Our Beautiful, Driverless Cities

The Petite Ceinture, once a bustling railway circumnavigating Paris, was a convenient way for Parisians to commute until it shut down in 1934, rendered obsolete by the Metro and the city’s expansion far beyond its historical boundaries. Even if the RER C, one of Paris’ commuter rail systems, still runs on a short section of the old railway, other segments now house a vibrant nature preserve that provides a bucolic respite from the busy city streets.

Paris is not the only city repurposing abandoned railways into public parks. On the West Side of Manhattan, New York’s High Line is a model for successful urban reclamation. The elevated park drew 7.6 million visitors in 2015 and has revitalized the neighborhood around it since opening in 2009.

In a future of driverless shared mobility services, we can expect the proliferation of more urban oases such as the Petite Ceinture and the High Line. As these services become more popular, urban dwellers and commuters are likely to start thinking about transportation as a service that can be shared or rented—call it mobility-as-a-service. You will always be able to buy a car. But alternatively, you’ll also have the option to order a ride through a driverless ride-sharing service at any time, without having to worry about parking, maintenance or insurance.

The rise of shared mobility services would free up once congested avenues and streets, not to mention parking garages. The owners of ride-sharing services will want to keep their fleets as active as possible to optimize operations, leaving little use for garages. Furthermore, since most of the vehicles of these fleets -and other individual vehicles- are expected to run on electricity, some gasoline stations will likely fall out of use as well, opening up even more usable space. Put it all together, and some anticipate that the deployment of driverless mobility will increase available redevelopment space in cities by as much as 20 percent.

Driverless mobility will reduce the number of traffic jams and clogged arteries in other ways as well. Essentially, driverless vehicles that are connected to each other will use space more intelligently as they crisscross cities in tight pelotons, doing in two traffic lanes what takes human-driven vehicles three. One can imagine cars wired with lane-clearance technology that automatically moves them out of the way when buses are coming through, for example. Their operating systems might also limit single-occupancy vehicles to certain streets.

The possibility of more urban green space comes just as the need for it grows increasingly urgent. By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in a city. Driverless mobility services will help alleviate the stresses of urban life, as well as automobile pollution by reducing traffic and creating space for urban nature preserves.

Just imagine parks running the length of the Champs-Élysées in Paris, or Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm or on Broadway in New York. This new paradigm will encourage richer social interactions, ensuring that in the cities of tomorrow, connectivity won’t just be inside the car.

Attribution:

Alliance mobility customer survey Europe USA Japan China – GFK for Alliance MI and Future Lab (2017)

https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71366/La-petite-ceinture

https://archpaper.com/2017/02/high-line-founder-raises-concern/

https://www.citylab.com/life/2015/08/how-driverless-cars-could-turn-parking-lots-into-city-parks/400568/

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