Washington, D.C., was among the earliest cities to adopt an ordinance regulating autonomous vehicles, approving a statute in 2012 that requires all autonomous vehicles to have manual overrides and a licensed driver at the ready to take control.
Now, the district is looking into the feasibility of developing an autonomous people-mover along an underused, pedestrian-friendly roadway in the city. In partnership with the mayor's office, the Southwest Business Improvement District, which is self-funded through assessments on property owners, recently issued a request for information for a pilot autonomous vehicle project along 10th Street SW, also known as L'Enfant Plaza. Proposals were due Friday, April 13.
“If the tech is there, we’re ready to go,” said Andrew Trueblood, chief of staff for the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
Trueblood said when driverless vehicles are ready for mass implementation, he expects the city to move quickly to revise the current statute.
“We’re realistic it’s going to happen,” Trueblood said, adding that since the district is a city, county and state all in one, it can move quickly.
A spokesman for the SWBID, which issued the request for information, said responses are being evaluated now, but it’s too early to say anything about what came in. The request was aimed at working through the specifics of an autonomous vehicle (AV) program and how such a program could be incorporated at the neighborhood level.
Chanda Washington, spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, said the proposed route for an autonomous people mover would run along 10th Street SW, connecting the National Mall, L’Enfant Plaza offices and a Metro station with The Wharf, a new waterfront mixed-use neighborhood development.
“Making the connection between these two nodes is a priority and an opportunity to get creative,” Washington said. “Tenth Street is fairly enclosed with few cross streets along the route. It presents the opportunity to deploy AVs that will navigate real-world urban street conditions, including parked cars, moving vehicles, pedestrian and bicycle activity, traffic signals, and other environmental conditions.”
The underused nature of the roadway provides a “somewhat enclosed ecosystem with real-world conditions” that will enable the city to ensure AVs can be safe, reliable and sustainable in urban areas, she added.
The district has been involved with the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles since 2017. It is one of five cities around the world that are working to develop principles and tools other cities can use to plan for driverless technologies.
Last March, the district piloted a program to ship freight via electronic cargo carts. The carts travel the last mile to make deliveries between local businesses and residential customers in partnership with Postmates, which projects a 90 percent reduction in delivery costs for small businesses once the system is widely available. The Personal Delivery Device Pilot Program restricts the weight of such vehicles to 50 pounds and speed to 10 mph. Each vehicle is equipped with nine cameras for mapping the capital’s pedestrian walkways.
Expanding the use of autonomous vehicles to carry passengers is just another transportation solution, creating options for such groups as the elderly and disabled, Washington said.
It’s too early to tell how an AV people mover will fit with the city’s priorities, Washington said, making it unclear whether such a service would be incorporated into the current transit system or require its own organization.
At least 100 cities around the world are experimenting with autonomous vehicles, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute. In the United States, 21 states—Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Vermont—already have legislation in place. Governors in six others—Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin—have issued executive orders on the issue.
The federal government isn’t idle either. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is promoting a “multilayered approach to cybersecurity,” using the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework and urging industry to adopt those practices.