Thursday, July 13, 2017

Driverless Future Challenge: Reclaiming the Street

In these columns I have suggested many times that cities need to prepare for a future with driverless cars and ensure that not a nightmare of even more privately owned cars, possibly driving even empty, becomes our future but one in which, thanks to shared car arrangements (think self-driving Uber or Lyft), the streets and spaces can be reclaimed and used better than for parking cars.

Luckily there are cities that pay attention to this not so distant future, one of them is New York.
In February, the alternative architecture firm Blank Space partnered with the City of New York and issued the Driverless Future Challenge to solicit solutions for a driverless future in this complex city.

In June four finalists were announced and this week, "Public Square" was chosen as the winner. The award-winning entry is by FXFOWLE with Sam Schwartz Engineering and allows New York City to rethink its streets and reclaim space for pedestrians in a modular and incremental manner which is much like "Parking Day". The entry was chosen as the winner of by a panel of New York City Commissioners, in front of a live audience at the NYU Skirball Center. "Public Square" is described on the website as "a plug-and-play system of interlocking unitized squares, roughly 8'x8' in size, with built-in infrastructure and a wide variety of arrangements, from seating, to retail pop-ups, play equipment, gardens and green space."
"It's important for cities to future-proof their infrastructure and policies, rather than wait for these technologies to reshape the city in ways we may not desire" Public Square offered a versatile tool kit for the city to reuse space for a variety of public needs." Michael Replogle, Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the DOT and one of the contest judges. Before Replogle had been the founder of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in the DC metro area 
The co-founders of Blank Space Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani emphasized that
"Autonomous transportation will impact every facet of New York City. The four finalists have crafted wildly unique solutions to a variety of topics: from creating autonomous micro-busses for the MTA that solve the 'last-mile' dilemma, and managing curbside use, to creating a platform for regional businesses to sell their goods in NYC without actually driving here"
This Video describes the winning entry. For a review of the proposals by the other finalists see here.
Square, the winning entry envisioning a modular street transformation

Another finalist proposed driverless car hubs described this way:
QueueY is a system for managing high-volume AV pickup & dropoff locations. It consists of curbside hardware and a multi-sided platform for managing last-mile transit. Without infrastructural coordination, the introduction of Automated Vehicles will create congestion with regards to pick up and drop off locations. QueueY establishes a coordinated zone around transit hubs, and converts curbside parking space to a dedicated loading and unloading area. As AVs approach the terminal, they’re directed to the next available station and allowed to park, and charge if necessary. The added technology within each hub further improves the commuter experience., including a weatherproof space to wait for rides, improved signage and communication between riders and their car, and ride accessibility for commuters without access to the internet on their own device. (video
sAVe, the autonomous shuttle for the last mile
Also a finalist was the group proposing sAVe, solving the last mile access problem in transit.
sAVe is a Service platform that offers multi-modal ridesharing services that will include automated vehicles as they become available. sAVe provides trip service in underserved neighborhoods and connects those residents to public transit hubs that they cannot otherwise access conveniently. In order to meet the needs of all users, sAVe rides can be found and booked via smartphone app, community kiosk, or by speaking with a customer service representative. The service offers the benefits of leveraging existing public infrastructure without increasing the number of private vehicles in already-congested areas, providing a social opportunity with associated rewards incentives to residents who choose to affordably ride-share with other community members, and gradually introducing AVs to new populations who may not otherwise get to experience or benefit from this technology. (Video)
Queue, the hubs for pick up and drop off of AVs.
While those technical design solutions are fun to watch, the key to entering a livable urban future will be the right policies. One can hope that the Driverless Future Challenge in New York provided enough food for thought for those who have to initiate the right policies.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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