Can autonomous vehicles help cities address their climate goals? Only if they start planning now

(ACEEE blog, 19 Dec 2019) Cities need to lay the groundwork now for the arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to ensure that AVs contribute to rather than detract from their transportation and climate objectives.

An ACEEE toolkit, released today, highlights fundamental strategies that cities can pursue and gives them a policy roadmap.

As cities grapple with transportation challenges, many have started looking to AVs to improve safety, expand mobility options, and improve travel convenience. However, these vehicles can fundamentally change how people choose to travel. Their energy and environmental impacts will depend on who owns them, how many miles they travel, and the modes of transportation they displace.

Without specific policies to shape deployment and ensure net energy and emissions benefits, AVs could aggravate transportation challenges. They could add to already growing congestion in urban centers by undermining transit, inducing additional single occupancy travel and encouraging sprawl.

On the plus side, AVs also can bring transportation and societal benefits. Shared fleets that are available on a dynamic basis have the potential to reduce personal vehicle ownership in cities, expand transit service coverage, and connect under-resourced communities. As fewer and fewer urban residents feel the need to own cars, cities can repurpose land that has historically been dedicated to personal vehicles to support more efficient forms of transportation such as walking and bicycling, denser development where desired, and more affordable housing around transit nodes.

So how do cities make sure they achieve the “heaven” rather than the “hell” scenario? Policymakers will need to keep three critical outcomes in mind.

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ACEEE blog, 19 Dec 2019: Can autonomous vehicles help cities address their climate goals? Only if they start planning now