Is this the second transport revolution?

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) are set to shake things up in property and infrastructure development. Just as cars became affordable and quickly replaced horse-drawn vehicles, autonomous vehicles may well be the second transport revolution. Motion’s Andrew Whittingham explores the challenges and opportunities.

A great deal of attention has been given to the subject of connected and automated vehicles. Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged to fund CAV development in the 2017 Autumn Budget with the aim of ‘fully self-driving cars on UK roads by 2021’. In the US, Google’s sister company Waymo is running tests with taxis which will be supplied by Jaguar Land Rover from 2020. Many other car manufacturers are developing their own systems including Nissan, General Motors, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

It is important to understand the difference between the levels of automation defined in 2016 by the Society of Autonomous Engineers (SAE), ranging from Level 0 ‘no automation’ to Level 5 ‘full automation’.

Level 3, in which the human driver is required to intervene if the system fails, is relatively easy to achieve. Level 4, whereby the system can operate in most conditions, looks to be just around the corner. Level 5, representing the true autonomous vehicle with the system able to operate at all times, is some way off – probably 10 years. However, the implications of Level 4 or 5 AVs are huge. Developers and policymakers need to consider their effect now.

Efficient movement of people

CAVs will transform how transportation works in both rural and urban areas. One of the key questions is how road traffic volumes will be affected. Without any intervention, autonomous vehicles could increase traffic levels and congestion due to their convenience and additional demand from those who don’t currently own a car.

Buses could become driverless, operating at much lower costs than at present, enhancing services and connectivity in areas currently reliant on the private car. Locations currently considered unsustainable due to the lack of viable public transport will need to be reviewed.

The property development sector needs to embrace the opportunities created by the autonomous vehicle revolution. Car parking at the beginning and end of journeys can be virtually eliminated, releasing huge amounts of valuable developable land. On-street parking could thus be largely eliminated and pick up/drop off points become important. High streets often suffer from the competition from out-of-town retail parks with free parking. With the majority of the parking requirement removed, town centre sites can compete on a more level playing field.

I often get asked how autonomous vehicles should be incorporated into development layouts. A good example is in the proposed Didcot Garden Town where the ‘garden line’ will initially be for walking and cycling but could be used for autonomous vehicles from 2026.

Sooner rather than later, autonomous vehicles will hit the roads. Future developments need to gear up for the opportunities and challenges that they will bring. I am keen to hear your views on the second transport revolution. Email me at awhittingham@motion.co.uk

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