Brookings Discovers Driverless Cars

Brookings Institution economist Clifford Winston points out in the Wall Street Journal that driverless cars will render high-speed rail and urban real transit even more obsolete than they already are. The Antiplanner, of course, brought driverless cars to the attention of WSJ readers two years ago.

Winston’s major point is that, rather than build high-speed rail, we should concentrate on rebuilding and redesigning our highway system to prepare for the increased driving that this new technology will inevitably bring about. He proposes, for example, to create more highways dedicated to cars rather than open to both cars and trucks. Such roads could be built with thinner pavement and narrower lanes. This might make sense, though the benefits of having multiple kinds of vehicles sharing the costs of the same infrastructure seem very high.

Some states simply refuse to consider the effects this new technology will have on travel habits. Oregon, for example, has proposed a 2050 strategic transportation plan that counts on getting people out of their cars and onto transit, leaving the highways for trucks. This simply is not going to happen, but never underestimate the ability of Oregon planners to substitute their own fantasies for reality.

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35 thoughts on “Brookings Discovers Driverless Cars

  1. FrancisKing

    All slightly surreal.

    In the future, instead of driving their own car, free of charge, people are going to pay over the odds to get a computer to do it for them. Just as people pay extra to buy electric cars for no apparent reason.

    In the future, road lane widths will be narrower, because of course everyone will have a computerised car, and nobody is going to commit a faux pas by driving on the same roads in a regular car.

    In the future the roads will be at least as congested as they are now. But this will be okay, because a new tidal wave of computerised cars will make it all right.

    Alternatively, and without the need to buy another 1:1 scale Hornby train set for the politicians to play with, we could invent some new variations of the existing transport systems.

    Bicycles – or – quadricycles with electric power on tap to get the vehicles to the top of the hills.

    Diesel buses – or – trolleybuses, running in their own dedicated lanes, with a proper information system so that people don’t have to work hard to figure out what’s up. With a trailer for bicycles and secure parking at the bus stations so that the area of potential customers goes up one hundred fold.

    And so on.

    Dan Reply:

    Just as people pay extra to buy electric cars for no apparent reason.

    Signaling. They are advertising their status and lifestyle for all to see. Like a Kardashian with all her bling, a dozen highly visible tatoos, etc.

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    Or Justin Bieber with his chrome plated “electric” Fisker Karma…what a joke.

  2. FrancisKing

    “Oregon, for example, has proposed a 2050 strategic transportation plan that counts on getting people out of their cars and onto transit, leaving the highways for trucks.”

    Recipe for a transport policy.

    1. Take the obsolete technology that nobody wants
    2. Put it into a frying pan, reheat
    3. Serve it up.

    LazyReader Reply:

    *snickers

    How many does it serve.

  3. LazyReader

    Either way you don’t need every car to be automated. If just a portion of the cars on the roads today were, traffic would decline considerably. Again discussed previously, this is a matter of government not embracing new technology. Government’s don’t modernize very well. And to be fair I can understand why. It’s as if there’s a problem with Facebook every single week. Don’t answer this Facebook email, it may contain malware or virus. Digitize the automotive fleet, someone will try to hack traffic management just for the fun of it.

    Dan Reply:

    Digitize the automotive fleet, someone will try to hack traffic management just for the fun of it.

    And they will too. If you ever listen to information security specialists describe hacking attacks and threats and system weaknesses, you’d be concerned as well. Especially if you consider how many states have tried to….erm…”modernize” their computer systems and how that went.

    DS

    msetty Reply:

    Yes, robocars don’t need a “robocar lobby”…just like the widespread original adoption of the automobile a century ago didn’t require massive public relations and intervention by ‘gummit…

    So the book advertised in this blurb was just so much fantasy (from http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11471:

    Fighting Traffic
    The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City

    Peter D. Norton

    Before the advent of the automobile, users of city streets were diverse and included children at play and pedestrians at large. By 1930, most streets were primarily motor thoroughfares where children did not belong and where pedestrians were condemned as “jaywalkers.” In Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton argues that to accommodate automobiles, the American city required not only a physical change but also a social one: before the city could be reconstructed for the sake of motorists, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where motorists belonged. It was not an evolution, he writes, but a bloody and sometimes violent revolution.

