D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser on Monday sent a message to companies developing and testing driverless technology: The city is opening its doors to them.
Bowser said she is creating a work group and directing it to “proactively prepare the District” for autonomous vehicle technologies. The group, with members from agencies focused on transportation, disability rights, environment and public safety, will be tasked with exploring the benefits of the technology to the District, its residents and visitors, Bowser said.
As part of the effort, the city and the Southwest Business Improvement District are soliciting innovative ideas from the self-driving car industry for a pilot program to be launched near L’Enfant Plaza.
“We will keep the District on the cutting edge of autonomous vehicles and do so in a way that benefits our residents,” Bowser said in a news release. “Washington, D.C., is a creative, tech-savvy city, and as we grow, we will always be exploring and investing in innovation and finding ways to make it more inclusive.”
The District’s embrace of autonomous vehicles is touted as a continuation of the city’s commitment to innovation. Last year the District Department of Transportation allowed Starship Technologies to experiment making food deliveries to residents in Logan Circle and around the 14th Street corridor via robots. The robots roll autonomously through the nation’s capital using proprietary digital maps and sophisticated software to bring takeout food from restaurants to hungry customers at home.
Business and city leaders say they want to launch a pilot to test first- and last-mile transportation with autonomous vehicles along 10th Street SW. The Southwest Business Improvement District and other businesses offer a shuttle service in the area, to connect visitors to destinations including museums on the Mall and the new development, the Wharf. Officials say 10th Street is an ideal place to test autonomous cars because traffic there is manageable — with a daily volume of 4,300 vehicles.
“Our hope is that AVs will enhance this conduit, act as catalyst for innovative mobility solutions across the District, and ultimately create an interconnected, sustainable community,” said Steve Moore, executive director of Southwest BID. “This RFI is just the first step in what we hope will ultimately become a successful — and historic — pilot project.
The “Request for Information” or RFI, includes technology companies, system integrators, consultant services, mobility solution providers and research entities — or private sector companies — skilled in autonomous vehicle development, a spokesman with Southwest BID said.
According to the official RFI, the business district wants to “engage the (autonomous vehicle) community and associated technology providers to gather information on potential partnerships, solicit industry input on the policies and procedures that will guide future pilot projects within the District, assess available technology for achieving the aims of this project, and better understand the needs associated with successfully launching a pilot here on 10th Street SW, also known as L’Enfant Plaza.”
The announcement comes after Bowser’s visit to Silicon Valley where she pitched the District as an ideal location for tech companies, to promote the city “as the capital of inclusive innovation” and visit potential job creators.