RPA to Cities: Autonomous Vehicles are Coming. Start Preparing Now

70-90 Percent of Vehicles Could be Autonomous by 2045; New RPA Report Outlines a Plan for Urban and Suburban Policymakers to Ensure Maximum Benefit for Region’s Residents

Regional Plan Association (RPA) has released a report entitled New Mobility: Autonomous Vehicles and the Region, which offers cities and their suburbs a comprehensive roadmap for how to prepare for the introduction and expansion of autonomous vehicles into the tri-state metropolitan region, RPA leadership announced today.

While estimates vary, it is reasonable to assume significant AV market penetration over the next two decades.  70%-90% of automobiles could be autonomous by 2045, and it is in the New York region’s best interest to prepare for them, rather than letting the emerging technology dictate how cities and suburban areas evolve alongside it. The report is helping to inform a series of recommendations contained in RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan, long-term vision for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area, that will be released in full on November 30th. .

“Autonomous vehicles are one of the most exciting emerging mobility solutions right now-- but one with many unknowns.  Based on lessons learned from experiences with new ‘disruptive’ urban technologies, the time to act is now,” said Rich Barone, RPA’s Vice President for Transportation. “Urban and suburban transportation planners must be proactive to ensure that autonomous vehicle technology is deployed in a way that maximizes public benefit and does not repeat the mistakes of the automobile era.”

The RPA report lays out several recommendations for policy-makers as the public and private use of autonomous vehicles grow to scale:

Strategies for Urban Centers:

The introduction of autonomous vehicles in urban areas will create unique opportunities to improve transportation equity and create new forms of public transit to meet growing needs-- but cities must creatively manage congestion.

  • Prioritize Street Space for Public Transit, Pedestrians, Bikes and Freight.  Single-occupancy vehicles or low-capacity multi-passenger vehicles be they AV or conventional should get lower priority.

  • Implement vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) fees or higher tolls to deter congestion.

  • Provide sufficient curb space for pick-up/drop-offs and deliveries to not impede the free flow of traffic in mixed-lanes.

  • Reduce off-street parking requirements and eliminate on-street parking for long-term vehicle storage.

  • Prioritize affordable, high-quality transit. Policies should promote the integration of AVs into public transit with the goal of continuing to provide high-quality service at affordable prices across a wide economic spectrum.  AVs also offer the potential for providing better micro-transit service that fits special-use cases (e.g. paratransit or late night service) at much lower cost than today.

Strategies for Suburban Areas

In suburban areas, autonomous vehicles have the potential to open up areas previously out of reach by those without cars, as well as seniors, the disabled and the young. It will give drivers their time back, and may reduce the cost of goods by potentially automating truck driving. However, suburban areas must act proactively to avoid the sprawl that could come alongside autonomous driving.

  • Continue to promote transit and the use of AV to link to transit hubs. This would control congestion on regional roads and allow the repurposing of parking lots at local transit stations.

  • Subsidize on-demand AV transit services to improve mobility for the disabled, young and elderly within the suburbs.  This can replace more expensive options being used today.

  • Discourage private AV use by scaling VMT fees to the number of passengers in a vehicle, making it more expensive to travel far distances alone. Ideally, a portion of VMT fees captured could be redirected to subsidize transit costs and encourage compact, transit-oriented development.  Otherwise, personal AVs could dominate the auto travel industry inducing and/or reinforcing existing sprawl.

  • Encourage vehicle sharing. Substantially reducing parking requirements for buildings and charging higher VMT fees for vacant vehicles (except delivery vehicles) to encourage shared vehicle use over private AV ownership.

The report also covers recommendations for technology policy, to ensure that cities and suburban areas have a say in the terms of AV deployment; equity initiatives to guarantee that the introduction of autonomous vehicles benefits a diverse range of incomes and abilities; and labor recommendations to account for the transition needed for the over 220,000 regional residents currently employed in industries like trucking and cab driving.

Click here to view the full report.