Preparing for Autonomous Vehicles: A Survey of Local Governments

By: David Dale-Johnson, Ph.D.

Release Date: November 2019

Autonomous vehicle (AV) development has progressed to the point that vehicles are now being tested on public roads, and stakeholders expect they will operate without human supervision in limited areas within the next few years. If AVs are widely adopted, they have the potential to substantially reshape transportation patterns and real estate demand. Municipal governments, through their abilities to set and enforce regulations, will play an important role in determining how transportation and land use evolves in response to AV adoption.

The NAIOP Research Foundation commissioned this report to examine how local governments are preparing for fully autonomous vehicles and to explore how future AV related policies could affect the commercial real estate industry. The author interviewed eight community leaders from local governments in the United States, Canada and Australia and reviewed recent secondary sources to identify significant trends in AV development and related municipal policies. Many respondents spoke to safety concerns, the importance of integrating AVs into a broader transportation ecosystem, and their potential effects on land use, infrastructure and municipal revenues. Although the AV landscape is continually evolving, the report identifies several key findings that are of interest to developers, landowners and the broader commercial real estate community:

  • Highly automated vehicles will likely be available to the public in the near future, but widespread adoption will take many years.
  • Municipalities vary in their approach to AV adoption but tend to focus on AV safety as their most immediate concern.
  • AVs have the potential to significantly affect demand for real estate, depending on how they are owned and operated.
  • AVs will likely require the installation of new infrastructure, including on commercial properties.
  • Autonomous trucks will likely increase demand for warehouses located near highways.
  • Extensive AV adoption may prompt municipal, state or provincial governments to seek new revenue sources.
  • Most respondents expect municipalities to reduce parking requirements and encourage more loading zones.
  • Data sharing and cooperation among private companies, universities, and local and regional planning organizations is essential to AV implementation.

The effects of AVs on transportation, urban development and land-use decisions will depend largely on how they are used and how widely they are adopted. However, their potential to significantly alter the transportation landscape merits continued attention from municipal leaders and the commercial real estate industry.

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