General Motors, Ford, and BMW are among the major
automakers that have announced plans to release autonomous
cars within the next few years; GM is expected to be the first
out of the gate with the electric Cruise AV, scheduled for 2019.
Meanwhile, self-driving car startup Waymo has been testing
its minivans in Phoenix and is about to launch a driverless
ride-hailing service for the public. However, the general
consensus is that it will take a few decades for AVs to be
widely adopted. “The good news is that our cities have some
time to prepare for this,” says Joshua Karlin-Resnick, senior
associate at transportation consultancy Nelson/Nygaard.
Already, design thinkers of varying backgrounds are collaborating
on the most effective concepts for these future cities, from
the re-designation of roadways to the re-appropriation
of parking garages.
Transportation wonks are sounding the alarm now, warning
that our societal dependency on automobiles and attendant
environmental problems could worsen with the arrival of AVs.
“If everyone has their own autonomous vehicle and
commutes from the wilds of suburbia, then sends their car
off to do errands all day, we’re looking at an autonomous but
very congested future,” explains Gerry Tierney, associate
principal at Perkins+Will and co-director of the Perkins+Will
Mobility Lab. “We’re at a fork in the road, where we can end up
with the selfish, hands-free version of the future, or one where
we share AVs through a subscription-based model and use
them to reclaim the public realm. As designers, we need to put
that vision in front of people.”
Ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft have jump-started the public
policy discussion, and have already made a significant dent
in parking demand at airports and downtown garages.
The hope is that they reduce the need for car ownership and
help solve the “last mile issue”—the gap between mass transit
and final destination. However, a recent survey of 4,000 users
by researchers at UC Davis found a 6 percent reduction in
public transportation among those who used the services,
and that a significant number of trips would have not happened
at all without them. The authors of the study concluded that
Uber and Lyft were likely adding to—not reducing—the amount
of traffic in the city.
The looming disruption may help urban planners make the case for
“complete streets” and alternative forms of transportation. “We’ve been
arguing for decades that we should reduce the parking requirements for
developers, develop more public transit, and implement road pricing,”
states David King, assistant professor of urban planning at Arizona State
University. “None of these policies are unique to automated vehicles,
but they can be a catalyst to drive these changes.” In particular, King argues
that on-site parking is outdated. “We don’t have to outlaw parking, but
we should divorce it from the building itself. New parking should be built
to standards that will let it be converted to some other use in the future,”
he says. In the meantime, Seattle and San Francisco have created
statements of principle to help guide future policy decisions; and Los Angeles
and Vancouver, British Columbia, have set up innovation centers within
their transit departments to conduct their own experiments.
could unlock a significant
amount of human
productivity that currently
is wasted in transit.
Curb Appeal – By Lydia Lee