The city and connected mobility
Over the past decade, cities have been developed to accommodate more cars on the streets and more parking capacity. Today’s challenges are around how to improve air quality to provide a healthier atmosphere for residents, for example by inviting citizens to use a bike, walk, take public transport or share cars.
Communicating with motorists
Reducing the numbers of cars heading for a location where parking capacity is scarce is best done by reducing parking capacity to zero. The problem today is how to inform motorists who are on their way to this destination.
The connected car can receive, in real time, alternative instructions for reaching that destination, or parking at a different location that can be reached easily or that provides easy access to alternative modes of transport. For a city, this creates new opportunities to support the local economy. Alternative transport routes might easily pass by a shopping center or a restaurant district. At the switch location, new jobs such as valet parking and so on can be created.
Unfortunately, we still see cities struggling with expanding road capacity and increasing parking opportunities at higher rates.
Today, cities are filled with signs that guide motorists, indicate speed limits, give directions and so on. When driving a connected car (autonomous or not), the driver no longer needs all these signs because the car can receive data presented on a central display for navigation and other information services. Not having to provide and maintain so much signage will be a cost saving for cities. Illuminated signs, and the light pollution they cause, can be replaced with more economical, environmentally friendly and personalized ways of communicating.
Commercial signs are a source of income for cities that will probably also disappear because any information can be displayed in the car according to user profile, location and destination. In a connected car, this information can potentially be based on what is said in the vehicle, so a conversation about dinner plans for example, could trigger advertisements for restaurants or take-aways.
In future, perhaps this internal data display won’t be sufficiently engaging and holograms will instead try to get the passengers’ or even the driver’s attention. Yet what will be the implications for traffic safety if a conversation about dinner triggers a hologram of a flying pizza on its way to being delivered? We can only hope that autonomous cars will be available before that happens!
When autonomous vehicles are a reality
When we are ready to deploy autonomous transport on a large scale, the impact on city planning and design will be huge. No more parking places will be needed, other than for vehicles to charge their batteries (if induction charging is not sufficient). Inner cities could be almost car-free and open for alternative healthy modes of transport.
The impact on public safety has not yet been fully explored or discussed. This is not just about road traffic accidents, but surely with no get-away cars being used in the city, for example, the number of robberies can be expected to go down (whereas the risk of cyber attack may grow).
In terms of the impact on health, as well as better air quality, noise levels will decrease. And then, of course, as parking spaces are turned into green parks, they will provide residents with places to enjoy themselves and de-stress.
Infrastructure maintenance costs will also go down. Cities currently investigating the replacement, regeneration or expansion of roads, bridges and beltways should seriously reconsider because these could soon become obsolete.
As a society, we focus on the autonomous car, yet we don’t stop investigating the expansion or renewal of infrastructures. As I learned from Dr D Ricketts of Harvard University (https://scholar.harvard.edu/davidricketts-innovation/home), obsolescence is a key term when planning new investments.
The connected car exists, even if it is not yet autonomous. Now is the time for cities to start planning for connected vehicles.