Google Robocar Racetrack Ride
Google Robocar Racetrack Ride. Photo by Steve Jurvetson

The Guardian’s bike blog has an interesting post about driver-less cars and what they might mean for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s an interesting thought experiment:

A more dystopian [vision of the future] involves platoons of speeding robocars making roads even more deeply unpleasant and motor-centric than they are today. Pedestrians and cyclists may have to be restricted “for their own safety.” After all, if you knew that the truck barrelling towards you would automatically brake if you wobbled out in front of it, you’d have little incentive to stay in the gutter and every incentive to play one-sided chicken. Claiming the lane would take on a whole new meaning as cyclists blithely blocked robovehicles. The authorities would be under immense pressure to stamp out jaywalking – and jaycycling. With cars able to speed through junctions, electronically interacting with each other, and with no need for traffic lights, it would be harder for humans outside of driverless cars to use the roads.

This is fun stuff, read the whole thing.

So while we’re on the subject, what will driver-less cars do for buses? To start, I believe that once robocars become truly viable, part of the sales pitch of the robo-system’s makers will be that they will share in some (all?) of the liability for accidents caused using their systems. This will make car insurance extremely expensive for someone who wants to drive themselves. Eventually, it’ll get to the point where no cars but high-performance vehicles such as Maseratis, Porsches and Aston Martins will be sold for manual driving.

This will put a lot of pressure on bus systems operators (Metro, Sound Transit, etc.) to replace bus fleets with robo-buses. Even though it would probably save a huge amount of money to the bus systems, I suspect that buses will be some of the last vehicles robotised because of the power of transit operators unions. Transit operators would insist that robobuses will ignore you while you’re waiting at your stop, and that you’ll miss the human touch. Robotised-bus proponents would insist that costs savings and the promise of on-time buses 99.9% of the time make the trade-off worth it. An argument about public safety will occur; who would want to get on a nearly empty Rapid Ride E late at night by themselves with no operator? Over time, too many human-operated LRT and buses would cause accidents – statistics would show some huge percentage of remaining traffic accidents were caused by buses, and eventually bus drivers will be morphed into neutered security guards, who will cost the same as the old drivers did and the cost savings will never materialise.

For cyclists, at least in Seattle, the move to robocars will be mostly very positive. Car-sharing would become nearly ubiquitous as your car would be able to drive other people around when you are out of it, so shoulder-parking spots would give way to bike lanes throughout the city. Cycling would become more popular as it becomes safer and nearly every traffic signal will be retrofitted with a cyclist period as they have in Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Maybe entire streets, mainly side streets, would become cyclist-only or nearly so; robocars would only be allowed on if they were stopping there and even then, they would only be allowed to go 10 mph. Bike sharing would thrive as well, as people would use robocars and robobuses to get close to their destination and ride bikes the last mile.

Pedestrians would have a rougher go of it. Crossing major streets would be difficult with the exquisitely timed signals, and the new driver-cum-passenger majority/plurality would become even extremely anti-pedestrian. Pedestrians will go from people you see looking out the window to faceless obstacles that are never seen as you look at your smartphone or tablet from the self-driving car. Eventually, as a small consolation to pedestrians, we’ll see a few elevated crossings installed in major corridors, the sort that are common in big cities in East Asia, and lots of people taking robocars for what had previously been short walks because of the real or perceived anti-pedestrian bias.

Ok, that’s enough of futurist imaginings from me. What do you think driver-less cars will do to the transportation experiences of those who don’t drive for every trip?

138 Replies to “What will driver-less cars mean for pedestrians, cyclists and buses?”

  1. Rule of thumb for automating trains seems to be all operations on fully reserved right of way. Somebody give me a reason that shouldn’t hold for automobiles.

    Mark Dublin

      1. It won’t take long for the jerks to figure out the computers default is collision avoidance at all costs.
        Aggressive driving will increase, knowing the dummy car in the next lane will brake or move over as you worm your way in.
        Bus drivers do this to some extent, but wait until they see a robo-car coming. Signal and move out. No worry.
        Could we also get door interlocks on cars that absolutely will not open if someone is coming down the road. Make it sensitive enough to see a cyclist too.

  2. Hmmm.. I don’t see how pedestrian crossings can’t be implemented. At intersections, it should work the same way, but safer because a SDC could know of your presence and not make a right turn into your side. The pedestrian crossing lights found on many busy roads (like SW 320th St in Federal Way, in the middle of a 1.2 mile stretch with no signals), could also be able to work with self driving cars easily.

    As far as buses, while some buses may need security guards, the vast majority won’t, therefore this would basically solve the transit funding situation. When you think about it, although Central Link has an operator, he/she’s always in a different enclosure than the passengers, so from a public interface perspective, Central Link is closer to driverless than current buses.

    1. As far as buses, while some buses may need security guards, the vast majority won’t, therefore this would basically solve the transit funding situation. When you think about it, although Central Link has an operator, he/she’s always in a different enclosure than the passengers, so from a public interface perspective, Central Link is closer to driverless than current buses.

      You may be right about the need for security guards, but I was considering the impact transit unions would have. Central link operators don’t provide security, but central link does have security guards and fair inspectors.

      1. Without a driver to enforce fare collection, every bus route would have to turn into proof of payment with random visits by fare inspectors, sort of how RapidRide works today. This could lead to faster and more reliable buses.

      2. Future payment systems may involve face recognition. (Europe is already deploying some systems like these). Get on the bus/train and get recognized. If your account is empty, alert goes to Metro police who get on at next stop to apprehend.

      3. Get on the bus/train and get recognized. If your account is empty, alert goes to Metro police who get on at next stop to apprehend.

        That’s a bit dystopian, for Seattle, but definitely repeat offenders.

      4. I was tagged once because I forgot to swipe my ORCA card on the way to a Seahawks game. Of course, lucky me, they were checking everyone’s card. The officer let me slide; however, he did take my picture. So, we’re halfway there!

    2. I don’t see how pedestrian crossings can’t be implemented. At intersections, it should work the same way, but safer because a SDC could know of your presence and not make a right turn into your side.

      Perhaps pedestrian-aware signals could talk with the SDC’s to track people who are walking. Most signals are dumb and inefficient that either waste auto/bus time because the signal is still waiting for non-existent pedestrians or are too short and putting pedestrians at risk.

      1. Even better, if all cars were robocars, perhaps you could have a mechanism where a pedestrian wanting to cross a street could request a stop in traffic via an app on his smartphone. The benefit would be that you could suddenly have pedestrian crossings at every block, without paying the capitol cost of installing signals at every block. Of course, any such app would have to have a mechanism in place to prevent abuse.

    3. SkyTrain in Vancouver has operated driver-less robo-trains since 1985. (Talk about a city of the future…)

      They had no attendants and yes it happened that you could be the only person on the train. How did they solve it (in 1985, no less) – a “silent alarm” yellow strip spanning the length of the train car. Press it and you’ll meet transit security at the next station (1-3 minutes away).

