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Posted at 10:07 AM ET, 03/09/2012

Will driverless cars really slow for pedestrians?


Driverless cars will bring many changes to the way we see transportation. Some will be very good, some bad. But some commentators aren’t convinced when I say a huge fight is brewing over how much the road system defers to pedestrians and cyclists or pushes them aside.

In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum wrote:

[E]ventually you won’t even be allowed to drive a car. Every car on the road will be automated, and our grandchildren will be gobsmacked to learn that anything as unreliable as a human being was ever allowed to pilot a two-ton metal box traveling 60 miles an hour.
When that happens, it will be a golden age for pedestrians. Sure, cars won’t need signals at intersections, but neither will people.
If you want to cross a road, you’ll just cross. The cars will slow down and avoid you. You could cross blindfolded and be perfectly safe. You’ll be able to cross freeways. You’ll be able to walk diagonally across intersections. You’ll be able to do anything you want, and the cars will be responsible for avoiding you. Your biggest danger will come from cyclists and other pedestrians, not cars.

It would be fantastic if this scenario came to pass, but is it realistic? It’s certainly possible computers can get smart enough to handle it, but the sticking point here is the words “will slow down.”

How much will they slow down? For how many pedestrians? Drum lives in Irvine, Calif., which has few pedestrians, so perhaps the cars can just avoid the occasional pedestrian. But in urban areas, there are a lot of pedestrians. If everyone crossed whenever they liked, the cars would slow down an awful lot.

In some places, cars would hardly ever get through. In almost any major city’s downtown during a busy period, pedestrians are waiting in large numbers on street corners to cross. The only reason cars can get through is because signals govern pedestrian crossings. And when a light is green, often a car has to wait for a gap in the pedestrians or gently nose through to get past.

[Continue reading David Alpert’s post at Greater Greater Washington.]

David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By  |  10:07 AM ET, 03/09/2012

 
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