Opinion Former Article

Free up city streets with future vehicles

Advances in vehicle autonomy that will allow cars to make more efficient use of the road network present a unique opportunity to reallocate land use in urban areas, an event in London heard last week.

Connected and autonomous vehicles will be able to travel much closer to each other than drivers do currently, freeing up additional road capacity, delegates to consultant BuroHappold Engineering’s seminar were told.

“Autonomous vehicles will use the road much better than we do as drivers,” said the company’s head of economics Jim Coleman. “We make mistakes and are not very efficient with how we manoeuvre vehicles.”

The consultant’s cities director Andy Murdoch emphasised: “We need to think carefully about what we do with the greater efficiency that these vehicles give us. I don’t think it would be an appropriate decision to just reallocate the extra capacity to more vehicles; we have got enough cars in our streets already, we need to use the space more wisely than that.”

Architect Farrells’ partner Nigel Bidwell considered whether there would be additional capacity available to reallocate space to pedestrians and cyclists who are currently “pushed off to the edge” of streets.

Jim Coleman also explained: “In terms of real estate if we have autonomous vehicles and ride sharing we are probably going to need less car parking which means we can do other things with that space.”

He considered that this could include commercial and retail uses or residential development. “Large scale development today requires the creation of new transport infrastructure,” he said. “But if the existing network will be able to handle more trips that might unlock opportunities to develop sites that are currently challenging.”

It was also suggested that space could be dedicated to improved public realm or green infrastructure.

However Jim Coleman questioned whether local authorities would be willing to release land currently used for car parking, from which they generate significant revenue. “An alternative way of generating revenue would perhaps be through road pricing, which is probably going to have to be introduced in order to moderate congestion,” he said.

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