How Should Cities Prepare for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

Vehicles with increasingly connected and autonomous features are widely expected to deliver significant benefits – from reductions in vehicle collisions and carbon emissions, to increased accessibility and the opportunity for cities to better optimize road network capacity. Given this, it would be expected that city authorities support the development and adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), but how should a city prepare for this emerging technology, and what role does it play in enabling the benefits to be realized?

Role of leadership in the emergence of connected and autonomous vehicles

Leadership plays an important part in preparing for the emergence of CAVs. A number of cities around the world are already becoming known for this, such as the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, which has emerged as a leader in CAV testing given its M-City test facility. These cities are set to realise the benefits of CAVs earlier than others, as embracing the technology will likely see CAVs deployed on their streets sooner.

Cities can position themselves as leaders in this space by taking a collaborative approach, partnering with vehicle manufacturers, innovators and academics. This can take the form of direct engagement based on existing relationships, or can be catalyzed through national and international funding opportunities – such as the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program.

In the UK, a handful of cities are seeking to take up a leadership position, such as Bristol and Milton Keynes, which are both trialing autonomous vehicles.

Connectivity between vehicles and the infrastructure

A practical step towards preparing for CAVs involves the preparation of a city’s infrastructure. There are two elements to this: digital communications infrastructure and hard infrastructure.

Digital communications infrastructure concerns the wireless connectivity networks that will allow the flow of information between connected devices, such as CAVs, smart phones, sensors or other ‘intelligent’ infrastructure. Through such a connectivity network, CAVs will be able to communicate with the environment around them, such as traffic signals, as well as city authorities or traffic control centres.

Cities play a vital role in delivering this through the implementation of digital communication networks, such as 802.11p. An important element of this concerns the cyber security of such systems, which will be vulnerable to attack. Cities should therefore be seeking opportunities to test and deploy this technology.

Cities should also consider how they can prepare hard infrastructure – from roads and traffic signals to car parks – for increasingly autonomous vehicles. For example, are CAV only lanes required on major trunk roads? Are traffic signals cabled up to traffic control centres? Cities will be able to make ‘dumb’ assets intelligent, capturing new data and the converting this into intelligence for use by CAV users and city authorities.

Preparing digital communications infrastructure and hard infrastructure should be considered as part of a cities maintenance or renewal program, in order to future proof transport systems for use by CAVs.

Policy and legislation considerations for the deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles

Policy and legislation, though not a hot topic, is an important enabler. Cities should review their local policies and laws to ensure they do not act as a blocker to CAV deployment, and should consider whether new policies governing the use of CAVs are required. Many questions will need to be answered, for example, how should highly autonomous vehicles interact with pedestrians in urban centres?

In many instances, it may be regional, national or even international policy and legislation that is the blocker, rather than local. In such cases, city authorities and leaders should act as lobbyists, demanding expedient review and revision.

Outcomes: Preparing cities for new mobility innovations

By taking a leadership position, preparing its infrastructure and having supportive policy and legislation, cities will be better prepared to exploit the benefits of increasingly connected and autonomous vehicles. This will aid cities in achieving a number of key outcomes related to road safety, road network optimization and journey time reliability.

What do you think? How should cities prepare for the emergence of connected and autonomous vehicles? Share your opinions in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.