    Norton describes how street users struggled to define and redefine what streets were for. He examines developments in the crucial transitional years from the 1910s to the 1930s, uncovering a broad anti-automobile campaign that reviled motorists as “road hogs” or “speed demons” and cars as “juggernauts” or “death cars.” He considers the perspectives of all users—pedestrians, police (who had to become “traffic cops”), street railways, downtown businesses, traffic engineers (who often saw cars as the problem, not the solution), and automobile promoters. He finds that pedestrians and parents campaigned in moral terms, fighting for “justice.” Cities and downtown businesses tried to regulate traffic in the name of “efficiency.” Automotive interest groups, meanwhile, legitimized their claim to the streets by invoking “freedom”—a rhetorical stance of particular power in the United States.

    Fighting Traffic offers a new look at both the origins of the automotive city in America and how social groups shape technological change.

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    Mr. Setty, as I have said here many times, transit in the United States is profoundly dependent on motor fuel tax revenue in most states.

    If traffic stops, then the subsidies to keep transit running stop. Immediately.

    So I don’t understand why persons and groups claiming to be in favor of transit are so opposed to private motor vehicles.

    Dan Reply:

    So I don’t understand why persons and groups claiming to be in favor of transit are so opposed to private motor vehicles.

    Air, noise, and water pollution externalites notwithstanding, are you claiming politicians are insufficiently clever to come up with a new tax to fund transit if the subsidies for auto transport stops and therefore traffic stops?!?!?

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    “the subsidies for auto transport”

    You mean the one cent per passenger mile? With an annual driving average of 12,000 miles times 1% you get a whopping $12 a month. Yeah, that’ll bring traffic to a screeching halt.

    Frank Reply:

    Oops. $10 a month. What happened to the ability to edit after posting?

    msetty Reply:

    And your point?

    Before the auto became dominant, transit generally ran at a profit and were privately owned. Before 90+ years of ‘gummit intervention.

    In California, most transit funding comes from sales taxes. A large chunk of federal grants come from gasoline taxes but most formula funds come from the Federal general fund.

    Dan Reply:

    I’m talking the US$Bns/year subsidies paid to the fossil fuel corporations despite US$Bns/ year in profit, the free parking, the paving of local access roads/signage/enforcement coming out of the general fund, the the thethethe.

    I will say however that driverless autos will likely save a considerable chunk of fuel. That’s right: the new cars won’t be speeding up to red lights, racing away from stop signs, packing glass packs to sound like the driver has a large p&nis, sitting for 15 minutes with the car running in the parking lot, sporting 556hp in a luxury car to assuage the driver’s middle aged anxiety, making poor choices in lane changes to get around one car to stop at the stop light ahead, motoring in a 7000 lb vehicle with a 97 lb driver on the phone, etc.

    DS

    msetty Reply:

    Yeah, taking away all the charming reasons a lot of people LIKE to drive, including myself (well, at least in the countryside!) And given the utter lack of alternatives to driving, what choice is there with many destinations?

    And of course the whole “freedom” thing about cars (as mentioned in book summary I referenced above) is very much about many people wanting CONTROL over something in their lives. Like a powerful mechanical “cool” or “sexy” beast.

    Robocars just may not be the same…

    Frank Reply:

    “I’m talking the US$Bns/year subsidies paid to the fossil fuel corporations”

    Since we’re talking cars here, can you please provide me with evidence that the government directly pays oil companies? Well, other than consuming the production, of course (because the military alone annually consumes as much as Ireland). Subsidies that are “paid to the fossil fuel corporations.

    Because I can’t find any. I see a lot about tax breaks, but that’s not a direct payment. That’s allowing a corporation to keep more of the money it earned. And I’ve argued that war is a subsidy for oil companies, but that also is not “paid to the fossil fuel corporations. Another indirect, albeit massive. But separating out the oil from the desire to impose Western ideology proves tricky.

    “the free parking, the paving of local access roads/signage/enforcement coming out of the general fund, the the thethethe.”

    How much does this add up to per passenger mile?

    Dan Reply:

    can you please provide me with evidence that the government directly pays oil companies

    A subsidy need not be so narrowly defined. A direct payment, a tax break, a purposeful allowing to not pay for externalities, other support. Nevertheless, here is the latest OECD report.

    How much does this add up to per passenger mile?

    I don’t know. My not knowing the number off the top of my head does not invalidate the assertion of these types of subsidy.

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    “US$Bns/year subsidies paid to the fossil fuel corporations”

    So government doesn’t really pay subsidies to oil companies. No direct payments. I can see how it is easy to go with that rhetoric, though.

    “How much does this add up to per passenger mile?
    I don’t know. My not knowing the number off the top of my head does not invalidate the assertion of these types of subsidy.”

    But it makes it difficult/impossible to compare the degree of subsidy between different modes of transportation.

    Dan Reply:

    If you need to feel better pretending that oil companies don’t get subsidies, well hey whatever floats your boat!!!1one!