      Nowadays some transit security randomly pop in and out of trains (they introduced that for the Olympics in 2010) but I felt just as safe without it. The one time I witnessed an altercation on a train it was nowhere near empty and random passengers pressed the silent alarm and transit security came on.

      The system hasn’t had a single major accident in its 27 years of operation. On-time reliability is 96.5% vs 82% for MAX in Portland and 70-82% for NYC subway.

      All of this because of robotization. Driverless cars will be a complete revolution.

      1. They had no attendants and yes it happened that you could be the only person on the train. How did they solve it (in 1985, no less) – a “silent alarm” yellow strip spanning the length of the train car. Press it and you’ll meet transit security at the next station (1-3 minutes away).

        That’s such a good idea, why don’t we have that? I guess we won’t have security at each station, but still.

    4. For one thing, with robocars, you are going to be taking a whole lot of traffic off the roads.

      For example, many people would not take a train to work because of the “last mile” problem. But if you can jump in a robocar, scoot to the station (which no longer have to be very close together or centrally located because of ubiquitous robocars) get on a medium speed rail trail, and the hop in your own, or a public robocar, which comes to fetch you like the family dog (meaning you don’t have to have big parking garages).

      The other factor is vision. In a modern jet plane, the windows are not used except in dire emergency. The autopilot doesn’t use regular vision, and the pilots fly purely on instruments. Same with robocars. This means you don’t have to design cars full of glass, or have signs or much of the types of “visibility” that the human eye needs.

      With streets you could optimize cars down to maybe one or two lanes, because the robocars could travel single file, in two directions. Parking on the street is no longer needed. The computers optimally find the route, so less chance of congestion. Because of the visibility, you could make very low cars and build very low tunnels under the street.

      There may be no reason to run the cars very fast. Why not limit the speeds to 20 miles per hour, enforced by computer, in dense areas, or determined by satellites calculating walker and biker density from above.

      1. Absolutely!

        You could make a single person “car” for dense cities…and a 12 person auto-autobus for the country.

        You could have a separate vehicle just for deliveries…one without any seats for humans, just something the size of a little red wagon.

        The point being is that a robocar also changes the available design choices because it changes the dynamics of ownership and blurs the lines between private and public, between transportation and transit!

      2. I think you would still want windows as the humans inside might want to occasionally see where they’re going. Otherwise, it would be like riding in a car as a passenger blindfolded.

        Also, there are a number of people that like to drive and will want the option to drive manually when they choose to, depending on their mood. (Although I can envision rental companies charging extra for this privilege due to higher insurance costs, etc.).

      3. Yes, absolutely, you would want some windows, but, for example, they could be very high and small like portholes.

        For in city transport, you could have these small cars which are part of the transit network and are fully automated.

        For suburbs, something that looks more like a regular car and has some degree of maneuverability to bring it into the driveway, etc.

        For rural, you might want a mostly manual vehicle to travel off road or do farm duty, with “robo-assist” for boring highway and long distance driving, etc.

  3. Automated security! On a button press (or automated threat recognition via bus cameras), doors are all locked and bus is taken to a garage at the police station built for such interventions. Passengers are screened, footage around the time of the button press reviewed, and bus of frustrated passengers (minus offenders) continues on its way.

    1. Yikes, being locked on a bus with a threatening situation (sexual harasser, violent person, person shouting threats, or even just a nonthreatening urine-soaked seat neighbor) is the last thing I want. Really the thing that makes the bus OK from a safety & comfort perspective is that I can get off if I really need to or want to. Would much rather have ejector seats that kick everyone off the bus than be forced to stay in a dangerous situation.

      1. +1. Locking innocent passengers on a bus with a violent criminal is the last thing you want to do.

    2. How about robotic policemen? They judge whoever is the biggest threat and hand-cuff him.

    3. Matt, didn’t I read somewhere that in three instances where bus cameras picked up evidence in major criminal cases, three cameras failed? But on the other hand, principle of natural selection could guarantee long-term benefit for humanity.

      As automated transit becomes ubiquitous, people who believe that computer systems will save their lives in circumstances that human operators routinely handle now will invariably step in front of buses exactly when the system goes down.

      Natural survival mechanisms of survivors and witnesses will ensure return to sanity. And dangerous and pernicious form of stupidity will be eliminated from the DNA of the human race.

      Paradoxically, another beneficiary could be Creationism, since current proliferation of such people completely nullifies any possibility of Intelligent Design.


    4. Despite the fears and realities of violence and theft on buses, there is still more fear of violence and theft at bus stops. Stopping that may be left to the GoogleEarth Security Consortium, dispatching the RoboCops.

      In order to protect the RoboCops and RoboDrivers from being vandalized at will, we’ll have to program in some self-awareness/self-defense.

    5. Seconding what Jessica said. It’s more important to get the other passengers out of harm’s way than to lock up the perp. The “trouble” button would throw all the doors open, not lock them.

      I think you would want to have a security guard on certain trips every time, and roving security guards (quite a few of them) randomly patrolling the rest of the system.

      1. I was attacked by a couple of meth addicts on the bus once and the driver locked us into a steel-cage death match until the cops came, which was stupid. I managed to break the door and get out, but locking people in is not a great idea.

    6. See my response above. Vancouver’s driver-less SkyTrain already has a “silent alarm” button. It calls security which gets on then next stop, usually 1-3 minutes away.

      Stopping and opening the doors is useless – on a grade-separated system that would mean you stop in between two stops on a guideway where your only option is walking/running back to the previous stop or the next one. How does that give you any advantage. On a non-grade separated system you still may be in a non-desirable escape area.

      Getting locked up with the person who is a cause for concern is also not helping in any way.

      1. That works well for SkyTrain, but it is not feasible for police to be 1-3 minutes away from every single bus stop in all of King County, at all times.

  4. Modern avionics have been capable of taking a plane from takeoff to landing for years, now.

    Why haven’t the airlines been making use of the savings from pilotless planes?

    1. Because when something goes wrong the human is much better at dealing with it than the robot. At least at the current state of the art. OTOH a lot of accidents are caused by the pilots doing something they shouldn’t have.

      1. Air transportation is a whole different ballgame. On the ground, if your engine stops working, you roll to a stop, but you don’t all die. In the air, if your engine stops working, you’d better be able to land the plane really fast, or everyone dies. It’s a lot more serious.

    2. Generally speaking-it’s the pilots that crash the planes-not the planes that crash the planes.

  5. All I have to say about such a future world of robo-cars is “I’m glad I’m old and dying soon.”

    What a soulless world: mindless people riding around in bossy cubes.

    1. That is the most depressing comment I’ve read here in years.

      personally, I believe the robocar revolution is actually more than a decade off.

    2. I find that sentiment exceedingly odd, indeed, pretty much incomprehensible. Of all the things I do every day, the notion that driving a car is the one that makes me fully human and feeling truly alive is utterly foreign to me. Driving makes us more mindless (and more evil*), not less. The things i’ll do instead–reading great books, watching great movies, working, having conversations in which I am fully present and not distracted by a more urgent task, sleeping, thinking, listening to great music and actually paying attention to it: all of these things constitute my humanity and my sense of self. Driving takes time away from them.


