Will Electric Cars Be The Way We Destroy The Walkability Of Cities For The 21st Century?

It sure looks that way (boldface mine):

Automakers and tech companies are pushing a bill through Congress that would handcuff local governments’ ability to regulate self-driving vehicles on city streets. Now city transportation officials are demanding a role in drafting legislation before it’s too late.

The stakes are high. Shaping autonomous vehicle systems to meet city needs could cut congestion, reduce traffic deaths and injuries, and free up scarce urban space for more pressing needs than car storage. Or the regulatory framework could introduce new hazards and place additional restrictions on people’s movement while walking or biking.

Legislation is moving quickly through Congress. The House of Representatives held a June 27 subcommittee hearing on a package of 14 bills regulating self-driving cars, then consolidated them into a single bill, which a House subcommittee voted for last week 54-0. The bill is on its way to the House floor while the Senate prepares similar legislation.

Consider this proposal for New York City (boldface mine):

A new proposal from the architecture and engineering firm Edg envisions how New York City’s infrastructure might change to accommodate that vision. It also sheds light on the temptations that might sway planners away from human-centered urban design and back toward more modernist, auto-centric practices in the age of autonomous vehicles.

Loop NYC, as the proposal is known, would create one lane in each direction dedicated to self-driving cars on the highways that outline Manhattan: the West Side Highway and F.D.R. Drive. It would also turn several major cross streets into expressways for autonomous vehicles, adding pedestrian overpasses to keep people off the streets. These self-driving superblocks would form “loops” around Manhattan, efficiently circulating autonomous vehicles throughout the city, eventually including private, shared, and public vehicles, according to John J. Meyer, a designer at Edg….

The biggest concern with the plan, Mason and Goldwyn say, is the reliance on pedestrian overpasses, which are key to the self-driving expressway concept. In a situation where all vehicles on the road are autonomous, they would be able to communicate with each other so they rarely have to stop at intersections—except when pedestrians enter the mix.

But past attempts have proven that forcing pedestrians on to overpasses and underpasses is a bad idea. They greatly increase pedestrian travel times and are extremely expensive and space-intensive, especially when they’re made accessible to people with disabilities. Inevitably, without authoritarian style barricades or “electric fences,” as Mason jokingly suggests, people will cross at street-level anyway.

The ability to walk places–or even just to walk when you have no particular place to go–is what differentiates cities from suburbs. We should have learned from the 20th century that putting urban design into the hands of people who don’t live in cities (and driving to your office building doesn’t count) ends poorly. But it seems like we’re about to make the same damn mistake, just with new and possibly improved technology.

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3 Responses to Will Electric Cars Be The Way We Destroy The Walkability Of Cities For The 21st Century?

  1. Morbeau says:

    Electric cars and self-driving cars are just the latest manifestation of the auto industry’s power, and their drive for profits. I doubt they give a rat’s ass about anything other than sales.

  2. John Magoun says:

    Wait. Hmm, the problem is high-speed dedicated public transit vehicles need clear paths to get around New York without risking collisions with people at street level. Pedestrian overpasses at every intersection don’t make sense for many reasons, but…
    Give me a minute, there’s probably another solution.

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