    Nevertheless,

    But it makes it difficult/impossible to compare the degree of subsidy between different modes of transportation.

    You could learn the number yourself – since you are curious – if you have the time and report back to us. Surely someone has done this work. Maybe Setty knows. Let us know what the answer to your question reveals.

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    “If you need to feel better pretending that oil companies don’t get subsidies, well hey whatever floats your boat!!!1one!”

    They get subsidies, as I discussed above. I have no affinity for oil companies, but let’s be accurate and stop spreading the misinformation that they get direct payments from the government as you asserted. That’s a blatant falsehood. Unless you can show that they get direct payments (other than for goods/services rendered) from government, which you so far have been unable to do.

    And what floats my boat is walkable neighborhoods. I <3 walking to restaurants and breweries (that aren't chains) and to parks, and I've been living in high density neighborhoods for 11 years (before that rural or national park land). What floats your boat, Dan? Living in a suburb where you have to drive a mile to Wendy's?

    I could work the number myself, but I don't really care as I have a strong feeling it's far less than subsides for other modes except for maybe aircraft. I'm pretty sure the Antiplanner showed subsides to automobiles to be about 1 cent ppm. Maybe he can comment on the parking and other stuff.

    Frank Reply:

    And I’ll reply to my own posts without qualms.

    Speaking of subsides to energy: Report: Energy Department scrambled to justify letting Solyndra’s private backers recoup losses before taxpayers

  4. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Winston’s major point is that, rather than build high-speed rail, we should concentrate on rebuilding and redesigning our highway system to prepare for the increased driving that this new technology will inevitably bring about.

    No problem with that.

    He proposes, for example, to create more highways dedicated to cars rather than open to both cars and trucks.

    Not sure I agree with this. Trucks have a need to travel to nearly every point on the map that cars need to reach.

    Some metropolitan areas (New York City and Washington, D.C.) have “true” parkways, where trucks are not allowed (but buses in most cases are permitted). Note that I am not speaking of freeways and expressways that happen to be called “parkways.”

    Regardless, it makes much more sense to me to make sure that trucks pay for the damage that they do to highway pavements and bridges and leave it at that.

    Some states simply refuse to consider the effects this new technology will have on travel habits. Oregon, for example, has proposed a 2050 strategic transportation plan that counts on getting people out of their cars and onto transit, leaving the highways for trucks. This simply is not going to happen, but never underestimate the ability of Oregon planners to substitute their own fantasies for reality.

    A friend called that sort of thinking “faith-based transportation planning.”

  5. Andrew

    Winston’s major point is that, rather than build high-speed rail, we should concentrate on rebuilding and redesigning our highway system to prepare for the increased driving that this new technology will inevitably bring about.

    Undoubtedly this will happen. Why just over the horizon is a world of driverless cars powered by unicorn farts which will cost under $1000 per year to own and operate.

    What other fantasies are you selling today?

    The price of fuel will ensure that driving will never again increase. Take it to the bank. Along with the $70,000 for your laser spatial sensing device needed for your driverless car.

  6. Frank

    Man, it’s a broken record on autonomous vehicles here. As Dan has mentioned, they will save fuel, primarily in the cities. I’ve been driving in Seattle for two years, and I fu©k!n hate it. Sorry for the language, but I hate driving in the city for all the reasons Dan mentioned:

    “speeding up to red lights, racing away from stop signs, packing glass packs to sound like the driver has a large p&nis, sitting for 15 minutes with the car running in the parking lot, sporting 556hp in a luxury car to assuage the driver’s middle aged anxiety, making poor choices in lane changes to get around one car to stop at the stop light ahead, motoring in a 7000 lb vehicle with a 97 lb driver on the phone, etc”

    Every time I go out, it’s chaos on the roads. Autonomous cars in cities hold the hope of more order, especially (and I’ve said this before) in an era of unprecedented distracted driving because people are addicted to mobile devices.

    Freedom does not mean freedom to put others at risk when you’re behind the wheel. Driving is not a right; it’s a privileged. There are rules on government streets just as there would be (and are) on privately owned roads. Just as your license could be suspended by the government for breaking the rules, the owner of a private road, could refuse to contract with you for rule violations.

    Those wanting the “CONTROL” intimated by msetty can choose to live/drive in areas where autonomous vehicle functions are not required.

    In the future of autonomous vehicles, those choosing to live in the city and/or choosing to drive in the city will experience increased freedom to do all those things that bother me and Dan because they won’t actually have to drive their car. And the rest of us will be the safer for it.

    PlanesnotTrains Reply:

    I think it would be significantly less expensive and just as effective to simply rid the planet of bad drivers.