      1. Some of the things that djw mentions are one of the personal side benefits to taking the bus for me currently. I get to make useful personal or work time out of not being the one doing the driving. I could drive to work (especially in the morning) in less time than my bus commute normally takes, but I willingly chose to take the bus instead for the multi-fold benefit to society in general (1 less SOV, pollution), personal economics (no bridge toll, less gas cost, less wear & tear on car), and personal gain of time to do other things (read book, read email, relax).

      2. DJW,

        Transit is fundamentally different from the robo-car experience. It’s communal, not isolationist. I think that some of you who are excited about robo-cars are imagining family excursions where everyone in the car is sitting in some sort of square sectional facing one another playing games or talking. And I’d like that form of the robo-car experience, too.

        But the vast majority of trips are going to be taken by one person riding around completely absorbed in some mindless product placement riddled “entertainment”, not listing to great music or reading Jane Austen or Thucydides.

        At least when folks are driving they have to give some attention to the world around them.

      3. Transit is fundamentally different from the robo-car experience. It’s communal, not isolationist. I think that some of you who are excited about robo-cars are imagining family excursions where everyone in the car is sitting in some sort of square sectional facing one another playing games or talking. And I’d like that form of the robo-car experience, too.

        But the vast majority of trips are going to be taken by one person riding around completely absorbed in some mindless product placement riddled “entertainment”, not listing to great music or reading Jane Austen or Thucydides.

        Yes, I’m perfectly aware of of the nature of car trips vs. transit use. I’m not sure how this is relevant, exactly, unless you think the robo-cars are going to replace mass transit. This may be true in some cases, and it may not: but there are reasons to be skeptical.

        Your second worry is that people don’t have good taste in music, film, books, TV, and so on, and would use extra time to further indulge their bad taste. I have no idea what to say about this, except that I suppose I agree in some sense but I’m at a loss to see why I should be worried about this, let alone what this has to do with the social value of robo-cars. Why other people having different tastes than you in these areas is something to be depressed about is also unclear to me.

        Driving is a horrible, dangerous time-suck that makes us aggressive, stressed out, and mean. Your explanation of your reasoning here doesn’t make it any clearer to me why you think it’s an activity that has social value worth preserving.

      4. djw,

        It was you who mentioned reading and “listening to great music”. I was just pointing out that robo-cars will be one more very effective way to insulate people from one another. AT LEAST drivers have to acknowledge one another, even if they act out while doing it.

        I think this ever-increasing tendency to isolate oneself will end badly in mass sociopathy.

      5. robo-cars will be one more very effective way to insulate people from one another. AT LEAST drivers have to acknowledge one another, even if they act out while doing it.

        I don’t see why it’s more socially isolating than driving a car. Not all forms of acknowledgement and awareness of the world are good. Driving is a particularly toxic form of interaction with the world that diminishes our concern for others, causes considerable stress. It’s a negative form of interaction with the world.

      6. I mean think about it. I know a number of people who are fundamentally good and decent people, who generally treat others well. But they routinely drive when they’re tired, angry or distracted; they speed when they’re in a hurry, and so on. Those are all just objectively awful things to do if you have any concern for the well-being of other humans, but lots of otherwise good people do those things all the time. Getting rid of driving would a huge step toward making most of us objectively better people, instantly and substantially.

    3. Careful, Anandakos- if you’ve got genes from someplace in the Caucasus death could be a long way off at the time technology renders the world most annoying.

      A soul-less world inhabited and directed from bossy cubicles sounds most like contemporary office life. Luckily, thanks precisely to computer technology like CATIA and SolidWorks, which can deliver CNC files online anywhere in the world from any cafe with wi-fi and good espresso, convenient to transit- deliverance is at hand!

      Real question about robot automobiles is whether the car itself is more of a benefit or an expensive hassle. Have heard that in France, there are garages that not only keep your car, but also perform repairs and scheduled maintenance, and provide a driver to deliver your car to you at a transit station of your choice.

      And pick it up upon your return to the city from Provence or wherever. Garage to departure point for enjoyable trip is one part of the ride best robotized.


      1. Nope, no chance of that. I’ve got COPD, probably from being the deepest toker in the circle when I was young and then getting a nasty fungus infection in India.

        And I would like to point out that bosses are reining in the tele-commuting workforce. Even workers at that Valhalla of techdom Yahoo have to give Marissa face-time. If you want to work for Mechanical Turk, yes you can sit at the coffee shop. Other work? Not so much.

  6. I already feel like a faceless pedestrian/cyclist, wondering if that person staring at their smart phone is going to break for me. Why not let the robots have their turn?

  7. The only way driverless cars have been allowed on public roads this far is their claims to be ultra-safe, that they have to stop at anything blocking the road in case it’s a child or an animal. When they’re ready for sale, purchasers will demand this level of safety too. (Otherwise the “Honey, the car just ran itself over our son.” factor would scare people away.) Likewise, states won’t be quick to change their laws to allow cars to not stop when pedestrians are crossing. Segway was allowed onto sidewalks only because lawmakers were convinced it wouldn’t interfere with existing uses. If the carmakers can convince legislatures to relax the stop-for-pedestrians laws, then maybe we also have a chance of getting rid of the mandatory bicycle helmet law too.

    The other thing is, even if driverless cars go into production soon, it’ll be a long time before they reach the under-$10,000 price range. Hybrid cars have been around for several years now but they’re still only a niche market because they’re more expensive than regular cars.

    England and Russia have underpasses to separate pedestrians and cars at major arterials. That has always seemed sensible to me. In Russia these underpasses sometimes have shops at the bottom and a metro entrance, which make them even more useful and well-used. In England they seem to be used only if the surface intersections are blocked off; otherwise people use the intersections instead, and if you use the underpass, you feel like you’re the only one.

    1. I’ve been mugged in one of those underpasses in England, which I think is why they removed the underpasses that used to exist on aurora. The overpasses are still there.

      1. My impression is that subway building was a fad in Britain, and has largely been abandoned because of cost, security and environmental (i.e where in the US, transit elevator appears to be a synonym for urinal, …) reasons. IME you rarely see new ones except when there’s already a good reason for people people to be underground [e.g. Underground stations].

      2. Underpasses on Aurora? I don’t remember those.

        Your answer shows why good underpasses with something worthwhile at the bottom are better than mediocre underpasses.

        Transit elevators as urinals are only at a very few places like 3rd & Pine that have existing problems outside the stations.

      3. “Pedestrian infrastructure” that forces human beings to go up, over, under, or around — just for the sake of letting cars barrel through — is the scourge of the 20th century.

        It doesn’t matter if you’re in London, Paris, Moscow, Jakarta, The Bronx, or the intersection of MLK & Rainier: if you see these bridges and rabbit holes, you are standing in a part of that city that the Level Of Service A-holes have willfully ruined.

