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What do driverless cars mean for Seattle?

A panel discussion explores self-driving vehicles and sustainability

Torc Robotics team members and a state policy advisor pose with with a semi-autonomous vehicle.
Via the Washington State Governor’s office

Back in June, Washington State governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order authorizing a pilot program for testing self-driving cars. Barely a month later, Torc Robotics’ self-driving car arrived in Seattle after completing a six-day, 2,500-mile cross-country trip.

As Seattle builds its own guidelines to encourage development of autonomous vehicles, just this week the United States Department of Transportation announced federal lighter regulations around them.

While we’re not as big a hub for driverless cars as, say, Detroit, driverless cars are still bound to have a major impact on the city. What does that mean for our city’s fabric, for better or for worse? And in an area that loves the great outdoors—forests, lakes, mountains—as much as we do, what does it mean for our natural space?

On Wednesday, September 20, Driving the Revolution: Self-Driving Cars and the Future We Want, a panel discussion presented by sustainability nonprofit Forterra, will explore some of these questions.

Forterra says autonomous vehicles have potential to both help and hurt. “Perhaps autonomous cars help us humanize our urban streets—allowing us to convert traffic lanes and on-street parking to transit-only lanes, bike lanes, parklets and wider sidewalks,” reads the event’s description. “Or will cheap and enjoyable commutes further exacerbate the harmful pattern of urban sprawl?”

Autonomous cars, says Forterra, present many “possible futures” that could support or hinder mass transit—and guide city infrastructure in any number of ways.

The panel, moderated by KUOW’s Ross Reynolds, features Transportation Choices Coalition’s Shefali Ranganathan, venture capitalist and autonomous-vehicle investor Tom Alberg, Washington State Transportation Center director Mark Hallenbeck, and consultant John Lass.

Plus: Hallenbeck’s bio says he’ll “issue a definitive statement on whether autonomous vehicles will eliminate or exacerbate traffic snarls—or not.”

The panel discussion takes place at the Living Computer Museum in Sodo, two blocks from the Sodo light rail station. The program begins at 6 p.m. on September 20, preceded by a brief reception at 5:30.

The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required.