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Driverless cars and urban sprawl

  1. Nov 24, 2013 #1
    For years urban planners and others have criticized the massive flight to the suburbs that have contributed to the decay of some cities and consumed vast amounts of agricultural land. Urban sprawl has led to long commutes, and near total dependence on automobiles at the expense of more efficient public transit. Urban sprawl is bad, or so it is said. Now comes the driverless car, and it's not hard to see the potential impact this could have. In the planned city of Milton Keynes, UK driverless car transit (DCT) is being instituted.

    It would seem that a transit system based on DCT could be fully automated, taking passengers to and from or any destination in the system by punching in a code number. After use, the car could be sent to self park or reused by the system. They could also be summoned by phone like a taxi. Computer control would allow for optimum routing and spacing on high speed rights-of-way making commutes from suburbs faster and more pleasant. The suburban life style would be confirmed for the indefinite future. The central city might benefit because of easier access but would have smaller populations. Most people, I would think, would live in areas with suburban population density. With good design (green belts and garden type agriculture mixed in) this might not be a bad thing. What do you think?

    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
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  3. Nov 24, 2013 #2
    It sounds like a great concept, but a top speed of 12 mph?? I can skateboard faster than that...

    I'd hope that, as the system proves its self to be safe and reliable, they'd up the speed on the cars to something a bit more reasonable.
  4. Nov 24, 2013 #3
    I think of this as the year 1900 in terms of DCT. I don't think it's a big stretch to getting these up to highway speeds. They don't need to look like the ones in Milton Keynes. Since the technology uses mostly existing infrastructure, it has serious potential. Existing freeways need little if any modification. Flow on arterial roads could be greatly improved by roundabouts replacing existing intersections. With safe self-drive, roundabouts wouldn't be as intimidating as they are now to most American drivers.

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  5. Nov 24, 2013 #4


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    Which is precisely how MK was designed: a sprawling piece of brand new suburbia, build mostly on agricultural land, and designed by an town planner from California on the US "grid" system.

    Still, it does have a purpose. If tends to focus the nutty town planning experiments in the UK in one place, so everybody else doesn't have to bother about the (or pay for them).

    Ironically, MK in theory has one of the best networks of urban cycle routes in the UK, and also one of the lowest levels of cycle commuting.

    I'm sure the initial fleet of 20 two-seater "pods" (not driverless!) will fix all its commuter problems, though - just like the concrete cows make you forget you are living in a town :smile:
  6. Nov 24, 2013 #5

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    I really want automated cars to become reality. I've seen too many elderly people destroyed when told they had to stop driving. That time is not all that far away for me. Twenty years, tops.

    That said, this is not the right approach. I want my automated car to be *my* automated car, not something owned by some governmental agency. I also want my automated car to be capable of driving at 75 mph on the freeway, if that's what the speed limit says. For a while, my automated car will have to contend with non-automated cars doing stupid things. Automated cars will always have to contend with kids and dogs chasing a ball across a suburban road, and with potholes, and with congestion, and lots of other gotchas.

    This approach doesn't address any of those gotchas, or with the very human desire to be able to *go* at the moment's notice.
  7. Nov 24, 2013 #6
    Like I said, this is the year 1900 as far as automated cars and roads. By the 1920s traditional cars were taking over and paved roads were rapidly being constructed. It will probably take that long for automated cars to be dominant, but the infrastructure modifications will be less than in the first auto revolution.

    There's nothing in the technology that says you can't own your own self-drive car. It could have a mechanism that lets you take control if you want or need to, except on automated freeways. As for kids or bad drivers, automated cars probably will deal with these better than human drivers. It's impossible to say just how this is going to evolve, but I think it's at least as significant as the first auto revolution.

    I personally have my own reservations. I've always disliked the car culture and the dreary suburban strip developments. I'm just hoping better planning and demands for things like green space, bike paths, viable walkable downtowns and other urban amenities will have an impact.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
  8. Nov 24, 2013 #7


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    Many things that come out of tech culture that are not needed. Just because we can does not mean we should. Like, Google Glass...really? I'm supposed to take time out of *my* life, so I can see life through other peoples' eyes? No thanks, I'm a busy person living the one life I have.

