Autonomous Vehicles in Jax: Jump in the Front Seat

December 9, 2015 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jump in the front seat. And just sit back. Self-driving cars were in Jacksonville this past week at the Florida Department of Transportation's third annual Florida Automated Vehicles Summit at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

Jump in the front seat. And just sit back. Self-driving cars were in Jacksonville this past week at the Florida Department of Transportation's third annual Florida Automated Vehicles Summit at the Hyatt Regency downtown. Also to see, were semi-autonomous boats and lawnmowers, and drones Taking part in the conversation, was a facilitation group from Florida State University. On the behalf of Metro Jacksonville, Sarah Gojekian sat down with one of the young men involved, Yes Segura, to find out what drives him and where our future on the roads is headed.

MJ: Tell us a little bit about your background and studies and how you were apart of the Summit.

YS: I am a first generation El Salvadoran-American. I received my Geography & Urban Studies B.S. from Virginia Commonwealth University, and am now at FSU for my M.S. in Urban & Regional Planning. My interests within planning vary in range from urban design, historic preservation, aging in place, LGBTQ+ populations, to planning for autonomous vehicles. At the summit, we led a session titled 'Visioning Future Cities'. It really guided/gathered ideas from  experts on what Florida will look like in the year 2040 and 2060, with the inclusion of autonomous vehicles (AV). I believe this is the dialogue that's needed and is the segue towards flying car legislation. I mean truly, when are we going to start seeing flying cars?

MJ: What first got you interested in the idea of autonomous vehicles?

YS: It started with a fellow alumni within my department. Alex Riemondy showed me her research on AV technology and aging populations, and I started heavily researching this topic. The impact of this technology favors baby boomers -- people who are 60 or older. I have parents who are baby boomers, and I am concerned about the overall lack of urban planning for this generation. By the year 2030, it's expected that 30% of the population in the U.S. will be 60 or older. People are living longer due to medicine, education, and other factors -- yet cities, counties, and rural jurisdictions are not planning for this.  
So, when my professors mentioned a capstone project on AV's and that we could test them out in Jacksonville, I was sold. Fun story -- at the summit I stood in front of one of the moving AV's to see how it would react to human presence. My sister and I have this ongoing debate about the perception of AV safety. She doesn’t trust it and I do. Guess what happened after testing it out? It stopped 4-6 feet in front of me.

MJ: Where does the industry stand and the development of AV's today?

YS: I would say the industry has been influencing legislation throughout the U.S and having a domino effect. As of right now, only seven states (Nevada, California, Florida, Virginia, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee) and the District of Colombia allow the operation of AV’s on the road. But we already have semi-autonomous vehicles on the road. For example, when you use cruise control, you’re letting your car be taken over by a computer.

The development of AV's is also on the rise. The patterns of major car corporations have been greatly impacted by the legislation. They are essentially researching, building, and testing them as we speak. It seems that every major car corporation is jumping on the AV mother ship. Google isn’t the only one in the AV arena.

MJ: What are your thoughts on how AV's may impact the future of downtown Jacksonville, and the future of downtowns in general?

YS: This technology is inevitably going to change the future of all built environments. No matter where you are, your physical environment is going to dramatically change. It will dramatically change in incremental phases over time. I can’t emphasize that enough.

The changes will all be similar to one another, but differentiate by location. Here are some key theme elements.

Road Design:
Roads are going be scaled down in width (size), this is called a road diet.  What will become of that extra road space? It most likely will be turned into infrastructure suited for bicyclists and pedestrians. We should also question what our roads will be made out of. What if technology allows for cars to hover over roads?

Parking lots:
Parking lots will also witness a diet. AV’s will create a unique economic system where you can either privately own a vehicle, or share one like Uber. The assumptions for a shared economic system will increase in the future , allowing for more AV’s to stroll the street and not be parked.

Land Use:
What will become of these parking lots? That depends on the land use of the built environment. For example, if you have high-density residential in your area, you'll likely see high residential filled in that old parking lot space.

Here’s another question I will pose. Will we even need road signs?
What if cars provide laser beams that display road signs onto the streets themselves?

Florida State University students at the Florida Department of Transportation's third annual Florida Automated Vehicles Summit

Now, let's focus on downtown Jacksonville for a better perspective.
(Disclaimer: my analysis is coming from an outsider perspective, and that's a good thing, to see things a different way.)

Downtown Jacksonville really hones in on an infrastructure system supported by large highways. If AV's become mainstream, many of these major highways may become candidates for roadway diets. In addition, because the city is located near the coastline and has the St. Johns River, it will experience sea level rise in its future. Future roadway infrastructure -- everything about the roads, below the roads, and next to the roads -- should reflect a capacity to mitigate sea level rise and protect cars and people. But then again -- who is to say that our future AV's can't also be submerged in water? Parking lots may also be impacted. Look at the amount of parking spaces this city has and how they are all next to roads. This segues into what will become of the parking lots (land use) in Jacksonville once they too go on a diet. Whatever infrastructure is replaced by these old parking lots could include more high intensity development and infill.

Interview by Sarah Gojekian