Self-Driving Cars Are Not the Future
Paris Marx
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Thanks for your article, Paris. I appreciate you raising all these important issues. As a long time resident of New York City, I’m with you on many of your ideas for better use of urban spaces.

That said, here is a quote in a Wired article about Carlo Ratti, Director, MIT Senseable City Lab

Ratti, whose lab anticipates how technology will transform the built environment, predicts that vehicle automation will require 80 percent fewer cars on any given highway. “In general, fewer cars could mean shorter travel times, less congestion, and a smaller environmental impact,” Ratti says. “Vast areas of urban land currently occupied by parking lots and roads could be reinvented for a whole new spectrum of social functions” like parks, public spaces, and maker spaces. Cars, he adds, could also become extensions of our homes. But Ratti warns: “We can also have nightmarish scenarios. For instance, if self-driving were to become so cheap that people would prefer jumping into a car than, say, taking the subway. In that case our cities could easily become gridlocked.”

Like most city planning issues, self driving vehicles have pros and cons. It’s a matter of making good public policy. Many people can’t simply walk or bike to where they need to go. The distances are too great. Millions of Americans are entering their 70’s and 80’s. When they are no longer able to drive, self driving cars would grant them the independence we often take away from them when driving is no longer possible.

Public transit is often overcrowded and underfunded. (For the record, I do not own a car. I love public transit.) The growing number of alternative use ideas for streets and parking lots are wonderful, I support them all. We should do all the things you mention and more. I have seen the transformative impact of bike lanes and walking streets here in New York. I have also dodged electric powered delivery bicycles on our city sidewalks.

Going binary, condemning self driving vehicles as an extension of our 1950’s car fetish is simply taking powerful tools for change off the table. If we could get even 30% of the parked cars off our streets it would be wonderful, but I’ll take the 80% MIT is projecting.

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