Sunday, July 14, 2013

Are We Planning For Real Change

Apparently seeing one of Google’s experimental, driverless cars driving or parking itself on a San Francisco street, is not all that unusual. So, can you imagine just how the widespread use of driverless autos might affect the city of Lexington? Would you be much different than the residents here in the late 1890s had they been told that horses could soon be a rare sight in city streets? How will you react when you first encounter an example of one?

With so many people working and thinking about this technology will our planners soon have to begin incorporating provisions for it? Most of our city's plans have been prepared as looking about 20 years into the future, yet history (our history) shows that our future is moving well faster than we have ever planned for. My favorite example is the plans to expand our former streetcar system in 1930 and within the decade the whole system was gone. Life moves a bit faster these days.

A common scenario for driverless cars is one where you don’t drive in circles looking for a parking spot because your car drops you off and then parks itself to await your call. From a current local viewpoint this is desirable since it is your car and you want it available when you need it. From the view of one from a more populous area, a taxi or car service can work better, hence the rise of Zipcar and Uber. 

For many in this country, an automobile is a mobile storage devise for their belongings and which takes them places.

Next, let us imagine that we will eschew the use of “personal” autos for the ease of use of driverless car services. The then common dream is that surface parking lots will become park or recreation areas. I find wildly unlikely unless it is a city owned lot and most are not. Parks are a revenue drain and not a revenue generator, therefore the bane of private investors. 

What do you expect to see happen to this property then? Can you squeeze a modern usage building on some of these oddly shaped lots without taking a few “historic” structures?

Shifting our attention to the streets themselves, many say that we will need far fewer traffic signals when both autos and the streets are equipped with sensors and can coordinate between each other. What does that do to the walkability of an area? Can we cross the street safely with out traffic signals if the driverless cars are zipping by nose to tail with each other?

On the one hand, streets can then be narrower if there is no need for on street parking, but narrower streets are a problem to some of our massive delivery vehicles. Until they develop a self unloading delivery vehicle I doubt that we will see a driverless one. Parking lane may disappear but the loading zone will be with us a while longer.

In our suburbs we can begin to eliminate the large expanses of parking at the shopping malls and big-box stores if the trips are made in neighborhood “pool car” which will drop you off and come to get you. (Kind of sounds like a circulatory bus without a driver doesn't it?) To what use will all of that land be put then?
May we also see the loss of the attached multi-car garages with their mostly blank panels or, worse yet, a gaping maw of an opening. Among many Millennials the auto as a status symbol is a foreign concept and it is becoming harder to sell them on it.

Speaking of selling things, how will they sell driverless car and to whom. 

It's no secret that car commercials are, by and large, fiction. Shiny cars roaring along empty city streets devoid of traffic jams. Not a traffic jam (or signal) in sight, just the joy of the open road for the driver. How can you get an exhilarating feeling if you are not driving? Will car commercials disappear like the cigarette one did but for different reasons?

How soon do you think that some kind of drastic change can come about? Above are just a few of the early changes that we could see should we adopt the driverless auto as quickly as we did the “horseless carriage”. Perhaps you have thought of something I left out. Drop me a line and tell me you thoughts.


mark cowden said...

south broadway, just past the train tracks! the UK reynolds building #3 on the right!

LexingtonEdd said...

Totally agree with Mark, This view is before the grade change to allow Broadway to be lowered under the railroad tracks.

Unknown said...

Americans have such a strong love affair with their mode of transportation that they will never give them up. The Gas Companies and Automobile Manufacturers are in bed together to promote this crazy idea. From the 50's, everyone wants their own personal car, usually to place a bunch of stickers on. To me a car is so old fashioned with a combustion engine. The human beings of this planet are on the way out.