Autonomous vehicles will lead to more traffic, pollution, sprawl — unless we act now, study says

In one version of our autonomous vehicle future, the wealthy have driverless cars that double as offices, hotels or entertainment centers, whisking them to their destinations on-demand, while the working class live far from city centers, commuting long hours and suffering from worsening pollution.

In another, urban areas offer affordable housing to working class and low-income residents, and everyone has access to self-driving cars at reasonable prices. Nearly all the rides are shared, all the vehicles are electric and public transit is both reliable and ubiquitous.

Transportation experts say the latter vision could be a green alternative to the soul-sucking traffic congestion already forcing Bay Area residents to spend long hours on gridlocked highways, while also improving access to jobs, housing, health care and education.

But right now, we’re heading in the wrong direction, said Hana Creger, co-author of a report released Wednesday from the Oakland-based public policy advocacy organization, the Greenlining Institute. Still, it’s not too late, she said, to shift toward a greener, more equitable future.