        File these abominations with the anti-jaywalking ordinances. Then set the file cabinet on fire.

        (The sole exception: when the infrastructure accomplishes a legitimate grade-change-mitigating purpose. The bridge by the Henry Art Gallery is therefore useful, because it raises you to the level of Red Square — ignoring for the moment that Red Square is at said height because it was rebuilt atop a massive garage and was designed as a post-1960s panopticon. By contrast, the loathsome monstrosity going up at Montlake Blvd won’t even raise you up to the Burke.)

      4. The good underpasses don’t have stairs like the MLK bridge or the 102nd bridge or the Campus Parkway bridge. They have ramps so you can walk down and up easily with no more effort than walking on the sidewalk. And the ramps don’t force you to go out of your way; they’re right in front of you. Underpasses have to be at least as convenient as regular intersections, otherwise people do resist them.

      5. The best one I’ve seen is the Gostini Dvor underpass in St Petersburg. Approaching the intersection, the center third of the sidewalk goes down in a ramp. At the bottom are a few small shops and the metro station entrance. It’s named after the huge building next to it with a lot of little vendors, a kind of historic shopping mall where most people arrive on foot rather than by car.

      6. This is your idea of pedestrian access done right? I bet the 19th-century planners who built that gorgeous boulevard are rolling in their graves to hear you say that.

        It should be noted that the Soviets have done no better at alleviating traffic by turning their arterials into car sewers than the Americans have.

      7. One example of a bike/pedestrian underpass done right is the Burke Gilman Trail as it goes through Kenmore. Unlike the St. Petersburg example, the regular street crossing option is still there – but the fact that almost everyone chooses the underpass seems to indicate that the underpass is working.

      8. Yes. Obvously it could be improved by using something besides concrete and a plain brutalist rectangle (which is 20th century design, not 19th), but it works, and it’s more convenient than our intersections at say 45th & University Way, where several times I’ve been waiting for a light and a bus comes, loads people, and leaves before the light changes.

      9. The correct term for these underground walkways in England is “urinals”. They’re a disaster everywhere they exist. Streets are not just for moving as many vehicles as fast as possible.

      10. As usual, Fnarf nails it in three lines.

        Mike, I said that the grand boulevards and grander architecture of St. Petersburg are from the 19th century. And their creators would have conniption fits to see their creations reduced to concrete speedways and to hear you endorsing the human-hostile 20th-century modifications.

        At 45th & University, your beef is with the extremely long signal timing, not the street geometry. One terrible 20th-century approach begets another. Why would you wish to be forced into an underpass, when the timing problem could be fixed with a screwdriver?

        Also, learn the art of jaywalking. You’ll rarely miss a bus again.


        ASDF, that Burke-Gilman underpass in Kenmore is very nice infrastructure, precisely because it isn’t comparable to the sort of forced pedestrian detour we’re discussing. Through Kenmore, the bike trail is the thoroughfare, so it makes sense for it to dip below grade just as a straight-shot rail line or a highway might.

        But you’re also right to note that the surface remains available for pedestrians whose needs aren’t met by the underpass.

        If I were passing through on a bike, I would certainly use the trail. If I were running recreationally in the area, I would probably use the underpass. But if for some reason I were walking in the area, I would almost certainly stay on the surface — at walking speed, 650 feet is a long time to spend flanked by blank concrete and worried about bikes ramming you from behind. If pedestrians were forced to use it, this underpass would be a disaster like the others.

    2. I think there will be a lot of psychological resistance to the shift, especially during the phase where driverless cars have surpassed humans in terms of safety, but are not so safe that car accidents are no longer a fact of life: the massive cognitive bias of illusive superiority extremely strong with respect to driving, and people will erroneously but sincerely believe they’re safer driving themselves.

      But I think it’s hard to underestimate how much the insurance industry will help usher us through this phase with haste. (and how differential insurance costs will bring driverless cars into effective price competitiveness very quickly.

    3. The underpasses on aurora have been gone for like 15 years. There was on at about 85 I think?

    4. Oh wait, you mean like the Aurora underpasses that still exist on Queen Anne? Those are so unlike what I’m talking about that I forgot they have the same word. I’m talking about something where you’re walking on a sidewalk in a neighborhood and you come to a major intersection, but instead of having to press a button and wait, you just keep on walking under the road.

      DP can decry underpasses and aterials, but cars need a road somewhere, and pedestrians don’t like to wait for the light to change, and underpasses make a boulevard effective so you don’t need a freeway which would be even more disruptive.

      1. They built the road the wrong way. Instead of giving Mercer an underpass beneath Aurora, they should have given Aurora an underpass beneath Mercer. Let the cars go down and up again on the grade-separated crossing and keep the crossing cyclists and pedestrians use out in the open and level.

      2. Remember when a cop punched a teenager in the face beneath the Rainier/MLK overpass?

        These pedestrian-exclusion zones are just the logical conclusion of the downward slide that began with the coining of the term “jaywalk” and then trained a generation of planners to hold pedestrians for two minutes at every crosswalk in the fruitless pursuit of “Level of Service A”.

        You’re damned right that no one wants to wait two minutes at the intersection. Only in the last 60 years have we been told we should ever have to.

        Even if you accept the need for urban highways — Vancouver, remember, is doin’ just fine without them — the true highways do tend to wind up above or below.* It’s only the other arterials that some child of auto-futurism decided to quasi-highway-ize that end up retrofitted with pedestrian repellent.

        Now the Arc de Triomphe inhabits an island. The Great West Road tears a scar across London.

        All of this damage is unnecessary. Regular crosswalks and some well-synchronized lights will not harm drivers any more than the next bottleneck towards which they are rushing.*

        If driverless cars means pressure to double down on this mode-segregation crap, then we should all be getting out the pitchforks.

        *(The most successful high-capacity transit is built above or below for the same reason.)

        **(For the record, the best way to travel the length of Manhattan in a car at rush hour is by using the timed lights of 2nd Avenue — no underpasses there — and not the limited-access FDR Drive.)

      3. Such confusion. I mean the pedestrian underpasses on Aurora around Galer and Lynn Streets, and I think there’s one further north. These may be appropriate for the steep hillside and limited-buildable land around it, but I’d rather see St Petersburg style underpasses in north Seattle. The auto underpass at Mercer is a different issue; I have no particular opinion on it.

      4. I’m still hoping to hear what the old underpasses in north Seattle were like. I’ve ridden the 358/6 since the early 80s, although only occasionally, and I don’t remember seeing any underpasses. 85th & Aurora has always been like it is from my recollection, although it was only in 2000 when I started going there regularly to the Gold’s Gym.

      5. There was an underpass just south of 80th right next to the old chubby and tubby until somewhere around the late 80s. Not surprisingly it was pretty sketchy down there, but I still remember using it pretty often as a kid so it couldn’t have been too bad (during the day at least). The underpass is still there, just boarded up on both ends.

