What We’re Reading: Using AVs to Rethink Public Services

  • Author: Andrew Carpenter
  • Date: March 1, 2018

Changes in the field of autonomous vehicles (AVs) continue to make splashes in the news, largely because there are so many unanswered questions about how they will change most aspects of society.

Luckily, many organizations have begun to compile the different possibilities AVs introduce. Communities should start considering and exploring these possibilities in order to prepare for what many anticipate to be an inevitable change in transportation technology. The American Planning Association has developed a set of background materials that cover issues such as land use, equity, and network design for when AVs become widely adopted.

For the communities that want to actively prepare for AVs, the Eno Center released a quick primer on effective strategies for how to begin the process. Though many cities have begun to implement these approaches, we encourage more rural areas to adapt these suggestions to their communities. Even if AVs seem far off outside of urban areas, the technology is evolving quickly, and it would behoove towns to be prepared for and take advantage of change by building in designs ahead of time.

From a broader perspective, a report from the University of Oregon’s Sustainable Cities Initiative explores new ways to think about community design in a driverless future. It makes sure to refocus planning ideas on making destinations accessible rather than moving cars around, and provides imaginative ways that communities could potentially adapt their environments to new uses once people movement regains priority.

This is becoming especially important as national pedestrian deaths continue at their worst levels since 1990 due to increased vehicle miles traveled and distracted driving. Using the likelihood of future technology to make people-focused planning decisions now can improve people’s mobility and safety both immediately and down the line.

Taking new system designs into account opens up the ability for local governments to reconsider how they interact with the public. The concept of “public service design” helps agencies streamline their processes to reduce waste and to better react to resident input or internal research. Next City’s article details examples from multiple sectors, which mobility managers should definitely learn from to apply to their communities.

Early signs of informal public service design have already popped up in the mobility sphere, showing the value of tackling mobility and health care or poverty in one holistic approach. For example, Boston-area food stamps recipients can now use their benefits to cover bikeshare memberships, which improves access to both grocery stores and to jobs that would reduce dependence on these programs over the long term.

Connecting SNAP benefits to bikeshare fits into a larger trend of cities developing “bike equity” programs that ensure lower-income residents can benefit from bikeshare systems as much as high-income residents already have. Just like with Boston’s SNAP example, lowering the barrier of access to this mobility option gives low-income residents the access to opportunity they need but historically haven’t had. Bikeshare can serve as a starting point for mobility managers to take the lessons learned from these approaches and apply them to even more options in their communities.


Image Credit: John Luton, Flickr, CC BY 2.0


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Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

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