Are cities prepared for autonomous vehicles? Planning for technological change by U.S. local governments

TitleAre cities prepared for autonomous vehicles? Planning for technological change by U.S. local governments
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsYonah Freemark, Hudson A, Jinhua Zhao
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
KeywordsAutonomous Vehicles, municipalities, transportation planning


Problem, Research Strategy, and Findings: Local government policies could impact how autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is deployed. This paper examines how municipalities are planning for AVs, identifies local characteristics that are associated with preparation, and describes what impacts bureaucrats expect from the vehicles. We review existing plans of the United States’ 25 largest cities and survey transportation and planning officials from 120 cities, representative of all municipalities with populations larger than 100,000. First, we find that few local governments have commenced planning for AVs. Second, cities with larger populations and higher population growth are more likely to be prepared. Third, while local officials are optimistic about the technology and its potential to increase safety while reducing congestion, costs, and pollution, more than a third of respondents worried about AVs increasing vehicle-miles traveled and sprawl while reducing transit ridership and local revenues. Those concerns are associated with greater willingness to implement AV regulations, but there is variation among responses depending on political ideology, per-capita government expenditures, and population density.

Takeaway for Practice: Municipal governments’ future approaches to AV preparation will likely depend on characteristics of city residents and local resources. Planners can maximize policy advancement if they work with officials in other cities to develop best practices and articulate strategies that overlap with existing priorities, such as reducing pollution and single-occupancy commuting.