Two Very Different Visions of How Cars Fit in the City of the Future

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Public Domain. W. H. Corbett 1913

In London: get rid of cars. In New York: get rid of people.

In the New York Times, Eric Taub writes about How Jaywalking Could Jam Up the Era of Self-Driving Cars. As anyone who has been to New York City knows, people cross the street wherever they want to, whenever they want to. As Taub notes, "Just don't get hit." So what will happen if self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles come to town?

If pedestrians know they’ll never be run over, jaywalking could explode, grinding traffic to a halt. One solution, suggested by an automotive industry official, is gates at each corner, which would periodically open to allow pedestrians to cross.
The future they want

Closer than we think: The future with self-driving cars/via

This is something we have discussed on TreeHugger before, in How will self-driving cars affect our cities? I quoted Christian Wolmar, who also concluded that people would just walk in front of AVs because they will be programmed not to hit people. So roads will need to be fenced and grades separated; AVs "could be the excuse to pen in pedestrians, restrict cyclists, prioritize autonomous vehicles over conventional ones, and turn cities into driverless rat-runs."

View down on Futurama

technology almanac/ Separated streets in Futurama/via

Taub suggests that cities will have to be redesigned. "It’s important that as communities change, possibly physically, they don’t become sterile 1960s 'Jetsons'-like environments that favor vehicles." But hey, we'll make them pretty:

“We need students educated in art and design to get involved in the future so we don’t get antiseptic cities,” said Frank Menchaca, the S.A.E.’s chief product officer. “We need things to be aesthetically pleasing. We have to bring people along.”

The view from London:

Joseph Bazalgette

© Joseph Bazalgette (top right) at the northern outfall sewer being built below London’s Abbey Mills pumping station. / Otto Herschan/Getty

Really. How about another view? This one is from Leo Murray, writing in the Independent in Bad for the environment, awful for our health and terrible for public space – this is the case for banning cars, with a great subhead: "We need to think of private cars like the 21st century equivalent of Victorian buckets of waste; people will keep emptying them in the street until the city provides a better alternative."

Murray says that in the face of the climate emergency, we have to get rid of cars in our cities. He also sees the need for a dramatic urban rebuild. And while Victorians never actually dumped buckets of poop into the streets, they did invest in a vast network of sewers (see Awash in water and waste) that transformed London.

Pedestrian bridge, London

Pedestrian bridge, London/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The 21st century equivalent of the Victorian urban plumbing transformation looks like this. First, you need comprehensive public transport coverage – nobody should be further than a couple of hundred meters from a bus stop – and buses themselves must be free at the point of use.
Second, you need a comprehensive, integrated network of protected cycle lanes, alongside ubiquitous, low-cost cycle, e-bike, e-cargo bike and e-scooter schemes, so that everyone can use them.
Third, you need a strategic walking network that connects up town centres with wide boulevards lined with trees, benches and water fountains, on which pedestrians have right of way by default.

Then you need car-shares or ride-hailing and transport for the disabled, and an app showing every conceivable option for transport.

South bank London

South Bank, London/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

What a difference between the American vision of autonomous cars, gates and fences with "students of art and design" so it isn't antiseptic, and a coherent vision that works for everyone in a beautiful city where pedestrians come first. Where would you rather live?