The New Yorker's tech issue includes a fascinating article by Burkhard Bilger that asks "has the self-driving car at last arrived?" It is mostly about car technology that nerds will love, but the really interesting thing about the autonomous car is what it will do to our cities. I have previously written that "the autonomous car will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them."
I have painted this as a wonderful thing; others, like Allison Arieff, are troubled, thinking they will lead to massive suburban sprawl. "If you can read your iPad, enjoy a cocktail or play a video game while commuting, time spent in the car becomes leisure time, something desirable. Long commutes are no longer a disincentive."
In the New Yorker article, Sergey Brin gives his view:
“As you look outside, and walk through parking lots and past multilane roads, the transportation infrastructure dominates,” Brin said. “It’s a huge tax on the land.” Most cars are used only for an hour or two a day, he said. The rest of the time, they’re parked on the street or in driveways and garages. But if cars could drive themselves, there would be no need for most people to own them. A fleet of vehicles could operate as a personalized public-transportation system, picking people up and dropping them off independently, waiting at parking lots between calls. They’d be cheaper and more efficient than taxis—by some calculations, they’d use half the fuel and a fifth the road space of ordinary cars—and far more flexible than buses or subways. Streets would clear, highways shrink, parking lots turn to parkland. “We’re not trying to fit into an existing business model,” Brin said. “We are just on such a different planet.”
Given the suburban car-oriented mentality displayed by all these silicon valley entrepreneurs in their choice of headquarters, I suspect that Allison is right, that the autonomous car may well be the ticket to Broadacre City. But It could also take us to a city with fewer cars, where pedestrians and cyclists can take back the streets.
More on this subject:
Beyond The Car: PAT Is An Autonomous, Shared Vision of The Future of Transportation
Last November, I was part of a charrette at the Institute without boundaries that was asked to "Imagine a new sustainable mobility vehicle and a new future for the automobile-manufacturing sector beyond the car." It was one of the most inspiring exercises I ever participated in, watching industry experts, talented designers and incredibly talented students putting together not just a vehicle design but an entire system of transportation.
As a cyclist, I look forward to autonomous cars that actually pay attention to who is around them, that go at the speed limit and don't make right hand turns without looking in the mirror. There are also some other side effects that will be so positive for cities and suburbs alike; as noted in Beyond the Car: Envisioning a New "Sustainable Mobility Vehicle", they will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them. That is something that everyone can benefit from.
How the self-driving car might make our cities better and greener
TreeHugger has been following the development of autonomous cars like the the Google Self-driving car, but what are the urban planning and design implications of it? At NRDC Switchboard, Kaid Benfield and Lee Epstein wonder if automating the car will make life (and the environment) better. They are not convinced.
How will the driverless car affect the design of our cities?
Allison Arieff writes in the New York Times:
If you can read your iPad, enjoy a cocktail or play a video game while commuting, time spent in the car becomes leisure time, something desirable. Long commutes are no longer a disincentive. America’s car-dependent culture has been encouraged (and subsidized) for the last half-century; instead of bucking that trend, a driverless car culture remains car-dependent