, for one thing.
They presumably won’t kill pedestrians or bicycles, either, changing the contours of the public realm, crosswalks, and bike lanes. The entire system of traffic signals in cities can also be transformed because of this obedience. Strategies to reduce congestion, whether carpool lanes or congestion pricing, will adapt to this new reality.
The configuration, design, and location of parking structures and surface parking lots will also be in for a major overhaul. The ubiquitous parking garage won’t need to be in central locations in downtowns. Driverless cars will drop off passengers and go park themselves. The august publication Car & Driver has already anticipated the coming changes in parking.
But of course there’s more. Individual car ownership will almost certainly drop precipitously. We may be looking at a world where it makes no sense to own a car, which typically spends over 90 percent of its life parked anyway. It will make more sense to either use a robotic form of Uber, or a super-charged version of ZipCar – sharing vehicles only when they are needed for specific trips. In that scenario, the car won’t need to be parked at all: it will simply go pick up the next passenger.
Why own a car when we can be a part of a driverless car-sharing program, and get our transportation for a fraction of the cost?
In this new world, truck and package delivery will also change our cityscapes. We won’t need a conventional system of loading zones, and streets will potentially be rid of double-parking. FedEx, UPS, and Amazon are already making plans for taking advantage of the technology to conduct their business.
There is a flipside. If I can own a nice BMW 7-series that drives itself, why not live in a sprawling suburb and read and catch up on emails, in the hourlong commute to the center city? It will be like a personal version of commuter rail.
Yet the potential for a more equitable system of transportation is far greater. Robin Chase, co-founder of ZipCar, wants to make sure that cities establish an accessible and affordable system for driverless car sharing.
The transition to driverless cars will be tricky, as cities attempt to simultaneously manage both “smart” and “dumb” legacy vehicles. But that’s all the more reason for city leaders to start planning now. Douglas Foy, a leader in the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a far-thinking organization that has recently partnered with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, has been working with state transportation secretaries on topics from transit-oriented development to value capture. Driverless cars are inevitably going to be part of any transportation portfolio, he says.
“We need to think about this – we can’t leave it to the tech companies. Others need to step into the policy frame. State DOTs and city DOTs are just starting to wake up to this,” he says. “This all ultimately is a land use opportunity. The vehicles are coming.”
Planning for this newfangled future is one of the goals of a major summit being organized by Meeting of the Minds. On June 20, 2017, 120 mobility leaders will convene in Cambridge to discuss the future of mobility in the Boston region. (If you are interested in attending the invitation-only summit, please fill out this application.) While the Boston region continues to remain globally competitive, we are at a unique moment in the history of mobility and transportation. The summit aims to harness the ingenuity and innovation already underway in the Commonwealth, as well as the expertise of invited global thought leaders with best practices directly applicable to Boston’s challenges.
I have sometimes thought, if driverless cars are the answer, what was the question? But autonomous vehicles are one part of a radically changed transportation and mobility framework for all the world’s cities. The upside is too great to ignore, and the opportunity is obvious, to integrate transportation and land use at the most sophisticated and strategic level yet.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Middle-Mile Networks: The Middleman of Internet Connectivity
The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.
In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.
Wildfire Risk Reduction: Connecting the Dots
One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing. Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.
ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots” for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions. This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.
Innovating Our Way Out of Crisis
Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.
It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.