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Alexandria’s mobility plan starts laying groundwork for self-driving vehicles

Self-driving car (photo via Alan/Flickr)

Among the changes the city is making to its mobility plan, Alexandria is starting to lay the groundwork for autonomous vehicles on city streets.

There are currently serious concerns about the safety of self-driving cars, with specific concerns about the ability of these cars to reliably avoid hitting pedestrians and cyclists. But at the technology advances, city staff are still including plans for self-driving cars on Alexandria streets as a future possibility worth planning for.

The recognition of autonomous vehicles was noted as one of the changes highlighted at a Sept. 29 joint Transportation Commission and Alexandria Mobility Plan Advisory Committee meeting. Staff said that the city needs to be prepared for that future from a policy perspective.

The city is in the middle of a broad update to the original plan from 2008. The new Alexandria Mobility Plan includes several actions to help prepare for autonomous vehicles.

  • Consider pilot projects to lay the groundwork for and evaluate the effectiveness
    of various new technologies
  • Prepare for connected vehicles by developing maintenance and infrastructure
    plans to ensure street readiness
  • Prepare for autonomous or self-driving vehicles by developing policies to manage
    potentially significant increases in miles driven and traffic volumes within the city,
    including limiting zero-passenger miles and incentivizing shared use
  • Ensure that safety is a priority when testing and implementing new technologies

Despite the current safety concerns, the Alexandria Mobility Plan said there’s potential for autonomous vehicles to be a roadway safety improvement, as well as an accessibility benefit:

Autonomous and connected vehicles have the potential to improve roadway safety, enhance mobility for persons with disabilities, and potentially reduce congestion. Vehicle technology is advancing quickly, and the City needs to be well-positioned to adapt to these changes. It is important to prepare for connected vehicle technology through strategic investments that accommodate vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, which will help travelers find parking spaces, avoid traffic and crashes, navigate hazardous conditions, and more. Proactive policy making and monitoring will be needed to address potential for increased travel and congestion associated with the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

The plan’s 20-year goals include accomodating self-driving vehicles, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

In neighboring Fairfax, a self-driving shuttle started operation last year, though some drivers have been irked by the vehicle. Autonomous vehicles have also been used at Fort Meyer in Arlington. In 2017 a “driverless car” was spotted in Arlington, though it later turned out to be a car driven by a person disguised as a car seat.

Photo via Alan/Flickr

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