Knight Foundation invests in five people-centric self-driving vehicle pilot projects


Florida-based philanthropic organization the John S and James L Knight Foundation has announced a five-year, US$5.25m initiative that brings residents to the center of self-driving vehicle pilot projects happening in five cities across the USA.

The investment is the largest of Knight Foundation’s efforts to develop people-centered Smart Cities, which aims to harness the growth of digital technology to improve how communities respond, connect to, and engage with residents.

The funding will be shared by autonomous vehicle (AV) projects in: Detroit (Michigan), Miami (Florida), Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), and Long Beach and San Jose (both California). The pilot projects will be designed to engage local residents around self-driving car deployments to ensure that they reflect community input and meet local needs.

Leaders from the five pilot cities will share what they learn and meet regularly to generate insights and lessons for other communities trying to keep up with the increasing pace of testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

The initiative comes at a pivotal moment for defining the role of residents in the development and roll-out of AVs. According to a National League of Cities report that assessed the transportation plans of 68 large US cities, only 6% of plans considered how driverless vehicles would affect urban mobility. The five cities will engage residents on projects that involve some form of AVs:

• Detroit – To address challenges getting to/from bus stops that connect citizens to employment hubs;

• Long Beach – To provide residents with more short-distance travel options by better integrating electric or human-powered transit, such as bikes or scooters, and other transportation methods, while reducing emissions, improving air quality, and creating a safer, healthier and more sustainable city;

• Miami – To develop driverless, on-demand shuttles as an alternative to buses that drive a fixed route;

• Pittsburgh – To develop sustainably and support neighborhoods by slowing the growth of single-occupant vehicle trips;

• San Jose – To better integrate AVs with other forms of transit and help improve public life by connecting residents to jobs, and destinations for retail and nightlife, in the downtown area.

The participating cities were selected based on their level of readiness, openness to incorporating a resident-centered approach and connection to Knight Foundation.

“Autonomous vehicles are one of the most disruptive technologies of our time, holding significant implications for the way we move, work and interact within communities,” said Lilian Coral, Knight Foundation director for national strategy and technology innovation.

“Important conversations are happening among government and industry on what these changes mean for the future, but residents have largely been left from the table. Without their input, we risk designing cities for new kinds of cars, rather than for people.”

Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, added, “Self-driving cars have the potential to remake the face of cities. We want to work with city leaders to ensure those changes respond to residents; instead of putting residents at the whims of technology. Further, by involving residents on the front end, cities can facilitate a smoother roll-out of new technologies and programs on the back end.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.