The question of how self-driving cars are going to affect our cities and suburbs has been a TreeHugger preoccupation. Marshall McLuhan Award winner Douglas Rushkoff, writes in CNN that the recent Tesla crash highlights real problem behind self-driving cars. And that problem is basically you and me, the meatware. He notes that if the truck had also been autonomous and talking to the Tesla, then like an air traffic control system, “the network could have orchestrated the safe passage of both vehicles…As autonomous vehicle proponents like to point out, these problems would be solved if robotic cars weren't required to share the road with humans. We people are the problem.”
Then Rushkoff gets into really interesting territory, comparing the situation today to that of a century ago, when pedestrians were getting killed and when the automobile industry grabbed all the roadway real estate.
The companies went on a massive public relations effort to shift the blame, and came up with the term "jay walker" to describe the country rube who didn't know how to cross a street and was deserving of ridicule. Automobile clubs encouraged people to exterminate "the Jay Walker family" - and their little Walker children. Presumably, this was to be done through education, not running them over with cars.
He then compares this to today, where we have noted, the AV companies are probably already lobbying to get pedestrians out of their way. (I have joked about grade separated cities.) They don’t bother looking at buses or bikes or walkable cities; they think cars.
Now that we live in an automobile culture, it's only natural that our leading technologists seek transportation solutions that build on the automobile. After all, they are more expensive (and thus profitable) to manufacture than any sort of mass transit, and their costs are externalized to individual consumers, who see them as high-tech status symbols rather than financial obligations.
Rushkoff concludes that the technologists have an “outmoded vision of transportation will keep us trapped in a war with machines that we would do better to leave behind.”
I am reminded of John Orcutt’s great rework of the old poster comparing the space taken by different modes of transport, and begin to think that autonomous vehicles are not going to cause the urban revolution we thought they might.