Autonomous Vehicles and Unintended Consequences


Autonomous Vehicles and Unintended Consequences

Our betters have been telling us that living in cities is a better way to live and that we need to be ready for the move to 700 square foot apartments and a lifestyle filled with urban parks, walking to work and school, and the hustle and bustle and stress of city life.

However some have mused that self driving cars (which would change the face of the parking industry and the way people get from place to place) might just change that urban utopia.

It seems that people would move to the city because living in the burbs and working in the city is difficult and therefore folks would move to those high rise apartments and love it. But what about the contrarian point of view.

What if autonomous vehicles made the trip back and forth so easy (no rushing to the train or bus, no schedule to keep, no hike from the station to the job) that people would find living in the burbs actually preferable to living in the city. The reduced traffic on the freeway would mean the trip to work would be a half hour rather than and hour and a half. You could sleep, catch up on email, or plan your day rather than fight traffic and crowds. Not a bad way to start (or end) the day.

Oklahoma City is the largest (in square miles) city in the US. Its outgoing mayor has been thinking about this issue as his city is the poster child of suburban sprawl.  He wonders if it gets easier to get to work and live in the burbs, why wouldn’t people do just that. After all, particularly if you have a family, having a few square feet where the kids can safely play and neighborhoods filled with trees and lawns might not be so bad afterall, particularly when your commute to work just got easier. PLUS autonomous vehicles would make carpools really easy.

In places like Oak City and my home here in LA where the size of the place has made public transportation difficult, self driving cars solve a lot of problems. However, in doing so, they may also mean that people can remain in the burbs and still work comfortably in the city.

The Law of Unintended Consequences has not been repealed.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. Very good point, JVH. Driverless vehicles will undoubtedly have a number of benefits (for instance, improving access in areas underserved by public transit or for the elderly or infirm), but we rarely think of the costs. While its difficult to forecast the impact of disruption, municipal planners certainly need to think about how autonomous vehicles will change the way people live and move in their cities.
    Driverless vehicles and ride-sharing will reduce vital municipal revenue from fees and fines. Already cash-strapped city budgets will shrink. So too will the services municipalities are able to offer. Will people want to live in these urban high rises if urban amenities decline?
    And, sure, robotic cars may reduce fuel and labor costs, but they’ll also reduce employment opportunities. Millions of Americans drive for a living. When they lose their jobs, they may not be able to afford to live in these urban utopias. Living in the suburbs may not be so much a choice as a necessity.
    Thanks for giving us all something to think about!

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