Cars and Traffic Urban Culture

Technology Not to the Rescue

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What would be different here if these were robocars?


By J. H. Crawford

The news is all full of electric cars and robotic cars, and cars, cars, cars. Only the Guardian has dared to question how this all plays out.

Safe, self-driving, electric cars only solve a small fraction of the problems that cars cause. Let us assume for the sake of argument that we can produce the needed billion or so self-driving electric cars. (This assumption is by no means warranted, given limitations in material resources, energy, and financing.)

So, supposing that we build the necessary fleet of robotic cars and find enough energy to recharge them, what problems have we actually solved by this measure? Yes, perhaps the energy and pollution problems have been fixed, and maybe the safety issues with cars as well.

What unsolved problems does this leave? Well, it’s a long laundry list. Cars will always take up too much of the precious land in cities. They will always make too much noise at high speed. They will always be an ugly blot on what should be the beautiful faces of our cities. They are inherently isolating and lead to weaker social bonds. Even if they are perfectly clean and are never involved in collisions, they are still a public health menace, as they discourage people from walking and cycling and so lead to increased death rates from a long list of causes.

Their presence in large numbers will continue to depress real estate values near highways. They will continue to consume immense amounts of money for their construction, operation, and scrapping. The public will continue to subsidize the construction and maintenance of highways. These highways will continue to form barriers that divide communities.

As I said 16 years ago in Carfree Cities, the car “will remain the most expensive, most resource intensive, and least sustainable method of urban transport.” The passage of time and the advancement of technology has only served to strengthen my conviction that cars just don’t belong in cities.

J. H. Crawford is the director of and the author of Carfree Cities and the Carfree Design Manual. This article was first published in the Spring 2016 issue of Carfree Times, and is republished with permission.

Photo by Richard Risemberg