Heritage Forum

Driverless in future New York

Aug 20, 2017 | News

While driverless cars are still mostly limited to paper in South Africa, cities in Europe and North America are actively starting to plan for the advent of this new chapter in transportation.

BlankSpace recently hosted The Driverless Future Challenge, asking for proposals that would actively shape New York City’s response to driverless cars. Entries from more than 25 countries proposed everything from driverless food carts and a fully-autonomous MTA transit system, to enhanced use of NYC’s 311 system as a driverless dispatching centre, and Link NYC Wifi stations that become stops for autonomous micro-busses.

The winning entry, chosen from four finalists, was “Public Square”, a “plug-and-play scheme to transform New York’s public realm for its streets and pedestrians”. ArchDaily reports the flexible system, designed by FXFOWLE and Sam Schwartz Engineering, “accommodates a variety of public space typologies, while creating a harmonious coexistence between pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles”.


The “squares” proposed in Public Square comprise of different interlocking units, providing a framework with plug-and-play connections, allowing the community to remake its own streets. Public Square starts with the assumption that driverless cars will unlock a lot of urban space currently used by private vehicles that are parked for the greater part of the day. It is a system that starts with reclaiming of parking spaces but on a much larger scale as what has been done up to now. By using a “customisable modular system that grows to create city-sized transformations”.

“It’s important for cities to future-proof their infrastructure and policies, rather than wait for these technologies to reshape the city in ways we may not desire.” said Michael Replogle, Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the DOT, and a member of the judges panel. “Public Square offered a versatile tool kit for the city to reuse space for a variety of public needs.”

The three other entries that were shortlisted addressed issues regarding trackable, mobile, adaptable food carts, universally accessible ride-sharing and last-mile transit by using driverless cars as instigator.

In a separate proposal, the New York architectural firm Edg aims at demarcating some of the major highways for driverless vehicles only. A video explains the concept where cross streets are combined with major highways circling the perimeter of the city. These “driverless expressways work in a series of ‘loops’, quickly and efficiently transporting passengers while optimizing traffic flow. Currently, a loop from Grand Central Station to Lower Manhattan and back takes 40 minutes; Loop NYC offers to get you around in just 11.”

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