Will Self-Driving Cars Create Utopian Roadways? Not So Fast


The promise of a future filled with self-driving cars now seems within sight. Technology companies and car manufacturers continue to collaborate and perform successful tests, regularly ginning up excitement from those keeping tabs on the progress.

But what does a society filled with autonomous vehicles look like? Will it be the utopian roadways so many envision? Or will it result in an overcrowded infrastructural mess that only slows the world down.

Keller Easterling, an architect, writer, and Director of the Master of Environmental Design program at Yale University has considered what the future of transportation might look like, beyond just the technology that will drive it.

“I think that everyone recognizes now if those vehicles are sold as individual vehicles, or even in fleets, if they’re used in lieu of [public] transit, they will create unprecedented congestion,” Easterling said. “So, a very smart vehicle and a very dumb traffic jam.”

Before self-driving cars fills the world’s streets, careful consideration must be given to the structure they exist within. The social, digital and spatial relationships must also be considered, something that may not be top of mind for the global manufacturers of vehicles.

“It’s clear to me that mobility companies are not thinking about it as much as they should. Or, to advantage,” Easterling said. “Where mobility companies might be killing the golden goose or missing a huge opportunity is in the sustaining real estate revenues and other things that come from thinking about an interplay between digital and spatial organizations.”

At some point these critical questions must be faced, but as it stands right now, there is no way to know how the rollout of these might go.

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