The Driverless Commute: The four policy areas that cities must address to make the autonomous era people-centric; AVs positively last-century bugs; and robo-race car sets world record on speed.

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1. Cars ruined the American city. Can AVs save it?

Since at least the 15th century, the era’s dominant mode of transportation has always had a way of exerting itself, often unfavorably, on the fabric of cities, but nowhere responded to the automobile with the same ill-considered enthusiasm as the American city, which forfeited one of its most precious public social spaces—its street—in a way that Europeans never did.

Now, urban planners from the United States’ largest cities believe the arrival of autonomous vehicles represents a rare opportunity for car-subservient downtowns to reset the board finally.

This week the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an 81-city coalition that includes New YorkBostonAtlantaLos Angeles, and Seattleunveiled a 131-page blueprint to refocus contemporary urban planning to take advantage of self-driving cars. 

The plan envisions a future of more parks and fewer parking lots by addressing high-capacity transit, smart-city data collection and use, congestion pricing mechanisms, and the delivery of urban freight.

Human-centered values and priorities must shape the autonomous age, the report argues. Most important in our mind is the need that autonomous technology be leveraged to minimize driving rather than making it more palatable. To help accomplish this, NACTO argues that:

  • Cities need to have access to data to determine whether AV fleets are contributing to congestion or reducing it. This data and others will allow cities to re-organize streets to accommodate the most efficient modes of transportation and create more spaces for biking and walking.
  • Cities must adopt land-use policies that foster density, affordability, and walkability. People—walking, biking, rolling, and resting—have to come first in the autonomous age, and this starts with street design. High-capacity on-street transit is essential for accommodating urban growth without adding to congestion, the association says, while private vehicles and parking are deprioritized.
  • And finally, cities have to demand the freight and delivery service be consolidated.

We’ll leave you with this traffic flow comparison:

  • It takes just one 12 to 15-foot sidewalk to move 10,000 people per hour. Similarly, it takes only one protected bike lane of the same size to run the same amount of people.
  • It takes 13 lanes of conventional arterial, with about 800 vehicles traveling within each lane, to move 10,000 people in each hour.

The Driverless Commute is provided by Dentons’ global Autonomous Vehicles team. If you believe a colleague or associate would benefit from this service, please share this link so they may subscribe.

2. Buggy

The immense componentry that underpins an autonomous vehicle is among the most technologically advanced in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune from analog bugs. The insect kind, we mean.

Because self-driving cars rely on an array of sensors to process its surroundings, winter weather or insect accumulation on devices poses a serious risk to their safe operation.

As a fix, Ford says it engineered a bug-cleaning system, including mini windscreen washers and jet dryers, to preserve the integrity of its fleet’s various external sensors and cameras.

3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn