autonomous vehicles

Autonomous Vehicles Can Foster Streets as Places

The arrival of autonomous vehicles will affect more than just roads. We’ve written previously about the potential impacts autonomous vehicles could have on infrastructure and land use, but what about the street itself? As Fast Co.Design writes, the impact of AVs will be felt beyond the curb – from sidewalk to sidewalk. Some firms have already started thinking about what these future streets might look like. Viewing streets as more than space for vehicles can support the notion of streets as places, which has re-emerged in recent years. This thinking meshes Jarrett Walker‘s argument that urban mobility is a question of geometry, with or without autonomous vehicles.

A world of private AVs won’t solve issues of urban space capacity. So rather than clogging streets – the largest public spaces in most cities, in terms of area, with them – why not do something more? Instead of continuing to build cities around the movement of cars, we can use AVs as an opportunity to make great cities for people. The impacts of self-driving cars on our streets, our cities and even our societies is still wide open. To shape the cities we’d like to see, now is the time for planners and decision-makers to get serious about crafting policy. NACTO’s policy statement is a good starting point. But it’s only a starting point. There is a significant likelihood that rather than disrupting the mobility status quo, in most cities, autonomous vehicles will reinforce it. In cities like Vancouver, Canada, that means even more emphasis on transit, walking and biking. In other words, greater mobility freedom. Could the same be said for today’s car-congested cities? Autonomous vehicles have the potential to disrupt the mobility systems and public realms of many cities in positive ways, but only if planners and policy-makers consciously aim to do so, and begin preparing today. The best way to plan for our urban future is to shape it.

Mitchell Reardon

Mitchell Reardon is the TH!NK by IBI blog curator, a land use planner and urban experimenter. His interdisciplinary work centres on people and how they live, work and move through the city. Mitchell is enjoying life in Vancouver, after 6 years of living and working in Stockholm, Sweden. Catch up with him on Twitter: @MitchellReardon

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