Richardson Chamber luncheon series: Driverless cars are coming, cities should plan accordingly

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Self-driving vehicles are the future of transportation. But without good city planning, some experts say traffic could get worse before it gets better.

“We thought automation would be the magic bullet that fixes everything, but it’s really not,” said Tom Bamonte, senior program manager of the North Central Texas Council of Government’s automated vehicle technology branch.

“How autonomous vehicles will change our world” was the topic of the Sept. 19 Richardson Chamber of Commerce Growth & Mobility Luncheon. Bamonte and his colleague, Clint Hail, explained the ramifications of this new mobility form.

Self-driving vehicles have already made their way to North Texas, Bamonte said. Arlington was the first city in the state to offer on-street driverless transportation using the service Drive.ai. Soon after, Drive.ai hit the road in Frisco. And in Plano, FedEx robots are delivering packages.

The success of autonomous vehicles, Bamonte said, will rely heavily on humans making informed planning decisions, such as effective land use. Without good planning and design, he asserted, automation will not result in efficiency.

In today’s world, certain populations might not own cars. Self-driving vehicles are expected to increase vehicle miles traveled, especially for elderly and disabled users. This means more cars on road and more traffic, which is why it is important to make sure city streets can accommodate shared-use autonomous vehicles, such as robo-taxis and shuttles, Bamonte and Hail said.

“Traffic congestion could increase if we take the status quo and automate it,” Bamonte said.

Efforts to integrate driverless vehicles are already underway in Richardson. In early August, Dallas Area Rapid Transit applied for federal grant funding to put toward three self-driving shuttles at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Bamonte and Hail challenged Richardson and cities across North Texas to think about roads in a more integrative way. Streets of the future, they said, should have fewer, narrower driving lanes, while the rest of those roadways should be repurposed for pedestrians and bicyclists. This could have a positive economic impact on cities as retail sales tend to increase when space is repurposed, Bamonte said.

“Cities like Richardson have to think, ‘How are we going to use our street space to accommodate smaller automated vehicles?'” he said.

Richardson is already a leader in traffic engineering, land use innovation and experimenting with connectivity, Bamonte said. With careful planning and design, the future of automation is bright.

“Richardson has incredible strengths and can be the epicenter of a lot of innovation and leadership,” he said.

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Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.
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