Paris Marx, MEDIUM
For the past several years, Silicon Valley’s tech titans have been telling us that autonomous vehicles will become the future of urban mobility. No longer will we have to drive personal vehicles or even walk the “last mile” from transit stops to our final destinations — pods piloted by computers will whisk us wherever we want to go at minimal cost.
Our most ambitious technologists even claim that mass transit is outdated — it’s dirty, scary, and doesn’t get you to your final destination. Autonomous vehicles will make “individualized” transportation accessible to all — space limitations of dense urban cores be damned!
Can you seriously see us trying to cram all the pedestrians of New York City, or almost any major city around the world, into autonomous pods without creating the worst gridlock we’ve ever seen? It’s a hilarious proposal, but some technologists still believe it. (Remember, Elon Musk wants to build a ton of tunnels below Los Angeles for this exact reason.)
The truth is, autonomous vehicles will probably not dominate the streets of the future. Tech boosters’ blind fantasies are finally being revealed for the pipe dreams they really are. Self-driving cars aren’t imminent, the technology isn’t there yet. And while the reality of being sold a lie leaves some discouraged, a much more exciting vision of the future of mobility is emerging. Instead of streets hostile to anyone not in a metal box weighing a ton or two, we may see people reclaiming roadways for themselves.
The fatal crash of a self-driving Uber that killed a pedestrian as she crossed a Tempe, Arizona, street in March impacted the industry enormously. Ambitious visions were replaced by cautious statements about the prospects of autonomous technology. For once, it seemed industry leaders were coming to terms with the realities of a technology that they’d lost touch with after several years of building hype.