Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Streetsblog

The Trouble With RoboCars: “You Can’t Optimize People So Easily”

Driverless cars sound like something out of a science fiction novel. But believe it or not, Google prototypes are already here, cruising the streets of California. And computer engineers are devising intersections optimized for driverless cars, which Streetsblog NYC featured last week.

Optimists are excited about the technology's potential to reduce the bloodshed that results from human error. But many observers, including Emily Badger at Atlantic Cities and Tom Vanderbilt in Wired, have cautioned about the potential that driverless cars will further entrench the privilege of motorists over all other classes of road users.

David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington says this may be an idea that works better in theory than in practice:

My background is in computer science, too, and computer scientists love figuring out how to make complex systems perform efficiently. Driverless cars provide an opportunity to optimize the real-world traffic system, if you can get most people driving computer-controlled cars and can get all of those computers to cooperate.

But you can't optimize people so easily. Already, cities host ongoing and raucous debates over the role of cars versus people on their streets. For over 50 years, traffic engineers with the same dreams about optimizing whizzing cars have designed and redesigned intersections to move more and more vehicles.

These changes frequently pushed other users aside with longer waits for crosswalks, the need to push buttons to get a walk signal, awkward bridges over wider and wider arterials, or simply omitting bike or pedestrian facilities entirely and then blaming those users when careless drivers hit and kill them.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Stop and Move marvels at the city of Fresno's wasteful use on funds dedicated for air pollution reduction. Second Avenue Sagas reports that the New York Times has raised the subject of congestion pricing in Manhattan, after previous pricing attempts fell to political opposition. And Bike Lane Living offers a range of perspectives on bicycling, as presented in television commercials.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Exclusive: Legal Team Announced for Suit Against Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Attorneys from three firms have inked a joint defense agreement to fight "the governor’s illegal decision to cancel congestion pricing," Comptroller Brad Lander said.

July 17, 2024

Brooklyn BP Wants Mayor Adams To Do More To Reduce Parking

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso's recommendation on City of Yes: Eliminating parking mandates is not enough!

July 17, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines: Citi Bike By the Numbers Edition

Haters of Citi Bike are really going to detest the new website. Plus other news.

July 17, 2024

Once Again, There is More Evidence that Safer Streets Help Local Business

...and there's more insight into why people simply don't believe it.

July 17, 2024

Bedford Ave. Protected Bike Lane Would Benefit Residents, Businesses: Data

A new report debunks the common myth that street safety projects aren't built for the benefit of people who live in a given neighborhood.

July 16, 2024
See all posts