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.