Self-driving cars sound pretty sweet, right? The idea of a safer, more reliable way to travel via automobile has an intuitive appeal — after all, according to the CDC, there are over 30,000 traffic fatalities each year in the US alone. Theoretically, the wide adoption of self-driving cars could greatly reduce that tragic number. But what if, as a recent editorial in Streetsblog argues, self-driving cars end up being the bane of livable cities instead of their savior?
Essentially, the argument is that self-driving cars will actually result in more cars on San Francisco streets as opposed to less. "Then there’s the 'rebound effect' whereby people find that using a driverless car is so easy they don’t mind longer trips or congestion," Streetsblog predicts. "One scenario suggests households that currently have two or more cars might shift to a single shared car, but that car would actually drive more as it shuttles (often empty) back and forth chauffeuring the household members throughout the day."
More cars on San Francisco's already congested streets is definitely not what people have in mind when they picture the future robot-driven utopia. Instead, most people probably think of some kind of efficient and networked system — perhaps like the one city officials pitched in their failed bid to obtain $50 million in "smart city" grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
More cars on our streets, however, may be exactly what we get. As Google, Lyft, Uber, Apple, and Tesla all rapidly seek to develop and deploy self-driving cars, it would perhaps do us well to remember that.