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Metro Cities: Choose your own (driverless car) adventure

Metro Halifax columnist Tristan Cleveland believes the rise of driverless cars could be a chance to build better cities. If it’s done right.

Without careful regulations, driverless cars could make traffic worse.

Kalichka / iStockphoto

Without careful regulations, driverless cars could make traffic worse.

The impact driverless cars will have on cities depends on the rules we put in place now. We can use them to reduce traffic and make it viable to not own a car. Or, we may just make sprawl and traffic far worse. Choose your rules carefully and score points for cutting traffic and maximizing the benefits of driverless cars.

Andres Plana / Metro

1) Must there be a human in the car?

Yes: It will remain more convenient to own a car. (Without strict regulations, driverless cars will just encourage more driving, according to a report from the University of California Davis and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.) -1 point

No: +1 point

2) Can private cars drive with no one inside?

No: If only ride-hailing fleets can go humanless, it becomes more convenient and affordable to share cars than own them. (Achievement unlocked: 90 per cent of curbside parking no longer needed. Exchange for parklettes and restaurant patios. Source: A joint case study from Chongqing Jiaotong University and The University of Texas at Austin) +1 point

Yes: Many will let their cars search for parking or return home empty. -1 point

3) Should it be free to use the road?

Yes: Residents may commute much farther, creating huge sprawl and traffic. -1 point

No: Charging car-users for congestion and pollution will encourage walking and biking. +1 point

4) Should mass-transit funding continue?

Yes: +1 point

No: (TRAP! Subways can carry 10 times more people per hour than highways. Downtowns still need transit.) -1 point

How did you do?


Thank you to Kara Kockelman at the University of Texas for her input.

Lew Fulton, Jacob Mason, and Dominique Meroux (2017). Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation. Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. May 3.

Qinglu Ma, Marc Segal and Kara Kockelman. (2017) "Making the Most of Curb Spaces in a World of Shared Autonomous Vehicles: A Case Study of Austin, Texas." To be presented at the 97th Annual Meeting of the TRB, and forthcoming as a chapter in Smart Transport for Cities & Nations: The Rise of Self-Driving & Connected Vehicles (Eds. Kara Kockelman & Stephen Boyles). 

For highway lane capacity, I referenced a table available online from this textbook, between 700 to 2000 people per hour. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Claude Comtois, and Brian Slack. (2017) The Geography of Transport Systems. Fourth edition. New York: Routledge.

The Yonge Subway line carries 28,000 people per hour, according to Leslie Woo and Anna Pace (2015). Yonge Relief Network Study (YRNS): Report for June 25th Metrolinx Board Meeting. Metrolinx, Toronto.

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