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How self-driving cars might change our cities

The New Yorker’s tech issue includes a fascinating article by Burkhard Bilger that asks “has the self-driving car at last arrived?” It is mostly about car technology that nerds will love, but the really interesting thing about the autonomous car is what it will do to our cities. I have previously written that “the autonomous car will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them.”

I have painted this as a wonderful thing; others, like Allison Arieff, are troubled, thinking they will lead to massive suburban sprawl. “If you can read your iPad, enjoy a cocktail or play a video game while commuting, time spent in the car becomes leisure time, something desirable. Long commutes are no longer a disincentive.”

In the New Yorker article, Sergey Brin gives his view:

“As you look outside, and walk through parking lots and past multilane roads, the transportation infrastructure dominates,” Brin said. “It’s a huge tax on the land.” Most cars are used only for an hour or two a day, he said. The rest of the time, they’re parked on the street or in driveways and garages. But if cars could drive themselves, there would be no need for most people to own them. A fleet of vehicles could operate as a personalized public-transportation system, picking people up and dropping them off independently, waiting at parking lots between calls. They’d be cheaper and more efficient than taxis—by some calculations, they’d use half the fuel and a fifth the road space of ordinary cars—and far more flexible than buses or subways. Streets would clear, highways shrink, parking lots turn to parkland. “We’re not trying to fit into an existing business model,” Brin said. “We are just on such a different planet.”
More bbc.co.uk

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