cities and autonomous cars

Traffic on Broadway in Denver.

The Driverless Cities Project is a finalist for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s $1 million Nayar Prize, Eric Adams wrote in a Wired article, “American Cities Are Nowhere Near Ready for Self-Driving Cars.”

The project’s team consists of five people: an architect, a transportation engineering professor, a designer, a landscape architect, and an architect/planning attorney, Todd Stolarski reported for Built Worlds.

Although autonomous vehicles are potentially helpful and useful in many ways — such as making commutes more efficient, helping kids get to activities while parents are at work, providing mobility for disabled and older people, and preventing serious and deadly accidents — there are certain impacts that have not been sufficiently explored, Adams wrote. “Everything from sidewalks and curbs to streets, building designs, urban layouts, and living patterns will change as computers take the wheel.”

Autonomous Cars’ Impact on Cities

Marshall Brown, an architect on the Driverless Cities Project, told Wired that although autonomous vehicle technology is in the news a lot, there needs to be discussion about how it will affect cities.

A report from the National League of Cities released last fall found that only 6% of U.S. cities’ long-range transportation plans are considering the impact of self-driving vehicles. The Driverless Cities Project is combining current research, forward-thinking planning, and studies done by its team to come up with guidelines that municipalities can use.

Issues to Be Ironed Out

Many issues still need to be worked out, for instance, how parking will work for autonomous vehicles. And, wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communication will lets cars pack together more tightly, which raises questions about how we fit them onto our streets.

Because self-driving cars will not require traffic signals and road signs (because that information will be encoded into the infrastructure that communicates with the vehicles) our cities will look nicer, Brown told Wired.

However, there will be a need for solutions to problems with pedestrian safety, speed limits, road design, and such things as driveways and curbs.

Marshall raised the possibility of what he calls a “weird irony” of driverless cars. Cars that require a human driver might become a lot less expensive, and thus more people than ever might drive, increasing traffic.

Lili Du, an assistant professor of transportation engineering at Illinois Tech, and a member of the Driverless Cities Project team, told Wired that because digitally controlled vehicles are so precise, they may lead to cities not needing parking lanes, parking lots, and parking garages. That in turn would lead to cities needing less pavement, a positive effect that will reduce water run-off and “heat island” problems.

In addition to Brown and Du, the Driverless Cities Project team includes transportation engineer Laura Forlano, landscape architect Ron Henderson, and Jack Guthman, architect and planning attorney.

Recipients of Phase 2 funding for the Nayer Prize finalists will be selected October 16, 2017. The $1 million Nayer Prize will be awarded October 16, 2018, upon completion of the finalists’ projects, providing that performance metrics have been met, according to Illinois Institute of Technology’s Nayar Prize I Timeline page. The main goal of the Nayar Prize is to “encourage and challenge prospective recipients to undertake breakthrough, innovative projects that will, within three years, produce meaningful results with a significant societal impact.”

Image by Vaquero Cooper, used under its Creative Commons license.

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