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PLANNING & DESIGNING CITIES FOR AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

February 1, 2018

In order to understand how to plan and design our cities we have to understand how the technology works. My presentation that I gave at the AIA Seattle Public Policy Board event does exactly that. The presentation went over my 3.5 years of ongoing research, experience with AVs, and my Seattle Uber Driving AV analysis. 

 

Disclaimer: I'm acknowledging that my perspective on this topic is one that is coming from the angle of a Transportation Planner, Urban Designer, and Cartographer. I strongly believe that in order for this new technology to work in our favor we are going to need not only planners, architects, and engineers, but a multi-disciplinary group of professionals to help us  plan and design our cities for AVs. 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm just going to jump right into it and start from the types of AVs that are currently being produced. 

 

VEHICLE TYPES & ROAD DESIGN 

I wanted to go over the different types of AVs that are being designed in the US + throughout the world. In the US our roads and cities have been designed for cars, trucks, and land use. For example every well known US city has a industrial neighborhood, which is zoned for factories. These factories are commonly importing and exporting bulked items that are carried by freight trucks. Trucks need adequate space for driving purposes hence the road design being larger than inner city neighborhood roads.

 

You also see this with the suburbs where they have standardized culdesac designs. They all look the same and they all must be designed for fire trucks to get in and out. So with pods, cars/SUVs, and trucks being redesigned what does this mean for the future of road design?  It means that pods, vehicles, trucks, buses, etc... can be redesigned or vice versa, the design of our roads can replicate european transportation network designs and vehicles must meet design standards to use the roads. 

 

 

STATUS OF AVS & THE CITY OF SEATTLE

Here I provided a progress report from reading and researching what US cities and states are doing with this technology. Who's doing test-pilots, who's getting paid to research this technology, and is the Federal Government working on this? 

 

In short the State of Washington has only recently joined the 20+ states on creating policy allowing for AVs to be tested throughout the state. In June of 2017, Governor Inslee signed an executive order welcoming the testing of AVs in the State of Washington. Before this legislation was even passed Google had actually already made their AV testing debut in Kirkland, WA in 2016. Soon after Gov. Inslee signed this law into place, the Virginia Tech Torc Robotics team made their appearance in Seattle, WA by testing their AV prototype. 

 

URBAN PLANNING & URBAN DESIGN

Some states in the US plan for the growth of their cities, and have Master Plan's or Comprehensive Plans to show how they are preparing for the future. In the State of Washington, it's mandated that all jurisdictions provide a comprehensive plan that looks out 20+ years into the future. Most of the common things planned for are: transportation, land use, environment, and race & social justice equity, etc... I decided to highlight my 2015 Envisioning Florida's Future with AV's thesis project, and the results from the project. For this I don't particularly agree on what was written for the project, but I do agree with the elements such as (ROWs, Drop-off & Pick-up zones, Signs, etc...) being prioritized in planning/designing our cities for AVs. 

 

ROW's

Right of Ways will be expanded allowing for sidewalks and bike lanes to be added in areas in which they did not exist before. This is a result from roads no longer being designed for human driving error, but for precise AV navigation. 

 

Drop-Off & Pick-Up Zones

This is one that I believe can be achieved with smart design. Smart design which enables AI or other forms of technology to be embedded within the design of the Drop-off & Pick-up zones. These spaces should be able to solve the issue which for now causes congestion from the confusion of Uber & Lyft drivers standby in no-parking zones, with and or without using their flashing lights. Because not every road is equipped with smart technology these vehicles are making decisions to the best of their capabilities to mitigate traffic. So one little mishap such as where an Uber driver parks in a no-parking zone or blocks one lane from having efficient transportation flow, can cause a traffic nuisance. 

 

Drop-off & Pick-up zones need to adapt to other modes of transit that can utilize the space as efficiently as possible. These zones that are being designed today are reaching full-capacity and cause safety and congestion issues. People running across the street during ongoing traffic just to get to their ride, causes a safety issue. Congestion or traffic is a new 21st century wide-ranging problem that isn't happening in larger cities anymore it's now spreading out into the suburbs. Drop-off & Pick-up zones need design improvements in order for our transportation network  to work to benefit the community and become a transportation mode for all. 

 

Signs

Reasonable logic is pointing towards AVs being phased in with human driven cars and sharing the same road space. Signage will still be needed in the meantime for human driven cars to make decisions. On the other hand Inclusive design practices should be applied for race & social justice reasons (further explained in the Uber Driving Research section). 

 

Parking

A shared economy model is what's being forecasted for the future. Ridesharing services like Uber & Lyft are designing AVs to be rented out for personal transportation services. Fun fact AI Smart Assistant service devices like: Echo-Alexa, or IOS-Siri, Google Home, Microsoft's-Cortana are now able to order you Uber's and or Lyfts' just by simply asking them. The auto industry is also working on manufacturing AVs to be purchased by individuals. With these 2-common scenarios cars can drop you off, pick you up, and can be parked in parking decks in nearby areas (airport parking decks or malls). I've chosen these locations based on their parking designs, which have been designed for maximum occupancy rates during holiday shopping seasons. For the later of the year these parking lots are under utilized, so by using these space you can now begin parking diets  in the inner city. This can be implemented and phased out of typical street designs allowing for more ROW space. 

 

Seatac Airport Parking Garage (13,000+ parking spaces being underutilized). This location also has the light rail station that serves as another mode of transit that can be used to access AVs parked in the airport garage.  

