The rise of self-driving vehicles is set to radically transform our cities
As we steadily progress towards a world of automation in which even our cars will drive themselves to our destination, we are not just evolving towards a new level of technological know-how, but also, for perhaps the first time since the industrial revolution, driving a significant improvement in our life quality, that of our children and, in general, that of the very cities we live in.
Cities around the world are currently fighting pollution by adopting smart solutions that include intelligent parking lots, smart traffic lights that divert traffic to less congested areas and public illumination systems that automatically adjust to environmental light, whilst also promoting public transport and even TNCs to reduce traffic congestion. And yet, this is only the beginning.
Self-driving cars require no parking; at least, not by humans. And this means that there will no longer be the need to park as close to our house, office or shopping venue as possible. A self-driving car can whisk itself off to the suburbs to park automatically in out-of-the-way lots and be ready to pick us up as requested.
Even better, in the future, we can have our driverless cars – private, shared or public - operate as uber-style TNCs, earning us money while we do not need them, and still be sure they will be at our doorstep when needed. In fact, one probable future scenario is that transportation companies will field entire fleets of shared self-driving cars that will keep driving around, transporting passengers, without ever standing idle, virtually eliminating the need for parking lots, certainly for urban ones.
Nor will it be only parking lots that disappear, parking spaces will go, too. Our cities will no longer be characterized by avenues punctuated by endless lines of parked vehicles. And except for special parking areas reserved for delivery, maintenance and emergency services, parked cars will become a thing of the past, just like horse-drawn carriages.
Architecture will reclaim its right as a city’s main attraction. Our sidewalks will be able to expand outwards and welcome new green areas, areas for socializing and playgrounds for children. In fact, in the future, we may even abandon steel and concrete in favour of warmer eco-friendly materials such as wood, a natural material which will improve the look of our cities, reduce stress and enhance well-being.
A New City
Motors revving, drivers honking, car alarms ringing, bus brakes screeching … sound familiar? Modern cities are loud and noise pollution is a serious environmental concern. However, if we eliminate parking lots, parking places, gas stations, and perhaps even car workshops and auto-retailers, how much space would this free up?
The United States has nearly one billion parking spaces: four spaces for every registered vehicle. This adds up to nearly 170,000 square kilometres devoted solely to parking, an area as large as Slovenia! Worldwide, this space could be reclaimed and dedicated to the construction of new housing, parks and even to venues for activities that do not exist as this article is being written! And naturally, less cars, means less pollution: not just air pollution, but less noise, cleaner roads and nicer views.
Moreover, the promise of fully electric, autonomous vehicles will free us from the prolonged exposure to noise, which can lead to serious disturbances, including sleep deprivation, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive impairment and even mental health problems.
In Europe, where the main culprit is road traffic, an estimated 125 million individuals are affected by noise greater than 55 decibels (dB), while 37 million suffer noise levels above 65 dB, comparable to that of a vacuum cleaner.
A quieter city will markedly improve the quality of our lives.
Mobility as a Service
Finally, the move away from personal and company-owned transportation, which is expected to be significantly increased by driving automation, is giving rise to “Mobility as a Service,” a service which allows users to move around seamlessly via a range of different transport modes.
Mobility will be just another service: like ordering a pizza, downloading a book or shopping on-line. The natural evolution of digital interfaces will allow users to select travel destinations and times, and organise their journey on public transport, taxis, TNCs and even those self-driving cars moving around our cities.
A New Urban Environment
At the current rate of technological progress, experts posit that in ten years, or less, our cities will be transformed into a virtuous, brave, new world. Autonomous vehicles will reduce traffic congestion and pollution, cost less to insure and maintain, ensure far superior safety and security services and provide a vast range of added benefits.
Our cities will blossom with new, greener areas, improving our health and well-being, and we will live virtually without cars, whilst still enjoying all their benefits!
For further information: