Two roads diverge in the tech-centric world we live in: one favors the humans that live in that world, the other facilitates the operation of autonomous vehicles over people who aren’t travelling by car. Before the fact that the revolution of commercial autonomous cars was only a matter of time, society was already veering towards one that puts pedestrians and bicyclists in the back seat. Solutions to this problem range from flying cars to subterranean car tunnels, all in a mad dash to make manual driving obsolete. As the driverless car becomes more commonplace, we may see some far-reaching consequences, such as cities becoming more spread out due to commuting not becoming as taxing of a daily grind. Keeping this in mind, it’s time for civil engineers and city planners alike to make some long-lasting decisions on new infrastructure.
Some steps in this direction have already been taken, such as the 50-page blueprint describing how to optimize autonomous vehicle and pedestrian/bicycling traffic submitted by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. NACTO goes into great detail on how to plan these cities, down to the font on street signs. Janette Sadik-khan, a former NYC transportation head summarized the scope of this problem perfectly here: “We don’t just need new software running on our streets-we need to update the hardware of the streets themselves”. Current estimates show that society won’t see autonomous vehicles dominating the roads for at least another 20 years, though, so there is plenty of time to plan ahead.
It is important to keep in mind that it will be more cost effective and provide an easier transition if city planners get things right the first time. One of the biggest changes we may see is thinner lanes. This will provide more room for humans on their legs or bicycles to amble around distracted by their mobile devices while the robotic cars will have a suite of sensors and LIDARS to drive much more precisely than their human counterparts ever could. The sides of the roads may no longer be taken up by parking meter spots, as autonomous ride-sharing services can easily drive themselves back to home base or pick up another ride. There could even be future developments for dedicated space for the growing economy of good delivery, spurred on mainly by Amazon’s growing industry.
Another consideration is that the autonomous vehicles of the future will always give way to a pedestrian and allow for crossing to take place where it conveniences the person who has to walk rather than travel 60 miles an hour to their next destination. Crossing walks may become a thing of the past and will erase the anger of vehicle occupants to what used to be called jay-walking. With the advent of widespread adoption of this technology on the horizon, there is no better time to take a good, hard look at how we plan transportation and cities today and optimize for the ruthless efficiency of the autonomous vehicles of the future.
Article Source: https://www.wired.com/story/nacto-streets-self-driving-cars/