Autonomous vehicles will cause more traffic, pollution and sprawl – unless we act now, according to a study

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In a version of our future autonomous vehicle, the rich have driverless cars that serve as offices, hotels or entertainment centers, bringing them to destination on demand, while the working class lives far from city centers , making long hours of traveling and suffering more and more pollution.

In another country, urban areas provide affordable housing for the working class and low-income residents, and everyone has access to self-driving cars at reasonable prices. Almost all rides are shared, all vehicles are electric and public transit is both reliable and ubiquitous.

Transportation experts believe the latter solution could be an environmentally friendly alternative to traffic congestion, forcing Bay Area residents to spend long hours on blocked highways, while improving access. to jobs, housing, health care and education.

But for the moment, we are going in the wrong direction, said Hana Creger, co-author of a report released Wednesday by the Oakland-based public policy advocacy organization, the Greenlining Institute. However, it is not too late, she said, to move towards a greener and more equitable future.

"There is no doubt that autonomous vehicles do not just come, but they are already there," Creger said. "If we do not want to shape this autonomous revolution, all existing inequalities will be exacerbated."

To do this, autonomous vehicles must be shared and electric, she said. But getting there is not as easy as it looks, says Susan Shaheen, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Berkeley.

Although Motivate, the first self-service bicycle operator in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a public-private partnership, purely private actors quickly entered the scene and "disrupted" years of planning and community awareness with bikes and scooters without a dock – cities are still trying to keep up. Some transportation advocates complained that these bikes and scooters did not reach low-income communities in the Bay Area.

Companies such as Waymo, Apple and Tesla are now leading the deployment of autonomous vehicles in the same way, she said, letting the public wait and see what happens.

In the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the country, low-income communities of color have seen highways physically separate their neighborhoods from the rest of the city, making it harder for residents to access their homes. 39, employment, education and health care, said Richard Ezike, with the Union of Scientists concerned. These same highways encouraged white middle and upper class residents to move to the suburbs, which spurred much more difficult real estate developments for transit.

Now, he said, the opposite is happening as wealthier people return to cities and low-income communities of color leave urban centers in search of cheaper housing in the suburbs and residential neighborhoods.

Will self-driving vehicles encourage the rich to move out of the city or worsen the development of low-income housing along urban suburbs? Nobody can say that, but transportation experts agree that autonomous vehicles will probably make car travel more attractive, which will lead to sprawl.

Whether autonomous vehicles end up being a hello or a scourge depends on what policy makers are doing to prepare for driverless fleets of the future, said Creger. This means recovering the streets for pedestrians, cyclists and scooters while discouraging the use of single-occupant cars.

Controlling access to the sidewalk, for example with drop-off spaces or parking lots, is one way to do this, said Ray Sperling, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis, giving priority to multi-passenger vehicles, charging for occupants or limiting the ability to park.

Ezike said another solution was to charge higher rush-hour fares for single-occupancy passengers, while offering discounts for group and clean-air vehicles or reserving routes for them. use, an extension of the current operating mode of the Bay Area express corridors. And perhaps it also means making difficult choices about where people are allowed to live by banning the development of forests or farmland, he said.

"People see self-driving vehicles as a magic solution, when in fact it's our car-driven culture that's a problem," Creger said. "But all this hype and focus on technology is becoming a distraction. We must focus on the human implications. "