Introduction

Few things fundamentally affect the nature, feel, and operation of a city like its transportation system. Decisions about it affect nearly every facet of the community, and so, it is crucial to Louisville's future that as major changes emerge, Metro will stand ready to make the most informed decisions possible. Based on the level of testing underway and a raft of announcements from car makers and mobility providers, the commercial availability of autonomous vehicles (AVs) seems imminent. While projections of how, and how quickly, the technology will be adopted are still being debated, the potential for AVs to have a dramatic impact on how people and goods move to, from, and around makes for a compelling case to begin research and work toward the adoption of a policy framework that prepares for this technological shift while ensuring that mobility is enhanced in an equitable manner for all of Louisville's residents.

As AVs become widespread, it is likely that new ownership models and different types of vehicles will become common. While it is not clear what the ultimate impact of these changes will be, it is certain that AVs have the potential to transform the way people move around. As AVs raise questions about the future, Louisville needs to be ready to respond with answers that reflect our city's values and in ways that move Louisvillians closer to achieving the vision of a more balanced transportation network, which they have expressed in previous and current planning efforts for the future. Change can be concerning and upsetting if it's unexpected and unprepared for, but by discussing and re-committing to the community's values at the onset of this era of rapid technological innovation, Louisville will be ready to meet the future with its best foot forward. Fortunately, Metro has already started rising to this challenge through, among others, the development of the Move Louisville Plan and the 2040 Comprehensive Plan update process.

Securing Louisville's vision for itself in the era of AVs will require conscious, informed policy decisions. Congestion is just one example of the challenges and opportunities posed by AVs. Inter-vehicle communication may allow more AVs to share less road space, but only once a large percentage of vehicles on the road are autonomous, which is not expected for many years. Other offsets may come from the introduction of autonomous transit services and the increased usage of shared ownership or shared riding models. Studies suggest that when used in conjunction with a strong public transportation system, autonomous vehicles will likely be able to move everyone to where they would like to go while simultaneously decreasing the number of vehicles on the road. If implemented prudently, and with enough forethought, autonomous vehicles can allow for more efficient space allocation along Louisville's streets and roads enabling the City to provide and expand safe, convenient connections for all road users (pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and motorists). AVs will provide new tools and opportunities to realign the transportation system in ways that are consistent with the community's goals and tackle long-standing problems, but only if we as a community are well prepared.

Years from the full adoption of AVs, this plan does not hope to answer every question about them, but it does begin the conversation and provides an initial framework by which Louisville can better understand the promises and potential pitfalls of the technology. While cities cannot shape their destinies alone on this issue, by starting early Louisville can maximize the benefits of the technology and leverage AVs to continue making our City a better place to live.