Knight Foundation Announces Five-Year $5.25M Initiative for Studying Autonomous Vehicles

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced a five-year, $5.25 million initiative to take a citizen-centered approach to studying autonomous vehicles (AV) and how the technology will affect urban mobility. The pilot projects will be designed to engage local residents, reflecting community input and local needs. Leaders from the five pilot cities will share what they learn and meet regularly to generate insights and lessons for other communities.

“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.”

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

  • Detroit, Michigan: addressing challenges getting to/from bus stops that connect residents to employment hubs;
  • Long Beach, California: providing residents with more short-distance travel options by better integrating electric or human-powered transit and other transportation methods, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions; improving air quality; and creating a safer, healthier, and more sustainable city;
  • Miami, Florida: developing driverless, on-demand shuttles as an alternative to buses that drive a fixed route;
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: developing sustainability and supporting neighborhoods by slowing the growth of single-occupant vehicle trips; and,
  • San Jose, California: better integrating autonomous vehicles with other forms of transit and helping to improve public life by connecting residents to jobs and destinations in downtown San Jose.

“Knight believes that a true smart city puts people first,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, and senior adviser to the president. “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 rollout of new technologies and programs on the back end.”