How are Cities Shaping an Autonomous Future?

October 17, 2018 - (3 min read)

This is an excerpt from our newest municipal action guide, Autonomous Vehicle Pilots Across America.

The unstoppable forces of automation and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the way we move through, work in and design cities. Technological advancements are transforming the mobility environment as a wide range of companies continue investing billions of dollars to develop, test and deploy autonomous vehicles. As a result, cities nationwide are now hosting autonomous vehicle pilots that are being developed in a multitude of ways, with different choices and approaches instituted by city and state governments. Before long, autonomous vehicles will be ubiquitous on roadways, but the full story has not yet been written — cities need to be in the driver’s seat as we transform from the current mobility environment to our autonomous future.

This municipal action guide is meant to give cities the ability to better understand and approach the impending rollout of autonomous vehicles in their cities. We hope to lay out the current typologies of how cities and other levels of government are working together with the private sector to begin to integrate self-driving cars onto the roadways.

Within this action guide we provide the reader with:

  • Analysis of the current legal/ regulatory structure
  • The state of AV pilot programs
  • City approaches to AV pilots
  • Best practices from cities throughout the country
  • Action steps on city leadership to move forward

The autonomous future is already starting to unfold, but city leaders have the opportunity to play a more informed, active role in shaping it. This is why at the National League of Cities we have developed — and continue to work on — a series of research reports and analyses to help city leaders prepare for these shifts. Since our last report on the subject (the Future of Equity in Cities, released in 2017) the number of large cities planning for autonomous vehicles has climbed substantially. Some 50 percent of America’s largest cities are preparing for these self-driving vehicles in their long- range transportation plans.

At the same time, cities are experiencing broad cultural shifts in how people get around. Fewer young people obtain driver’s licenses, ride-hailing is ubiquitous in cities, and use of public transit and bike sharing has increased. In the near future, self-driving technology will not only migrate to our cars but will also impact urban transportation methods like busses and subway systems. Cities have a unique opportunity to reshape urban transportation with the ultimate goal of making it more people-centered, flexible and responsive.

The age of autonomy is here. How we approach it and what we collectively decide to do remains in flux. It is incumbent on all of us to build the vision we want. So sit back, put your feet up and let the car do the work. But before you do, read through this guide and learn how cities can work to drive the autonomous future.


Brooks Rainwater small About the Authors: Brooks Rainwater is the senior executive director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.






nicole_depuis_ready  Nicole DuPuis is the principal associate for urban innovation in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.