By some estimates, autonomous cars will become a part of daily life as soon as 2030, especially around major urban areas where this technology holds the most promise. But not every city may benefit in the same way, with one study suggesting several scenarios where autonomous cars either alleviate traffic congestion, or make it many times worse.
Fast Company reports that the study, entitled Reprogramming Mobility, takes a look at four major urban areas and what impact autonomous cars might have on the citizenry. Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston, and New Jersey were the focus of the study, though the scenarios presented are more a “What if” than a “This is what’s gonna happen” sort of situation. With that said, let’s start with the utopian scenario set in the gem of the South.
Atlanta: A Driverless Utopia
With a major Google outpost and few natural barriers to expansion, Atlanta presents the perfect autonomous scenario. Google aims to be a major player in self-driving vehicles, and Atlanta could end up being a test bed of self-driving technology wherein all autonomous vehicles are speaking the same language. This will lead to the development of public-private “G-roads” for self-driving vehicles only, and residents will be able to hail an autonomous car to their destination and ride it home without ever putting their hands on the wheel.
Georgia is also a major hotbed of solar power adoption, and Google’s integration with many smarthome features mean automated vehicles could easily be worked into the search giant’s technology ecosystem. Google will also attempt to develop autonomous public transit and freight solutions around it’s Atlanta base, and could even make the case for a complete rework of the national infrastructure around autonomous cars. This is the ideal scenario, and could change the way we approach transportation completely.
Boston: Walking Beats Driving Anyday
But while Atlanta has basically unlimited room to grow and a major private driver of technology, Boston is an old city crammed on the coast with a well-defined downtown. Bringing autonomous driving technology to these streets isn’t like, though the city could become a hotbed for the young and the restless who want to live in a thriving downtown setting.
This will lead to a rise in walking and bike-sharing, with public transit picking up the slack. Meanwhile deliveries are made in the dead of night when most of the city is asleep to keep congestion levels to a minimum during rush hour. Some people may commit to buying small urban EVs for personal transportation, though car-sharing and light rail becomes the default means of taking longer trips outside the metro area.
New Jersey: Bad Weather and Smart Buses
Here is where things start to get messy, as the Garden State is predicted to take several blows to the chin from major hurricanes and other storms over the next decade and a half. This will cripple Jersey’s infrastructure initially, but could convince the government it’s time to invest more heavily in public transportation. Smart, possibly fully-automated transit buses and dedicated busways will join existing rail services to give commuters a wider variety of options for getting into and out of the New York metro area.
The system is paid for by an algorithm that predicts demand and sets seat pricing accordingly and leads many young people to skip over car ownership in favor of the shiny new transit system. That said, it will come at the cost of billions in property damage and destroyed lives as the Jersey coast is pounded by one devastating superstorm after another. Things will get worse before they get better in this scenario.
Los Angeles: Driving Hell Just Gets Hotter
Finally we get to the doomsday scenario which takes place in America’s most-congested city, Los Angeles. Despite the rise of autonomous cars, many older drivers refuse to be driven by robots, and automakers develop different vehicle languages that lead to an incomplete and imperfect system of self-driving vehicles. Instead of cooperating, automakers compete to become the autonomous driving standard, leaving the transition to autonomous cars hanging in limbo.
Furthermore, increased reliance on self-driving cars could lead to increased pollution and urban sprawl as people think less of living an hour or more from their place of employment. It’s basically a worst-case scenario, though one that is easily avoidable with a little cooperation and smart public policy. Keep in mind these are merely proposed scenarios, and the future of self-driving vehicles is still wide open.
But it does give one something to think about.