While sharing vehicles and getting better use out of our existing infrastructure is a great first step, the real fun starts when we re-shape our built environment to optimize choice, access, mobility, and space. At Vermeulens we are always looking to save time, money, and energy. Perhaps the best way is to optimize the flow of traffic in a city. This is a particularly important factor for many large, urban centers as older roadways and freeways designed to handle much smaller loads of automobile traffic are now operating far in excess of their original, predicted capacities.
Many solutions are in the works to tackle this problem, with one popular alternative being greater implementation of public transportation, such as building out new rail transit or streetcar routes or even proposing new subways where none existed before. However, as construction economists, one of our biggest takeaways from these more dramatic solutions is that the time, effort, and finances involved in these projects must make sense. If they’re too expensive to implement, they do more harm than good by costing more time, money, and energy.
The Autonomous Future
Mass transit is a relic of the Industrial Revolution over two hundred years ago. Before that, everyone used autonomous or rideshare vehicles like horses, buggies, coaches, boats, canoes, and carts. Unfortunately, we developed the steam engine before the internal combustion engine. This meant we got herded onto ships and trains for about a hundred years and built a lot of obsolete infrastructures that is still with us today. Cars and planes have replaced rail and water for moving people, but like any good thing, too much creates problems. It would be great if a new technology came to the rescue and had mass appeal.
Enter the smartphone app and driverless vehicles! Some car manufacturers, like Volvo, are aiming to have self-driving cars on the streets by the year 2020, which is just a little over two years away at this point. City planners need to devote time to how traffic will be affected by rideshare and self-driving cars as this type of transport becomes more widespread. Because self-driving cars can maintain steady speeds and even interact with other self-driving cars, it’s possible to “pack” more cars onto a road, and at higher speeds, thanks to computer coordination. Self-driving trucks are already in the experimental phases of forming large, high-speed convoys that simply wouldn’t be possible with individual drivers.