Autonomous Chicago (West Loop), Chicago, United States
Stantec

Arguably the largest disruption to our future urban fabric will be autonomous vehicles (AV). Impacting cities as much as the invention of the automobile, the widespread use of shared autonomous vehicles (SAV) will allow us to reclaim real estate once underutilized by parking to create more pedestrian-friendly cities. Our entry focuses on the West Loop, one of Chicago’s booming neighborhoods where corporations are relocating their headquarters, creating a highly sought-after mixed-use environment catering to many people’s daily needs.  
 
Enforcing the conceptual design ethos of an urban environment designed around the person and not the automobile, should be a driving force once AVs are the norm. From our research, some ideas include:
 
Retrofitted streets feature solar panels and sidewalks are extended to attract more pedestrian flow while utilizing kinetic, permeable pavers that capture and produce energy. 
Bike lanes are prominent and visible on every street to encourage use.
Space freed from vehicles is repurposed for landscape, urban farms, water features, parks, and markets creating direct amenities to locals.
Cashier-less retail is present while utilizing drones and small-scale delivery pods that assist in last mile delivery logistics.
 
In commuter-based cities like Chicago, once we reach level five autonomy (vehicles performing all driving functions under all conditions with no steering wheel), the features of AVs will be limitless. Connectivity to the built environment and other vehicles will be standard features as LiDAR-based traffic management will enable supreme efficiency in street navigation. As designers, we need to also think about the user experience in transit. Consumers say that if they didn’t need to drive, they would do everything from sleeping to exercising while commuting. For longer commutes, SAVs will be synced with other means of transit for better transfer opportunities. Drop-off / pick-up areas will become crucial points of interest as they will be pivotal to the integration of smart mobility.  
 
As AV deployment is underway throughout the world at varying scales of implementation, it will be paramount for legislation to catch up to the speed of technological advancement. Envision the possibility of requesting a self-driving ride-sharing service from anywhere in the US by the end of this decade. Anticipate mass adoption where AVs are the dominant transit norm by the mid to late 2020s. 
 
In terms of ride-sharing, preliminary impacts are already evident in Chicago, where hotels note significant drops in parking lot usage by guests. Because of this, large scale buildings like hotels, stadiums, entertainment venues, hospitals, universities, and shopping areas will have the opportunity to redevelop land currently allotted for parking. Residential buildings will do away with parking podiums often seen in downtown areas as developers are introducing on-demand car concierge services helping eliminate the need for individual car ownership. After all, our vehicles sit unused 95% of the time. Where needed, parking will become denser and require a smaller footprint as AVs will not need to allow for exiting passengers and can park closer to one another. Ultimately, real estate in the urban core will be completely transformed.
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