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Autonomous Driving: Are Cities Ready? #TheGlobalGrid Jan...

Autonomous Driving: Are Cities Ready? #TheGlobalGrid January Twitter Chat Recap

On Wednesday, January 17th, we hosted #TheGlobalGrid inaugural Twitter chat of 2018. Autonomous driving was the highly requested topic of the month and for good reason. We’ve all heard of the self-driving cars’ promise to change mobility and its far-reaching consequences on urban design and planning. To discuss how cities should get ready for all these changes

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On Wednesday, January 17th, we hosted #TheGlobalGrid inaugural Twitter chat of 2018. Autonomous driving was the highly requested topic of the month and for good reason. We’ve all heard of the self-driving cars' promise to change mobility and its far-reaching consequences on urban design and planning.

To discuss how cities should get ready for all these changes and challenges, we invited four expert panel members to contribute their insights and predictions for the future of urban mobility:

We posed you and our expert panelists five questions and received a variety of insightful answers. Here are the main takeaways:

1. The deployment of self-driving cars will be incremental and somewhat chaotic in its first phase:

Within the restricted frameworks of experimental studies and pilot projects, self-driving cars are already roaming the streets of some cities. The first models could become available to users, by 2030, through fleet operators within limited, low-risk areas.

To defeat consumer resistance and increase technology acceptance, manufacturers might drop the technology prices to convert users to private ownership of the vehicles. As these become widely available and less geographically restricted, and because of lagging policies, congestion could increase before the market and regulations are able to curb ownership levels and turn people to shared ridership. The question of people letting go of the steering wheel and the driving experience, that many manufacturers capitalize on in their marketing strategies, will however remain.

2. Congestion is possibly the worst nightmare a city with self-driving cars could go through:

During our chat, one of the biggest threats cited about autonomous driving is congestion; an overloading of the current infrastructure that would penalize city budgets in the absence of proactive policies that regulate traffic and the competition between public transport operators. Opportunities are, however, numerous: safe streets, more space reclaimed from streets for public spaces and development and harmonized collective transportation fleets.

3. Public transit should adopt automation to survive and cities should focus on managing MaaS solutions:

If autonomous driving won’t constitute a threat to current public transit systems in the short term, it is more likely that, as the costs of operating and maintaining shared self-driving vehicles go down, public transit systems will be disrupted.


Instead of competing with ride-sharing services that will become available through private fleet operators, cities should focus on proactively creating the regulatory framework for these solutions; to cater to their resident's needs while ensuring social equity, convenience, and accessibility for all users through leveraging the potential of Mobility as a Service (MaaS.) The new proposals and programs “could be collectively funded by the elimination of $277B” lost in road traffic accidents.

4. Cities should quickly figure out what autonomous driving technology can achieve for them so they can set up beneficial partnerships with the industry leaders:

Cities should “ensure equity and optimization by moving road fees to user subsidies,” focus on managing mobility solutions and let fleet “operators do the heavy lifting.”

Cities should also use the current shift in mobility technologies to their advantage by performing accurate transit cost-benefit analysis that will put them on the map for employers and create job opportunities for their residents. Finally, the infrastructure transformations should be advised by the city needs rather than the industry’s and their costs should be shared by the private stakeholders who will most benefit from the upgrade.

5. Cities should work together with communities to define their priorities and revise their regulations to use the technology to their advantage:

Cities should be open to a test and learn approach when dealing with autonomous driving technology. But they should first define their priorities and make choices for the future with regards to issues such as urban sprawl, car ownership, parking, and budgeting, to name a few. Cities should proactively plan for the long term, while there is still time, to ensure that future land uses and transportation systems will deliver value to their communities.

On a parallel line, planners should embrace digitization, learn from experiences within the smart cities movement, lead and facilitate the conversation with communities about how data can be used to improve livability and generate solutions that are adjusted to their needs.

Is your city getting ready for autonomous driving technology? What do you think cities can do to prepare for self-driving cars and stay ahead of challenges? What role should planners play to facilitate the conversation? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below. 

For a full transcript of the chat questions and answers check our Twitter Moment. And if you’ve missed this month’s chat, join us for our next monthly Twitter chat on Wednesday, February 21st at 12:00 p.m. PST. We look forward to your participation!

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Sarah Essbai is an architect, urban planner and independent researcher based in Zaandam, in The Netherlands. As of September 2017, she is leading the communications and marketing efforts of The Global Grid.

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