      6. I am shocked — shocked — that sketchy tunnels didn’t make the area thrive! Oh, well. “Stupid is as stupid prices.”

        And you should have an opinion on Mercer and Broad, Mike. Because the foreboding inherent in trying to cross Aurora is why the ½-mile between Lower-East Queen Anne and South Lake Union might as well be the Yalu River. It’s why the transit service on both sides of the divide is so fragmented, and why going north from either area is an exercise in frustration, needlessly-complicated itineraries, and out-of-direction travel.

        Pedestrians won’t go where they aren’t welcome, unless they have no other choice. (And unless impoverished, the likely other choice will be to drive.) The type of segregationist infrastructure you advocate is the direct result of civil-engineering practices that penalized pedestrians for three generations. It is indefensible.

  8. For the immediate future a close ended High Capacity PRT/ATN system like Skytran, PRT International and Vectus is more of a viable option to help relieve congestion than Robo Cars. The too many safety hurdles to resolve before they will be able to massively produce this car. My two cents: Podcars > Robocars

  9. Driverless cars will mean that debates over coverage verses efficiency should be over. Driverless cars will probably be, as the author alluded to, in a large easy to use for hire system that eliminates the need for car ownership. That system should be able to easily handle the last mile problem much more cheaply than paratransit, taxi cabs, DART and/or inefficient bus routes can today.

    The question will be whether that system will be efficient enough (or subsidized appropriately) to eliminate all or almost all bus routes, leaving transit to cover only the most high volume corridors. Why these possibilities are not considered in long term planning even in the slightest baffles me. I think the reasonable guess is that driverless cars will be around within 30 years.

    1. This is the most likely prospect. Solving the last mile issue. But this also means the impetus for increasing density may lose some velocity. If people can travel from their present built infrastructure without the hassle that we currently have, the impetus to move from Federal Way to a city center lessens.

      As long as we aggressively contain the urban growth boundaries, and encourage urban walkable density in these places, this may not turn out to be too bad of a thing and may actually address runaway affordability issues with housing.

      1. Also a big cost or barrier to density will no longer be present because there will be much less space allocated to vehicles, particularly for parking. Since no one will want to own a car, there will be no need for cars to take space in street parking or garages, allowing for more uses on the same square footage. I think this fact would make density more economical not less.

    2. I remember speaking to somebody from Google who mentioned that one way to look at the issue is that every car is a public transit vehicle. I would not be surprised if Google makes the ultimate SideCar system where they see every vehicle as a “fleet vehicle” – you make a request – I want to go from A to B – and they allocate the resources optimizing for speed and minimal transfers – e.g. first leg from A to A1 via a 4-person car as there are few others request pick up in that area. From A1 to A2 a 60-foot bus is dispatched as many 4-person cars from the area meet in this spot. The bus waits for your car to reach so that it’s at “optimal capacity” and nobody misses a transfer. The system separately tries to minimize transfer time. Then the 60-foot bus takes you from A2 to A3. A3 is a high-frequency light-rail station where trains are not dispatched anymore but frequent enough so that you get on in <3 minutes. From A3 you get to B, your final destination on the train.

      Depending on your route, you may have fewer/more transfers.

      Using the transit system without making explicit requests will no longer be possible. Google will, however, make the task of making a request very easy (e.g. ask your Google Glass – "get me to Northgate Mall")

    3. “The question will be whether that system will be efficient enough (or subsidized appropriately) to eliminate all or almost all bus routes”

      Depends on which bus route you’re talking about. For milk-run buses in Sammamish and Federal Way, sure. Absolutely no reason why driverless taxis, plus a low-income fare subsidy can’t replace routes like 187, 927, 234, etc. Even most bus corridors in Seattle could probably shut down after midnight, allowing driverless taxis to fill in the gap after that.

      But for core transit routes like Link, driverless taxis are simply not up to the job. Why? Scalability. There simply isn’t the road space to move that many people per hour through a corridor, with each person in his/her own vehicle, whether the vehicles are shared or privately owned, human-driven or robot-driven.

      If anything, I would expect wide availability of driverless cars to make traffic worse, as driverless cars downtown would start dropping their drivers off and circling around empty and endlessly in search of free parking, in an effort to avoid having to pay for parking. The result would be gridlock. And transit (at least transit that gets a dedicated ROW downtown) would be the solution to avoid this gridlock.

    4. Something nobody has addressed is the mess factor. Of course the car share companies penalize anyone who leaves a mess, but for the next user who reports it the experience can be a deal-breaker for a long time. Right now car share is an techhy but expensive way to avoid slow buses. So the “ridership” is self-selectedly well-to-do geeks in good part, who tend to be at least somewhat neat.

      When robo-cars become the primary way to get around, the people who ride around in trashmobiles today will be using the robo-cars too. The mess factor may get out of hand pretty rapidly.

      I suppose the companies could and doubtless will embargo people from their systems, but that will just mean that privately owned cars will continue to be demanded. So this golden vision of easy parking may very well not come to pass.

  10. If driverless cars eliminate the need for car ownership (at least in cities) and greatly increase usage of cars because they’re all essentially taxis, automobile manufacturers stand to lose a lot! The world vehicle fleet will be able to shrink quite a bit because there won’t be as many cars sitting around idle. Public transit will still be needed but mostly to provide the extra capacity needed to handle commute hours. I wonder how much opposition will come from the auto industry?

    1. I dunno, car companies will sell more-expensive robot cars, so they may like moving up the chain?

      When cars came around horse-shoe makers probably were upset, but that happens, that’s what innovation is.

    2. There’s not a hell of a lot anyone can do to stop an emerging, desirable technology. Lots of companies stood to lose financially from the rise of the auto industry itself (especially in various railroad industries… which in turn didn’t exactly do the river shipping industry any favors), but they never really had any chance of stopping it. There’s already a lot of positive press and PR for self-driving cars, and automakers are already introducing elements of the technology, and have been since the beginning. With electronic ignition, then synchronized shifting, then cruise control and the evolution of automatic transmissions, control of a vehicle’s engine can now occur at a very abstracted level. With ABS and traction control systems, control of a vehicle’s direction also became very abstracted, and driving became a less direct process, more of a “point-and-shoot” technology-mediated activity. Light sensors have long detected when you need to have your headlights on. Today we’re getting advanced stability and traction control systems, sensors and computers that detect when you’re drifting from your lane or about to back over the Radio Flyer, and even systems that parallel park for you. If automakers are offering resistance to self-driving cars, they’re sure going about it in a strange way.

      Automakers would be wise to realize that the rich countries where the auto already dominates aren’t that big, and the countries with rising economies where they stand to grow tremendously are big. If robo-taxis represent a loss of sales in the US but growth in China and India where personal auto adoption is still growing but limited for many by urban form, it’s better to go with that than to fight against the tide and be pulled under for good by more forward-thinking competitors. If a random blog troll like me can think of this, surely the auto industry’s best minds can, too.

      1. It will likely mean a higher per unit price for vehicles with fewer units produced. Mind you, there will probably still be hundreds of thousands if not millions produced per year globally.

