Yonah Freemark

Policies for autonomy: How American cities envision regulating automated vehicles

Article information

Yonah Freemark, Anne Hudson, and Jinhua Zhao (2020). “Policies for autonomy: How American cities envision regulating automated vehicles.” Urban Science 4(4): 55.

DOI: 10.3390/urbansci4040055

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Journal website: https://www.mdpi.com/2413-8851/4/4/55


Municipal officials support many potential policy ideas for redesigning the public environment around autonomous vehicles.

Local governments play an important role in structuring urban transportation through street design, zoning, and shared jurisdiction over ride-hailing, transit, and road pricing. While cities can harness these powers to steer planning outcomes, there is little research about what local officials think about regulatory changes related to autonomous vehicles (AV). We compile key AV-related policies recommended by scholars but rarely implemented, and conduct a survey of municipal officials throughout the United States, exploring their personal support and perceptions of bureaucratic capacity, legal limits, and political backing for each policy. This paper finds broad personal support for regulations related to right-of-way, equity, and land use, such as for increasing pedestrian space, expanding access for low-income people, and reducing sprawl. However, officials emphasized uncertain bureaucratic and legal capacity for city intervention outside of these areas, reaffirming limited local power in the federal system. Only a minority expected political support for any policy. Greater population size and more liberal resident political ideologies are strongly associated with personal and political support for many policies. Local population growth is correlated with greater capacity to undertake policies. This work contributes to the growing literature on transportation governance in the context of technological uncertainty.