I'm talking about the jetpack fantasy of stick-your-kid-in-it-and-it-takes-kid-to-school. (Question: who is going to safely get the kid out on the other end? We should build the car around their school desk chair, and the car can just peel itself off and the chair can finish the trip right to the appropriate desk. Think redrawing seating charts is bad now, teachers? Just imagine!) The Jetsons fantasy of staggering out to a warm, waiting pod outside the bar, lying down and it delivering one to one's abode. (Question: who is going to clean up the vomit? Because in this fantasy for sure -- and, honestly, probably the first one, too, there is going to be vomit.)
Here is an article about how the fantasy, driver-free vehicle with smooth starts and smooth stops so your work isn't interrupted by jerking on start up and stops at intersections. In this analysis, that fantasy vehicle decreases intersection capacity and increases congestion.
It's sort of an interesting idea. It is _also_ an argument against all the safety advocates and hypermilers who also are opposed to jackrabbit starts and sudden stops. Do _THEY ALSO_ increase congestion and decrease capacity? Does it mean we should just all start as fast as we possibly can at an intersection and stop as suddenly short as we might want? Or should that mindless aggression be limited to heavily urbanized areas? But aren't those the areas where safety is most important?
Let's say that we decided that safety was important enough (and improved gas mileage, decreased wear and tear on cars, comfort for passengers, etc.) to really accept this hypothetical capacity decrease/congestion increase. One way to counterbalance that in the driver-free universe would be to entirely get rid of curbside parking. Think of the extra capacity that would be freed up!
Perhaps 30% of traffic in a driver-full scenario, in NYC, is composed of people cruising for parking. Shoup thinks we should charge more for curbside parking (I agree, but I think there are some other options too which we are currently exploring, such as smarter meters with apps to tell us where the available openings are). But if we got rid of curbside parking and most of the attendant cruising for cheap slots, we'd have plenty of extra space to compensate for the much more sedate driving experience.
And in a fantasy with driver-free cars, cars don't need to park, per se, right? They just head off for their next passenger. Because, you know, capacity utilization is going to be level around the clock and throughout the calendar. And if it wasn't -- if the fleet really knew those cars weren't going to be needed for some period of time, they could take themselves off to ... where, exactly?
We had a financial crash because a bunch of incredibly smart people convinced themselves that with the right math they could make risk disappear. The driverless car fantasy feels like securitization. Should we work towards driverless cars? Oh, fuck yeah. But along the way, it would be nice if we could quit convincing ourselves that this is going to fix longstanding problems like dead peds, congestion, finding a place to put the vehicle when it is not needed, etc. We should especially not believe that we are going to be happy with any scenario that involves human-free sharing of vehicles. If nothing else, we need to start pricing in the cost of cleaning that thing real regular.
ETA: The rhetoric of driverless cars -- from both sides!
The headline gives you one side. The content gives you the rest:
Stop building roads because we'll need less capacity. Start converting existing ones to bike lanes etc. Reduce/eliminate parking (requirements/minimums). Promote carshare. Curbside parking only for carshare. And then this gem of a paragraph:
"If someone buys a car a decade from now it might have to be junked five years later, once driverless cars take over and become mandatory. We don’t want people to waste their money on such a poor investment, so we should probably just ban cars entirely until scientists get the autonomous vehicle technology locked down. Everyone will have saved so much money that they’ll be able to buy new cars as fast as the factories can churn them out."