How will driverless cars change the city?
Image courtesy of Google.
As chair of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) UK Infrastructure Council, I organized a daylong conference at London City Hall in October on driverless cars and their implications for cities and real estate. Afterward, ULI Connect interviewed about some of the highlights. Following is an excerpt and a link to the full interview.
The biggest promise is that there will be more space for people. Currently in Europe, up to 30 percent of urban land is devoted to roadways and parking. In the U.S., the number goes up to 50 percent. Potentially, 90 percent of that available road space could be turned over to development and public realm.
These areas are in prime, central-city locations. Parking infrastructure like garages and lots could be repurposed as commercial, mixed-use, or residential projects. Expressways and access ramps could become new brownfield developments. And there could be great improvements in open spaces because there will simply be more room for pedestrian- and cycling-oriented infrastructure—covered crosswalks, elimination of curbs, more bike stands, more landscape and playgrounds instead of car parking.
Autonomous vehicles will greatly reduce the number of cars overall—perhaps by a factor of ten. They also will reduce overall travel times for users, as sensors and software allow cars to merge and cross seamlessly, using up to eight times less travel area in the process.
There are major implications for emergency services: response times for fire and ambulance vehicles will be more rapid because they won’t be competing with as many cars on the road. Also, autonomous movement means freeing up capacity on tunnels, bridges, and other public infrastructure that is under stress. That means these major assets might not have to be expanded—or built in the first place.
Perhaps most importantly, though, are implications for public safety. Ninety-three percent of vehicular deaths are caused by human error, with 1.2 million vehicular deaths worldwide every year. The public health and safety benefits of driverless cars can’t be overstated. Insurance premiums will also go down, with liability shifted from the driver to the vehicle manufacturer.