What Some Big Cities are Doing About Driverless Cars

November 11, 2017 by Heather Hamilton-Post

Urban planning has to better account for developments in autonomous vehicles.

Urban planning has to better account for developments in autonomous vehicles.

Less than one hour after hitting the streets, a self-driving shuttle in Las Vegas was involved in a minor accident. The shuttle, which holds eight people, is operated by the AAA and Keolis and was on a test run in the Fremont East Innovation District. Fortunately for autonomous vehicles everywhere, the shuttle was not at fault. Instead, it was struck by a semi-truck backing up, injuring no one.  

The Las Vegas shuttle has the ability to avoid obstacles in its path and quickly stop as necessary, though it lacks the ability to move out of the way if something like, say, a truck were to approach. Passengers reported feelings of fear and frustration at the shuttle’s inability to move out of the way.

A representative from the City of Las Vegas said in a statement that the shuttle “did what it was supposed to do, in that its sensors registered the truck and the shuttle stopped to avoid the accident.” The statement went on to say that, “had the truck had the same sensing equipment that the shuttle has, the accident would have been avoided.”

The failure of the autonomous shuttle to react the way a human driver might is one of the many reasons we’re not all strapping ourselves into driverless cars—there’s a lot that still needs to be worked out, especially in the public transportation sphere. The accident was ultimately caused by human error, but autonomous vehicles have to have a better way to account for that.


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Proactive Steps to Avoid Catastrophe

The National Association of City Transportation Officials recently met for an annual conference in Chicago, gathering around 800 community leaders, planners, and advocates to talk about a number of things, including safer streets through autonomous vehicles. NACTO released a “Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism”, a guide designed to help plan a future for cities like Chicago as they talk about the transition to driverless cars.

In large cities, autonomous vehicle safety is especially important—there are shuttles, taxis, buses, and other forms of public transportation that make the city run. Some worry that easy access to autonomous vehicles will remove the downsides of a commute and lead to crowded streets and even suburban sprawl.

NACTO’s blueprint aims to prevent these sorts of things by instead guiding cities toward what they call an autonomous revolution. President Seleta Reynolds said, “This blueprint will help cities everywhere lay the foundation for 21st Century streets designed to serve people first and foremost, no matter how they travel.”

Of course, the guide prioritizes the safety of pedestrians and cyclists and emphasizes low-speed limits where necessary. Overall, the group hopes to be proactive in what they call an “autonomous vehicle revolution”.


Image courtesy of Pixabay.


Portland Bureau of Traffic policy specialist Art Pearce said, in a panel discussion, “The first key thing that every city should be doing is explicitly saying, ‘Here are the outcomes that we want to see happen and here are the ways that we think autonomous vehicles can fit into that future vision.’ The cities that are saying ‘We’re going to wait and see for the next ten years and then join the evolution’ are really going to suffer.”

So, while Keolis and Las Vegas don’t have it all figured out yet, they’re on their way—and we all start somewhere.

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    ronsoy2 November 17, 2017

    Quite likely if there had been a driver in control he would have dodged around and avoided the accident. I drive in Houston traffic and have times I have to take some action to keep from having a fender cruncher. The passe crap about “it did everything right” doesn’t cut it. It takes human intelligence to react to new situations. The robot intelligence can for now only react the way it is pre-programmed. Give it another 20 years somewhere far from where I drive!

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  • John DelSelva November 17, 2017

    The failure of the autonomous shuttle to stop is one of the many reasons ??????

    It stopped.

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    • K
      Kate Smith November 18, 2017
      Thanks for pointing that out, John. We've adjusted the text to more accurately reflect the incident.
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