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A Look at Michigan’s Autonomous Corridor

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Feb. 5, 2021—Last summer, the state of Michigan announced that it would be working with several entities to create a connected and automated vehicles corridor between two of its largest cities. 

During the most recent webinar from Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, Michigan transportation officials discussed the concepts behind the corridor, its unique placement, and how the project could inform future programs. 

Tara Andringa, executive director for PAVE, began the presentation by highlighting the significance of Michigan in the automotive industry. Home to both Ford and General Motors headquarters, and soon to be the nation’s first autonomous corridor, Michigan is leading the charge in vehicle technologies. 

 

The CAV Corridor

Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for Michigan’s recently created Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, said the connected and automated vehicles (CAV) corridor will be strategically positioned along the busiest route in the state. 

The corridor, located between Detroit and Ann Arbor, will function as its own lane of traffic, dedicated entirely to partially autonomous vehicles. 

Pawl said this location is unique because it is home to a variety of traveler types and traffic patterns. While it is located between two of the state’s largest cities, the corridor is also near Eastern Michigan University, said Pawl, which has an undergraduate enrollment of more than 20,000 students. 

 

Leading By Example

Pawl said the hope for the project is that it will lead by example for future corridor programs and continue to inform the evolving needs of drivers and their vehicles.By studying and learning about the corridor program, Pawl said other entities can learn valuable lessons regarding adapting technology, sustainability, and infrastructure needs.

Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Manager for Michigan Department of Transportation, Collin Castle, said there isn’t a ton that can be done for infrastructure, beyond charging stations that is. The rest, he said, relies heavily on coordination. 

“Think about operational infrastructure,” he said, “you need a prime location to drop off and load on, or else, [the AV] will create even more bottlenecks and traffic congestion.” 

Castle said the CAV corridor, although just a single implementation, will serve to inform other cities about best practices and investments for autonomous vehicle deployments. 

 

Public Participation 

Castle said the CAV corridor provides a rare opportunity for transportation officials to interact directly with the population they’re serving. In this case, he said, the population focus is those with mobility impairments and physical disabilities. 

“A lot of conversations are related to the needs of infrastructure, but this [project] allows us to directly talk to users of the technology,” he said. “[The project] is not just a hammer looking for a nail, there are plenty of nails and the project goes to them directly.” 

In order to serve the public, Pawl said you need to talk to them person-to-person to truly understand their needs, and that’s what the state of Michigan did. 

“The truth is, it wasn’t all positive,” Pawl said. During initial conversations, city planners and local residents alike were hesitant about autonomous vehicles disrupting the current transit systems. 

Assuaging concerns across all segments was not as simple as a zoom press conference, Pawl said. Instead, it took patience and “one by one, answering questions in an open and candid way.” 

The project, which was first announced last August, is still in its opening stages, but those working on it hope that it will make transportation even more accessible while paving the way for future autonomous vehicle implementations.

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