How Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape Cities

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Autonomous Vehicles: Future Scenarios

Today in America, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are already on our streets, with pilots taking place in cities nationwide. Technology like this can be utilized to make all of our lives better — but even if our hands are off the wheel, we must drive this future together.

That’s why NLC and the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles are collaborating on a new series of research reports, a primer and an atlas of city-led AV pilots to help city leaders prepare for these shifts.

We’ve also created four stories that explain how cities can shape the driverless future. These stories center around key areas for cities: mobility, sustainability, jobs and the economy, and urban transformation.

Explore these four possible futures that describe what AVs could mean for cities. The scenarios, developed by the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles, and reported by journalist Greg Lindsay, are part of NLC’s larger initiative to provide city leaders with the tools they need to build our cities of the future.

Mobility: Tap taxis to tackle isolation

While most automakers don’t plan on selling AVs to the public before 2020, Lyft, Uber and Nutonomy have all started piloting driverless technology in select cities across the country. If you live in a city, your first ride in an autonomous vehicle will very likely be in a self-driving taxi. These taxis have the potential to provide a cheap and inclusive way for people who are isolated—such as the elderly and disabled—to get around.

Sustainability: Weaving a microtransit mesh

If your first experience riding an AV isn’t in a taxi, then it’ll be in a driverless minibus. Unlike the taxis, minibuses have pre-programmed routes and can carry multiple people at once. They will be an economical part of our autonomous future.

Jobs & the Economy: A human touch on robot delivery

You may have expected that a drone would be delivering your takeout burritos, but it turns out robots on sidewalks will probably be doing it first. Autonomous robots will likely be a boon to local restaurants and shops, allowing them to more easily compete with megaliths like Amazon and provide customers with almost instant deliveries.

Urban Transformation: Rethinking buses, bikes, and barriers

Just as robots will likely be embraced by local businesses, robots will also likely serve a municipal role. Autonomous street patrol officers and ushers will become a go-between for residents and their built environments, and city infrastructure will become a flexible fabric with which residents can communicate.

Before long, we can expect to see thousands of autonomous vehicles on roadways, autonomous buses and transit vehicles providing rides, and autonomous conveyors shuttling back and forth on sidewalks making deliveries.

The full story, however, has not yet been written. While we will inevitably see rapid expansion of autonomous transportation in commercial trucks, driverless buses, trains, shuttles and more, transportation systems as a whole will also be revolutionized. Yet this change comes at a time when our shared networks—vital arteries for commerce and interaction—are already clogged.

So while technology has the potential to address these challenges, effective government will be critical in pushing innovation forward. That future is already starting to unfold, but cities can prepare themselves to play a more informed, active role in shaping it.

Brooks rainwaterAbout the Author: Brooks Rainwater is the senior executive and director of the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Center for City Solutions. Rainwater drives the organization’s research agenda, community engagement efforts, and leadership education programming to help city leaders create strong local economies, safe and vibrant neighborhoods, world-class infrastructure, and a sustainable environment.