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A recent study in the UK has found that shared autonomous vehicles could increase available space in urban areas by 15 to 20 per cent.

Consultancy WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and architecture firm Farrells investigated the wider implications of autonomous vehicles, along with their benefits to communities and major cities.

The study suggests that a dramatic change in urban spaces would largely be thanks to the elimination of car parking spaces in city centres. By doing this, cities would be greener and create the potential for additional housing, jobs, garden spaces.

Above: Volvo is one of several brands that is pioneering the implementation of autonomous vehicle technology

In central London, for example, there are approximately 6.8 million parking spaces – many in high-rise and basement facilities – which cover around 16 per cent of the city. According to the study, many other large cities such as New York and Hong Kong have even greater coverage ratios, some with parking space coverage of up to 30 per cent.

There are over 2580 on-street parking spaces in the Melbourne CBD, while the centre of Sydney boasts 1712 of its own.

The wider use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) would allow for the implementation an “AV zone”, which would work similar to a public transport network where driverless cars are the main provider of transport in the city centre.

The study found that eliminating the need for the majority of parking spaces and the privately-owned cars that would normally occupy them – using London again as an example – would create at least 15 per cent additional land area at ground level.

Above: Nissan’s ‘Intelligent Mobility’ vision includes zero-emissions autonomous motoring

AVs would also help to simplify the road network, aiding traffic flow, reducing congestion and improving efficiency.

The study predicts that this would uplift land value in the area and make future developments in those areas more viable.

The shift to autonomous vehicles would have further benefits to metropolitan and rural areas, including safer local roads, less-cluttered streets and the implication of AV hubs or depots, much like bus depots.

AVs would be able to move between ‘booked’ journeys (think Uber) and when not in use, they would return to a designated hub for storage, charging and maintenance.

Above: Autonomous vehicles would free up city roads and reduce pollution

The researchers also argue that road safety, air quality and efficiency would all be increased with the widespread uptake of autonomous vehicles.

According to the study, around 30 to 45 per cent of city centre traffic is made up of drivers searching for parking spaces.

AVs alone would eliminate most of this unnecessary traffic, along with reducing pollution thanks to the electric-only autonomous vehicles.

Motorist and pedestrian safety is another major talking point of the study. In the UK, 72 per cent of all road accidents occurred on built-up roads (with sub 65km/h speed limits), costing over 6 million pounds a year.

These accidents accounted for nearly 800 deaths in the UK, involving a majority of pedestrians and cyclists.

Above: Fatal car accidents involving driver error will be significantly reduced with autonomous vehicles

By freeing up more space in the city, pedestrian and cyclist areas could be developed – even separated – from the current road space, and the opportunity for small-scale retail and commercial improvements or better open spaces for public use.

In rural areas, the use of AVs could adopt a ride-sharing model – like a shuttle bus – to combat the limited access to public transport services and eliminating service gaps along with walk and wait times.

According to the study, only seven per cent of rural households in the UK have no car, due to the fact that personal vehicles are an essential aspect of everyday life and mobility. This is in stark contrast with London, where 44 per cent of households do not have a car.

The authors argue that access to AVs in rural areas will have significant benefit for young people who don’t drive or own a car, along with improving access to healthcare, schools, community centres and social activities. AVs would also allow people of all ages to maintain a level of mobility irrespective of their ability to drive.

Highways and motorways could also be transformed thanks to autonomous vehicles, allowing lanes to be narrower and for less signage to be required, reducing costs and adding even more space for other uses.

While the time frame for the AV uptake spans between five and 25 years, the study raises several valid points which would transform cities around the world, while reducing emissions, increasing safety and opening up opportunities for residential areas, green spaces and employment.

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