Knight Foundation announces $5.25 million self-driving vehicle initiative


The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced a five-year, $5.25 million initiative to put people at the centre of local self-driving vehicle programmes in five US cities.

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.
— Lilian Coral, Knight Foundation

The national foundation, which invests in the success of cities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers, will deliver investment to self-driving vehicle pilot projects in Detroit; Long Beach, California; Miami; San Jose, California; and Pittsburgh.

The pilot projects will be designed to engage local residents around self-driving car deployments, ensuring they reflect community input and meet local needs. City leaders will meet regularly to share insights and lessons for other communities seeking to test and deploy self-driving vehicles.

“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 foundation said that the initiative comes at a “pivotal” moment for defining the role of residents in the development and roll-out of autonomous vehicles.

The body cited National League of Cities research that assessed the transportation plans of 68 large US cities, and found that only six per cent considered how driverless vehicles would affect urban mobility.

The five cities will engage residents on the following pilot projects involving some form of autonomous vehicles:

  • Detroit: To address challenges getting to/from bus stops that connect Detroiters to employment hubs.

  • Long Beach, California: To provide residents with more short-distance travel options by better integrating electric or human-powered transit (e.g. bikes, scooters, etc.) and other transportation methods, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions; improving air quality; and creating a safer, healthier, and more sustainable city.

  • Miami: To develop driverless, on-demand shuttles as an alternative to buses that drive a fixed route.

  • Pittsburgh: To develop sustainably and support neighborhoods by slowing the growth of single-occupant vehicle trips.

  • San Jose, California: To better integrate autonomous vehicles with other forms of transit and help improve public life by connecting residents to jobs, and destinations for retail and nightlife, 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.”