Maintaining Walkability as Autonomous Vehicles Become a Reality

Integrating autonomous vehicles into cities will require effectively managing city streets and suburban sprawl.
October 16, 2018, 8am PDT | Camille Fink
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Andre Torrez

In an excerpt from his new book Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, Jeff Speck considers the future of autonomous vehicles and their place in the urban landscape.

Speck argues that while advocates of AVs outline a multitude of potential benefits, an alternative take is less positive:

History would suggest that the widely held vision of swarming public fleets, uninterrupted by private and non-autonomous cars, is unlikely to happen in the United States, where no city has ever shown the willingness to limit private car use in any meaningful way, despite crippling traffic.

Speck says AVs on American roads will result in more car travel, not less. As a result, the focus for cities should be on regulating roadways. “In an AV future, each city street would ideally be allocated a limited number of driving lanes, no more than currently present. Only in this way will our downtowns remain welcoming to more than just cars,” says Speck.

In addition, AVs will encourage travel over longer distances and so cities must work to contain the suburban sprawl that this travel will encourage. Cities also need to strategically manage the relationship between AVs and transit, says Speck. The significantly higher capacity of transit vehicles means that urban mobility in cities grappling with congestion would be hampered if transit is swapped out for low-capacity AVs. 

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Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 in Streetsblog USA
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