Strategic Planning for Autonomous Vehicles

What can your municipality do to ensure your community has the resources and infrastructure to support autonomous vehicles?


Prepared By: Ben Williams

Research Question: "With autonomous vehicles increasing in popularity, our City would like to define a vision, objectives, and overall strategy for leveraging autonomous vehicles within the City. The strategy would include testing opportunities, infrastructure requirements, feasibility with third-party vendors, and additional information that would allow for expansion in the future. It would be helpful to understand what other cities have done in this space to determine what is appropriate for our city".

Executive Summary & Analysis (Key Points) 

The Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism (free in digital format) is the most universally cited source in developing Autonomous Vehicle (AV) strategies and policies. It is a 132-page, second-edition report published in 2019 by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which lays out a vision for how autonomous vehicles, and technology more broadly, can work in service of safe, sustainable, equitable, vibrant cities.  

From 2017-2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies developed key tools to support cities in managing the ongoing transition to driverless vehicles, including a book titled “Taming the Autonomous Vehicle: A Primer for Cities” and the first-ever global interactive atlas, detailing how cities around the world are managing driverless technology. The atlas is continually updated, and highlights cities working towards the transformation to a driverless future by hosting industry tests, organizing their own pilots, and developing proactive policies and plans. It can thus serve as a launching point for knowing where to look for strategic guidance. 

Although we found very few strategic documents for local or state AV integration, there are a host of cities that have published varying degrees of vision, plan, and strategies, and even experiences with AV testing. Additionally, the AV strategies identified typically do not stand alone but are integrated into an overall vision for a smarter city format. We have included some of the highlights of these in the research findings below. 

Research Findings 

U.S. Cities with Established AV Strategies 

Los Angeles has developed a comprehensive and clearly defined strategy for AV integration, titled “Urban Mobility for a Digital Age.” This 172-page strategy is centered around the 3 goals of Data, Mobility, and Infrastructure as services. LADOT also laid out its Strategic Implementation Plan “to realize the visions outlined in the Urban Mobility for a Digital Age and Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism documents.” Additional reports from LADOT shed further light on their overall vision for Transportation Happiness and urban mobility. 

Boston developed the “Autonomous Vehicles: Boston’s Approach” website where visitors can “learn more about our plans for testing autonomous vehicles, and their potential future in the City of Boston.” The Boston Consulting Group, who helped develop the plans, also published a report titled “Making Autonomous Vehicles a Reality.” Finally, the World Economic Forum published a report titled “Reshaping Urban Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles—Lessons from the City of Boston.” 

Austin’s Smart Mobility Roadmap is a 141-page document, which outlines Austin’s holistic approach to integrating shared, electric, and autonomous vehicle technologies. Its plan involves (1) shared-use mobility, (2) electric vehicles and infrastructure, (3) autonomous vehicles, (4) data and technology, and (5) land use and infrastructure. 

Nashville also included AV integration into their holistic “Vision for a Smarter City,” although the role of AV does not appear to be quite as central to Nashville’s vision. 

U.S. Cities with Guiding Principles for AV Integration: 

On March 4, 2019 the Pittsburgh Mayor simultaneously issued an executive order titled “Self-Driving Vehicle Testing and Operations in the City of Pittsburgh,” outlining the basic strategic principles to be included in autonomous guidelines, and a document outlining Shared and Autonomous Mobility Principles

DC’s Autonomous Vehicles Principles Statement cites their desire “to prepare for the opportunities and challenges of autonomous vehicles with a flexible approach – an approach that prioritizes learning lessons from our governmental peers and embraces innovation within our borders that benefits our residents and visitors.” The DC Working Group also developed an Impact Matrix that shows which District agencies will be involved in the various components of the AV landscape in the District.  

Additional Resources: 

Nevada Department of Transportation on Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs): 

University of Nevada, Reno (UNR): Nevada Center for Applied Research 

  • Intelligent Mobility (webpage has two videos giving high-level overview of innovative urban infrastructure design which will support AV technology)—Intelligent Mobility tests synchronized mobility concepts in complex and real-world urban, suburban and rural environments. In Nevada’s real-world Living Labs, researchers and partners are testing, developing and refining systems in which vehicles sense their environment and communicate with other vehicles, infrastructure and people.  

  • Contact: Nevada Center for Applied Research 
    University of Nevada, Reno 
    (775) 682-5203 

National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)—This 501(c)(3) is a wealth of information on autonomous policy, research, planning, and integration into the whole vision of a city’s transportation and urban design.  

  • Autonomous Vehicles 

  • NACTO Policy Statement on Automated Vehicles (4-pages, PDF here)—NACTO supports a future transportation system that provides a sustainable, accessible, and affordable backbone to the strong cities at the center of our 21st century economy. New technology has the capacity to reduce the footprint of vehicular travel, moving more people in new forms of medium and low-density transit, while creating space for safe and inviting walking and cycling infrastructure. Positioning new mobility services to provide access and mobility to all, and to buttress rather than undermine the successful transit lines at the heart of our cities, is vital to realizing the value of fully automated vehicles for mobility. At the same time, policy at every level of government should address head-on the destructive potential for increased traffic, emissions from additional driving, and on-street congestion that could easily result from automated vehicle technology. 

California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research—Automated Vehicles:  

California Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) 

  • Autonomous Vehicles Perspective Paper (90 Pages): Presents a set of potential planning strategies for the Bay Area to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges that AVs are likely to introduce.   

You may also be interested in