I’m told that driverless cars are much farther in the future than those who are their proponents would like us to believe. However, it’s never too early to look at some of the effects – good and bad – that these so-called “autonomous vehicles” might bring to cities, citizens and livelihoods. City planners say that driverless cars could mean better public transit, more green space and less congestion – always the pipe dream of all city planners. In looking at a graphic drawing featured in the WSJ several months ago, it depicts the new features for cities that would come about as the result of driverless cars, such as: 1 – a traffic control system tower (similar to the TC towers at airports) that tracks and coordinates all traffic, in and out of the city; 2 – cameras at intersections to monitor for hazards, like pedestrians crossing – I’m amazed we won’t be doing away with pedestrians!; 3 – parking garages converted to apartments or commercial space – just as though that is needed in most cities! Vehicles will be parked outside the city in off-peak hours – they’ll drop-off, drive outside the city to park, then return for pick-up; 4 – traffic signals that talk to driverless cars, telling them how long before the light will change from green to red, etc; 5 – special drop-off pick-up zones at office towers to handle the flood of driverless cars at rush hour; 6 – self-driving shuttles bringing in out-of-city service workers; 7 – narrower streets with wider sidewalks, more landscaping, space for people to “hang out”; 8 – the ability for buses to exchange information with driverless cars, such as telling robot taxis of people who need a taxi to go the final mile of their journey.
Some see the coming driverless cars as an opportunity to create on-demand public transit to get people where they’re going faster and reach more of the population – current public transit has been such a roaring success at this, why not expand it to on-demand! On the other hand, people worry that driverless cars will increase urban sprawl – that people will be better-able to move outside the city to live. What – they won’t decide to live downtown in the parking garages – ? Other proponents of autonomous vehicles believe that “shared vehicles” will cut down on clogged streets – I’m sure that’s true, since carpooling has worked so well – I jest of course. First, they’ll have to convince folks to share rides in those autonomous cars – and, to date, they’ve had limited success getting the commuting public to do that, with cars that have drivers. All in all, after reviewing the material that’s been written about driverless cars, I have a tendency to agree with those who say it’s going to be much longer than proponents would like. And, I’d say that that’s not such a bad thing – driverless vehicles will bring dramatic changes to cities and certainly to all those who live and work in the areas surrounding the cities. There might be some convenience associated with autonomous vehicles – I, for one, would enjoy riding along and being able to work while the robotic machine did the driving. However, it sounds like one would forever be at the “direction” of outside forces determining when my robot car could enter the city, where it could go while there, and so on. I believe that we have enough “direction” from big brother already – so, perhaps, the later, the better for driverless cars.