    But driverless cars - YES!!! I'm all for it!! A properly programmed system could optimize travel in a way I never could. No more collisions due to carelessness. Count me in!

    One possible consequence: the general level of driving skill might decrease over time. Since the system may not be available on all roads (rural roads especially), an increase in collisions might occur in these places, due to an increase in less-skilled drivers.
  9. Nov 24, 2013 #8


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    Three thousand people a month die in the US alone because of traffic accidents. If widespread self driving car use can reduce that then in the future I bet people will look back in horror at the idea people were trusted to drive themselves.

    As for private vs public ownership I think the latter could be far cheaper. Cars spend the majority of their time taking up space anyway, might as well put them to use. If you want your own I don't see a problem with that (so long as you have a driveway, the amount of roads clutters by parked cars here in the Uk is ridiculous).
  10. Nov 24, 2013 #9


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    It is the right approach in the right place, which is not somewhere like MK which was insanely designed to MAXIMIZE land use, with planning restrictions like "no building shall be taller than a tree".

    This type of "pod" (with 4 seats not 2) is already replacing 50,000 shuttle bus journeys a year at London Heathrow Terminal 5.

    If course the LHR pods don't have to deal with any other type of traffic.
  11. Nov 24, 2013 #10
    Driverless cars are here already. Daimler-Benz (Mercedes), Honda (Acura), Toyota (Lexus) and other automakers are testing driverless cars and are confident that they will be ready for general sale to the public by 2020. Apparently, all they need are well marked lane lines for guidance. In areas of construction this might be a problem. The first cars can be controlled manually if need be. I'm sure there will be some problems to be worked out as with any new technology. The companies realize that public acceptance will be somewhat slower in coming, just as it was when the traditional cars first appeared in any quantity around 1900. I think people will still want their private cars (at least in the US) for quite while, but will use public cars for transit into areas where parking is scarce. I'm not sure what will happen to my beloved metro trains and trams.

    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
  12. Nov 24, 2013 #11


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    IIRC, If your robotic car can pass the tests, it's already legal to have it drive you in Nevada and California. If. If you're already willing to throw down $ on one, might want to talk to Google about it.
  13. Nov 24, 2013 #12
    If you drive in the Las Vegas area, you'll find a lot cars on the road are already effectively driverless, especially on holiday and Super Bowl weekends. Unfortunately they are not usually equipped to be driverless.
  14. Nov 25, 2013 #13
    Every time I'm at a stop light I imagine how nice it would be if everyone in the line, waiting, started to accelerate at the same time when the light turned green.

    I like the idea, but I also enjoy driving...I'm sure motorcyclists would not enjoy this type of thing. Maybe it's not the best thing for suburbs and rural areas, but cities and congested highways? Sign me up.
  15. Nov 26, 2013 #14
    Im not so sure that automation is congruent with our (UK,CAN, USA) car culture. Like you hint at it's part of our freedom/independence, it's MY CaR!

    That said, surely it will feel it's way through to become a reality. Surely before automated cars, Cruise control RADAR with braking and minor steering will be common. Hopefully helping with traffic flow, imo cars follow the classic tech curves. In that the very expensive cars have it nearly as "a test bed for those who can afford it", if popular it'll trickle down. So hopefully when I go to buy a used Pontiac, err ford or GM it'll have such a fancy cruise control.

    Having a plane on auto pilot isn't nearly as "Daring" as a car on autopilot imo. I trust both will fail at sometime or another, but don't believe there would always be time for correction in a car.

    Who gets the demerit points? :smile:
  16. Mar 6, 2014 #15
    It seems that self-driving cars (SDCs) may be overtaken by self-flying cars (SFCs). The technology for auto-piloted aircraft is well established and its adaption to cars in a 3 dimensional space may be less problematic than to a crowded effectively one dimensional space (for SDCs). If SDCs will contribute to urban sprawl, I can't imagine what SFC's will do. Cities as we know them may well evolve into more compact entertainment and cultural centers competing within a more a widely dispersed population.

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