Aug 21, 2019 - Technology
Expert Voices

Cities are rewriting zoning and land use rules to usher in AVs

Collage of architectural photos

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A growing number of U.S. cities, including Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Chandler, Arizona, are re-examining their zoning, land use, and transportation regulations to ease the way forward for AVs.

Why it matters: Cities are exploring changes to decades-old laws in the hopes of attracting new technologies and investment as well as the economic and quality-of-life gains that come with them.

Context: According to a 2018 National League of Cities report, roughly half of America's largest cities are "preparing for self-driving vehicles in their long-range transportation plans."

What’s happening: Many jurisdictions are introducing initiatives and regulation changes aimed at creating environments that will be friendly to AV tech.

  • The city of Chandler said last year that it was the first to amend its zoning code to lower the number of required parking spots for new buildings if AV use reduces parking demand. The city’s zoning amendment also makes it easier to install passenger loading zones.
  • According to a recent report, "Las Vegas is working on a change to its zoning code to allow for downtown ride-share lots that would eventually also serve as AV passenger zones."
  • Minneapolis plans to phase out its policy requiring off-street parking for new construction. The city is also encouraging platooning and electrification of freight vehicles.
  • In an executive order, Pittsburgh's mayor requested policy recommendations for AV-related uses of city assets, including lane designations, curbside space and off-street parking.

But, but, but: Not every jurisdiction is embracing AVs in all contexts.

  • The Los Angeles City Council, for example, vetoed a plan by a panel of harbor commissioners to build infrastructure for driverless cargo handling at the L.A. Port. Dockworkers had voiced concerns that automation would lead to job losses.

The bottom line: As congressional AV regulation stalls, city governments, urban planners and regulators are collaborating to revise local laws in order to offer friendlier conditions for AVs and the chance for cities to take a lead on this technology.

Donna Barnett is a partner and regulatory litigator at Perkins Coie.

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