In talks with Hamid Iravani, Transportation Planning Director Fellows Board Member, Parsons

Hamid Iravani will be speaking at The Big 5 Heavy this November. He shared with us some insight on autonomous vehicles. Hamid is the Transportation Planning Director and Fellows Board Member at Parsons and his topic at the Commercial and Autonomous Vehicles workshops is "Fueling the Future: Automated Driving and Intelligent Connectivity solutions".

What is the main safety concern when it comes to AI connected vehicles?

A lot of traffic accidents are due to drivers’ errors. Therefore, a certain number of accidents will decline. On the other hand, new safety hazards could arise as the result of autonomous and connected vehicles, such as possible failure of hardware and software. Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) can provide a higher level of mobility for the disabled, elderly, and younger passengers, improving their mobility and enabling their greater inclusion in society, but they also present technical and safety challenges that must be addressed. As confidence in AVs grows, passenger risk taking may also increase. During the early stages of AVs deployment, when self-driving vehicles are mixed with AVs, some drivers may attempt to join the platoons of autonomous vehicles that may be operating on dedicated lanes close together at high speeds, which could result in increased crash severity. Furthermore, autonomous vehicles and their safety impact have not been sufficiently tested in extreme weather conditions associated with snow or heavy rain.

What influence does automated driving have on city planning?

Transportation is the framework upon which cities are built. Historically, advent of automobiles which was an advancement in technology made some major changes to the cities. Some of the influences were good, some were bad, and some were ugly. For those cities where policies did not intervene, the higher speed encouraged residents to live far from the city centers and drive farther to work. This meant longer travel distance, more pollution and energy consumption and brought urban sprawl by the most inefficient use of resources. Urban sprawl is the manifestation of automobiles, wide and long roads, and low-density suburbs which were grown horizontally. This has also had high implications on cost to build and maintain roads. The same could happen because of autonomous vehicles, but this time, convenience and higher efficiency could encourage residents to live much farther from the city centers and exacerbate the sprawl and increase vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT), unless clear regulations and policies are adopted to manage their use. In contrast, multi-modal systems that include private autonomous vehicles, but with emphasis on autonomous transit and non-motorized transportation, coupled with policies to limit the urban growth boundary, and encourage land use density and compactness, could be very beneficial for cities. The bottom line is, cities should be built for people and not cars, regardless of whether the cars are operated by people or autonomous. It is known that the shortened gaps and platoons coordination derived from autonomous vehicles can increase roadway capacity and therefore reduce traffic congestion, but this is half of the story. The other half that is missing is the fact that increased capacity will entice drivers who commute at the shoulder of the peak to beat traffic they would change their time of day to travel to drive at peak, also those passengers previously using other modes such as transit, walking, bicycling, or even carpooling may decide to drive using autonomous vehicles. In the prime time of freeway building in USA in the 1950s, the legendary architect and urbanist Lewis Mumford warned that “trying to cure traffic congestion with more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt.” Traffic is known to be like gas: as you open more space for cars, they will fill up the entire road.
To conclude, AVs could have both positive and negative effects on traffic and mobility. To take maximum advantage of autonomous vehicles, policies and regulations should be in place to discourage travelers to use their convenient autonomous private vehicles by measures such as congestion pricing, limited and high-priced parking, and encourage them to use autonomous transit vehicles. The “tragedy of commons” is an economic theory describing how individuals tend to act selfishly by depleting publicly accessible and underpriced or free resources, eventually degrading the public realm in terms of environment, energy consumption, health, and well-being. Travelers will continue to use and congest roads with or without autonomous vehicles, unless planning and policies—coupled with suitable design and land use measures—discourage private automobiles and provide incentives for public transit. Those suitable land use and urban design measures for livable and vibrant cities should be built based on New Urbanism principles including: higher level of walkability and connectivity; mixed use and diversity; mixed housing; quality architecture and urban design; traditional neighborhood structure diversity; increased density; smart multi-modal transportation; sustainability and quality of life.

Describe the current consumer attitude towards automated driving.

The current consumer attitude is the reflection of what is being broadcasted by the stakeholders, authorities, consultants, and media. Generally, the emergence of any technology is associated with so much hype and over-estimation of its positive impacts for the near future. It is important to separate the hype from the actual potential to realistically evaluate the pros and cons of any new technology.
Gartner Hype Cycle describes 5 general stages of any new technology:
​1. Innovation Trigger, when there is a breakthrough and introduction of the new technology, and media interest arises. At this stage there is not any proof for the new technology operation.
​2. Peak of Inflated Expectations. Publicity and the hype factor are at its maximum expectation of the new technology, based upon the initial promises.
​3. Trough of Disillusionment, when there is a realization that some unproven promises were given which were over-optimistic. At this stage, it becomes evident that some of the plans related to the new technology could not be delivered accordingly. Then investments will continue by those who improve their products.
​4. Slope of Enlightenment, when policies and regulations take place to minimize the negative impacts of the new technology and invest on its positive impacts. This stage involves a realistic approach.
​5. Plateau of Productivity, when the actual adoption of the new technology starts to take off. The negative and positive aspects of the new technology are clearly known to the public and the more robust systems will survive.

About Hamid Iravani -

Mr. Iravani has more than 30 years of experience designing, managing, and executing a wide variety of transportation projects. As a transportation planner, he specializes in state-of-the-art strategic multimodal travel demand forecast model development, routing, logistics, database management, the linkage between land use and transportation, and GIS. He has developed innovative solutions such as an intersection delay function algorithm that is part of TransCAD Transportation Planning Software under his name. In addition, he has authored numerous publications on subjects such as the concept of New Urbanism, intersection operation, public transit, and the linkage between land use and transportation in peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of the Transportation Research Board, The Journal of Transport and Land Use, and Journal of Geotechnical and Transportation Engineering. He is based in Dubai, UAE.

You can hear more from Hamid Iravani on Fueling the Future: Automated Driving and Intelligent Connectivity solutions at the Commercial and Autonomous Vehicles workshops. on 27th November, 14:00 - 14:30.

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