Report: “New etiquette” for cyclists riding with driverless cars

A new report paints a rosy picture of cyclists and pedestrians interacting peacefully and safely with driverless cars, but there’s a hint of new rules ahead when the white-paper suggests cyclists and pedestrians will "have to get used to a new etiquette" for mixing with "autonomous vehicles".

The report – by engineers WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff and architecure firm Farrells – imagines clutter-free High Streets, ring-roads bordered by cycleways, and city centres rammed with robot cars.

"In an AV zone, cycle safety would be transformed as AVs would be far more aware of bicycles than drivers are today," says the white-paper. "The bicycles themselves could be linked into he wider system in time, offering even greater safety improvements."

The report adds "pedestrians will be better protected and vehicle speeds will adjust to allow AVs to take proper
account of people crossing roads. In return, as pedestrians and users of public spaces, we will all have to get used to a new etiquette for AVs to match the logic and behaviour of the vehicles."

Etiquette? Such as not riding in front of AVs? Last year I wrote this piece for the European Cyclists’ Federation pouring cold water on the view that driverless cars will lead to cycling nirvana.

"While it’s attractive to imagine a future where the most dangerous component of a car – the nut behind the wheel – has been consigned to history it’s absolutely not certain that this will lead to a utopia for cyclists and pedestrians.

"Where autonomous vehicles might change the world – if we let them – is over who has priority on roads. Currently, driverless cars are programmed to avoid cyclists and pedestrians. In a city full of cars driven by onboard computers it will be a great game to ride or step in front of them, safe in the knowledge they’re programmed not to touch you.

"Personally, I don’t see how driverless cars will be able to navigate around huge numbers of emboldened bicyclists (or empowered pedestrians), at least not in central business districts. Unless, of course, laws are passed to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from deliberately impeding driverless cars. 

"Or maybe the future will involve the complete separation of transport modes, with driverless cars running efficiently on roads free of cyclists, and with cyclists – finally – given their own separated cycleways? How likely is that? Outside of the Netherlands, pretty unlikely, it will be easier and cheaper to create laws to stop pedestrians and cyclists from impeding driverless cars."

The WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff and Farrells report doesn’t imagine such a future. Instead, there will be a "new generation of living streets and communities, designed for vehicles, but putting people first."

And widespread cycleways won’t be needed, suggests the report:

"Driverless vehicles and AVs could start to use our urban streets without major change to the existing streetscape
or city-wide infrastructure."

It also imagines motorway car lanes for driverless BMWs (no change there, then?): "Priority lanes can be created for … premium users."

The study is backed by the London Sustainability Exchange charity.

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