Study: U.S. Cities Unprepared for Autonomous Transport

Most U.S. cities are unprepared to accommodate self-driving vehicles and have no clear plans on how to manage such transportation, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Their study, which is published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, surveyed planning officials in 120 cities (each with at least 100,000 residents). The report also analyzed land use and transportation plans for the 25 largest cities.

One in five respondents say their city was well prepared for autonomous vehicles, but fewer than 5% strongly agree with that assessment. About 15% indicate they have a clear plan for automated vehicles, while slightly smaller group believe their city has any policy at all for incorporating the technology.

Less affluent cities generally report less prepared than their larger, wealthier counterparts. The authors say Los Angeles is one of the most forward-thinking cities, with plans to incorporate dedicated lanes for autonomous cars, municipal fleets of robotic buses and shuttles, and data-sharing to help manage traffic flow.

Yet only about one-third of the largest cities studied even mention AVs in their plans. Fewer than one in four have published strategies on how to optimize the possible safety and congestion-easing benefits of self-driving cars.

Most respondents believe that new regulations will be needed for AVs. But they are split on who should be responsible for such policies. About half of city officials polled indicate they are waiting for federal or state regulators to take the lead.

The researchers report general agreement regarding the potential benefits and challenges associated with AVs. On the plus side, they cite improving safety while reducing traffic congestion, pollution and costs. Among the chief concerns cited are increased vehicle miles traveled, lower transit ridership, less parking revenue and greater urban sprawl.