Technology has permeated almost every aspect of our lives. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (~215 million people [source]) own a smartphone, an item just over twenty years old. Our phones initially allowed us mobile access to the internet whenever and wherever there was a wi-fi signal. This, until very recently, required action, the user must take out her phone, log on, and search for the information he or she needed. With the addition of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and nearly ubiquitous wi-fi coverage in major cities, our phones are able to do things with no effort from us. This has changed the way we work, changed the way we interact with our homes, the way we navigate our cities—and will completely change the vehicle systems that carry us through our cities.
Depending on to whom you listen, autonomous vehicles (AV) will be on our streets yesterday, or in a few years from now. There are several companies in a race for the prize, and cities need to get their policies, infrastructure, and citizens ready for the inevitable release. As there are great potential benefits of AVs, there are myriad potential problems. This paper addresses both and attempts to offers solutions and policy advice to make the switch from human-piloted vehicles to autonomous vehicles as frictionless as possible.
To facilitate this change, and to test on a smaller scale within the city, it is recommended that the Mayor and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) create an incrementally deployed AV pilot zone in Downtown Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, a sprawling metropolis made up of smaller neighborhoods, each with a unique culture and “feel,” is undergoing a transformation. Long associated with automobiles and freeways—and their products, traffic and smog—Los Angeles, both the administration and its citizens, is looking for ways to change the way we move about our city. Metro Rail has expanded significantly over the past two decades to become the fifth busiest rapid transit system [source] (on a per mile basis), behind more established East Coast sytems. Los Angeles has a robust bus system, a nascent Bike Share system, localized DASH and Commuter Express buses, and will soon launch an EV car sharing pilot. Additionally, voters overwhelmingly supported a ½ cent sales tax increase to fund transit, as Measure M passed with 71% support.
Despite the attempt to get Angelenos out of their cars, Los Angeles still has the dishonor of being the most polluted city in America, our cars are literally making us sick—and they are killing us. Traffic deaths increased from 186 in 2015 to 260 in 2016 [source]. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation have adopted a Vision Zero plan with goals to eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2025. We need to stop accepting that our commutes kill a single person, much less 260 people a year. This problem demands aggressive change, and it is time Los Angeles changes the way we think about transportation.
Downtown Los Angeles (in this paper, Downtown will be defined as the area within the 101 to the north and the east, the 10 to the South and the 110 to the west), after decades of neglect and population flight, is undergoing a massive repopulation and revitalization. In 1999 the population was a paltry 18,700 people, more than tripling to 60,618 by 2015, and projected to grow to 185,000 by 20404. In addition to the permanent residents, Downtown swells to a population of over 500,000 every workday, the majority arriving in their cars alone. Currently 39% of the land area in Downtown is devoted to roads and surface parking lots. If the status quo of draconian parking minimums and car ownership were to continue, Downtown will be unable to accommodate its future residents.
This population reinvigorating the street life in Downtown, must mix with cars speeding down three-lane one-way streets has had disastrous consequences. Of Los Angeles’ High Injury Network (HIN, 6% of Los Angeles’ streets accounting for 65% of KSIs [source] [Killed or Serious Injury]), 21.65 miles are located downtown. Between 2010-2015 in Downtown there were 1565 reported collisions between a motor vehicle and either a pedestrian or a bicyclist, resulting in 20 fatalities. These statistics are unacceptable, and should frighten all of us.
In “The Street as Platform 2050,” urbanist Dan Hill envisions a (mostly) utopian future where data infiltrate every aspect of our daily lives asking us to imagine a city where “There are no traffic lights, fences, street markings, barriers, traffic islands, bollards, drains, road signs, few if any pylons, no step-down transformers, switchboxes. Traffic, from Drivers to bikes to animals, move in all directions at once [source].”Downtown has the opportunity to enact Hill’s vision and become a guiding light for other cities by creating a fully autonomous pilot zone by 2035. Being the first at anything requires visionary leadership, smart policy and agility. Los Angeles cannot be dissuaded by the unknown or by the inevitable missteps that are inherently associated with innovation. As the cultural theorist Paul Virilio wrote, “The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.”
Demographically, Downtown is perfectly suited for a pilot AV program. The population is young (66% are between the ages of 23-444), educated (79% have a college degree), affluent (average median income is $98,000/year)—all variables that skew toward early adoption of technology. Additionally, 62% of residents walk to work [source], implying that they live close to their workplaces, potentially not requiring full time car ownership. When paired with the KSI and HIN data, these statistics suggest not only that the area needs a change, but will likely be more welcoming than Angelenos still heavily reliant on their vehicles.
Government and technology inherently (and importantly) move at different speeds. Policymakers should not chase the latest technologies, rather they should facilitate a safe, equitable environment for their deployment. Despite planning and good intentions, there will be citizens and businesses that are uncomfortable with a change in transportation modes. Large businesses, like government, are not agile enough to bend to unprecedented change. While the goals to improve the quality of life of citizens and achieve the Mayor’s Vision Zero Goals outweigh disruption to the status quo, the needs and concerns of citizens must be taken seriously.
