Autonomous and driverless vehicles (AVs) are coming and they will be transformational, writes Rachel Skinner of WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff.
That may seem like a bold statement, but if you think about current technology already being used in the automotive industry, from adaptive cruise control and automatic braking to parking assistance and lane changing technology, you can see that we’re already moving towards an autonomous system.
One of the key moments for real change is the point where fully autonomous vehicles are approved for mainstream use. Fully autonomous means that a vehicle can move without a driver on board, as opposed to driverless cars that require someone to be in the vehicle. This opens up new options for shared use, where a single AV could move between different ‘drop off’ and ‘collection’ points and serve multiple passengers and trips.
What could this mean for our future cities, routes and places?
A new development dedicated for shared AV use could open up between 15% and 20% additional development land area compared with a typical central urban layout with the removal of parking spaces and road simplification. In most cities around the world, as much as 45% of the city centre traffic is made up of drivers searching for parking spaces. With AVs in place, supplemented by car/AV interchanges at the edge of the city, we could remove almost all city-centre parking and free up this space for cycle lanes, pedestrians and high quality public space.
As vehicles become better connected to network-wide information, flows would be smoothed and journey time reliability improved with connected systems using live data to forecast arrival times.
Research shows that up to 80% of the time our cars are sitting outside our homes or work. With shared AVs, the vast majority of cars parked on suburban streets could be removed and the traffic volumes on residential roads could be better managed and much reduced. Homeowners could also see property value uplifts of as much as 20% by converting unused garages into bedrooms and living spaces.
For developers that wish to retain a long-interest in their sites, for example through a PRS model, access to a maintained AV fleet could become part of the package available to future residents.
The Department for Transport is already considering changes needed to the Highway Code to allow for the introduction of driverless vehicles, and Highways England’s first motorway trials of a connected route will take place in 2017 on the A2/M2 between London and Kent. The notoriously busy M62 could be transformed if used exclusively by fully autonomous vehicles, uplifting available capacity by more than three times its current limits. Fixed, formal, marked lanes would not be needed and roadside ‘clutter’ including signage giving directions, distances to attractions and incident information would be removed, as passengers would receive this information directly via an in-car system.
We predict that autonomous technologies will offer everyone a whole new mode of transport within the next 25 years. Developers and land-owners can also expect to make significant gains through the shift to AVs. Sites that are not viable due to poor transport access today could become far more accessible and acceptable with the introduction of a tailored AV solution. The creation of 15-20% additional land area for development could generate billions of pounds of new value.
- Rachel Skinner is director of development at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff