Although it’s still a rare thing to hear experts worry about driverless cars creating worse traffic in the future, the rumbling is starting to get louder. Pablo Valerio recently documented this trend over at Cities of the Future, quoting traffic-analysis legend Sam Schwartz.
Within the next 10 years autonomous cars could reverse the trend to free cities from private vehicles, instead flooding the streets with even more cars, undermining public transit, and leaving no space for other uses.
The companies developing autonomous cars are not interested in getting people to walk more or use public transport, but to offer on-demand private transport for the masses, in many cases moving people back to cars.
During a recent conference about streetcars and public transport, former NYC Traffic Commissioner Samuel Schwartz, a.k.a. Gridlock Sam, author of “Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars”, said that the arrival of autonomous cars will increase the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), reverse the millennial trend eschewing driving, decimate public transport, and increase the occurrence of inactivity related illnesses.
The bottom line is how cities choose to embrace this new trend. Autonomous cars are coming, and nothing can stop them. But cities should think hard about the potential impact of having more cars clog the streets, even electric ones. It will mean abandoning sustainability and other benefits that walking, cycling, and public transport bring to residents.