Searching for policy responses to the promise and threat of automated vehicles

By Eric Sundquist

Policy around automated vehicles is expressed more in questions than answers at this point. How should we design, build, and fund infrastructure? Will autonomous vehicles reduce traffic and emissions by rationalizing pricing in a transportation network company (TNC) model? Or will they induce new driving and sprawl as hands-free commuting decreases time costs? Will they kill transit? Complement transit? Provide new mobility to low-income residents or isolate them?

The answers to those and other questions depend in part on the policy responses at all levels of government. And two recent documents begin to provide some answers, if only through a glass darkly. They are too detailed to easily summarize in a blog, so we recommend that interested readers click through and read them.

One comes from Lauren Isaac of Parsons Brinckerhoff, who also blogs regularly on the topic. The actionable recommendations from her report, “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies,” include these items regarding infrastructure for local, regional, and state governments:

  • Update traffic signs and markings
  • Reduce lane width
  • Alter speed limits
  • Adjust traffic signal locations and timing
  • Eliminate/reduce parking and add more drop-off/pick-up locations
  • Add electric vehicle charging infrastructure
  • Develop new predictive models for pavement maintenance
  • Designate/certify roads for driverless and/or manual operation

The other report, “Urban Mobility in a Digital Age,” comes from the City of Los Angeles. It has a wider lens, incorporating technology issues beyond automated vehicles. It is built around a service model for data, mobility, and infrastructure. In the latter category, key recommendations are:

  • Deploy temporary car-free zones across the city
  • Test assumptions around roadway capacity and utilization
  • Identify new infrastructure assessment tools
  • Launch an AV pilot
  • Pilot an AV network on city streets and incentivize sharing

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director of SSTI.