Self-Driving Cars Are Coming to Lower Manhattan

There are big “leased” signs in the windows of the former Classic Car Club space at the corner of Broome, but Jack Resnick & Sons, which owns 250 Hudson, understandably said that it couldn’t share any information. When I poked around elsewhere, I was told General Motors was involved, so I figured it was something akin to Cadillac’s marketing boondoggle up the street. But then I looked into the Department of Buildings paperwork for the space, which lists the tenant as GM Cruise LLC.

“GM Cruise LLC, commonly referred to as Cruise or Cruise Automation, is an American driverless car company headquartered in San Francisco,” according to Wikipedia. “In March 2016, General Motors acquired Cruise for an undisclosed amount, although reports have placed the number from ‘north of $500 million,’ to $580 million, to over $1 billion.”

What might the company be doing in Hudson Square? Last October, governor Andrew Cuomo “announced General Motors and Cruise Automation are applying to begin the first sustained testing of vehicles in fully autonomous mode in New York State in early 2018. Through Governor Cuomo’s recent legislation allowing the testing of autonomous technology, GM and Cruise are applying to begin testing in Manhattan, where mapping has begun in a geofenced area. All testing will include an engineer in the driver’s seat to monitor and evaluate performance, and a second person in the passenger seat. In support of this work, Cruise is expanding its presence in New York and will begin building a team of employees in New York City.” The announcement didn’t specify exactly where the testing would occur, but the Wall Street Journal and other outlets reported that it would be in “five-square-mile section of Lower Manhattan.” All of Manhattan is just under 23 square miles, so the testing area would likely include Hudson Square no matter how you’re defining Lower Manhattan. Looking at a map, I’d say five square miles would be everything south of 14th Street.

While we don’t know exactly how Cruise Automation will utilize the 9,500 square feet space, bear in mind that it’s one of the few street-level commercial spaces with a curb cut (onto Broome).

Also of note: Cruise Automation has a “ride-hailing app for Cruise employees to fetch driverless cars to transport them around the city” called Cruise Anywhere. In the Wall Street Journal article cited above, Cruise Automation CEO Kevin Vogt “wouldn’t say whether Cruise’s New York testing signals plans to eventually offer an autonomous-car service there. Testing in Manhattan ‘will be critical to the ultimate success of autonomous vehicles and the compression of the timeline for deployment at scale,’ he said.”

Here’s a video tour of Cruise’s self-driving car:


  1. I strenuously object to testing these vehicles on our streets. Can I find agreement on this?

    • I hear your concern but as a professional observer of this stuff, I’m not too worried. Cruise has been operating in downtown SF for over a year with no horror stories and only a couple of minor incidents, no more than you’d expect with careful human drivers.

  2. Love the way this piece is positioned next to ads for “Tribeca’s Best Kids’ Parties” — perfect irony. Just let me know when and where the testing starts so I can be sure to get myself and my family out of the way. Not my neighborhood!

  3. I completely agree with you Heide. Our streets are already so unsafe with so many small children downtown and schools this is ridiculous to try this in such an overpopulated area.

  4. article says “All testing will include an engineer in the driver’s seat to monitor and evaluate performance, and a second person in the passenger seat.” So possibly there will only be a few.

  5. Given their decades-long loss of market share (and its mere 10% market share in Manhattan), GM really is better off using the term “self-driving cars” instead of “driverless cars” IMO.

  6. It’s not like these vehicles are completely unattended during trials.

    Even current SAE level 5 autonomy tests legally requires someone sitting in the driver’s seat at all times, ready to take over.

    This is no different than the dozen or so cars that are sold today and driving around Tribeca today that offer SAE level 2 autonomy (Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Cadillac, Audi etc.) They’re all around you already. They work in all sorts of inclement weather too.

    I can see why people are afraid of them, but I’m willing to bet most of you folks sit immersed in your smartphone in the back seat of car driven by a marginally qualified driver today, without your seatbelts on and somehow think you, your children and your neighbors are somehow magically safe.

    I can tell you that these systems, as they exist today, are far safer than the last time I took a yellow cab. We’re years away from fully unattended cars doing fully unattended trials anyway. I urge those of you who think it’s unsafe to truly understand what it is and what it isn’t. For one, I can tell you autonomous cars will actually follow the speed limit. It’s the human that can’t.

    • Well said. Teslas and other common to Tribeca luxury brands are definitely driving themselves all over downtown and the rest of the city and state. I guarantee the people letting their cars drive them are paying far less attention than the Cruise engineers that attend to their test vehicles.
      Can you imagine the problems it would cause Cruise if even one of them had the most minor accident?

  7. self driving car tests in nyc is a terrible idea. has the 1971 ny state law prohibiting autonomous vehicles been repealed?

    “S 1226. Control of steering mechanism. No person shall operate a motor vehicle without having at least one hand or, in the case of a physically handicapped person, at least one prosthetic device or aid on the steering mechanism at all times when the motor vehicle is in motion.”

