“The future ain’t what it used to be.” -Yogi Berra
PDS and the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association hosted an autonomous vehicle seminar earlier this month. The session began a discussion of how this advancing technology might change planning practice in Northern Kentucky. More than 30 city officials, planning professionals, and citizens from the eight-county region attended.
The event was one of the first in the region to look at how today’s vision of the future is starting to change how we interact with automobiles.
The discussion was facilitated by three professionals from Columbus, Ohio who have researched the topic extensively and presented to groups across the country. Two planners from OHM Advisors, Justin Robbins, AICP, and Jason Sudy, AICP, along with Rick Stein, AICP, of Urban Decision Group, formed the Urban Mobility Research Center to study the impacts that autonomous vehicles will have on our cities.
“We’re nearing the end of a massive 70-year development experiment, with a new one about to begin,” said Justin Robbins, AICP. “We’ve created our cities around a specific transportation model, and the introduction of autonomous vehicles will fundamentally disrupt how that current system functions.”
The new technology will have an effect on every person who either drives or rides in a vehicle to get from place to place. With such a high potential impact, the subject is starting to gather the attention of decision makers as well.
“This technology is coming, sooner than later, and it has the potential to impact how we design our infrastructure,” said Brian Dehner, City Administrator for Edgewood. “We could construct narrower streets and not require as many parking spaces. This frees up land for additional economic development and green space. We need to get ahead of this and begin to evaluate this technology and be a region that invites the technology.”
“Autonomous vehicles will not only change how we get from place to place, but also how our cities function. And it will be happening a lot sooner than people think,” said Jason Sudy, AICP, one of the presenters at the event. “For example, significant changes to our roadway infrastructure, public transit services, and our development pattern will all come from the widespread adoption of this technology.”
The well-attended event indicates people are starting to accept the concept and take it more seriously.
“Three or four years ago when we were working on the Kenton County Transportation Study and Direction 2030 comprehensive plan, there were a lot of blank stares or chuckles when I brought up the idea of autonomous vehicles,” said James Fausz, AICP, Long Range Planning Manager for PDS, APA-KY Region 4 Representative, and organizer of the event.
“People used to think this technology was in the distant future at best, but just a few years later that isn’t the case. Today there are cars with driver assist features that are semi-autonomous and Teslas have been able to drive themselves since 2015. Within ten years we very well may see more autonomous vehicles on the road than those being driven by people,” said Fausz.
“What people tend to forget is that technology progresses on an exponential scale. You can’t get a good sense of its trajectory by looking backwards, because the pace of innovation is always accelerating,” said Rick Stein, AICP, during the presentation.
Autonomous-style features like forward automatic emergency braking, lane departure correction, and blind spot monitoring are available now on numerous auto brands and are precursors to full automation.
“As people become more familiar with these technologies, full automation will likely seem like a small step rather than a giant leap,” Sudy added.