John Levy ends his chapter on transportation planning with a prediction that many industry experts would find hard not to support. “It is hard to believe that driverless technology, particularly if accompanied by greater fuel economy, would not have serious implications for the long-term development of our pattern of land use and settlement.” Like Levy says it is hard for anyone to deny that autonomous vehicles will not have a huge impact on the world around us. These impacts will come in various forms, many which people won’t expect and a few that might not be as positive.
SAE International has created a standard for measuring autonomy with six levels, 0 to 5. Tesla introduced their autopilot feature in the Model S around two years ago which is classified as an SAE 2 vehicle. This year Audi put into production the newest model of their A8 line which they boast to have achieved SAE 3 levels of autonomy. Just four years out, companies are promising to roll out cars with SAE 4 levels of autonomy. This is such a rapid rate of technological improvement that it is completely plausible that we will have reliable autonomous cars within a few decades, if not faster.
This is going to bring about a lot of benefit, but from a planning perspective this will also bring its fair share of challenges. Currently some of the biggest innovators in this space are companies like Lyft and Uber. With autonomous technology, they would be able to revolutionize their network of cars. A downside of this that researchers are starting to look into is the increased traffic congestion caused by the popularity of their services and environmental impacts otherwise. A study from UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies showed that people use public transportation less as the usage of ride hailing companies goes up. This puts more cars on the road during rush hours and increases traffic.
When cars become autonomous, there will be more cars on the road even during off peak hours. A driverless car doesn’t need to stay parked, but this means that transportation planners need to both rethink their models of conventional traffic flow during off peak hours as well as expect to have to facilitate the movement of a larger population of vehicles.
The most jarring way this will probably manifest is the removal of street side parking and parking lots in general. Now from a new urbanist perspective, having fewer parking lots might seem like a move in the right direction, but that might not translate into the pedestrian friendly landscape that a neotraditionalist would want. The same way the first automotive’s huge impact on the world drove an “automotive first” development, with the advent of fully autonomous cars most transportation systems will drive “autonomous first” and lead to a more vehicle dependent transportation system.
These challenges are definitely many years off but the thinking that we do now and the direction we decide to take will have drastic effects on our urban landscapes for decades to come.
Kessler, Sarah. “A Timeline of Self-Driving Cars.” Quartz, Quartz, 29 Mar. 2017, qz.com/943899/a-timeline-of-when-self-driving-cars-will-be-on-the-road-according-to-the-people-making-them/.
Levy, John M.. Contemporary Urban Planning. 11th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
McFarland, Matt. “Uber and Lyft Are Creating a Traffic Problem for Big Cities.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 11 Oct. 2017, money.cnn.com/2017/10/11/technology/future/ride-hailing-cities-public-transit/index.html.
Said, Caroline. “Study: Rideshare Cars Heavily Impact San Francisco Streets.” Government Technology: State & Local Government News Articles, http://www.govtech.com/transportation/Uber-Lyft-Cars-Heavily-Impact-San-Francisco-Streets-Study-Finds.html.