Autonomous Vehicles Symposium Addresses Mobility for All

How will driverless cars and other autonomous vehicle (AV) technology change the way we plan cities?

On October 6, 2017, 85 of the nation's top thinkers on AV gathered at the National League of Cities (NLC) headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss and plan for the impacts of AV on cities and regions.

This event — a collaboration between APA, NLC, Mobility E3, George Mason University, Mobility Lab, the Eno Center for Transportation, and the Brookings Institution — was convened to set the direction for future research, education, and other efforts by identifying policy needs to get cities and regions ready for a revolutionary new technology that will transform the way we think about transportation, transit, and land use. (View the agenda, speakers, and attendees at

Managing Director of Research and Advisory Services David Rouse kicked off the event with a brief summary of how we have worked through the first phase of exploring the possible implications of AV and have moved into the next phase of developing solutions. Kenneth Petty, FHWA director of planning, then spoke about the need to change how we think about transit and technology in order to improve safety, mobility, and efficiency. Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy with Nelson\Nygaard, shared the pros and cons of the future revenue model for AV and the need for cities to consider congestion pricing to counteract urban sprawl.

Discussion panels throughout the morning tackled three questions:

  1. How can autonomous vehicle technology expand access to healthcare, employment, education, and recreation for users of all ages, abilities, and incomes?
  2. How will autonomous vehicles impact the transportation ecosystem?
  3. What are the potential benefits and costs of widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles for cities and metropolitan regions? ​

Lisa Nisenson of Alta Planning + Design presents as part of the land use and built environment panel along with David Rouse, Nico Larco, and Jeff Tumlin. Nisenson was one of the most-quoted attendees of the event, with Twitter users crediting her with: "Scooter share is a thing," "Rarely does any effort get funded or off the ground unless it's in the comprehensive plan," and "We're gonna get hacked, but not if we're on our bicycles." View all tweets about the event using the hashtag #AVConnect. Photo by Jennifer Henaghan.

Attendees spent the afternoon in a scenario-planning exercise led by Kelley Coyner and Lisa Nisenson. The scenario put attendees in the shoes of a planning director whose council members are anxious about AV and how it will affect the city's transit, infrastructure, built environment, and economic competitiveness.

Participants identified specific subtopics that would need to be addressed in the areas of equity and access, the transportation network, and land use and the built environment. They also identified the best examples of work that is currently being done in cities to address the three main areas of concern (such as Seattle's $0.14 per-ride charge on transportation network company rides — Uber, Lyft, and similar rideshare models, or South America's bus-only streets).

David Rouse, FAICP, opens the symposium with a recognition of how quickly AV technology is moving and the need to begin strategizing solutions for cities and regions. With him onstage are Kenneth Petty, Jeff Tumlin, and Kelley Coyner. Photo by Jennifer Henaghan.

What's Next?

Over the next three months, the six convening organizations will use the discussion and insights gained from the symposium to draft a playbook of actions (to include key issues for land use planning, transportation planning, and fiscal impacts) and an agenda for further research. The playbook will be shared with all symposium attendees and made available to the public by mid-December 2017.

APA is also preparing a searchable, curated resource collection on autonomous vehicles (including reports, webinars, and more from symposium attendees) that will be released in early November 2017. This resource collection, part of APA’s Research KnowledgeBase, will be made available to the public at

As momentum grows on Capitol Hill and among industry leaders for AVs, APA is working on a variety of fronts to help planners prepare for AVs and to ensure good outcomes for local communities. To help shape federal legislation and regulatory action on AVs, the APA Legislative and Policy Committee is working on a set of policy principles that is anticipated to be released in early 2018.

This winter, Zoning Practice will focus on the likely impacts of autonomous vehicle on local planners. Author Don Elliott, FAICP, will discuss the need to plan for a world in which the roads will be shared by AVs and non-AVs in an upcoming issue of this publication, which is available by subscription or individual-issue purchase at

In addition, APA’s Planning Advisory Service (PAS) will release a PAS Report on autonomous vehicles in 2018. This in-depth report by Timothy Chapin, Jeremy Crute, William Riggs, and Lindsay Stevens, AICP, will offer planning practitioners a detailed investigation of AV technology and the associated challenges and opportunities it poses for planning, the built environment, policy making, and infrastructure. All 37,000-plus APA members and PAS subscribers will be able to download the report, and others may purchase a PDF version at

Top image: Jeff Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard delivers the keynote address. Photo by Jennifer Henaghan.

About the Author
Jennifer Henaghan, AICP, is APA's deputy research director.

October 10, 2017

By Jennifer Henaghan, AICP