Beware the Utopian Visions of Transportation Technology Boosters

At the dawn of automated vehicle technology, humans, and Americans in particular, should recall the shortcomings of past utopian visions.

June 30, 2017, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Robot car

Mopic / Shutterstock

William Leimenstoll notices a few similarities in the utopian visions of transportation technology boosters nearly a century ago with those of the current day. In fact, writes Leimenstoll, "[i]f you switch the publishing years and the technology named, many articles extolling the virtue of automated vehicles (AVs) would be remarkably indistinguishable from those supporting urban freeways decades ago."

The article details the marketing efforts that drove the popular and political support for the Interstate Highway System, as well as the unintended consequences of that epoch-defining infrastructure investment. While freeways made home ownership a reality for more Americans, they also eroded the economic and social fabric of central cities, for example. The current moment should inspire caution, according to Leimenstoll, not uncritical exuberance.

"Clearly, momentum for smarter, more sustainable communities is growing, but enthusiasm for AVs threatens to derail this success," writes Leimenstoll. "Without learning from the pitfalls of our eager embrace of urban highways, communities may make the same mistakes again."

So for instance, while automated vehicles might bring incredible benefits in traffic safety and congestion, it could also induce demand, increasing wear and tear on roads and negative environmental outcomes. With both sides of the spectrum of potential effects in mind, Leimenstoll concludes the article by suggesting some steps for planners to begin taking as soon as possible.

Monday, June 5, 2017 in Eno Transportation Weekly

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