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Now is the time to plan for the autonomous vehicle future

Now is the time to plan for the autonomous vehicle future
From TechCrunch - October 11, 2017

The arrival of autonomous vehicles bring the prospect of improved transportation systems without the capital costs, operating subsidies and construction delays of new highway lanes and fixed rail systems. Cities, states, and the Federal Government, need to revise their transportation planning accordingly.

Autonomous vehicles have gone from a Jetson-like dream to a clear reality in less than one decade. In 2010, when Google first started developing autonomous vehicles, people asked, Why are they wasting money on this? Thats never going to work.

Today, we have not only seen public pilots of autonomous vehicles from companies like Uber and recent announcement by automakers such as Audi that it plans to begin selling, in 2018, a production car with Level 3 autonomy (meaning it requires no human attention to the road at speeds under 37 miles per hour), we have also begun to see striking data on the benefits of autonomous vehicles.

For example, after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated a Tesla Autopilot crash, they found a 40% decrease in traffic accidents when Teslas Autopilot feature was enabled in cars. In addition to significant reductions in accidents, the benefits of autonomous vehicles will also include less congestion, reduced emissions, reclaimed productive time, fewer new roads, reclaimed parking space, lower transportation costs for all and improved mobility of the elderly and disabled.

As traffic planners across the nation wrestle with the issues of moving people and goods within and between cities, there are a variety of transportation options to consider with everything from Hyperloop, to highways, bridges, buses, and light rail.

One thing that these projects all have in common is large-scale infrastructure projects which take a long time (often multiple decades) and require large up-front capital investments. Examples include the Big Dig in Boston, which cost nearly $15B, began in 1982 and was not completed until 2007; and in Seattle, the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, which began in 2001 and is not expected to be completed until 2021, at a cost of more than $4B.

Incorporating autonomous vehicles into our transportation systems, on the other hand, is a very low cost way to drastically improve the flow of goods and people within a region as long as we begin now to make the policy changes that will allow the benefits to be achieved as the technology comes to market.

Here in Seattle, we are proposing to convert Interstate-5 between Seattle and Vancouver, over a number of years, into an autonomous vehicle-only highway. Seattle and Vancouver are vibrant cities, but the transportation between them is tedious and impedes valuable economic partnerships.

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