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LA has big plans for self-driving cars

Los Angeles is making big plans for self-driving cars.
Los Angeles is making big plans for self-driving cars.
General Motors

Cars that can drive by themselves will start showing up on L.A. roads by the end of the decade, so what's L.A. doing to prepare for it? We reached out to Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, for answers.

The robo cars are coming... "If you just had autonomous vehicles show up all by themselves, they actually make things measurably worse. When you remove the friction of driving, then you could re-incentivize urban sprawl, long trips. They increase vehicle miles traveled for folks, so we have to be really, really thoughtful about how they come into our city."

First steps... "It’s actually sort of wonky stuff like paying close attention to regulations -- making sure that the city still gets to have some input and control over when and where that happens. Identfiying what we call proving grounds, so places in the city and the county where we want auto manufacturers to test their autonomous vehicles because that will allow us to learn together. We’re early days right now and I think the first thing to do is really create a framework for testing and deployment and also get the public policy right and get the regulation right."

No more parking lots ... "One of the potential outcomes if we move to a world where you’re getting a shared vehicle in an autonomous taxi or even a shared ride in a 15-person shuttle is that we maybe don’t need as much land for parking. We have 200 square miles in LA County devoted to parking. When you think about all of the other things that we need that land for — parks, schools, housing to name a few — it seems like a pretty poor use of space to store dormant private vehicles."

Two-way traffic signals... "We have one of the largest, most sophisticated interconnected signal systems in North America. Every single one of our signals is connected to a traffic management center downtown. Right now it’s very much a one-way communication loop. We pull in data from sensors and cameras in order to operate the system. What happens when we can start pushing data out to give a transit driver predictive speed, so if you go 25 mph, you can get a green light. And then what happens when we can push that out more broadly to a fleet of vehicles."

Changeable infrastructure ... "If we are able to get this envisioned future where we don’t need as many vehicles to move people and we can do it in more of a shared public transit light way, then maybe you don’t need five lanes of traffic 24 hours a day, and if I can immediately push to the fleet that I need to close a street between the hours of 10 and 2 so that I can create a pop-up playground, that’s an opportunity too be thinking: How can we create more changeable infrastructure."

Charging money for curb space... "Curb space is one of the most valuable pieces of assets that we have, that we could manage and price differently in the future. For example, if you want to deliver something in the middle of the day i downtown LA, maybe it costs you a lot more than if you do that in the middle of the night. Similarly if you want to use a bus stop red zone, maybe there’s a pathway for you to pay for that if you are a private transit provider and you meet certain criteria that the city sets. So inventorying, managing and pricing curb space is another way we’re thinking about infrastructure."