Chicago Tribune: A driverless streetscape? Plan on it

August 21, 2018

To find a prism into how cities and suburbs will evolve in coming years and decades, look no further than the lowly curb.

That concrete barrier between street and sidewalk has always been that place where we park cars, alight buses and hail taxis. During parades, it’s that makeshift bench that gives our tired legs a moment of rest.

Now, fast-forward to, say, 2050. What will the curbside world look like? Will segments be set off as pick-up/drop-off points for driverless Ubers and Lyfts flitting in and out with clockwork precision? Will Divvy or scooter docking stations take up more space along the curb, as we embrace ways to get off our duffs and out of our cars? Will there be any room for the holdouts among us who refuse to let go of SUV steering wheels?

It’s that kind of imaginative yet necessary conceptualizing that regional transportation planners are undertaking right now, and urging municipalities to undertake on their own. Driverless car and truck technology will be one part of that transformation. It won’t change just the way we get to and from work — it will change the movement of goods and freight, our streetscape infrastructure, even our choices of where we live.

There’s only so much advance planning that you can do — or need to do. Aircraft manufacturers are already working on prototypes for flying taxis, but that doesn’t mean cities should start repurposing parking garage rooftops as landing zones. Ride-share through the air is still many years away. We think.

One takeaway is a message for regional and local leaders: Don’t wait until 2040 or 2030 or even 2020 to start thinking about how the region’s streets, curbsides, and infrastructure will need to change once driverless technology rolls around. That’s not fanciful thinking — it’s smart planning.

— Chicago Tribune

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