Early adopters are by nature going to take on more risk, but positioned next to the KSI and air quality data of Los Angeles, it is a risk worth taking. Policymakers need to mitigate risk for all involved parties by speaking to representatives from all levels in the community, both collecting and implementing input when valid. Due to the unprecedented nature of creating a public, fully autonomous vehicle zone, policymakers must be flexible, reliant on data analytics, and decisive so that policies accurately reflect and regulate the situation on the ground.
Government, at all levels, were caught off guard by the seemingly overnight proliferation of TNCs. Policymakers have had to create policy from behind, as there was no system in place to regulate these companies. This has resulted in significant discord between businesses and regulators. Cities should look to this situation as a scenario to not repeat. LADOT should create a liaison position between the department and the technology companies to begin creating regulations, data-sharing agreements, and universal protocols for connected infrastructure.
P1.1: Create a congestion zone within the defined Downtown boundary.
i1.1: Install closed circuit cameras with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology at all entrances to Downtown to monitors and charge all vehicles entering the congestion zone. Incentivize businesses within the congestion zone with tax breaks for providing transit passes to their employees. To alleviate the hardship of existing residents, provide a grandfather clause exempting them from congestion zone fees.
P1.2: Locate and build four mobility hubs on the north, south, east and west perimeter of Downtown providing all available transit options at each.
i1.2: The hubs shall include bikeshare, EV carshare, on-demand transit, Metro Bus, Metro Rail access (where possible), efficient autonomous EV charging stations, and rideshare access points. Additionally, the hubs should contain parking (underground) for traditional human piloted vehicles, both for existing residents with cars, and those who work Downtown with limited transit options from their homes. The parking lots shall be constructed to be easily converted to other uses once they are obsolete, and should consider including multi-purpose infrastructure.
Agencies: LADOT, Metro
P1.3: Rezone Downtown to remove industrial and manufacturing uses from the city center.
i1.3: Industrial and Manufacturing uses are too reliant on shipping and too polluting to be adjacent and intermingled with residential and commercial uses. The focus should be on the southern and eastern Arts District, as well as the Industrial and Fashion Districts. Provide property tax incentives for businesses to move to other parts of the cities, and create long-term manufacturing zones from which they can do business.
Agencies: City Planning
P1.4: Eliminate parking minimums. Create maximum parking restrictions.
i1.4: Work with existing building owners and future developers to incentivize alternative transportation modes for their buildings’ inhabitants.
Agencies: City Planning
P1.05: Install LIDAR and ANPR cameras to create an automated speed enforcement network.
I1.5: Until the congestion zone is fully autonomous, automated enforcement is necessary to slow vehicles on populated downtown streets.
Agencies: LADOT, ATSAC, LAPD
P1.06: Create a liaison position within the Mayor’s office to coordinate between LADOT, the City of Los Angeles, CD14 and the technology companies and auto manufacturers.
i1.6: To coordinate a more seamless introduction of AVs, the liaison shall draft policy agreed upon by all stakeholders, both public and private. Furthermore, the liaison shall work with all parties to create communication protocols for connected infrastructure. It is paramount that the network be “plug and play” and that there is an easy exchange of data between all connected machines.
Agencies: City of Los Angeles, CD14, LADOT, ATSAC
P1.7: Inventory all available data and create “Data as Service” plan.
I1.7: Create a single database to which all the departments feed relevant data. Create a data analysis team to advise on best sharing practices. Draft agreements and fee structures for technology companies to use city-owned data.
Agencies: LADOT, Metro, ATSAC
P1.8: Develop standard and connected AV infrastructure.
I1.8: Develop connected traffic signals, smart roads, smart signs, and road markings in accordance with standards agreed upon by technology companies and manufacturers.
P1.9: Create two fully autonomous, connected streets in medium traffic area.
I1.9: Identify two medium traffic corridors in Downtown where AVs and AV infrastructure may be safely tested.
P1.10: Implement hybrid open/closed streets.
I1.10: Using removable (or automatic) bollards, begin trials of open streets during off-hours/days in which the streets are returned to people. Allow local businesses to use the streets for dining tables, and permit pop-up businesses to use the streets. Example: Historic Core Farmer’s Market. Additionally, building upon the wildly popular CicLAvia, experiment with fully open corridors on a monthly basis.
Agencies: LADOT, City of Los Angeles, CD14
P1.11: Develop guidelines for right-sizing and permanently opening streets to pedestrians, and adaptive reuse of obsolete land uses.
I1.11: AVs maximize efficiency, so there is no longer a need for three-lane streets, multiple parallel streets, and multi-story, block-spanning parking garages. Develop guidelines and design standards for their adaptive reuse to uses bringing more vitality to Downtown.
Agencies: LADOT, City of Los Angeles, City Planning, CD14
P1.12: Continue development of the Go La app to facilitate multi-modal trips and unified payment.
