How Driverless Cars Could Affect Suburban Land Use

Successful driverless cars might lead to "mini mass transit," a distinct mode from public transit and the private automobile. The consequences for land use could reshape suburbia.
March 8, 2015, 5am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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David Edmondson speculates on the effects of widespread driverless cars. He envisions a system of personal rapid transit by way of app-driven car sharing. "Open up an app on a phone, order a car, and a vehicle (possibly with others in it going to roughly where you're going) will drive by, pick you up, and drop you off near your destination. Along the way it'll pick up other people going in roughly the same direction as you, bolstering capacity of the personal car to a grand total of five. Five trips, one car. As one Twitter follower called it, it becomes mini-mass transit, but at the beck and call of an app and as flexible as it needs to be."

Significant changes to suburban transportation planning would follow. "Unlike streetcars, the whole street is a possible stop. Rather than a series of one-dimensional stops surrounded by a station area, there is a two-dimensional transportation corridor surrounded by a transportation area."

The article considers potential effects on land use, road design, and suburban density. In time, driverless car transit might shift the definition of "suburban." Edmondson writes, "With no parking lots, no wide roads, a street grid, and shops and homes clustered up against the sidewalk, [suburbia] sounds more like a town center. That's because this transportation cloud functions much more like the streetcars of the old days than personal cars of today."

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Published on Monday, February 16, 2015 in The Greater Marin
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