The NMA Foundation presents the Car of the Future weekly feature:
According to a recent Bloomberg report, urbanization is expected to increase average city density by 30 percent over the next 15 years. If that is actually true, existing systems of road infrastructure and public transit will be stretched to the max.
Many experts are beating the drum that driverless cars are the answer to density. But are they really? A new report from INRIX, a Seattle-based data collection and research firm recently released a report cities where autonomous vehicles or AVs would be most practical. INRIX analyzed data for the 50 largest U.S. cities and compared two measures:
- How often trips were less than 10 miles
- Percentage of trips starting and ending within a 25-mile radius of downtown
These two data points were selected because AVs are expected to predominately be electric vehicles, operate as shared-use vehicles and serve areas where seats can be filled more easily.
The most favorable cities tend to be those with less sprawl and more density (but not always).
Cities with flat landscapes and warm climates plus cities with more college students, elderly and low-income households without access to vehicles also made for ideal markets. The top ten cities are:
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Tucson, Arizona
- Portland, Oregon
- Omaha, Nebraska
- El Paso, Texas
- Fresno, California
- Wichita, Kansas
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Tulsa, Oklahoma
Cities that didn’t even make the top 20 include: New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego, Dallas, Detroit and San Francisco (which was #48).
Without rethinking road infrastructure, vehicle emissions, fuel standards and just our own human habits of transportation, the onset of an AV future could have potentially disastrous results. Apparently, 30 percent of cars that are being driven at any one time in larger cities are on the hunt for parking. The whole point of an AV is not to park the car but allow the vehicle to be used for other passengers and running errands on demand.
Does that scenario seem odd to you? In order to improve congestion, we put more vehicles on the road that drive around all day? Wouldn’t that lead to more congestion?
New urbanists have been working on ways to have fewer cars in the core. One of the leading cities is Lyon, France, where experts are predicting that over the next decade car use will drop by 20 percent while population grows by 10 percent. Helsinki, Finland is already building a “mobility on demand” public transit system that will be in place by 2025. These are densely populated European cities where AVs might indeed work on a more sustainable level.
In America, not owning a car and relying on public transit services that could include “mobility on demand” seems like a fever dream for the urban and rich.
Many of us live in rural areas, small towns and cities where there is little hope of building a driverless car infrastructure due to all the other infrastructure needs that need to come first. All we want is for potholes to be fixed, have the ability to travel freely from Point A to Point B and back to Point A again in vehicles that we hopefully can afford to own or lease, run and maintain.
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