Autonomous Vehicles: Planning Cityscapes for the Future


While fully autonomous cars have not truly hit the roads in any kind of significant numbers, the future of this technology has a great impact on plans for parking garages, roadways, city development and real estate.

Creating Federal Regulations

Creating federal regulations about autonomous cars has been a tricky situation. While it makes sense to have regulations in place and ready to go before the vehicles hit the road, developers fear that implementing too many regulations at this early stage of the game will stifle development. On the other hand, it is possible that regulatory uncertainty could also inadvertently stifle innovation as developers try to guess at what the federal government will do with these vehicles once they become available.

To help spur innovation, the previous administration funded the Smart City Challenge, which was a competition that awarded $40 million to Columbus, Ohio so the city could develop a next-generation transportation system. The Challenge also pushed 70 other cities across the nation to develop plans for driverless technology. The Department of Transportation also introduced some recommended regulations last year, including the Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles, which is a 15-point recommended safety assessment for autonomous vehicles. More recently, dozens of bills have been introduced to Congress with the goal of solidifying the federal government’s oversight while also granting tech companies the ability to conduct more widespread tests.

Developing City Regulations

Of course, individual cities will also have to determine how to regulate driverless cars while also setting up the proper infrastructure to support them. How this will look is still uncertain, though it is likely to include new zoning codes requiring mandatory drop-off zones. Since autonomous cars will also reduce the need for parking, cities will have to look at ways to deal with the loss of car-related revenue. In addition, regulations may need to be put in place to help reduce the potential congestion caused by driverless vehicles driving around without passengers.

Autonomous vehicles will also likely have an impact on how city transportation works. As such, city transportation and planning officials will need to play a large role in determining how the driverless urban transport system will look in their city. Some cities are already looking ahead and planning for the likely upcoming changes as they create new infrastructure. Yet others are testing out driverless shuttles to see how they affect public transportation. Europe will also serve as a good testing ground for this new technology, with autonomous bus services scheduled to be offered on a regular basis in Helsink, Finland this fall. With the help of these smart buses, advocates hope they will expand coverage areas while increasing passenger volume at a lower cost. The success of these driverless transport systems may very well shape public opinion when it comes to personal autonomous vehicles.

Many questions still remain about autonomous vehicles and how they will fit into the national landscape as well as within individual cities such as Boston. Nonetheless, it is quite likely that these vehicles will be hitting the city’s streets in the relatively near future.

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