How autonomous cars will kill walking and cycling.

Imagine how many more cars could use the road if cars all travelled bumper-to-bumper, full speed all the way!


Existing roads could transport many times more cars than they transport right now, moving more people than if the whole width of the road were given over to bus lanes and bike lanes. Images like this…


…would be interpreted quite differently, for no longer would we even know the concept of cars stuck in traffic. In the public imagination, roads would be like giant conveyors.


If by chance you have been fooled by propaganda promoting self-driving cars as a good thing for pedestrian and bicyclist safety, it’s time you asked yourself why auto makers are investing in this technology. To increase the safety of those not buying from them? Of course not.


What they’re doing is guarding their bogus claim upon public space. They see public transport and bicycling lobbies winning more space and more patrons with arguments based on the movement of people to jobs and to shops. Autonomous cars are their counter offensive. They’re hiding behind companies like google and pay-pal that have already insinuated themselves into our lives, while at the same time wowing us all with gee-wiz technology. What they’re not showing us is what it might feel like travelling to work on a giant conveyor…


or what it might be like crossing that road or trying to ride a bike there: like putting your fingers into a fan.



  1. Daniel Oakman says:

    Ah, the Holden Storm Riders cira early 2000s. So many memories – the dumbest thing, ever!
    Reminds of Chris Burden’s amazing Metropolis 2 which is about this very notion.
    Note the way this announcer completely misunderstands and misrepresents his work!
    Hear the man himself talk about it – more eloquently.

  2. T.Foxglove says:

    Don’t worry, bikes will be ridden by robots too

  3. Dréa Weich says:

    I disagree, if all the cars are on giant ‘conveyor belts’ than this easily allows for making safe crossings spaces such as over and under passes, separate cyclist paths, separate pedestrian paths. Human drivers are really unpredictable and have no additional sensors, only eyes and ears inside a metal, cushioned box… The current human-driven car society we live in is unsafe for all road users, especially those not in a metal shell…

  4. Luis G says:

    Another issue about a brave new world with driverless cars no one talks about is that they are still an inefficient way to use urban space and provide a quite limited capacity. The quote below is from a real life trial of driverless taxis in Masdar (Abu Dhabi):
    “To make a long story short (my involvement in Masdar City lasted 3 years) we soon realized that the dream of using “automated taxis” as a mass transport system often resulted in… queues of taxis at pick up points!”
    This ‘ideal’ future of transportation Google is promising is likely to result in low-density (and inactive) car centric cities in which most of the public space and funds will still be allocated to the most inefficient mode.
    Doesn’t seem that different from the current state, does it?

  5. That comparative graphic surely must be impossible. For one thing, in a world where self-driving cars exist, self-driving buses and trains must also be viable. Their difference in efficiences will remain, if not widen.
    Besides public transit’s advantages, I remain sceptical of self-driving cars anyway.
    Platooning is an optimisation for car travel, but I suspect it will respond poorly to entropy (unlike either transit or bicycles) — making it perhaps a micro-optimisation and not a game-changer. The vial conveyor clip above is exactly what does not scale up to car travel because of inherent geometrical differences. At best, we may only discover new and different ways to end up in vehicular gridlock.
    Mere autonomy in car fleets does not address other inherent problems of dead runs, car parking, non-linearities in demand, computational limits, engineering tolerances, and so much more.

    They pretty nearly killed walking and cycling without autonomous vehicles, so I don’t feel like the latest round of technosalivation adds anything. I’d reject both hype and fear when it comes to this technology.

    • Steven says:

      And now I know the word “platooning” as well. I take your point about overblown fear. As with car-land right now, all I want is an alternative layer of space in the city running perpendicular to the madness and preferably never coming in contact.

    • crank says:

      In the near term, those scalability issues will hold true, but further in the future, when humans are banned from driving the landscape will change. For instance, self-driving cars may not require lanes. Could they more easily flow heavily in one direction during peak times? Could they bulge and swell to be several-abreast where we currently have one or two lanes in each direction? The vial analogy may not be so flawed.
      While I don’t like the vision, one hope is that self-driving cars/shared mobility removes the proud petrol heads from their obnoxiously loud and large vehicles. But what will they move to? Will the boneheads start riding unneccessarily large bikes with shiny rims and cardboard flaps in the spokes and a UV light beneath to convince others of their manliness?
      Could self-driving cars be better without walls? Bumper cars with brains? I often think if we replaced all cars with golf-carts, at least we’d be able to have that face-to-face human interaction that I think counters bad blood on the road. Obviously most people would prefer quiter cars then.

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