Traffic Planning in the Age of Self-Driving Cars

A company called Sidewalk Labs, which is reported to have “spun off from Google”, has announced a platform to help city managers and traffic planners deal with the driverless car revolution.

It’s all pretty abstract right now, because their platform isn’t actually in use yet, but the federal DoT will be announcing grants to cities and the Sidewalk Labs platform will come along with the grant.

So far this sounds like a “not a big deal yet, but keep it in the back of my mind” kind of program. I wish them success.

But what really got me thinking is whether the driverless car revolution will require traffic planning, or whether planners will really even be able to control it.

Backlash is already growing against apps like Waze, which route human drivers through residential neighborhoods to avoid highway traffic. In spite of the backlash, I assume that only a small percentage of drivers are actually even capable of pulling this off.

But once the computer is driving the car, the road network will be utilized to maximum efficiency, even if that’s unpleasant for people living on now-quiet residential streets.

In the future, will planners be able to funnel self-driving cars onto the desired thoroughfares, or will the computers always be ten steps ahead?

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