City of Columbus looking to the future of self-driving vehicles

Smart Columbus
CBRE and Self Driving Vehicles
Self-Driving Vehicles

COLUMBUS – Roadways around central Ohio and the cars that drive on them are forever changing but new developments in self-driving vehicle technology could affect communities beyond the roads.

A study by CBRE shows self-driving vehicles may have the greatest impact on U.S. real estate markets since the mass adoption of the car and expansion of the federal highway system in the 1950s.

The connection between autonomous vehicles and real estate is simple; it’s in the commute.

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For example, CBRE uncovered that 30 minutes is the longest tolerable commute time for 56 percent of millennials in the Americas.

That fact alone can affect where they live and work.

“If an employer is looking to draw from a base and they have longer than a 30 minute commute time, that does make it more difficult for them to retain their employees and to attract new employees,” said Mike Copella, CBRE managing director.

Copella went on to explain that CBRE believes autonomous vehicles could help fill the commute gap.

“Think about the fact that if you didn't have to be behind the steering wheel paying attention to what's on the road, right? And I think a lot of us are guilty of trying to multitask while we're driving so not only do I think it's a safer way to be mobile and to get around the region, I also think that you know, people will be more willing to take those longer rides because they can work while they're going to wherever their destination is,” Copella said.

If people are willing to accept a longer commute by using a self-driving vehicle, based on their research, CBRE came up with three hypotheses for the future:

  1. With autonomous vehicles, outlying locations with big business, like Marysville or Obetz and those areas unserved or under-served by the public, may become more accessible and more desirable.
  2. Access to nearby talent may be less of a priority for location decisions if autonomous vehicles extend the distance people are willing to commute.
  3. With less of a need for parking infrastructure, walking locations, like parks and urban retail, could become more valuable.

No stranger to real estate, leaders in the City of Columbus are diving into how these self-driving vehicles could shape Columbus and the suburbs around it.

“As we continue to grow, we're projected to add a million people over the next several years, we're going to have to move those people to and from their workplace, to health care, to education and we want to do that as efficiently as we do right now but we're going to have to do it differently if that's going to be accomplished,” said Kenny McDonald, president and chief economic officer of Columbus 2020.

The City of Columbus is already among those leading the way when it comes to developing self-driving vehicle technology, McDonald explained.

“We are in the game,” he said. “So I think that every city is thinking about these things, whether that's Shenzhen, China or Tel Aviv or right here in the United States. Columbus is a recognized player on the field now and that's really important.”

In looking at a timeline, the study by CBRE breaks down when cities around the country can expect to see self-driving vehicles on their roads.

Columbus falls into wave two, along with Seattle and D.C., meaning Columbus could start to see some of those autonomous vehicles fully navigating the roadways by years 2021 to 2025.

As part of a U.S. Department of Transportation grant application, which Columbus was awarded in 2016, the city had to demonstrate a self-driving shuttle on a route.

Thus was born, the Smart Circuit Shuttle that can be seen driving around the Scioto Mile.

“The goal for the Smart Circuit is really a learning opportunity,” said Mandy Bishop, Smart Columbus program manager.

Shuttle riders learn about the technology behind the ride and its purpose.

“(Autonomous vehicle) technology has a lot of opportunity to connect people that can't drive or can't afford to drive and that presents an opportunity for our aging population or people that choose not to own a car,” Bishop said.

Down the road, Smart Columbus hopes to implement the technology in additional locations like elderly assist facilities, school or job campuses and entertainment districts.

In fact, the location for the second autonomous shuttle was already announced for the Linden neighborhood.

But the future of self-driving vehicles won't come without challenges.

While the shuttle can handle typical interactions on the roads, like traffic stops, Jim Barna, executive director for DriveOhio explains some of the challenges include shuttle interactions with unforeseen instances, like approaching accidents or construction.

Barna believes with improvement to the technology, self-driving cars could create a safer space on the roads for other reasons.

“This technology doesn’t text,” Barna said. “How many times do we drive down 315 or 71 and look over and see people texting on their phones? Ultimately, our goal is to make a much safer commute for all.”

For anyone who hasn’t tried the Smart Circuit Shuttle yet, Barna has one piece of advice.

“Give the technology a chance, but we understand it takes time for people to get used to technology and acclimate themselves to it.”

At this time, Smart Columbus is looking for a transportation provider to service the new self-driving shuttle announced for Linden.

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