        They will likely be electric powered.

      2. Driverless cars will not replace public transit, they are more likely to become part of transit for low-density corridors. In high-density corridors cars take too much space even if full at capacity. Buses and trains are significantly more compact and if you take standees into account, very significantly more compact.

      3. Driverless taxis would also get driven for significantly more hours a day and more miles per year than the typical passenger car that sits idle almost all the time. Consequently, people who wanted a vehicle to use for this purpose would demand one that lasts longer than a conventional car and would be willing to pay for it.

    3. These are wildly optimistic assumptions for a technology that’s not even on the market yet. Maybe it will succeed, maybe it won’t, but probably most predictions will be wrong. Or even if they’re right it’ll only be in a very indirect way. Google throws a lot of things out to see which ones stick, and some of them do and some of them don’t. What will the tea party say about driverless cars? “That’s a bunch of socialism. No real man drives a driverless car.” “How can I get away if the government thugs are after me and they can make my car stop remotely?”

      Al Diamond has an interesting point that they may take off more in emerging markets first, the way third-world countries have bypassed landline phones and embraced text-message money transfers.

      1. I haven’t seen a lot of chauffeur driven cars around here or in the SF Bay area, and there is not a shortage of folks who could easily afford them. It tells me that most car owners want to drive. A visit to the auto show reinforces that view. Active avoidance systems are already being put in cars and will make driving in traffic less stressful.

        The downsides to driverless cars are:
        Sprawl – the long drive from the boondocks is easier to do when you can work/relax during the drive
        Parking – still a problem
        Traffic – encourages SOVs though you can cram more in a lane

      2. Phil,

        Chauffeurs are really, really expensive. I used to have a coworker who was legally blind, and so he had a car service drive him to and from work every day. Even working a 4-day week, this cost him $20,000/year. That’s more than many people pay in rent. That’s enough money to buy a new car, with cash, every single year. And that’s only for 8 trips a week. If you wanted a chauffeur to drive you everywhere, you could easily end up spending $100,000/year. You’ve got to be seriously rolling in it to be able to spend that kind of money without breaking a sweat.

        A driverless car would be an order of magnitude cheaper. Let’s say you could lease a driverless car for $1,200/mo, the same as it would cost to lease a Tesla Model S. That starts to be within the real of affordability for the more senior Microsoft/Amazon/Google folks. And if driverless technology takes off, you could imagine that a “driverless Uber” could cost more like $250/mo for all the driving that the average person would need to do. That’s less than many families spend on their car payment, let alone gas and insurance and such.

        Regarding the other downsides you list:

        – You could say that any mobility-enabling technology encourages sprawl. I would say that driverless cars actually do less to encourage sprawl than traditional cars, because of parking (see below).

        – I don’t see why parking would be a problem. With traditional cars, you have to park the car close to where you’re going to need it next. With driverless cars, they can all drive themselves out to some huge parking lot in the suburbs when they’re not in use. Not to mention, if a driverless car is in active use for 80% of the time rather than 5% of the time, it’ll need to be parked a whole lot less. All of this reduced parking demand means that there will be less need for parking spaces in the city, which in turn helps to increase housing affordability and walkability.

        – I disagree that driverless technology does anything to encourage SOVs. I suppose it does in a very technical sense; if I (a person without a driver’s license) need to get somewhere by car, then by definition, the car will have at least one other person in it (the driver). But that’s a weird kind of “high-occupancy”, because the other occupant doesn’t actually need to get to where I’m going. Conversely, you could imagine a driverless taxi which picks up other folks along the way, for the sake of saving you money. This is something that won’t happen in a world with private car ownership. And you can also imagine requesting a small-form-factor car, like a Smart car, if you know that you don’t need a lot of seats or cargo capacity.

    4. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t think your doomsday scenario will come true.

      The biggest reason is that fleet cars just don’t last as long as personal cars. Crown Vics get decommissioned after, what, 3 years? If driverless taxi companies become huge, that represents a new, huge, *stable* source of revenue for car companies, and without all of the expense of showrooms, dealers, financing, trade-ins, etc.

      If no existing manufacturer sold a driverless cars, a new manufacturer could step in and sell *only* driverless cars. Even with that other manufacturer, the temptation for a single manufacturer to defect, and grab some share from this huge expanding market, could be very high.

      The market for cars is extremely competitive. This means that margins are really low. Changing from a low-margin high-volume product, to a higher-margin lower-volume product, is not necessarily a bad thing.

      1. I’m definitely not trying to predict a doomsday for car manufacturers, just thinking about vested interests who may be a source of resistance. I’m certainly not concerned about the potential loss – the world stands to gain from getting rid of all the excess capacity we create with our car ownership society.

    5. The auto industry is already worried about the millenial generation’s disinterest in getting drivers’ licenses as soon as they can.

  11. Sorry, if I’m going to use my brain horsepower to envision a fantastical science-fiction transportation scenario, I’d prefer to spend it on the future where we have traffic separated bikeways all over, and the self-driving vehicles are restricted to their own spaces.

  12. “Transit operators would insist that robobuses will ignore you while you’re waiting at your stop, and that you’ll miss the human touch. Robotised-bus proponents would insist that costs savings and the promise of on-time buses 99.9% of the time make the trade-off worth it.”

    Robotised buses would do almost nothing to make buses on time, unless they did not have to travel in general traffic lanes which is why most buses are late, (other than the schedulers not taking into account traffic).

    1. With all cars robotised, a priority system would have to be created, so you could give emergency vehicles priority. Because of this, buses could be given preference over other vehicles. In fact, this would almost certainly happen. It would be nearly like buses with their own lanes, and they would approach 100% on-time rates.

      1. Ambulances, yes. Buses, not so sure. Ambulances have absolute priority and your proposal is, essentially, for every bus to get treated like an ambulance (except when an actual ambulance is around). Today, RapidRide gets a few extra seconds of green time at select lights, generally when the bus is on a main road and the cross street is a minor road. At big intersections with long light cycles – where priority matters the most, even RapidRide buses get squat, as movement of cars comes first. I don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

    2. It depends on what you mean by “on time”. If you mean that any individual bus would arrive when it was scheduled to, then maybe not. But if you meant that the amount of time you spend waiting for the bus would be in line with your expectations, then driverless buses would have a huge effect. If you don’t have to hire bus drivers anymore, then it becomes possible to have 5-minute headways on every major bus route. Once headways are that short, it doesn’t much matter if any individual bus is late; you’ll just catch a different one!

      1. Aleks, I agree, but he did mean one level up – buses could have 100% schedule on-time reliability. When a bus needs to merge, cars will stop to allow it to merge way before the bus has even started to turn into traffic. If there is a carpool lane, all cars will give way way in advance to let the bus reach it. Of course it will be impossible for a non-HOV vehicle to end up in the carpool lane.

        Also, automated vehicles will practice driving that will completely prevent manual vehicles to co-exist. They can brake pre-emptively when they know that somebody ahead of the queue braked. They can react to unexpected circumstances faster than any human can.

