If you ask Tesla, Google, or the United States Government, automated cars are the future of personal transportation. As industry leaders focus their design chops on fine-tuning automated car models for widespread release onto our roads, drivers are beginning to wonder how this is going to affect their daily commute. In fact, the impacts of self-driving cars will go far beyond reducing road rage: experts say that replacing the majority of cars with shared, self-driving vehicles will shrink parking lots, increase the walkability of our cities, and open up more green space for everyone.
Daily commuters will be the first to benefit from self-driving cars. According to the American Automobile Association, the true cost of owning a car comes to about $8,558 per year in the U.S. That’s a lot of dough spent on a machine that is idle for 97 percent of its life. One attractive feature of a shared vehicle is that it would set drivers back only by about 20-30 percent of the current cost of having a car, says The Globe and Mail. Shared self-driving cars would mean less need for parking- so we could say goodbye to massive parking lots and lanes blocked by street parking. Speeding and parking tickets could become a thing of the past, and drivers would save time instead of cruising city streets looking for a good parking spot. Since automated cars can drive closer together and at uniform speeds, car lanes could be reduced and traffic would move faster. All this, and you can relax and enjoy your cuppa joe and read the news while Kit takes care of the driving.
Pedestrians would also reap the benefits of re-purposed parking lots. With cooperative local policies, paved paradise could be converted to green parks, street-accessible shopping and amenities, and more pleasant city layouts designed for walking and spending time outside. Cities that cater to pedestrians would plan diverse housing with multiple uses rather than filling cities’ downtown cores with all-residential condos. Meanwhile, cutting down on car lanes would open up space for bike lanes instead. And if you were on a bike, wouldn’t you feel better riding beside cars fitted with a dozen cameras and steered by a passionless computer, rather than angry or distracted drivers?
Before you write this all off as a pipe dream, you should know that this eco-Eden is a real possibility- but it will take work to make it happen. Currently, city planners are still trying to fix problems created by the widespread use of cars, such as freeway networks that eat up valuable land, and suburbs that are inaccessible without cars. Our cities have always been designed around transportation, and roads and buildings grew in step with our technological revolutions. This means that self-driving cars could do much more than make picking up the dry-cleaning a breeze. They offer an opportunity to make bold planning choices and begin building great cities within our lifetimes.