Are cities ready for self-driving cars? Nope.

testing google car
© Google car test

A few years back I wrote that self-driving cars were going to change our cities, and that “Urban planners and theorists have to start thinking about this or we will screw it up again.” On Tech Crunch, Kim-Mai Cutler worried about the same thing, and found that very few cities were thinking about this at all, that "about 6 percent of the country’s biggest cities are planning for or thinking about autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars in their long-range transportation plans, according to the National League of Cities."

national league© National League of Cities

According to the National League of Cities,

Technology is leading cities to more dynamic transportation systems where people shift seamlessly between multiple modes depending on their needs. A typical day might see an individual take a bus or train to get to and from work, rent a shared car to run errands, hop on a bike to visit a friend, and even combine different modes of transportation in a single trip. The operative concepts in this scenario are availability of options and ease of use. The ultimate goal of cities must be to combine different transit modes into a coherent whole, so that moving from place to place is easy, equitable and enjoyable.

Kim-Mao Cutler notes that nobody is quite sure if self-driving cars favour density or sprawl. Whether they will be owned individually or shared. Whether they will kill transit. How cities will promote access for lower income residents. The author concludes:

I do not know all the answers to these questions, nor do any of the companies, cities or the federal government. There are too many moving parts from the pace of technological advancement to land-use policy to individual consumer behaviour. But the point is we should start debating all these questions now.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat is giving the issue some thought, noting that “we can fundamentally reinvent the urban landscape because of a new technology.” She talks of narrowing lanes, expanding public space, taking over parking and making it green, with cafes and parks. The politicians in Toronto may still be devoted to their cars, but at least somebody is thinking about the future.

Are cities ready for self-driving cars? Nope.
A recent survey shows that only six percent of them are even thinking about the issue.

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