        This will mean that even the best drivers in the most advanced manual cars will be a risk. Manual driving will be restricted to some country roads, maybe certain city roads and of course, private property.

      2. Even ambulances, with their lights and sirens are not completely immune to congestion – if the freeway is bumper to bumper, they can squeeze past cars on the shoulder, but they can’t zoom through everyone at 60. Similarly, buses (which will never get the level of priority that ambulances get, no matter how delayed they are) will never be 100% reliable without a dedicated right-of-way.

  13. As far as a pedestrian-friendly environment goes – in my opinion that has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with community organizing.

    If a community demands that their corridor gives priority to pedestrians, then all cars will drive at, say, 15 mph, whether it’s noon and full of traffic, or midnight and they could have as well pressed the gas. Lights will be timed as the community says. If this was to cause traffic, then driverless cars will automatically avoid those roads. The routing system will know the roads are too slow end-to-end.

    Basically, you want pedestrian streets – ask for them (loudly).

    1. And speaking of parking – your car can request and reserve a parking spot way before you’ve reached it.

      1. In an alternative future with shared autonomous vehicles, when there is no immediate demand, they will drive themselves to a storage area where they recharge and await dispatch to another customer. Like-type vehicles can park bumper to bumper and be sent out in FIFO order.

      2. I’m concerned about the effects of driverless cars on downtown parking. In particular, I can just see everyone who currently takes the bus into downtown getting their morning coffee and reading done in their driverless car. Then, when they get downtown, the car drops them off and, in an effort to save gas by not driving all the way back to the suburbs, does any one of this obnoxious parking tactics:
        – Cruise around endlessly, looking for a free parking spot, causing gridlock.
        – Grab the nearest spot in a nearby residential neighborhood that is not restricted through RPZ. Suddenly, every parking place in all of Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, perhaps even Fremont, will become clogged everyday weekday with the driverless cars of downtown commuters.
        – Hop every two hours from one 2-hour spot to the next
        – Park illegally until a cop shows up, then immediately leave before the cop can issue a ticket, move to another illegal parking spot, and repeat until the owner says it’s time to go home. This can include illegal parking in private lots, as well as public streets.

        Looks to me like traffic and parking regulations are going to have to change dramatically to keep this from becoming a major problem. As in congestion pricing downtown, so you have to pay $5, even if your car just drops you off. Or making every street in all of Seattle an RPZ zone. Or using automated cameras for parking enforcement with zero tolerance for any autonomously-driven violator.

    2. If you decrease the speed limits on some streets, you also have to identify some streets that would be protected at higher speed limits. It’s not reasonable to expect 500,000 people to drive 10 mph or 5 mph throughout Seattle: that would mean two hours just for a trip from north Seattle to south Seattle.

    1. Oh, no, it is assumed that the technology will be perfect.

      I want to know where my luggage goes when I get out of the driverless car when I’m on vacation instead of staying in the trunk of my rental car. Or where my groceries go when I’m shopping in a second store.

      1. The answer to that question is obvious – you, the customer, would be presented with a choice. You can pay for the driverless rental car to sit there and hold your luggage for you, or you can choose to save a little on your rental car bill and have it drive off and carry someone else while you carry your luggage around with you.

        The closest analogy we have today is probably Car2Go. While most trips use the vehicle like a taxi, the option to retain possession of the car while you shop (and keep your stuff inside of it) is there, and if you really need the car all day, a daily rate is available that is comparable to Zipcar.

        The way I envision driverless rental cars working would be like Car2Go, but with four twists:
        1) The car would drive itself to you, rather than you walking to the car.
        2) When you reach your destination, the car would drop you off and drive itself to a parking place or its next customer.
        3) Pick-ups and drop-offs outside the home area would be allowed with the caveat that any travel time from the home area to your pick-up site and from your drop-off site back to the home would be added to your bill.
        4) Given that all of the above makes the system much more usable in suburban environments than the current system, I would expect to see a significantly expanded home area and fleet size over what we have now. I would also expect to see a whole menu of vehicle choices available, rather than SmartCars being the only option.

        Of course, I would also expect to see multiple companies competing for this type of service, rather than Car2Go being the only one.

        It’s kind of interesting that, once you go driverless, taxis and rental cars become effectively the same service, with the only difference being the pricing scheme.

    2. If it gets hacked it will either stay still, take you to a random destination, or drive you off a cliff.

  14. Very interesting discussion … terrific in fact! Lots to think about…

    What do I think driver-less cars will do to the transportation experiences of those who don’t drive for every trip? I think that people who didn’t usually drive will be moving around in cars more than before.

    I also think that smart phones and automated vehicles will have apps that keep cyclists and pedestrians from getting hit by cars, a very good thing, speaking as a person who was once run over in a school crossing.

    Also, road vehicle automation implemented in increasingly smaller, less expensive, safer, and cleaner cars than we have today may do more damage to ridership on LInk and Sounder than the Model T did to the electric interurbans and street railways beginning a century ago.

    I’m speculating here in the spirit of all the comments in this thread.

    A professor at Princeton University has worked with his students to scope a robo-taxi system for the entire state of New Jersey, with his work visible at . Alain Kornhauser sees automated vehicles as a feeder system for the trains of New Jersey Transit.

    If you seek additional serious input on the driver-less car topic, cruise through the various presentations from car companies and transit specialists that are scattered throughout the Transportation Research Board’s , a site that documents the Road Vehicle Automation workshops held the last two July months, recently at Stanford University and in 2012 in Irvine, California. I did a poster presentation at the most recent of the workshops, which is in a pdf within this site. I related possible paths for transit automation to the current financial non-sustainability of public transit in America.

    The evolving implementation of automation in new cars between now and 2030 will likely mean fewer rear end collisions and closer vehicle spacing on expressways, both yielding incrementally lower levels of congestion and faster travel speeds. When Sound Transit chatters about expressway congestion getting worse and worse (like it has predicted since the 1990s), thus making Sounder and Link more and more attractive, we should just smile. Is ST feeling lucky? Maybe vehicle automation won’t work very well. Maybe people won’t buy it. Maybe NHTSA won’t require it in new cars.

    The big consulting firm KPMG has just published its second public report on driverless cars, based on a series of focus groups. Makes for a good read — . Quoting, “eventually, mobility on demand may prove a better investment than new mass transit systems.”

    1. I think, in the long run, without mitigation, driverless cars will make traffic worse, not better. Sure, driverless cars might be able to get by with a shorter following distance on the freeway. But the effect of this will be dwarfed by the congestion caused by the shear number of additional cars on the road.

