Autonomous Vehicles Will Change City Landscapes There has been a lot of press recently about the utopian promise of autonomous vehicles. And why not? The concept of having our cars drive us while we sit in luxury has an almost universal appeal.
by: Justin Thompson and Garth Bostic
has been a lot of press recently about the utopian promise of
autonomous vehicles. And why not? The concept of having our cars drive
us while we sit in luxury has an almost universal appeal. That appeal
pulls at the imagination and invites daydreaming about a world in which
our cars efficiently move about and talk to one another, eliminating
traffic and whisking us from point A to point B while also causing
emissions to plummet and cities to thrive. The reality though, is that
autonomous vehicles could present a starkly different world than the one
so many stories have portrayed. Unshackled from drivers, trip counts
could explode, which could lead to more vehicles on the road.
The truth is that the impact of autonomous vehicles on our world has less to do with technology and
more to do with how proactive society and government are in integrating
that technology. We can either adjust our habits and laws in a manner
that allows autonomous vehicles to merge into and contribute or we can
do nothing and effectively make them force their way into the flow.
Which route we go will largely determine whether our future with
autonomous vehicles resembles the utopian model or not.
Changing Our Habits
vehicles on their own won't change traffic congestion, particularly if
they are primarily used to take a single passenger from one place to
another. In fact, traffic has the potential to increase, as even those
without drivers' licenses and those who aren't old enough to drive can
be picked up and dropped off at a whim by themselves. Moreover, one can
imagine a world where cars opt to circle a destination rather than park,
perhaps waiting to be called by a passenger. In those cases, among
other similar situations, cars without even a single passenger will clog
order for autonomous vehicles to positively change traffic congestion,
adoption needs to be accompanied by an increase in the amount of
ridesharing. The good news is that there are numerous studies that
suggest that ridesharing is on the rise. It is no revelation that
transportation has already gone through a fundamental shift with
ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. These services have decreased
the cost of hailing a ride while increasing efficiency in the process.
They have also (and perhaps more importantly) fostered the ridesharing
mentality through their myriad offered payment options. Autonomous
vehicles have the power to drop the price of this type of ridesharing
even more, as the cost of the driver's labor is no longer a factor.
technology underlying autonomous vehicles could also be utilized for
exciting new methods of transporting a number of individuals at once,
taking cars off the roads, lowering emissions and making safer
environments. Commuting to work in a local carpool may become easier and
more comfortable when no one needs to drive. Public transportation
could be enhanced, rather than deterred, as autonomous shuttles quickly
and easily pick up and drop off individuals based around mass transit
hubs. As the price of a ride drops, some ingenuity and the proper
incentives will be needed to ensure our traffic problems aren't
exacerbated to new levels. Regardless, unless society continues to adopt
ridesharing, much of the promise of autonomous vehicles will be
Changing Our Laws
the re-evaluation of traffic codes and auto insurance regulation,
governments, particularly local governments, have a crucial part to play
in getting ready for cities filled with autonomous vehicles. Local land
use laws must set a precedent to ensure autonomous vehicles enhance,
rather than hinder, the livability of built environments.
vehicles won't just change the way we get around; they have the
potential to redefine the landscapes of our cities in dramatic ways.
Extended commute times will be far more bearable when drivers aren't in
control of their vehicles. Drivers (or more appropriately, passengers)
can work on the road, feel free to be distracted and enjoy the ride as
their car takes them to work. As a result, individuals may be
incentivized to move farther from city centers, adding to urban sprawl
and replacing open space or agricultural communities with exurbs.
course, this type of growth is the antithesis of what many cities have
been working toward in the last 20 years. Downtown centers have seen a
renewal, and a greater concern for the environmental impact of vehicle
emissions has led many city planners to push for increased urban density
and infill development, rather than expansion of low-rise communities
on the outer rings of metropolitan areas.
order to keep current goals on track, local governments need to be
proactive in their planning, rather than reactive. As we look toward a
new future of transportation, there needs to be a greater focus on how
autonomous vehicles can not only be integrated into the real estate
industry but how they can be utilized to accomplish community planning
easiest example is parking. Autonomous vehicles can park themselves.
Subscription models of car ownership don't require parking, as
individuals are dropped off at their destinations. This would render
current parking minimums requirements in place by many cities outdated
and excessive and, in some instances perhaps, entirely obsolete. As
autonomous vehicles become the norm, parking could be de-coupled from
buildings, meaning that offsite structures in more appropriate locales
could be purchased to satisfy parking requirements. This would, in turn,
free up square footage in buildings that could be used for higher and
more productive uses such as additional dwellings.
advent of autonomous technology is on the verge of shifting power back
to local governments. Depending on how local governments respond, our
office parks, apartment complexes and urban areas could look drastically
different, or they could stay behind the times. They could respond in a
way that results in vibrant urban centers, where residents and workers
alike are encouraged to participate in rideshares, or perhaps park on
the edges of the city center and rely on secondary transportation after
being dropped off. Or they could simply maintain the status quo and cope
with what could likely be a bevy of empty parking garages and surface
parking lots that raise the cost of development while lowering the value
of adjacent properties. In short, they could use this coming
opportunity to facilitate economic development or they could ignore it
and perhaps usher in an unwelcome environment that works against the
promise and allure we have all read about.
The technological advancement is coming; the impact it has will depend largely on if and how our habits and laws adjust.