    If you’re doing 45 in a 65, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive. If you drive up on a guard rail while talking on your stupid cell phone like I saw someone do today, you shoudln’t be allowed behind a wheel ever again.

  7. msetty

    Frank spaketh:
    Freedom does not mean freedom to put others at risk when you’re behind the wheel. Driving is not a right; it’s a privileged. There are rules on government streets just as there would be (and are) on privately owned roads. Just as your license could be suspended by the government for breaking the rules, the owner of a private road, could refuse to contract with you for rule violations.

    Those wanting the “CONTROL” intimated by msetty can choose to live/drive in areas where autonomous vehicle functions are not required.

    In the future of autonomous vehicles, those choosing to live in the city and/or choosing to drive in the city will experience increased freedom to do all those things that bother me and Dan because they won’t actually have to drive their car. And the rest of us will be the safer for it.

    So, Frank admits on the one hand that the “gummit” can make reasonable rules for the benefit of society.

    But he also implies that he’d like to see robocars being mandatory in a lot of places, particularly cities who decide they can’t allow manually driven cars but robocars, and “private roads” where “rule breakers” (sic) would be barred.

    Sounds to me if you say “f— you” to the seemingly inevitable robocar revolution, you’ll be very much like those who choose not to, or cannot, drive, e.g., second class citizens.

    Well. HA!!!!!!!!!

    I don’t apologize for disdaining your even more automated, gadget-filled Huckster Civilization. Push the idea of “mandatory robocars” and I’ll be joining hands with determined “motorheads” if you can picture that unlikely alliance of “strange bedfellows.”

  8. Sandy Teal

    I don’t see any reason to contemplate what roads would be like if 100% of the cars are driven by computers. That is not going to happen except in extreme and not interesting situations.

    What is a relevant question is what benefits are there for computer driven cars if only a portion of the cars are driven by computers?

    Frank Reply:

    I wonder if anyone on horse-powered wagons said, “What is a relevant question is what benefits are there for motorized carriages if only a portion of carriages are driven by motors?”

    Dinosaur thinking. The future is here. We will all die off and our grandchildren will be driving around in autonomous cars.

    Keep living in the past.

  9. msetty

    Motorheads favoring high speed rail, for the reasons I mentioned above. More “dinosaur thinking”…

    http://blogs.motortrend.com/high-speed-rail-stem-insidious-move-autonomous-cars-15403.html.

    Frank Reply:

    Yes. Dinosaur thinking.

    the highwayman Reply:

    I don’t see horses on streets to often, though they can co-exist with other street users.

    Frank Reply:

    Let me break this one down for you as I know it requires higher-level thinking skills you don’t have.

    Saying that autonomous cars cannot co-exist with conventional cars is like saying that horses and cars could not co-exist on the road just after the invention of cars.

    Within a few years, there were no more horses on the road.

    This is “dinosaur thinking” (or an outmoded way of thinking) that doesn’t consider that transition periods between differing technologies are fast and generally not the slippery slope into chaos that some commenters here would like you to believe.

    Get it now?

    And it’s too not to.

  10. msetty

    Here’s another “fatal flaw” for the utility of robocars to would-be passengers, at least on streets where bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, cats and other non-mechanical traffic is allowed:

    “Because robocars will always yield to pedestrians, it could actually encourage more jaywalking. This could reach a level where the constant need to slow down for pedestrians causes road congestion, and you can’t meter the pedestrians, only make rough predictions on their numbers.

    That seems like a pretty big monkey in your wrench. He [Brad Templeton -- http://www.templetons.com/brad/robocars] also notes that transit will still be needed – and talks about how it also can be made better. Another monkey.

    From: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12955/how-will-self-driving-cars-change-transportation/#comment-123609“.

    This is in the same general category as my objections earlier in a blog post about how the robot will determine whether that is an adult, child, dog, cat, package, possum, or whatever seated in the car, how the robot enforces seat belts, etc., etc.

    The full comment thread at http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12955/how-will-self-driving-cars-change-transportation is well worth reading whether you’re “pro” or “anti” robocar.

    msetty Reply:

    I don’t regularly reply to myself, but I now know THE strategy for monkey-wrenching to prevent a robocar revolution. “Occupiers” of the urban street world unite!

    Frank Reply:

    Minor problems that will be overcome with time and technology, as were previous problems with automobiles, such as tires that easily got flats, radiators that would freeze in the winter, traffic signals and rules, and so on.

    As far as jaywalkers, just try that maneuver in NYC and see what happens; in Portland, I’m sure everyone would be uber accommodating.

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