  8. Self-driving electric cars that can be charged with solar power will make life cleaner, safer and more peaceful for all New Yorkers. These cars have already been tested for millions of miles around the country, and the company will not begin testing in NYC without substantial precautionary measures (including having a human driver on board). These cars are much safer and will be less expensive than human drivers! Having kids doesn’t mean you get to automatically resist progress for everyone else. Don’t be on the wrong side of history! Thanks.

  9. 90 percent of all traffic accidents are caused by driver error. Odds are good autonomous cars won’t drive drunk.

  10. The majority of cars on our streets are already driverless, since the supposed “driver”‘s attention is usually focused on an addictive mobile tech today instead of the road.

  11. I personally can’t wait for driverless cars. The are are way too many terrible human drivers around here. My husband recently witnessed an older man crossing the street in Tribeca who was hit by a turning car. He said the driver was in a hurry and flew around the corner. Computers don’t feel rushed or become distracted.

    I envision a day when human drivers are not allowed to drive in big cities because they cause traffic and honk their horns. I agree with the comment above. Statistically, 90% of accidents are due to human error. We will have a lot less accidents, traffic and noise if we automate!

  12. It’s not the driverless cars I object to. It’s the testing on our streets full of adults, children and animals.

    • To get to this point in order to test requires significant levels of product maturity, far beyond what the word “testing” implies. And the parameters around the test far exceed the safety parameters taken by any NYC TLC licensed car today.

      I challenge you to find a taxi today that doesn’t have a brake warning, check engine warning or some other egregious safety related issue today. GM will have a full safety check of everything including tire pressure before leaving their test facility and have 2 people in the front seat monitoring the system for every ride.

      I walked by at least 4 autonomous capable cars today in the span of 5 min walking around the block the morning. They’re already out there… and they’ve been out there and cruising our neighborhood since 2014.

      • Do you work or promote for this industry?

        • No financial or occupational upside for me in this. I’m not even remotely tied to the automotive industry.

          I’m just someone who’s been waiting for this technology to arrive, and watching it very closely. As my parents are aging, with a mother that doesn’t drive, the idea of providing fully autonomous safe mobility for them is something that can’t come soon enough. Yes, I’d rather buy a self-driving car for them than get them a driver or teach them how to use Uber.

          Fear of this is tech is normal, but if you take the time to understand what it is, and what it isn’t, I think the “my kids aren’t safe” theory is really not realistic. If anything, even if the autonomous driving aspect was garbage, anti-collision radar in these cars is super impressive, and that’s on even more cars than the dozen or so autonomous capable ones. Even your run-of-the-mill Honda can be had with autobrake when the driver isn’t paying attention. It’s probably not long before it’s a NHTSA mandate like anti-lock brakes and airbags.

          But the point is more that it’s already all around you with billions of proven miles behind it. Nobody in Tribeca has ever said “that Tesla almost ran over my kids today”. To me the tech works… the only real concerns around autonomous cars are around the ethics of it. That’s a much longer conversation, and one where I do think there’s a fair amount of room for debate over.

          • Don’t be offended by the diss. I think the new “thing” is when someone disagrees with your point-of-view, they accuse you of being an industry flack, a racist or some other perjorative.

          • Try “virtue signaling” or “selfish” as examples of that new “thing”

  13. I wonder if some of these posts are from people engaged in this industry.

  14. How dare these people use self-driving cars on our streets! These computers, they will never be smart enough to drive as well as I do, cell phone in one hand, soy-latte in the other! These self-driving cars will scare my horse, which I also ride to work sometimes! Go back in your holes, aging hippies that bought downtown in the 70’s (it was so much better then, I’m so smart for buying, I was here first!), and also you private school Triburbia bizatches with your private drivers….

  15. I’m for more money or public transportation.

  16. Re the Cruise video, without a steering wheel or pedals, you’d think they’d reimagine the entire interior. Rotating leather chairs? A built-in cooler for cans (of soda)? :)

  17. It’s interesting that the latest dis concerns aging. That somehow this automatically makes someone out of touch with and grumpy about new tech.

    I can’t count how often I’ve been told something is safe, and then a crane falls or a window falls out of a high rise. “That ain’t going anywhere” the worker says…

    I have been working with the VR lab at my University and am developing a novel interface between projection mapping and Rhino. I’m not anti-tech.

    I want to see better subways and fewer cars on the street – driverless and driverful.

    • Except were not talking about cranes or windows, were talking about cars, the same cars that are already on the streets, where they belong. Why is this getting people so riled up? They’re not testing them on the sidewalk… The NIMBY attitude is what gives this neighborhood a bad name.

    • Heide, I think the dis is aimed at the NIMBY attitude and air of entitlement often displayed by smug elitists in the neighborhood. It’s a shame, because I live in Tribeca and not everyone is like this. But we do have our share.

      I’m also 100% for the advancements in this technology. I’ll take well mapped driverless cars with proven, safe technology, that is developed through a safe process, over a manned yellow cab every day of the week.

  18. “A self-driving car from Uber Technologies Inc. hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday evening, what is likely the first pedestrian fatality involving a driverless vehicle.”