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05/10/2018

Planners must not be back-seat drivers as cities prepare for autonomous vehicles

Electric car iStock

Autonomous vehicles could transform our towns and cities. Planners must take the lead in ensuring they contribute to better places, says Louise Brooke-Smith.

The world of connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) is now a reality and planning professionals are embracing the potential it brings and the impact it will have in shaping urban areas.

Blink and technology moves on without respite. But unless the boffins invent a magical means of propulsion that runs on thin air, the consensus is that CAV will primarily concern electrically powered vehicles. These can operate without a human driver and communicate with each other and their environment without human intervention. The days of back-seat drivers are out; now there isn’t even a front-seat driver.

CAV will transform urban mobility across the globe. If adopted with foresight, it could address congestion, overcrowded public transport and poor air quality. But which urban areas have the vision, finance and governance to make best use of the technology to support greater prosperity and improve the citizen experience?

"National, regional and local governance regimes are critical to creating environments where connected autonomous vehicles can be part of a balanced eco-system" 

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to CAV is unlikely to work. Research by Arcadis finds that cities have different visions. Singapore is putting CAV at the heart of the future of mass transit. Paris sees it as an enhanced personal transport solution. Dubai is experimenting with flying taxi drones.

National, regional and local governance regimes are critical to creating environments where CAV can be part of a balanced eco-system. Stakeholder engagement, regulation, private sector investment and finance are also key. Whatever the system, implementation of CAV will take time. Dubai is looking at 2030 before a system is up and running. Sydney cites 2056.

Transition from established systems to CAV will not be quick or cheap. Vehicle-charging infrastructure, 5G communication networks and advanced traffic management systems will need to be developed before it can be a big part of a transport network.

The research by Arcadis considers 14 cities worldwide that have started on this journey, looking at aspects such citizen connection, governance platforms and enabling infrastructure. 

Each city has the potential to become more competitive and sustainable, and each has taken a different approach. But common themes are emerging:

  • health and safety;
  • the needs of citizens;
  • environmental impact and sustainability;
  • accessibility and equality;
  • economic growth; and
  • leveraging digital technology and innovation.

It’s clear that everywhere the planning community will need the vision and drive to fully embrace CAV and definitely not take a back seat.

Read the research on the Arcadis webiste.

Louise Brooke-Smith MRTPI is partner and UK head of development and strategic planning with Arcadis LLP

Image credit | Peter Searle

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