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Autonomous vehicles are coming. Cities need to start planning

Autonomous vehicles are coming. Cities need to start planning. Now

A street scene is displayed as data visualized by a Google autonomous car. (Reuters) The day autonomous vehicles outnumber manned vehicles is coming, and experts say transportation and urban planners, public policy makers and others must begin working on this reality to ensure decisions and investments of today align with needs of tomorrow.

Autonomous vehicles, it is believed, could travel closer together, faster and in a more confined space. Lanes could be smaller and fewer. On-street parking could be minimized.

Vehicles could park themselves outside urban areas, creating more room for commercial development, bike lanes and wider sidewalks, and green space for recreation, parks, and to help manage stormwater. Seniors and those with disabilities could more easily access doctors and recreation, and those now lacking reliable transportation could have more employment opportunities.

Add to this that American drivers spend 29.6 billion hours a year commuting — 24 miles each way, on average — according to the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning a greater potential for workforce productivity if people can work on the go. Driver shortages plaguing shipping companies could be decreased, and the vehicles could operate more cleanly, safely and efficiently.

These are common theories of scholars and industry experts in transportation planning papers and articles. To be sure, considerable challenges also exist.

No one knows for certain when this day of a driverless vehicle saturated society will arrive or for sure what it will look like. Some suggest it’s just a matter of years, others say decades or more. In ‘full swing’ by 2030?

Paul Trombino, a former nominee to lead the Federal Highway Administration who now heads Iowa-based McClure Engineering, was seen as a visionary in how to modernize the transportation system and plan for a future of autonomous vehicles as director of the Iowa Department of Transportation from 2011-16.

“Right now, the […]

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