KnowledgeBase Collection

Autonomous Vehicles

An illustration of an autonomous vehicle sensing surrounding vehicles.

American Planning Association

Autonomous and connected vehicle technology is expected to transform the nation’s transportation system over the coming decades, with major implications for the planning and design of cities and regions. Autonomous vehicles (AV), also known as driverless or self-driving cars, have been sharing city streets for several years.

This technology is moving very quickly, with the 11 largest automakers planning to have fully-autonomous vehicles on highways between 2018 and 2021 (arriving somewhat later in urban driving conditions). AV technology, as defined by the International Society of Automotive Engineers, ranges from a baseline of no automation, up to five levels of increasing autonomy:

  • Level one, driver assistance (e.g., adaptive cruise control)
  • Level two, partial automation (e.g., Tesla’s autopilot)
  • Level three, conditional automation (e.g., human drivers serve as backup for an autonomous system that operates under certain conditions)
  • Level four, high automation (e.g., Google/Waymo test cars)
  • Level five, full automation (e.g., no steering wheel in the vehicle)

While private companies such as Google and Uber move forward with research, development, and pilot applications, and agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration focus on deployment and safety issues, cities and regions need guidance so that they can prepare for the impacts of this transformative new technology.

From this page you can search for resources that provide background on autonomous vehicles and examples of how their widespread adoption will impact the transportation network and the built environment, as well as recommendations for policies that communities should consider to prepare themselves. And you can filter these search results by various geographic and demographic characteristics.

APA Resources

Planning for Autonomous Mobility

This PAS Report advises planners on how to prepare for and manage transitions to ensure their communities reap the benefits — and avoid the pitfalls — of autonomous vehicle technology.

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Preparing Communities for Autonomous Vehicles

This report connects findings from a symposium and research on autonomous vehicles to prepare communities for changes in land-use planning, urban design, and transportation related to autonomous vehicles.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Planning for Impacts on Cities and Regions

This web page contains information on APA's work to develop a playbook for cities and regions to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential negative consequences associated with the deployment of autonomous vehicles. It features four videos from a October 2017 symposium.

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Getting Ready for Driverless Cars

This December 2017 edition of Zoning Practice discusses basic facts about driverless cars and summarizes how changes in travel behavior associated with fully autonomous vehicles will likely affect local zoning codes over the next 20 to 30 years.

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Here Come the Robot Cars

This April 2017 Planning article outlines how autonomous vehicles will impact the built environment and the need for planners to take the lead in directing the impact of AVs on our communities.

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Transportation Q&A - Disruption: AV and Tiny Cars

Planning editor in chief Meghan Stromberg has a conversation with Josh Westerhold, senior manager of Nissan’s Future Lab in the Planning magazine April 2017 issue.

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The Commissioner addressed city policy opportunities related to driverless vehicles in December 2016.

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When Autonomous Cars Take to the Road

This May 2015 Planning article considers the optimistic and pessimistic views of the impacts of driverless vehicles and suggests what planners can do to prepare.

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On Demand: The Future of Cities and Planning

This recorded session from NPC 2017 discusses the future of cities through three main trends: the use of technology in smart city design, the increase in automated vehicles and their effect on transportation and land use, and a focus on sustainable design. 

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NPC17 Special Plenary: How Technology Will Shape Urban Density

This video featuring Rohit Aggarwala of Sidewalk Labs delves into the complex issues surrounding the future of technology’s role in the realm of planning and contemplates if 21st century technology make cities more attractive, or less.

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On Demand: Envisioning the City with Automated Vehicles

This course presents the results of facilitated sessions at the 2015 Florida Automated Vehicle Summit where planners, engineers, academics, auto industry representatives, and elected officials collaborated to envision the future with automated vehicles. 

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Cities, Public Space, and Autonomous Vehicles

This APA Learn course focuses on the impact of autonomous vehicles on public space and how to create priorities, principles, and tools to address this impact.

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Greater Sustainability with Autonomous Vehicles?

This APA Learn course discusses the range of opportunities and challenges in autonomous vehicles as agents of sustainability. 

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Impacts of Emerging Technology on Development

This APA Learn course explores the connection between autonomous vehicles and land use to help envision the future of development.

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Driverless Cars: Changing How You Plan

This APA Learn course adresses the many impacts autonomous vehicles will have on land use, planning, and work and life preferences.

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Attention: The Age of Automation Is Right Ahead

This Planning article explores the impact that driverless cars would have on our communities and transportation networks.

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This Planning article defines connected vehicles and discusses several planning implications.

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Planning for Cars that Drive Themselves

This Planning article considers what planners have done to prepare for autonomous vehicles, and encourages practitioners to be proactive.

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Preparing for Autonomous Vehicles

This Commissioner article answers what communities should expect from and and how communities can prepare for autonomous vehicles.

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Driverless Vehicles and Your Community

This Commissioner article identifies several policy opportunities for local communities in light of autonomous vehicle adoption.

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Autonomous Vehicles: States Pave the Way

This blog post discusses what changes have been made at the state level to plan for autonomous vehicles.

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Autonomous Vehicles Symposium Addresses Mobility for All

This blog post summarizes the 2017 Autonomous Vehicles Symposium and how it will help create more resources for practicing planners.

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Planning for the Transition to Shared Autonomous Vehicles

This blog post summarizes the 2018 National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago.

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Can Planners Get Ahead of the Autonomous Vehicle Wave?

This blog post highlights some of the questions asked about autonomous vehicles at the 2018 National Planning Conference.

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Planning for AVs: The Time Is Now

This blog post discusses the urgency of planning for autonomous vehicles in order to preserve a community's values.

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Planning for the Autonomous Vehicle Revolution

This blog post summarizes the key findings from a study titled Envisioning Florida’s Future: Transportation and Land Use in an Automated Vehicle World.

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Driverless Cars, Planning, and Architecture

This blog post considers the impact autonomous vehicles will have on the Chicago region.

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Equity and Access

Access to transportation is closely linked to opportunities for employment, education, healthcare, and recreation. If autonomous vehicles are thoughtfully implemented with access and equity in mind, AV technology can expand access to these resources for users of all ages, abilities, and incomes. However, cities must take an active role to ensure that AV does not reinforce existing disparities in access.

As the transportation industry, particularly the freight sector, transitions to fleets of autonomous vehicles, there will be economic implications in terms of job loss and dislocation. Policymakers and job training organizations will need to be cognizant of the impact on access to stable, well-paying jobs, as well as the skills required by those jobs.

Transportation Network

Autonomous vehicles will have a profound impact on the transportation ecosystem. The first use cases are expected to come in the form of fleets for shared mobility providers and freight transportation, in part due to the high costs associated with AV technology that will hinder mass adoption by private users. In addition to being a potential early adopted of AV, transit providers will need to take steps to ensure that the technology is used in way that enhances and improves the mobility of their riders.

Land Use and the Built Environment

The widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles for cities and metropolitan regions will change the way we design our public rights-of-way. Sensors will allow autonomous vehicles to travel closer together than human-controlled vehicles, reducing the necessary pavement width and freeing up space for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and other amenities. Local zoning codes will need to address requirements for passenger loading and unloading, and parking needs will change drastically if a shared use model is employed. As cities transition away from ordinances that now require large amounts of land to be used for parking and circulation, they will need to determine how best to make use of that “extra” land through new approaches to land use and zoning.

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