I1.12: Work with Xerox and the relevant transit agencies and private companies to allow users to plan and pay for multi-modal (and agency/company) trips. Consider NFC technology as a replacement for / alternative to TAP Cards.
P1.13: Create Transit Kiosks throughout the city.
I1.13: To ensure equity for those without smartphones and the unbanked, create kiosks throughout the city allowing anyone to access the transit options available.
Agencies: LADOT, Metro
P2.1: Identify and convert to AV-only 50% of Downtown streets.
I2.1: Identify the deadliest streets in the HIN and deploy connected infrastructure, closing 50% of Downtown streets by 2027.
P2.2: Develop a LADOT fleet of autonomous cars and on-demand, optimized route bus fleet.
I1.2: LADOT shall operate a fleet (number TBD) of connected, autonomous passenger vehicles. Additionally, LADOT shall replace its DASH system with a V2I, on-demand bus fleet.
P2.3: Promote carshare in lieu of ownership.
I2.3: Promote the fact that cars sit idle 96% of their existence and disincentivize ownership by charging market-rate for parking in public lots. Make the practical, economical decision be the shared option by decoupling parking from rental prices, employee cash-outs and a stronger TDM ordinance.
Agencies: City of Los Angeles, LADOT
P3.1: Make the entire Downtown area an AV only zone.
I3.1: Continue the deployment of connected infrastructure through the entirety of Downtown, making it exclusively AV.
Risk Analysis and Mitigation
As outlined above, many of the risks in an unprecedented system are inherently unforeseen. This requires agile and decisive leadership with the ability to adjust regulations quickly. The pilot will guide decision making for deployment throughout the city and through cities across the globe. We can anticipate risks by evaluating other deployed data systems and through problems that the technology companies have already experienced. These should be mitigated before the pilot launches.
Hybrid Streets: How will AVs respond when they inevitably experience a situation brought on by user error in the human piloted vehicles which they will share roads? In theory, AVs don’t make mistakes, and in a closed system there would be no errors.
Existing Ownership: There will be substantial resistance from car owners and car enthusiasts who do not want government telling them they can no longer drive their cars. The counter-argument must be framed as a public health argument. We can no longer accept deaths and sickness from user error and polluting vehicles. There is precedent in smog regulations, and perhaps that is a starting point.
Moving: Residents moving into or out of the AV zone will need large trucks to move their furniture and possessions. LADOT should look into partnering with private companies to develop a small fleet of autonomous trucks that can be loaded with storage containers similar to the PODS system. The containers can be moved to an offsite storage facility to be picked up by non-autonomous trucks until the entire city is blanketed with connected infrastructure.
Business Owners: If business owners are upset when a single parking spot is removed, they will not go easily into an autonomous future. This must be mitigated with data showing that open streets are actually good for business.
Increased VMT: If there is a 1:1 switch from traditional vehicles to AV, there will actually be increased congestion. It is imperative to promote mode-shifting to other forms of transit for short trips. With safer streets, and better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, these active transportation modes should be given priority.
Privacy: Users are reluctant to give too much data. There must be incentives to allow data to be collected. Citizens are aware of recent misuse of our data by government agencies. We must regain their trust by being open and transparent about the data collected, which should be the minimal amount for the system to function. The data should also be monitored by a third-party citizen advocate e.g. the American Civil Liberties Union.
Security: Hackers will be salivating at the opportunity to disrupt an AV system. Top level security must be deployed and constantly monitored for any breaches or hacking attempts.
Equity: We must ensure that the system is available to everyone, across strata of incomes, ages, ethnicities, genders, etc. While we should not let this stifle innovation, we must make sure there are inroads for the unbanked and historically disenfranchised. We must also realize that there will soon be large numbers of elderly baby boomers who may not be the most adept at adopting new technologies. We need to ensure the easiest possible path to ridership in all transit systems, as these populations will benefit greatly from shared AV.
The primary metric from which the pilot shall be judged is through Vision Zero. The reduction of KSIs is the metric by which this pilot program will succeed or fail. The CalEnviroScores of the pilot area shall also be monitored and should anticipate consequential reductions due to the reduction of VMT and the relocation of industry. The deployment of infrastructure, street conversions and reclamation of street and surface parking lot area shall be the metric by which our physical environment is evaluated, while administratively AV registrations vs traditional registrations shall provide information about system proliferation. LADOT shall monitor and provide data regarding their autonomous fleet stock and daily ridership. Finally, we will have access to users transit patterns through data from daily active users of the Go LA app, by which the system can be enhanced and reconfigured to reflect user behavior.
Los Angeles has the opportunity to rewrite its transit story, providing an enhancement of life to its citizens and being a guiding light to the rest of the world. We have the unique opportunity of the alignment of a willing demographic, a burgeoning multi-modal transit system, a citizenry that passes Measure M by a wide margin. The city once synonymous with traffic and smog can lead the way in the future of transportation.