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Technological Change and the Future of Cities


Many transport analysts envision a forward-looking, ambitious and disruptive cloud commuting-based transport system for future smart cities based on emerging connected, autonomous vehicles (AVs) or “self-driving” cars. Employing giant pools of self-driving cars, this transport system supplants personal vehicles, low ridership public buses, and taxis used in most of today’s private and public transport systems, integrates various modes of transport in a unified, on-demand fashion, and provides passengers with a fast, convenient, and low cost transport service.  “Mobility-as-a-Service” (MaaS) system can be thought of as a smart cloud commuting system (SCCS). In addition, SCCS have the potential benefits of “greening” the future city with less traffic (thus less congestion) and lower emissions (even in the absence of electrification, lower still with electrification) as well as freeing up valuable urban land (that has been used for parking) for housing and other better land uses. With AVs replacing conventional vehicles, they essentially become roving hardware that carry people within an urban or metro region, where all AVs driving on the road are members of this SCCS. How will this futuristic dream reshape land use? How will it reshape the allocation of roadspace between vehicles, public transport, green space, sidewalks, and other uses. How will valuable curb space be managed? How should cities prepare now for changes that will take place not overnight, but over the course of decades?


Professor David Levinson.

Research location

Civil Engineering

Program type



Infrastructure decisions are long-term. Even today Italians travel on the Via Appia of ancient Rome. Getting these decisions right is important because they are largely irreversible. But how we use the fixed rights-of-way and infrastructure we produce is much more malleable. In principle, simple inexpensive paint and signs dictate whether a part of the road is for moving cars, trucks, buses, bikes, pedestrians, or loading or unloading goods or people, or storing vehicles. Today, in practice, the politics of taking away capacity from one use (e.g. parking) for another (e.g. bike lanes) is very difficult.  In this new emerging world of automated, electric vehicles operating in the mode of “mobility-as-a-service” a number of questions arise making the issue even more complex than today. Can on-street parking, vehicular movement, and curbside pickup/dropoff mix? Who manages the curb and how? What existing models of curb management or roadway management can be applied? Can we learn from the landside at airports, where serving passengers is the dominant use? This same environment raises questions about land as well to be addressed by this research. The use of land depends on the access that is provided by the network, places with more access tend to get more intense development. Busy streets, transit stops, and stations, attract commercial uses. How does this change? Where will cars be stored? What will happen to existing obsolete uses of land (like parking structures, petrol stations, and the like).

Additional information

  • Use of research technique / methodology / technology
  • Potential topics of interest for the research opportunity
  • Current PHD and/or Masters topics
  • Eligibility criteria / candidate profile
  • Scholarship(s)  /  funding available

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2233

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