Challenges to my view of robot cars

I used to think robot cars would fill the gaps in any public transport system of our future ecocities. I used to think that they would give families the confidence to move from 2 cars to only owning 1 car, or from 1 to make the break from owning a car all together. I used to think that this was a vital piece of ecocity technology. Now I’m not so sure.

The Breakthrough Institute’s Michael Lind writes, “The Green Urbanization Myth”. I’m going to have to ponder this for a few days. The question is, what happens as our food systems become more efficient? Say we learn to grow most of our food in the deserts or in algaeculture, or even in unlikely food towers? What happens if we don’t need as much farmland? Will it return to wilderness, to great meadows and millions of bison roaming the plains?  Or will the rich buy it all for enormous weekend playgrounds? As Michael says:

The rise of robocars may accelerate metro area decentralization. Congestion will be reduced, and the greater safety of driverless cars may permit higher speeds on metro area beltways and cross-town freeways. Once taxi drivers are replaced by robot taxis, the cost of taxis will plummet and the greater convenience of point-to-point personal travel anywhere in a sprawling metro area will make rail-based mass transit obsolete except in places like airports and tourist-haven downtowns.  As in the past, most working-class families with children will probably prefer a combination of a longer commute with a bigger single-family house and yard to a shorter commute and life in a cramped apartment or condo. 

The rest of his article is quite compelling. I’m going to have to visit The Breakthrough Institute and read more about decoupling, as I’m wondering what I’ve missed if they think there is a realistic chance of radically reducing agricultural requirements?

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2 Responses to Challenges to my view of robot cars

  1. Patrick McCleery says:

    I don’t see why it has to be big house in the suburbs vs small condo in the cramped city. This looks like a false dichotomy to me. Individual dwellings can be quite large while still attaining a relatively high residential density. With townhouses/rowhouses, you can have a 3000 sq ft house on three levels that occupies 1000 sq ft of ground space. If we add a 1,000 sq ft garden then each dwelling would occupy 2,000 sq ft of ground space. If we allocate space for roads, sidewalks, etc then this yields a density of around 12 units per acre, which is around three times higher than the average suburb. This is also high enough to support rapid mass transit.

    The problem is that townhouses are basically made impossible to build due to zoning laws, which lump townhouses and apartment buildings together. A developer can make more money by building 3 story apartment buildings. The solution is to alter the zoning so that townhouses are included in single family zoning categories. This is more appropriate anyways since townhouses are technically single family dwellings.

    Robot cars aren’t going to solve the basic problem of capacity. A 40% increase in capacity is laughable when you consider how congested our roads are. Rail increases capacity by more than an order of magnitude vs. highways. There is only one way forward for cities and that is to embrace mass transit and new urbanism.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Eclipse Now says:

    Excellent answer Patrick, thanks very much for your input. More points to consider. So you think there is hope that we can ‘Rezone’ after all. Great news.
    https://eclipsenow.wordpress.com/rezone/

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