“In just a few years, all cars will be partially or fully autonomous.” Are we hapless drivers ready?
It’s safe to say that few people on the planet know more about guiding vehicles from place to place than Schwartz, an engineer who served as New York City’s traffic commissioner for years. In this book, which closely follows the city government’s decision to rein in Uber and Lyft drivers, the author emerges as a not-entirely-uncritical advocate of autonomous vehicles, which promise to do all kinds of good things for crowded roadways, with a lot of ifs attached—e.g., if governments everywhere “ensure that people are privileged over cars, and that in the rush to innovate, unsafe or untested vehicles are not allowed to come on the market.” The author notes that Uber employs “a lobbying troop that is larger than Walmart’s” and spends millions on pressing its case. Given that he believes Uber and other disruptive transportation companies will continue to do so given the vast—potentially trillions of dollars—amount of money involved, cars may very well be privileged over people. For all that, Schwartz advocates moving forward with plans to introduce AVs into the transportation mix along with other steps to discourage individual ownership of vehicles, at least in cities—for, as he also notes, the vast number of vehicle trips are taken with single occupants going to places no more than a mile from home, trips that can easily be accommodated by other forms of transportation. The author contrasts some of the amazingly pedestrian-unfriendly cities of today (Athens, Greece, anyone?) with visions for a future where cars are kept at a safe distance from walkers and cyclists—but where cars, thus carefully limited and regulated, still hold a place in a vibrant suite of transportation options. An invigorating bit of future-trend prognosticating, generally positive, if warning direly of global gridlock if trends continue. Urban planners, architects, and transportation activists will definitely want to take note.