Self-Driving Cars Won’t Save Cities – Here’s What Will

Self-Driving Cars Won’t Save Cities – Here’s What Will


This video is sponsored by Brilliant. The first 200 to use the link in the description
get 20% off their annual premium subscription. Self-driving cars are coming. Maybe in two years, maybe in twenty, But someday the steering wheel will fade into
history like Jell-O Salad and these weird coasters. The elderly and disabled will have cheap,
convenient transportation, Instead of racing to work, you’ll sit back,
relax, and generate ad revenue for me. and crashes will go from unfortunate reality
to rare tragedy. When three technologies converge: self-driving,
electric, and shared cars, the problem of how to get from A to B will
pretty much be solved. For the 68% of us living in cities, there
will be no need to own a car. In this world, transportation is a service,
waiting on every street, corner, nook, and alley. No waiting, hailing, or repairing. Of course, convenience is nothing new. The real force of progress is economic. Without the cost of drivers and gasoline,
prices fall dramatically. They won’t just be faster, easier, safer,
and, ya, know, better for the planet or whatever, but also affordable for everyone. The car will become the ideal form of transport. Not despite its cost, but, in part, because
of it. and that’s the problem: More cars means
more congestion, more parking, more challenges for cities. You might be thinking, sure, and automation
can solve them. Perhaps. But mass transportation is a very complicated
and political equation. It’s not that self-driving cars are bad,
exactly the opposite, it’s that so much optimism hides real obstacles, or, at the
very least, question marks, on the road to the city of the future. Like many technologies, individually, self-driving cars are great Collectively, they have all kinds of unexpected
consequences. Everything about them we hear through the
lens of technology, and when you’re a programmer, everything looks like Ruby on rails. To really understand them, we need the mindset
of a Sim City professional. And at the top of things Urban Planners hate
are: highways, parking lots, wide roads, and suburbs. Basically… cars. Or everything America is obsessed with. Today, electric vehicles make up less than
one percent of new car sales in the U.S. Even in Norway, where it’s 22%, that’s
only 84,000 electric, compared to one billion total. In other words, we’re a long ways away from
most cars being electric. Until then, they release 13% of all greenhouse
gas, kill more people from pollution than crashes, and make cities look and sound like…
well, this. But even if every car were electric tomorrow,
and self-driving technology was perfect, AND everyone could afford it, there’s still
a fundamental problem: space, the most valuable resource in a dense, urban area. 60 people commuting to work can look like
this, or it can look like this. If we’re generous and assume two people
per car, that’s still not 60. Imagine how wasteful sidewalks would be if
everyone required a 2-meter buffer. Well, you don’t have to. Fine, you say, so we’ll build more and bigger
roads. Do not pass go, and do not collect two hundred
dollars. This is a classic mistake, because bigger
roads do work, just, only for a minute. As roads improve, more people drive, until
it’s just as busy as it was before. Bigger roads? More traffic. Same congestion. Remember: transportation is an ecosystem. You can pull any lever you want, and with
the best intentions, but change one variable, and three dominoes down the line, who knows
what happens. Trust me, I watch levers get pulled all the
time. Plus, money spent on roads isn’t spent improving
trains, bikes, and busses. So, why do roads get bigger anyway? In part, because politicians serve short terms. Reduce commute time, get reelected, and then
watch it return to normal. Roads determine the shape, health, and success
of a city, they push buildings further apart, and housing
into suburbs. These long distances between home and work,
or school, or shopping, encourage, and often require, the use of a car. What could be an easily walked or biked community,
is stretched out into an endless sea of buildings where people get less exercise, make fewer
friends, even spend less money. But for 92% of their life, cars just sit. In the U.S. alone, there are one billion parking
spaces, four times the number of cars, or, together, the size of Connecticut. Most cities have Parking Minimums, For example,
a bowling alley in San Jose, California must provide at least 7 parking spaces per bowling
lane. A business office requires 1 for every 250
square feet, but a research office, only 300. Which is just as arbitrary as it sounds. In 2004, the city of London removed these
minimums, and parking fell from 1.1 spaces per apartment to 0.6. And since businesses are incentivized to create
as much parking as customers need, this switch from free to free-market parking shows there
was previously too much. Of course, parking is never really free, In
residential areas, it hides in the cost of rent. In the U.S., that’s an average of $225 a
month, sometimes much more. And taxpayers bear the cost of free public
