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The promise of autonomous cars has struck an especially jubilant chord with a chorus of futurist urban thinkers. The big transformative hope: We can break the death grip of car-centric urban design and planning, which has been something of a disaster for most American cities in the 20th century. In the near future, self-driving cars will simply circulate through cities, freeing road space and liberating millions of acres of parking lots for more useful purposes. Combine that with the ongoing electrification of the vehicle fleet, and it might look as if we are nearing an urban transportation utopia.
But the dream of cheap, clean mobility in cities might run up against some harsh realities—soaring energy consumption, supercharged sprawl, and intensified traffic congestion—if AVs are simply deployed to encourage more driving.
That’s one message from a new report prepared by the University of California Davis’s Institute of Transportation Studies and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a nonprofit organization that develops bus rapid transit systems and promotes environmentally friendly urban planning. They’ve been crunching the numbers on how to avert warming the planet with carbon emissions while also reducing gridlock and increasing mobility.
The report looks at three possible scenarios for vehicle use by 2050 and compares their energy demands. Option one: We continue with privately owned internal-combustion cars the way they are. Or, there’s a “two revolutions” model, where both electric and automated vehicles come into common use by 2030 and 2040. Then there’s the triple-revolution scenario, which introduces widespread ride-sharing by 2030, as explained by this handy infographic.
(Courtesy of ITDP)