Future Cities and Self-Driving Cars

National experts convene at USF to talk transportation safety, jobs, and city planning

By BRETT ARAKAWA, USF NEWS Posted Tue, 10/31/2017 - 09:03

With Tesla, Google, Volvo, and even Apple testing self-driving cars on public roads, driverless transportation seems just around the corner. Industry experts forecast 10 million autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020, perhaps changing driving and city planning in ways we haven't yet imagined.

On Nov. 8, USF public and nonprofit administration Assistant Professor William Riggs, an urban planning and transportation expert, will host the Autonomous Vehicles and the City symposium at USF’s Downtown Campus. He'll moderate a panel of city planning and transportation experts from around the country.

USF News spoke to Riggs and asked him about the risks and rewards of autonomous vehicles. 

What are the potential safety benefits of autonomous vehicles?
Autonomous vehicle proliferation will result in saved lives, helping to avoid many of the over 30,000 fatal collisions in the U.S. each year. Another potential benefit includes improved mobility for seniors and those with driving restrictions.

What about the downsides?
One of the biggest concerns is that people will be incentivized to drive longer distances if there isn’t a policy in place to limit vehicle miles traveled. This could have the adverse impact of expanding cities beyond their existing boundaries — a new wave of urban sprawl, gobbling up open spaces and moving people away from downtown areas.

What are the benefits to companies that embrace this type of technology?
Efficiency, cost reduction in the form of minimized personnel costs, and increased revenues. Think of the savings for delivery services like UPS and Amazon.

Are the country's 3.5 million truck and taxi drivers on the verge of being laid off?
The autonomous revolution will reduce the number of jobs in certain sectors, particularly jobs in truck, taxi, and ride-sharing transportation network companies. While there will be new jobs that materialize as a part of the autonomous future, they will likely require high-tech and logistics skills.

Have self-driving cars changed the way cities are being planned and built?
Very few cities or government agencies are thinking about autonomous vehicles right now. My research colleagues and I are trying to ignite a sense of urgency in cities. They need to start planning the cities they want to see in 50 years. That's one of the ideas behind this conference.

Cities need to start thinking about how they will recuperate money from lost parking. Transportation engineers should be rethinking the allocation of streets to vehicles, as autonomous vehicles will use lanes more efficiently and require less road space. 

Why is USF the right place for this symposium?
Our Ignatian mission of equity and social justice is particularly suited for this dialogue. It’s important that we speak up for those who can’t write the policies on issues like transportation jobs. Future technology should not increase the divide between the urban rich and rural poor. USF has a critical role to play in reminding cities of these values.

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