LA’s Mayor Promises Driverless Cars Within the Decade

MY TURN-At a recent conference City Lab, held in Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti talked about his vision for autonomous vehicles--having entire neighborhoods devoted to driverless machines. 

At a gathering of world-wide Mayors, civic leaders and educational institutions sponsored by Atlantic Magazine, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute, speakers spoke about solving urban problems.  This was the second annual Conference.  The first was held last year in New York and our Mayor was so impressed with the quality and the networking that he invited the Conference to be held in Los Angeles.

At the end of September, I had noticed an article about the event the week before it occurred and then did not see much if any followup in the metropolitan news.  The article listed some innovations Cities were incorporating to make  them more livable and sustainable.

I was curious to see what had transpired and if there was anything interesting to share with you.  It was a fascinating look with practical solutions and suggestions that urban areas were facing regardless of where they were located.

I admit I am not big on watching in-depth webinars.  As a trade exhibition/event person, I prefer the face-to-face interaction but there are always exceptions. This was definitely one.  You can watch it at

Considering it was a three day event I haven’t watched all the sessions but I will because the material and the speakers were outstanding.  It was so relevant to what Los Angeles is going through now, as are thousands of other Cities.   It also presented a lot of “factoids” on Los Angeles.

The Mayor was interviewed by Walter Isaacson, President of the prestigious Aspen Institute.  He prefaced the session by commenting that he and others had noticed something different about Los Angeles-a sense of purpose and quite a few changes.

The Mayor said that he sees his role as the CEO of the City.  He has department Managers; 40,000 workers; airports, ports and over four million customers.  His initial goal was to implement the new technologies into making a leaner, more efficient and much better delivery of City services.

He also mentioned building an army of volunteers so that people would have a stake in the necessary changes.  I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t mention our Neighborhood Council system which is fairly unique and other Cities are copying.
Now that there was a data generated system that showed everyone... both workers and stakeholders... where each dollar was going he was turning his attention to public transportation.

LA just received an award for a City for digital transparency thanks to the combined efforts of Controller Ron Galperin, Deputy Mayor, Budget and innovation, Rick Cole and of course the Mayor.

I was particularly interested in his public transportation focus.  Some of which I had not heard.    He gave a brief look at the current changes by saying,  “LA  could be the first place really in an urban center where we have autonomous vehicles that are able to be ordered up [like] a car service, right away in a real neighborhood, not just in a protected area.
 “While we're building out this rail network, we simultaneously should be looking at, I think, bus rapid transit (BRT’s) lanes, not because BRTs are good—of course they've been proven successful—but because autonomous vehicles are going to be here," he said. "How do you spend billions of dollars on fixed rail, when we might not own cars in this city in a decade or a decade and a half?”

Such bus lanes could come in handy when the age of autonomy arrives, he added. "A bus lane today, may be a bus and an autonomous vehicle lane tomorrow.”

The city is working with UCLA to develop a neighborhood for driverless vehicles, possibly located around UCLA in Westwood.

He's also working on something at Xerox—"kind of like the Skunk Works guys who brought us the mouse and everything else"—to implement a driverless network, as well as more traditional manned vehicles from bus down to bicycle.”

One of the ideas would be a stakeholder would purchase a certain amount of transportation monthly and used $500 as an example.  He explained, "Now through a single app, I could order a taxi, an Uber, a Lyft, a Sidecar; I could get on the bus, I could get on the rail, I could take out a shared bike, I could get a shared car like a Zipcar or something like that.

 “And you never have to stress out anymore about how you're going to get some place. You know you have the options.... And maybe the city makes a small transaction fee off of that, or MTA, so it's actually in our interest to build that and then share that open-source again with the rest of the world.”

In light of all the other innovations discussed at the conference this didn’t sound like pie in the sky.

Atlantic Magazine like many media companies has an event division and does many conferences covering everything from health to economics.   Michael Bloomberg the ex Mayor of New York has a great interest in making the world better and uses his huge financial resources to make a difference.

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There is a division of his Bloomberg Philanthropy group called “Innovation Delivery Team” that just works with Cities and the various challenges they face.   They instituted what they call “Challenges” and Cities were invited to submit two challenges they were facing along with a plan to overcome them.   There were 350 entries. Five were selected and received not just a monetary sum of a million dollars but also the help of the Innovation Delivery Team.

The five 2014 winners were judged on their results.  Bloomberg explained that innovation doesn’t always work and that is why Cities have a problem trying new things without guarantees.  He emphasized that rather than use tax dollars -private public partnerships were the way to innovate.  He also noted that leadership is deciding where to go and then doing it ... not waiting for the polls and following public opinion.

Next week in CityWatch I will s hare what challenges the five City Winners faced and the results along with some future projections on what LA City will look like in 2025.  This is fascinating stuff and takes away from just complaining about street and sidewalk repair. 

As an aside, Councilman Bernard Parks is using some of his discretionary budge to fix the worst sidewalks in his district.

As always comments welcome.

(Denyse Selesnick is a featured CityWatch contributor.  She is a former Publisher/journalist/international event organizer.) 






Vol 12 Issue 94

Pub: Nov 21, 2014