7 Articles About Autonomous Vehicles Every Official Should Read

June 8, 2017

There are over three million articles about autonomous vehicles. Here are seven worthy of every official’s attention.  

The future is getting closer to the present every day as vehicle manufacturers and tech companies race to deliver autonomous vehicles to the masses. Some view this Jetsons-like future as the next wave of human advancement, while others are more skeptical. Whatever your viewpoint, this emerging technology will impact our cities.

Many are writing about autonomous vehicles, but what articles should we be paying attention to? We put together a list of seven articles that give you a solid understanding of the state of autonomous vehicles today.

Interest over time graph
Everyone wants to know. This graph, from Google Trends, shows a substantial rise in the searches for the phrase “autonomous vehicles” over the past five years.

How do autonomous vehicles actually work?

INFOGRAPHIC: Everything you need to know about autonomous vehicles
Business Insider | Jeff Desjardins

For the uninitiated, this article, which includes an in-depth infographic, gives a good foundation by explaining the background, history and mechanics of autonomous vehicles. You will find out how the technologies work, the technical challenges vehicles have overcome and how they may evolve in the near future. 

When will autonomous vehicles be on the road?

A Timeline of When Self-Driving Cars Will be on the Road, According to the People Making Them
Quartz | Sarah Kessler

When will this technology make it to the masses? That depends on who you ask and how they define “autonomous.” This article provides a timeline of predictions from major players in the autonomous vehicle realm: car manufacturers, tech companies and others. The timelines, which come from Tesla, Toyota, Lyft, Uber and Ford, differ greatly, but provide insight into how speculative such predictions can be. Some say they’re already here. Others say they won’t get here until 2035. In the article, Kessler writes, “The consequences of that timeline are huge—self-driving vehicles could replace 3 million US jobs, change city infrastructure, and upend the average commute—but actually pinning it down is difficult.” 

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Are cities prepared for autonomous vehicles?

American Cities Are Nowhere Near Ready for Self-Driving Cars
Wired | Eric Adams

The short answer, according to the author: no. Only six percent of transportation plans in major U.S. cities are taking into account the potential impact of driverless cars. The article posits that while cities have a lot of work to do to integrate the technology into their infrastructure, what’s really stalling progress is a general lack of understanding of the capabilities of driverless cars. With so much in the air regarding the technology itself, how do cities plan? 

For example, will congestion decrease as more people opt for ride sharing via autonomous vehicles? Or will cars become cheaper than ever, making roadways more congested than before? The good news, a few organizations, such as the Driverless Cities Project, are taking the lead and planning for the inevitability of this technology, and they have some interesting revelations.

How will autonomous vehicles affect our cities? 

Here’s How Self-Driving Cars Will Transform Your City
Wired | Sam Lubell

From the complete transformation of urban cores to the policy that will surround our new world, this article brings together thought leaders from many disciplines: city planners and project managers, MIT directors, authors and National League of Cities officials. In it, Brooks Rainwater, Senior Executive Director, Center For City Solutions, National League of Cities, says, “Through technology you can get to a point where you no longer need traffic lights or clear distinctions between roads and sidewalks. Our cities will be more data intense and human-centered.” 

Another revelation in this article comes from Anthony Townsend, author of "Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia," who points out that we’ve been focusing most of our attention on the average commuter, but we need to remember other vehicles that, once automated, will transform our cities. "It’s actually trash trucks, trailers, delivery vans, taxis and other vehicles that take up much of the space in cities. They will be completely transformed by automated technologies," Townsend says. 

What policies should cities enact to prepare for autonomous vehicles?

National League of Cities’ Autonomous Vehicles Policy Preparation Guide
National League of Cities | Center for City Solutions

Undoubtedly, this new technology will require writing new policies on both a state and federal level. How should these policies work together? Where should they differ? This 2017 guide provides a helpful framework for cities preparing for autonomous vehicles. One preparation cities need to make: putting together policies regarding data. Autonomous, connected vehicles will provide cities with lots of data. For example, a city could receive a real-time notification from a car once it hits a pothole, which could then inform public road maintenance programs. But what are the privacy issues? How will this data be kept secure? What will happen to it once it’s collected? All important questions. 

How will autonomous vehicles affect public safety and traffic enforcement?

Preparing for a Future with Autonomous Vehicles
Police Chief Magazine | Ken Davis, Captain, California Highway Patrol

This article, written by Ken Davis, California Highway Patrol captain, offers a policing perspective on autonomous vehicles. He says although safety from common traffic incidents may increase exponentially, autonomous vehicles may also create new criminal applications, writing, “Autonomous vehicles will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car.” According to Davis, we still need a better understanding of new criminal applications (hacking into a vehicle operating system, for example), who has oversight (local, state or federal) and how police work around the lack of traffic stops, which will have a major financial impact. 

How will autonomous vehicles affect land planning and development?

As self-driving cars hit the road, real estate development may take new direction
Patrick Sisson | Curbed

This article attempts to ask and answer many important questions surrounding planning, land use and land development, including: 

  • Will most of our parking spaces turn into developments? 
  • Will the grid layouts of cities across the world have to change? 
  • Will crosswalks become a thing of the past? 
  • How will developers operate in these new city spaces?
  • What new codes will be developed to accommodate driverless cars? 

Sisson warns of the potential for driverless cars to increase urban sprawl, writing, “as the perceived price of transportation decreases due to automation, it’ll be cheaper for developers to fund projects far from dense urban areas unless municipalities take the lead to incentivize infill development and perhaps even charge for vehicle-miles traveled as a way to make AV commutes less amenable.” Some think the impact on our cities will be as profound as when the automobile first hit the streets.

Wrapping it up

Autonomous vehicles are coming. There’s no doubt they will have a significant effect on how cities and towns operate. We can speculate on whether those effects will build up our cities, or whether they’ll have negative consequences. But one thing’s for certain: we need to prepare.

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