parking whether they use it every day or can’t afford a car and only breathe-in their fumes. Worse, Americans incentivize driving with
the federal Commuter Tax Benefit, 7.3 Billion dollars a year in write-offs for
those who drive to work. This alone causes an estimated 4.6 billion
more miles to be driven, and moves wealth from poor to rich. Meanwhile, the government loses 7 billion
dollars, Which, I have a feeling it could find a better use for… Now, you might be thinking, all this talk
of parking and sprawl and roads, it assumes more cars in the future. But when we share them, won’t there actually
be fewer? Well, maybe. But there’s good reason to be skeptical. For every mile shared Uber and Lyft rides
save, they add 2.6. How is that possible? 45% of the time they’re empty, driving to
and from pickups. and 60% of riders say they would’ve otherwise
walked, or biked, or stayed home. Driverless cars will be more efficient, but
not fundamentally different, there’ll be empty, wasted miles, and many who share will
do so instead of a more efficient means of transportation. And because demand fluctuates, they’ll still
need parking. Having enough cars to get everyone to and
from work leaves many with nothing to do for the rest of the day. They could go park outside the city, but that
means more miles driven. Plus, they all need somewhere for recharging,
cleaning, and maintenance. Now, here’s the thing: It’s easy to imagine
a future where automation is so efficient, none of this really matters, For example, this study estimates a 25-35%
increase in traffic flow, which is very encouraging, Here’s the catch: only when nearly every
vehicle is self-driving. Eventually, cars will no longer have the monkey
coordination problem, where one car can slow down a city. But that’s the key: It only takes a single
non-self-driving car. Even with 75% driverless, the study says “the
improvements are minor.” So, someday they may solve the transportation
problem, but first, they could make it much worse. The most efficient way to travel isn’t the car, or train, or plane, it’s… your feet – minimal infrastructure, and a very small well… footprint Almost as good are bicycles and skateboards. Of course, these alone are not enough, so
transportation is a balance. It’s not bus versus rail versus car, but
all of the above. When twice a day, 5 days a week, thousands
of people need to get from roughly here to roughly here, well, you’re probably looking
for rapid transit. Within the city, where routes and demand change
over time, the bus is probably your answer. But self-driving cars threaten this balance. The first to adopt them will be those that
can afford it, And as more and more upper and middle class
disappear from public transit, so will its funding disappear. To them, public transit will seem old and
unnecessary. But it’ll still be very important for much
of the population. If cities want to keep an efficient balance,
they need to prioritize accordingly Designing first for walking and biking – open
spaces, clean sidewalks, and instead of fighting the homeless, well, maybe fighting homelessness. After that, encouraging public transit – the
most efficient, cost-effective way to move huge groups of people. And finally, controlling the number of cars, Making sure drivers themselves pay their costs,
including those you can’t see. The price of tolls and parking should increase
with demand, creating an incentive not to drive, and managing congestion during peak
hours. None of this will be easy, but, ultimately,
transportation is an equation. The difference between an overcrowded city
and a comfortable one is finding the optimal, mathematical solution. Cities have to find the right balance of old
technologies and new ones like dock-less, electric scooters, bike sharing, even Segways. and, speaking of segues, A great way to learn
the math behind cities and the Computer Science enabling self-driving cars is with Brilliant.org. If you enjoy solving puzzles like “What’s
the most efficient way to lay out a subway network?” or figuring out how to use probability
to win games, you’d probably love Brilliant. Here, the way you learn is by doing – not
just memorizing. You solve a puzzle, or play with a graph,
learn the concepts behind it, then check your understanding. It gives you the skills to solve real, useful
problems, and, just as importantly, it does so in a way you’ll actually understand. For me, that’s what’s satisfying, not
just being able to use an equation, but explain how it works, and use that knowledge to create
something new. There are enough topics that you can explore
whatever interests you most – machine learning, astronomy, computational biology, and a whole
lot more. You can check it out yourself for free and
support this channel with the link in the description, brilliant.org/PolyMatter and the first 200 people will get 20% off
the annual premium subscription. Earlier in this video we talked about transportation
incentives. That topic deserves more attention, and it’s
the subject of a new video on the YouTube channel City Beautiful. I highly recommend checking out all of his
videos. He does a really great job explaining city-related
topics in an entertaining way, and there’s nothing quite like it on YouTube. Link is in the description, and thanks for
listening.