In the previous post, I extolled the possibilities for driverless cars to improve our lives by reducing the number of traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities, provide mobility for the aged and handicapped, and reduce the vast acreage we devote to parking spaces. I guess I’m a techno-optimist. (I’m reading Peter Diamandis’s book “Abundance” right now.) But I acknowledge that, given the perversity of human nature, there is a dark side to just about everything.
In a recent blog post, Charles Marohn, leader of the Strong Towns movement, highlights how people will game the safety programming of driverless cars to the detriment of our human settlement patterns.
When perfected, what will an automated vehicle do on that nasty stroad in your community — the one where the cars today drive too fast and the drivers are too oblivious, where nobody sane would dare to cross…. When all cars are AV, what happens when someone crosses midblock?
The obvious answer is that the vehicles stop and allow the person to cross. They don’t run that person down. They don’t kill them. The automated vehicle will be programmed to always stop when someone steps out into traffic. As a society, we would not have it any other way.
So, knowing this, who is ever going to stop and wait at another traffic signal? What person on foot, in their right mind, would wait for a gap to open so they can cross without impacting the flow of traffic? Nobody.
I have to walk across a nasty stroad every time I go downtown. Why would I wait my turn to cross in minus 20 degree weather, with the wind whipping at my face, when all I need to do is step out and traffic comes to a complete stop? I wouldn’t.
And that is not acceptable. Humans will not be allowed to interfere with the free flow of traffic. Our economy will depend on it, after all. All those commuters that need to get to their jobs, all those potential customers that need to get where they are going. … There’s too much at stake in maintaining efficiency.
So, it will be against the law to step out into traffic except at designated places and times.
Well Chuck, how is that different than today’s jaywalking ordinances? Exactly! It’s not. We don’t even need new regulations, just the courage to enforce existing laws.
Despite the fact that in this country’s best urban spaces, the ones that are thriving, jaywalking is rarely enforced (at least rarely enforced except as a law enforcement pretext, which is a different matter entirely), we’ll make stopping jaywalking a national priority. With cameras on every vehicle, and the motivation of frustrated drivers to use them, enforcement will not be a problem.
And if it is, we’ll do what I posited years ago that we would do: we’ll erect human fences along the edge of the streets to keep people out. The people….excuse me, I need to use the correct language in this context….the “pedestrians” will be allowed to cross only at designated pedestrian crossings. …
Automated vehicle technology will do nothing to make our streets better places to be and, if we continue to have blind faith in it, has the very real chance of setting our cities back another generation.
Yeah, I can see things unfolding that way. I totally agree with Marohn that we can’t let autonomous vehicles ruin our walkable streets. But I also have confidence that we can find solutions to the issues he raises. We need to start experimenting now, and start learning through trial and error what works. There’s too much to be gained from AVs to give up before we try.There are currently no comments highlighted.