How 53 Cities Are Preparing for Autonomous Vehicles – Next City

How 53 Cities Are Preparing for Autonomous Vehicles

(Credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies) 

Dubai has big plans for autonomous vehicles — some of the most ambitious globally, in fact — with a strategy that could slash the city-state’s transportation costs by 44 percent and reduce accidents by 12 percent. But while they may not meet Dubai’s scope, the U.S. cities of Palo Alto and Portland are on similar paths, emphasizing pilot zone identification and building up their city fleets in their pursuit of self-driving cars.

The ability to compare and contrast those cities — by regulations, policies and urban strategies — is one key takeaway from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ new Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles. The interactive map and accompanying list of cities (53 total) is a sorely needed comprehensive look at the way cities are responding to AV technology. As Next City has covered, the technology is evolving so rapidly — and being tested in such a distributed manner — that it’s often difficult to gauge how policy is responding.

The tool allows users to click on a city, by list or map, and see its efforts in more detail. Go to San Jose, and you’ll see a list of “Policy and Planning Priorities,” including taxi regulation, land use and transit planning and peer exchange. Click on “Land Use and Transit Planning,” and tool directs you to other cities that prioritize the same strategy. Go to the city of Milton Keynes in the UK (which Next City has written about at length), and the tool directs you to the U.S. city of Reno and Buenos Aires in Argentina for similarities.

It’s a system that’s probably better for policy buffs than your average reader — nowhere on the tool (at least that I could find), is there a definition of what something like “pilot zone identification” means, exactly. But it’s still a necessary starting point, with the goal of allowing city leaders to cross-pollinate information and insight in a format that hasn’t been available to them before.

“Cities are stronger when they learn and act together, and this map provides cities with information critical to their own success through this transition,” James Anderson, the head of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation program said in a statement. “This map will serve as an important knowledge-sharing tool, providing cities with what’s needed to not only have a seat at the table during this transformation but be leaders of it.”

The project also includes a survey with some interesting insights, including that intentional city planning for AVs is generally in the early stages across the board.

(Credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies) 

“Fully a quarter of the 38 cities surveyed only prioritized the issue in the last year,” according to the tool’s text. “Fewer than one in 10 cities have been working on AVs for more than three years. Most fall in the middle, having pushed the pedal on AV work between 2014 and 2016, when the technology first made headlines.”

And the first/last mile gap is cities’ main reason for gravitating toward the technology.

(Credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies) 

“At the time of writing, more than half of the 36 cities with ongoing or committed pilots are testing AVs in last-mile applications ranging from connectors between rail stations and employment centers to shuttles circulating within large campuses,” the initiative states.

And, of course, cities face some significant obstacles in their implementation of the tech. The main one (not surprisingly) is lack of funding. City leaders also appear to be unsure what requires city action, and are constrained by state or federal regulations.

(Credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies) 

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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Tags: transportation spendingdriverless cars