Eco-city or automotive city? Policies and plans for autonomous vehicles

A new paper by Rick Pruetz explores the future of cities with autonomous vehicles (AVs).

He argues that the often rosy or uncritical way this is envisioned could lead to car-dependent urban areas. Instead, he advocates a careful use of public planning and policy to continue prioritising compact, mixed-use and walkable neighbourhoods and active and public transport.

AVs are often depicted as robot-chauffeured cars providing low-cost, effortless mobility powered by renewable energy, driving safely down narrow lanes surrounded by ample space for cyclists and pedestrians. There are potential dangers in this approach: the ease and lower costs associated with AVs may result in an increase in the distance travelled by low-occupancy vehicles, exacerbating urban sprawl, encouraging further car-dependence, crowding out public transport, cycling and walking and potentially even increasing emissions. Moreover, the widespread benefits of narrow roadways are unlikely to arise until manually controlled cars are phased out – improbable for decades, if ever – and there are complex issues over the transition between these two phases.

In light of these risks, this paper advocates a careful use of planning and public policy to achieve a more sustainable trajectory. The role of AVs in this future is characterised by responsible use and ride sharing, which may be achieved through policies such as road user charges, infrastructure restrictions and transportation demand management.

Download the paper (PDF).

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