Could self-driving cars really create idyllic city streets?

Can you imagine a world where the roads are only populated by self-driving cars? Some experts project that autonomous cars will be standard by 2030. With this unlikely likelihood of self-driving cars becoming the vehicles of the future, some forward thinkers are creating a blueprint that could make city streets safer for humans.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a non-profit organization that makes recommendations on transportation issues to 60 member cities, recently proposed limiting autonomous vehicles to 20 mph, to allow pedestrians to cross the street anywhere they want, rather than only at crosswalks and intersections. The technology would allow the cars to identify when a person is trying to cross a street, and slow down.

Their recommendations are paradisiacal for sure.  Their 50-page blueprint talks about how, in a perfect world, humans would be put first.

"We have a historic opportunity to reclaim the street and to correct the mistakes of a century of urban planning," said Janette Sadik-Khan, NACTO's chair, and the former commissioner of New York City's transportation department, in the report.

Ideas suggested in NACTO’s report

Here are a few ideas suggested in NACTO’s report, some of which are definitely raising eyebrows.

  • Vehicle lanes could be a lot thinner, as the cars would be better at driving in a straight line than a human driver.
  • Tiny parks could take the place of where parking lots are now situated.
  • During rush hour, more lanes would open up for traffic, to alleviate congestion from occurring.
  • Curb space would be allocated to delivery vans or landing drones at different times of the day and night to accommodate business needs and pedestrian rush hours (like the lunch rush and evening activities).
  • Create flush surfaces so that streets would all be even with the sidewalks allowing for safer passage for pedestrians and the disabled.

“The blueprint is for building the safer future streets that cities need, where speeding is no longer an option, where cars are designed to yield and stop for pedestrians and bicyclists by default, and where people are free to cross the streets where it makes sense, rather than trek a mile to the nearest stoplight,” says Mollie Pelon, who oversees NACTO’s technology and city transportation program.

Then there is the alternative

To be sure, their report definitely raises many questions. Will jaywalking no longer be illegal? Will commute times be longer because cars have to go slower? How will this affect commerce and the quality of life for urban dwellers? Will cities actually go along with these ideas?

The report expresses their concerns about the future if cities and the government do nothing to change the current policies. They warn that traffic and emissions could skyrocket, and pedestrians could be forced to cross streets on bridges. Public transportation systems could become archaic and possibly replaced by newer services that are more costly and less accessible.

I have no doubt that self-driving vehicles will change city life, but I’d need a crystal ball to know exactly what those changes will be. If it’s true that autonomous vehicles will be standard by 2030, a lot of us are surely going to find out.

 

Group Matrix Blog – October 7, 2017 – by Sharon Bowles

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