      To think about why, let’s consider the typical person who takes a bus to work downtown, consider the reasons for doing so, and think about which of these reasons still apply if the person owns a driverless car:
      1) Stress relief – If you have a driverless car, you can get this in your own car too.
      2) Being able to read, chat, drink coffee, or whatever, while on the road. Same as #1, but even more so because, if it’s your own car, you will have more space. How much space, of course, depends on what you can afford. The rich will, no doubt, be able to afford full-fledged mobile offices in their cars, from which they could do everything that they could do in their real office, in similar comfort (e.g. complete soundproofing of road noise, leather chairs, coffee machines, etc.). Ordinary people would probably have to settle for a small desk and a laptop computer, but the same principle still applies.
      3) Lack of parking downtown. No big deal anymore because the car an just drop you off and find somewhere to park without you. The cost of parking would only be as much as the gas to drive to and from the nearest free spot on the street (which, even as far as 5-10 miles away, isn’t that big of a deal when it’s just the car, not the driver that’s involved).

      Two reasons that still favor choosing transit, however, include:
      1) Saving time (this works only if transit has a dedicated ROW that bypasses all the congestion caused by the above and runs reasonably fast).
      2) Saving money (gas, tolls, wear and tear, etc., all add up).

      All in all, I would expect the net result to be something like this:
      1) Overall vehicle traffic downtown would increase.
      2) People that could afford expensive mobile offices would take them to work every day and would never take transit (unless, possibly, if their mobile office is in the repair shop). But I think this is mostly the 1% here, not the 99% – in other words, people that are probably already driving downtown for work anyway.
      3) Demand for Link would be strong as ever because it would be the only way to get in or out of downtown without dealing with the chronic traffic jams on downtown streets. The economic incentives to ride transit as well will also be a strong as ever. Gas is not going to get any cheaper.
      4) The need for feeder buses and giant parking garages at the outer Link stations would largely disappear as people could have driverless cars drop them off at the station.
      5) Parking regulations near downtown would have to be dramatically rewritten to prevent driverless cars from clogging up the streets cruising for parking. The city would also have to do something to prevent driverless cars from parking illegally until a cop shows up to issue a ticket – if they all did this in a bid to save gas, complete gridlock would result. Finally, to prevent every neighborhood in Seattle from turning into a parking lot for residents of Snohomish working downtown, the RPZ areas would have to dramatically expand, possibly to include the entire city.
      6) While congestion pricing on downtown streets may seem unthinkable today, widely available driverless cars may finally force the issue, as this could very well prove to be the only way to maintain some semblance of movement through downtown.

      1. Again, Niles provides an intelligent viewpoint one can’t easily dismiss – all backed up with credible sources. Nice perspective to get the electrons spinning.
        He’s probably right in the final Act of this drama, but Act 1 and 2 are going to get really messy integrating cars with and without human drivers.
        I’m cheap, so will never buy one, but I do plan to take advantage of them at every turn. They’re programmed to avoid collision and I plan to use that to my advantage, knowing they can’t read my mind – at least for now!
        Chicken Anyone?

    2. For driverless cars to replace buses for non-drivers, they’d have to be as inexpensive as a bus and accept transfers. If they cost $2.70 per mile like regular taxis, no thanks. That’s like $1500 per month.

      1. Four things to remember:
        1) The scenario of driverless cars replacing buses is primarily about relatively short distances covering routes in which buses have very low ridership, meaning very expensive operating cost per passenger served. Driverless cars will never be scalable enough to replace buses on popular trunk routes – there just won’t be enough space.
        2) With labor out of the picture, driverless cars should be way cheaper than taxis. The only plausable reasons I can think of for this not to be the case are if the technology is too expensive (should improve with time) or short-cited government regulation limits supply, in a bit to protect human taxi drivers. It will take time, but eventually they’ll come around.
        3) There is nothing to stop transit agencies from subsidizing fares on driverless cars for low-income residents directly. Given that we’re talking about corridors that Metro spends about $10 per passenger to subsidize on buses today, it ought to be doable to subsidize driverless cars for less than this. Since each trip would now impose a marginal cost on taxpayers, people eligible for transportation subsidies would have to see sort of cab on subsidy dollars per month to prevent overuse from getting things out of hand. Unfortunately, tourists and people that could afford it would have to pay full price, but full price on a driverless taxi to go a few files would still be way cheaper than what an all-day car rental would cost today, or the equivalent trip in a human-driven taxi.
        4) For station access, it might be possible to combine 2-3 people living in similar areas, leaving at the same time, into a single ride to reduce costs further.

  15. shoulder-parking spots would give way

    Disastrous. Curbside parking provides a buffer and a screen from moving traffic, both physical and psychological. Even a bike lane, with vehicles passing at 15 or 20 MPH, is a terrifying thing just inches away from pedestrians, many of whom are not moving at all (sitting at cafes, stopping and talking, going in and out of shops, etc.). Streets are the life of cities, not just passageways for vehicles that must be optimized at all costs.

    This driverless world IS dystopian, because it presumes a world made up only of roadways, with the people disappearing immediately up into faceless buildings whenever they step out of their self-driving cars after long journeys from other, more distant dystopias. In the real world, cities have bustling street-level activity of a thousand different sorts, not just one, and while cars are allowed, they are never allowed to take over. The best cities have cars, they just make driving them slow and difficult, as it should be.

  16. “Curbside parking provides a buffer and a screen from moving traffic”.

    I hear this said again and again by Americans and while it is true to some extent I don’t see why it’s so important.

    In England where street parking is greatly restricted on main roads, because every square inch is needed to move traffic down narrow roads it is rare to have street parking. One advantage of this is that as a pedestrian you can see much further down the street. In a street full of parked cars you have to peer out to see if the street is clear.

    Of course in England there is no such thing as Jaywalking,, people just cross where they want, especially on narrow roads. Being able to see gaps in traffic is important if you want to cross the road, car drivers can also see you looking to cross, which they won’t do if you are hidden by a car.

    1. In England you have narrow roads, a half or a fourth or less of our monster streets, and numerous complicated intersections and angles, which calm the traffic in a different way.

      1. I’m with Rational Plan. You exaggerate the degree to which roads are calmed there by narrowness and funky intersections. And yet I never felt in danger walking beside busy roads, even though there were no cars in place.

        Anyone who has watched people plowing through the middle of one of those painted circle in the middle of the crossroads “roundabouts” will point out, just because an intersections funky doesn’t necessarily slow you down.

    2. I wouldn’t call England’s streets calm. Cars seem to go faster there than here, enough that I’m less willing to cross a street there without a light.

  17. Transit operators would insist that robobuses will ignore you while you’re waiting at your stop, and that you’ll miss the human touch.

    This is a minor point, but I haven’t seen it addressed here yet so I’ll point it out. While robo-buses would be hugely cheaper to operate, benefitting both fare-paying passengers and taxpayers in general, the lack of a “human touch” would be a downside, and in many cases impose a burden on riders at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. Not can a driver hand out a break (in the form of a free ride) when they see someone really needs it, but invested drivers often act as a therapist, social worker, or just plain friend to passengers of all standings.

    If you’re not familiar with the extent to which a good driver can make a difference, I highly encourage you to check out

  18. The underground Walkways are existing in England, but mostly disaster happened there. It is because of rough driving or keep in busy in their smart phone.

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