 

 

UBER DRIVING RESEARCH

For the past 7-months I have driven over 18,000 miles, and have given 2,000+ trips. After the 1st month of driving I noticed that I was familiarizing myself with the streets of Seattle, faster than an average resident. I decided to start analyzing the streets of Seattle for future AV design. Along with that I started talking to Uber passengers about what their thoughts were on AVs. Doing this analysis is going into my report which I am currating to provide innovative AV street designs based on current street design issues, and also build the foundation for this design by understanding Seattle's perception of AVs. 

 

METHOD

My method of madness was organized by utilizing my educational background and applying it to the Uber Driver profession. I conducted my research by walking the streets, biking the streets, taking the metro, light rail, and other modes of transportation in order to capture a full sense of place.  Knowing peak hour times, congested arterials, economic drivers, and the demographics of certain neighborhoods allowed me to provide the supply for the demand in the area. Fully understanding the place is one of my practices used to be able to plan and design cities using sustainable, inclusive, and innovative ideas.  

 

HOW SEATTLE PERCEIVES AVs

One of the most common themes and questions that I encountered from talking to individuals (uber passengers) about AVs:

 

Distrust in AV technology (theme)

When are AVs coming? (common question)

Driving cultures (what's being overlooked)

Pick-Up & Drop-Off Zones (design recommendation)

Signage (design recommendation)

Geofenced Zones (design recommendation)

 

DISTRUST IN AV TECHNOLOGY

The blue-screen of death is a scenario people want to make sure doesn't happen. How does one teach AI moral/ethical values for it to make decisions. It's another reason why the press keeps mentioning the "Who's at fault for the accident and hypothetical scenarios of Does one choose the other when it comes to a fatal accident?" theme. Without trust how will communities be able to benefit from this technology that will help benefit us? It's the same reason why the Amazon-Go Department has an multidisciplinary team that includes a Philosopher to answer such questions. 

 

This is the reason why understanding where we are at with the technological side of AVs is related to the question of when are AVs coming? 

 

WHEN ARE AVS COMING?

Forecasting for technology really depends on multiple factors. Some define fully autonomous vehicles as one that can fully function without a driver using AI in a human driven + AV world. Some say that the technology is already fully autonomous for vehicles, but it only works if we have 100% AV transportation networks. 

 

Driving around and talking to folks about AVs always allowed for this question to come up. I tackled the question with this scenario. I would ask whether they are envisioning either 100% fully autonomous vehicles on the road or 30% AVs and 70% human driven vehicles driving in the same space. The majority of feedback would cater the 30% to 70% ratio. This is why I believe that understanding how the technology works, where we are at with the technology, and the design of our roads can alleviate the fear and distrust that comes with today's technology. Understanding how this technology can drastically reduce the 40,000 fatalities that are caused by 94% of human error, can help us advance our cities. And that's just one benefit.

 

The answer to this question is one that I am forecasting as 3-5 years we will have 15% of AVs on the road with human driven cars. 10 years from now is when I respectively believe AVs will be more prominent in cities and other urban settings. I say this because of understanding how AVs are collectively mapping the roads as we speak and using AI to learn certain driving behaviors. Google/Waymo started this process in 2009 and the others that have followed have been working on this for an average of 5 years now. This isn't something new this is where they are at with the technology. 

 

DRIVING CULTURES

What I started noticing as I was driving was that people from out of state drove slower and with more precaution. When it comes to road design, each city has a different set of design standards. People in their city's, suburbs, and or rural areas are use to those street designs and because of that have different driving cultural differences. For example in Seattle people yield and stop for pedestrians & bicyclists. In Pittsburgh, folks practice what's called a Pittsburgh left. Michigan has juglande's or a Michigan Left. In Miami people just don't obey signs on the road. 

 

AI & AVs must be able to adapt to these cultural driving differences to help facilitate safety ideals and needs of the communities and others who may use spaces which include both AVs & human driven vehicles. 

 

Drop-Off & Pick-Up Zones

I've chosen drop-off & pick-up zones based on the high rate of congestion and safety issues that are caused from ridesharing services. 

 

Locations:

Uwijimaya

Facebook

Amazon

Paramamount theater

 

Eliminate parking on the facade of the building and turn into one uniform drop-off & pick-up zone. 

 

 

Signs

Application of inclusive designs will balance the space for mitigating race & social justice issues. Signs designated to provide space for families or non-fully abled people placed near the main entrance of a location within a drop-off & pick-up zone, is one for thought. A realistic approach of being aware of how the space is being used and how it can be fully used begins with improving signage for streets. The Consolidation of signs is one that can help with the standing issue of restricted signs today. These signs that are seen today actually limit the potential for full efficient use of the roadway for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other modes of transit. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Examples that i've rendered of Family Pick-up & Drop-off Zones. 

 

 

Geofenced Zones

 

Geofenced Zones are digital zoned areas that have been designated with a particular significance.  For example school zones, bus stops, drop-off & pick-up zones, etc.. I've chosen these areas due to the congestion, speeding and safety concerns caused by human drivers. Having AVs digitally recognize geofenced zones can be programmed and updated in real time. Designated zones can standardized driving cultures in these zone allowing for AVs to acknowledge and become aware of predictable human + physical space behaviors. Based on the use of space, a comfortable radius distance can be applied to the space used allowing for AVs to adapt in real time. 

 

Examples of Geofenced Zones:

 

Bus geofenced zones:

Metro buses have assigned routes and stops. If the flow of these buses is disrupted then efficient flow and times cannot be met. Having geofenced zones at these locations can notify AVs to not park or obstruct the space. 

 

School geofenced zones:

Technological advances have allowed for cameras to capture the front and back license plates of human driven vehicles that speed in school zones. Typical school zones warning devices are located in areas where children/families/ large groups of students are present.  Digitizing these zones will standardized and change AV driving behavior to create safer streets.

 

 

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