Despite all the talk (and hype) about autonomous vehicles arriving in our cities in the next decade, the problem is not so much technology as humanity.  Regulating the complex, messy spaces of a dense urban environment will also require preventing human beings from doing silly things outside the vehicles and on the streets, where they can’t be rationally programmed.  (Yes, I’m thinking of you, cyclists, who will more than ever be able to go wherever they want without fear of distracted or crazy drivers.  How long will it take the AV lobby to want to prohibit any user on the road that isn’t also rationally programmed?)
So where could AVs go now that provides exclusivity for vehicles, and physically prevents other users from sharing the space?  Why, freeways of course.  And that’s already occurred to proponents around the world, including some nearby.

From Curbed:

There’s no question that self-driving vehicles are the future. But Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group is hoping to get the jump on the autonomous car future by proposing one of the country’s first dedicated self-driving car lanes, running along I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Madrona envisions the lane completing over the next 5 to 15 years, starting with introducing autonomous cars into the HOV lane. Eventually, the lane would be entirely reserved for self-driving vehicles. …
Connecting these two centers with a dedicated autonomous vehicle lane would improve the link between the cities while costing significantly less than a proposed $30 billion high speed train line.

There’s another reason why these kind of proposals could be pushed forward aggressively: they would allow the elimination of truckers (the most common job in many U.S. states.)  That’s a huge economic incentive, regardless of the political pushback – and the single jurisdiction of most interstate freeways would make it easier to do it.  But again, it’s not the ability to invent and manage technology that matters as much as adapting and managing the humans.


  1. But what happens where the freeway ends and the grid begins?
    This is why I’m leery of the move toward “complete streets” and rather dismayed that Vancouver is always suggestive of this direction when talking about the future of streets downtown. We seem very afraid to offer non-motorized transportation (and just lingering) spaces to people that are fully free of cars. While some “complete streets” might be workable I’d much rather see a network of car-free streets in combination with a separate network of streets primarily devoted to moving motor vehicles. We’d soon see which are more successful as urban space.
    Cars might not mix too badly in small towns and it’s often not practical to separate. But it doesn’t work so well (AVs or not) in dense urban centres. The trick is when a town grows into a city. Vancouver is in that transition. Are we heading in the right direction?

    1. “But what happens where the freeway ends and the grid begins?”
      The solution could be as simple as a pullout which allows the truck to stop and have a driver jump in to complete the journey. Or the trailer could be removed and a regular truck attached.

  2. I’d be most worried about what happens to all the human labour that used to drive trucks. Where do those people go for work, in a demographic that is already chafing at underemployment.

    1. Take the bus to an educational institution, earn a ticket or degree in something practical. Do a but of research first into what is needed; there is currently a shortage of 200,000 computer science grads for hundreds of programming outfits across the land.
      On the other hand, a practical trade (electrical, plumbing …) using company vans is honourable.

  3. More like 25-30 years. We don’t yet have the 30km HOV lane from Richmond to the US border, neither is there any plan considering one.

  4. Great idea! We must embrace the future!
    As the report states: “North from Mount Vernon I-5 is four lanes up to the border-crossing in Blaine, WA, where it becomes Highway 99 with four lanes in British Columbia. Traffic planners in the future may want to add additional lanes to the four lane portions from Mount Vernon to Vancouver (82 miles) to support dedicated autonomous vehicle lanes.”
    Let’s hope the politicians are listening. We need this 130 km of new highway lanes ASAP. BC should show some leadership and add the additional required lanes from Richmond to the border now.

        1. AVs are the future.
          I’d believe that about freight moving by truck in limited quantities over fairly moderate distances. But over the Rockies and trans-continental service? That will most always be by rail which is far more efficient and cheaper, and most likely run on grid-based electricity.
          When the cost of energy and policies on conservation move into the arena of prime considerations, electric passenger rail offers orders-of-magnitude more affordable and efficient service than individualized private transport. Again, that will by necessity eventually be grid-based.
          There are lots of data now surfacing on the limitations of lithium, cobalt and copper resources that will lower the ceiling on the head-in-clouds expectations of AVs running on batteries.
          An astronomical amount of public resources have been devoted to moving private cars. In cities, one of the most egregiously wasteful practices was to hand over about 1/3rd of the land to roads. Greater efficacy in land use is the future.
          Ron has a point.

  5. One thing I haven’t heard mentioned in an AV future – particularly if it leads to more car sharing is the near elimination of these car related annoyances:
    Car alarms.
    Good riddance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *