In-Depth: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced this bill to create a federally-funded highly automated vehicle clearinghouse to examine autonomous vehicles’ secondary effects:
“With innovations in transit, rideshare, bikeshare, and scooters, the transportation sector is changing faster than ever before. Autonomous vehicles are coming faster than most of us realize and it is incumbent upon us to start planning now. Done right, Autonomous vehicles can increase mobility, improve social equity, and solve some of the country’s most vexing problems. Done wrong, we may repeat the mistakes of the past. The PLACE Act will allow us to have the research at our disposal to create more livable communities for all.”
In a letter to his Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill, Rep. Blumenauer wrote:
“The transportation sector is changing at a faster pace than ever before. New mobility options like Uber and Lyft, bikeshare, scooters, and more have already disrupted how Americans get around. And with more than 300 companies and partnerships working toward bringing semi- or fully-autonomous vehicles to market in the near future, the landscape is set to change even faster. While Congress has started to debate autonomous vehicle legislation, little attention has been paid to the secondary influences of autonomous vehicles once they are deployed onto the roads. That is, how will autonomous vehicles affect land use, real estate transportation, municipal budgets, urban design, the environment, and social equity? The PLACE Act creates a federally funded highly automated vehicle clearinghouse to examine the secondary influences of autonomous vehicles. The clearinghouse would be housed at a higher education institution and be required to collect, conduct, and fund research understanding how autonomous vehicles influence land use, real estate, transportation, municipal budgets, urban design, the environment, and social equity. The clearinghouse is funded at $2 million annually and would be chosen by the Secretary of Transportation within 180 days of enactment.”
Michael H. Schill, president of the University of Oregon and a professor of law, notes Rep. Blumenauer’s long track record on community livability issues:
"Congressman Blumenauer is widely recognized as a pioneer in understanding the role of place in making communities resilient and livable. His bill would establish an essential resource for communities to manage impacts from autonomous vehicles. The clearinghouse would speed the dissemination of research by programs like the Urbanism Next Center, an initiative of UO's Sustainable Cities Institute."
The American Planning Association supports this bill. APA President Kurt Christiansen, FAICP, says:
“The implications of autonomous vehicles touch virtually every aspect of community planning. Communities are working now to identify the right policies to ensure that new mobility technologies enhance and expand quality of life and livability. The access to critical information and research provided by the PLACE Act is essential to helping communities get our AV future right.”
This bill has three Democratic cosponsors.
Of Note: Current legislative frameworks being debated in Congress would delineate state, local, and federal roles in regulating autonomous vehicles while also setting cybersecurity, safety, and data standards. However, current debates haven’t paid much attention to autonomous vehicles’ secondary influences once they’re deployed onto the roads.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have the potential to completely change how cities are built and lived in. In 2016, researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Driverless Cities Project argued that AVs have the potential to change “[e]verything from sidewalks and curbs to streets, building designs, urban layouts, and living patterns.” One of the researchers, Marshall Brown, summarizes the research thus: “[W]e want to ask what kind of world do we want, and how do we leverage this technology to get there?” Questions surrounding AV affect whether or not parking lots, road signs and traffic signals are necessary and how wide new roads need to be.
In 2016, a small group of researchers at five Dept. of Energy-funded labs tasked with studying how to minimize self-driving cars’ impact on the environment found that AVs’ impact on the environment — for good or ill — is best managed with careful planning.
The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, a lobbying group for self-driving cars comprising of Google, Ford and Uber, prefers a single set of federal standards for AVs. In 2016, the lobby’s counsel and spokesperson, David Strickland, said:
“Self-driving vehicle technology will make America’s roadways safer and less congested. The best path for this innovation is to have one clear set of federal standards, and the Coalition will work with policymakers to find the right solutions that will facilitate the deployment of self-driving vehicles.”
In a paper presented at the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, “The Science of Science Communication III” in November 2017 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., researchers noted that current questions about AVs are now focused on their impact, rather than whether they’ll come into existence in future:
“Automated vehicles (AVs) already navigate US highways and those of many other nations around the world. Current questions about AVs do not now revolve around whether such technologies should or should not be implemented; they are already with us. Rather, such questions are more and more focused on how such technologies will impact evolving transportation systems, our social world, and the individuals who live within it and whether such systems ought to be fully automated or remain under some form of direct human control. More importantly, how will mobility itself change as these independent operational vehicles first share and then dominate our roadways? How will the public be kept apprised of their evolving capacities, and what will be the impact of science and the communication of scientific advances across the varying forms of social media on these developments?”
All of the major car and ride-share companies have made significant investments in self-driving vehicles. In August 2018, Bloomberg reported that total private investment in the AV sector in Q2 2018 was more than the total private investment in the sector from 2014-2017 combined. In a February 2018 post on Medium, Geoff Nesnow, a professor at Hult Business School, argued that these developments have shrunk the the timeline for significant adoption of AV technology.
Setbacks in the AV industry, including a fatal Uber crash that killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018, have recently caused the industry to temper expectations and push out timelines for AVs’ deployment. At a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York in April 2019, Uber’s chief scientists at Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), Raquel Urtasun, said, “Self-driving cars are going to be in our lives. The question of when is not clear yet. To have it at scale is going to take a long time.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / metamorworks)