You Should Know

You Should Know

How Will Driverless Cars Change Cities?

by Samuel Kling

Cities around the world are preparing for the massive disruption of autonomous vehicles. What are some of the opportunities and risks? Here’s what you should know.

How Will Driverless Cars Change Cities?

by Samuel Kling
Cities around the world are preparing for the massive disruption of autonomous vehicles. What are some of the opportunities and risks? Here’s what you should know.
Photo: PIXABAY
Perhaps nothing has shaped cities more than transportation. Ships and railroads created dense, compact cities like Chicago and Hamburg, while automobiles made sprawling ones like Houston and greater Melbourne.
Perhaps nothing has shaped cities more than transportation. Ships and railroads created dense, compact cities like Chicago and Hamburg, while automobiles made sprawling ones like Houston and Melbourne.
Photo: PIXABAY
Now companies such as Waymo, GM, and Volkswagen are betting big on driverless cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs). What does this mean for cities?
Now companies such as Waymo, GM, and Volkswagen are betting big on driverless cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs). What does this mean for cities?
Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake
Your car may already have automated features such as adaptive cruise control. But if technological hurdles can be overcome, the biggest effects on cities will likely come from vehicles which require no driver input for control.
Your car may already have automated features such as adaptive cruise control. But if technological hurdles can be overcome, the biggest effects on cities will likely come from vehicles which require no driver input for control.

Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch

What are the potential benefits? AVs promise to reduce the estimated 94% of fatal traffic crashes—over a million deaths worldwide each year—caused by human error. Low, steady speeds and safe driving patterns in a city can boost safety and quality of life.
What are the potential benefits? AVs promise to reduce the estimated 94% of fatal traffic crashes—over a million deaths worldwide each year—caused by human error. Low, steady speeds and safe driving patterns in a city can boost safety and quality of life.

Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch

City governments predict driverless cars will fill transit gaps. 76% of officials surveyed believe AVs could help with “last mile transit”—the tricky task of connecting travelers from a transit stop to a destination.
City governments predict driverless cars will fill transit gaps. 76% of officials surveyed believe AVs could help with “last mile transit”—the tricky task of connecting travelers from a transit stop to a destination.
Photo: REUTERS/Edgar Su
Another pro: AVs could slash the need for centrally located parking and free up valuable real estate. Cars can drop people at their destination and then drive away to an optimized lot that stores nearly twice as many AVs.
Another pro: AVs could slash the need for centrally located parking and free up valuable real estate. Cars can drop people at their destination and then drive away to an optimized lot that stores nearly twice as many AVs.
Photo: REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
Fourteen percent of all land in Los Angeles County is currently devoted to parking—some 18 million spaces. What else could we do with all that space? Parking lots could become parks. Parking lanes could become bike or bus lanes.
Fourten percent of all land in Los Angeles County is currently devoted to parking—some 18 million spaces. What else could we do with all that space? Parking lots could become parks. Parking lanes could become bike or bus lanes.
Photo: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
On the street, “platooning” AVs could boost lane capacity significantly. Precise braking and acceleration will enable unprecedented efficiency in dense traffic.
On the street, “platooning” AVs could boost lane capacity significantly. Precise braking and acceleration will enable unprecedented efficiency in dense traffic.
Photo: REUTERS/Christina Hu
Overall, AV travel costs may decline to the cost of mass transit. With convenient point-to-point service, driverless rideshare services may move an ever-larger portion of riders.
Overall, driving costs may decline the cost of mass transit. With convenient point-to-point service, driverless rideshare services may move an ever-larger portion of riders.
Photo: REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
But risks abound. Studies predict AVs will encourage people to drive more, not less. Commute distances may increase. That could mean more sprawl and negative environmental effects.
But risks abound. Studies predict AVs will encourage people to drive more, not less. Commute distances may increase. That could mean more sprawl and negative environmental effects.
Photo: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
An AV-related drop in transit ridership could pose major problems. Even with their increased efficiency, private AVs will remain far less efficient than a subway or bus lane. This means congestion and emissions could skyrocket.
An AV-related drop in transit ridership could pose major problems. Even with their increased efficiency, private AVs will remain far less efficient than a subway or bus lane. This means congestion and emissions could skyrocket.
Photo: REUTERS/Erik De Castro
AVs may become targets of cyberattacks, which could cripple urban street networks. Industry players will need to invest in robust cybersecurity.
AVs may become targets of cyberattacks, which could cripple urban street networks. Industry players will need to invest in robust cybersecurity.
Photo: iStock/M-A-U
Another possibility: AVs’ technical shortcomings could encroach on others’ right to public streets. Infrequent, car-oriented street crossings could replace regular crosswalks. Pedestrians and cyclists may even need to carry sensors to stay safe.
Another possibility: AVs’ technical shortcomings could encroach on others’ right to public streets. Infrequent, car-oriented street crossings could replace regular crosswalks. Pedestrians and cyclists may even need to carry sensors to stay safe.
Photo: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
The street life that makes cities vibrant could be threatened by policies that prioritize AV efficiency and clamp down on pedestrian behavior to prevent crashes.
Policies that prioritize AV efficiency and clamp down on pedestrian behavior to prevent crashes could subvert the street life that makes cities vibrant.
Photo: iSTOCK/Lux Blue
One thing is clear: AVs can help solve cities’ problems or exacerbate them. Instead of merely accommodating driverless cars, we must decide how they can improve upon urban life and plan accordingly. 
One thing is clear: AVs can help solve cities’ problems or exacerbate them. Instead of merely accommodating driverless cars, we must decide how they should shape the future of cities and plan accordingly. 
Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Already, cities are developing tasks forces to approach the challenge. Want to learn more?  Watch Ray LaHood, Chairman of Chicago’s mobility task force, at the 2018 Chicago Forum on Global Cities.
Already, cities are developing tasks forces to approach the challenge. Want to learn more?  Watch Ray LaHood, Chairman of Chicago’s mobility task force, at the 2018 Chicago Forum on Global Cities.

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©2018 Chicago Council on Global Affairs