A driverless city

Can you imagine what your city would be like if all the vehicles on its roads (passenger cars, buses,trucks,…) moved about autonomously? In total, 15 student teams let their imaginations take them where few automakers and urban planners dare to go. These teams tackled the following question: What would Philadelphia look like if cars, buses, taxis and other vehicles drove themselves around the city,communicating with each other and with the people who summon them to get to work or play?

First prize went to a team from Cornell University. This team described a city where passengers would use mobile devices to summon various types of vehicles (on demand service). Other information regarding this winning team’s project: Public transit buses, as they do today, would carry large numbers of passengers.

Carshare owned vans would take smaller groups as would passenger cars with both carshare and private ownership. In the central business district, vehicles of all types would pick up and drop off people only on designated blocks, easing congestion. In residential neighbourhoods, buses are limited to drop-off spots, but all other vehicles could stop anywhere.

These vehicles woulimg2d not only be communicating with passengers, but with the city streets department. And that allows the city to change the use of some streets – from vehicle priority to pedestrian priority and back again, for example. Use could even be switched by the day or hour. Some zones would allow only autonomous, or driverless, vehicles. Only multi-passenger vehicles would be allowed in the core business district. It would cost more to travel within a congestion pricing zone.

The change to a “pick-up, drop-off culture,” as this team calls it, means less need for parking in Center City and other neighbour hoods. That freed-up space could be used for increased densification. Those familiar with MARCON’s model of future mobility will find several commonalities between this latter model and the “vision” of the driverless city presented by this team. We, at MARCON, however, foresee a future of extremely limited personal vehicle ownership, with sharing becoming the norm.

Another team (from the University of Pennsylvania’s Auto Civitas) described a fleet of small vehicles that fold up to smaller dimensions that would be stacked up for storage, freeing space used for parking lots. This would result in more space for residential and commercial development as well as for parks and other recreational areas.

The ideas presented by the teams involved in this competition are not limited to Philadelphia. They are applicable to most urban environments. The common thread that runs through many of these and other visionary projects of urban mobility: shared, multimodality and an interest to use resources (physical space and transportationrelated) more efficiently, where transit properties operate (directly or through alliances) not only metro systems and sky trains, but also shared vehicle fleets.

Imagine how shared multimodal transportation can reduce congestion in urban environments. Imagine how the spaces currently used for parking lots can be used for green spaces as well as for development of the city core . Imagine better utilization of transportation resources and taxpayer money.

Information re competition : http://planphilly.com/articles/2014/02/13/edbacon-competition-examines-philly-with-driverless-cars

Catherine Kargas, MBA, ECBS
Vice-President, MARCON

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