The age of Autonomous Vehicles
Companies are rapidly setting up shop in Pittsburgh to develop and test Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and are using Pittsburgh’s public streets as a testbed. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation and PennDOT officially designated Pittsburgh as a “proving ground” for autonomous vehicle testing in the U.S.
This development has opened up very serious questions about the safety of our streets and how our cities and towns are designed. To better understand these issues, BikePGH is conducting a survey* of Pittsburghers’ experiences sharing the road with autonomous vehicles while walking and biking.
This survey will help inform and guide us as this new technology is tested and deployed. The interests of pedestrians, bicyclists, and people with disabilities need to remain at the forefront as this technology enters our lives.
Additionally, BikePGH will continue to collect people’s experiences after the survey is closed using an online Submit Autonomous Vehicle Experience (SAVE) form. The SAVE form, the first of its kind, will allow the users of our streets to submit their interactions with Autonomous Vehicles. All information will be helpful in determining how BikePGH approaches its advocacy and education regarding AVs.
AV technology has the potential to change the public realm, impact the economy, reduce collisions, and alter our environment like nothing we’ve seen since the invention of the automobile. Public policy and public perception will play significant roles in how our cities will change and what AV companies are permitted to do in the public realm during this experiment. Our elected leaders can help ensure Pittsburgher’s safety by setting the terms for how these companies operate.
Ultimately, safety is paramount. While autonomous vehicle companies predict, and BikePGH is hopeful, that there will be enormous safety benefits with the adoption of fully autonomous vehicles, in the short term they require a live testbed to achieve that goal. While these companies are testing the technology in the public space, elected leaders can also ask for a fair exchange, for instance, data sharing to help city officials plan for the future.
The public realm and public space will surely change with the adoption of AVs. Travel patterns will change, access will change, and demand for on-street parking and garages will change.
We are currently in a transition period where this experimental technology is not permitted to be operated on streets without a human behind the wheel paying close attention. This mix of developing technology (that is not yet fully autonomous) and the often unpredictable behaviors of human drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists, could end in tragedy.
Autonomous vehicles are fast becoming part of our future. We are at an important moment in terms of how this technology interacts with pedestrians and bicyclists. Ultimately it’s up to all of us to decide what kind of city we want to live in.
*The survey closed Wednesday, March 8, 2017.