Infrastructure Question

Today I listened to a webinar titled Making Cities Smarter hosted by the Sustainable Cities Collective. One of the participants thought that bicycles are a key aspect of smart transportation because they create healthy people and are available whenever you need them. Another participant took this a step further and said that infrastructure built for the pedestrian is an even smarter way to build.

Given our current infrastructure woes in the United States, the idea of driverless cars, or personal rapid transit is enticing because they reduce human fatalities and pollution. I would love feedback from readers about the following: do you think that driverless cars have an important role in the urban transportation infrastructure future of the United States or should we focus instead on updating our public transit systems and bicycle infrastructure? Below is my response.

I believe that the United States can either be the progressive, international leader of cutting-edge public transportation technology and implementation or fall into the background. Pedestrian focused infrastructure, like creating car-free central districts, better sidewalks and access to green spaces, public space that encourages people to sit for a while with friends and strangers, is the ideal. Most of our cities, however, rely completely on the automobile and thus changing them into pedestrian oases seems like a remote possibility.

I think that people are more open in this country to automobile focused solutions to our congested roads and highways than they are to public transit or pedestrian-based solutions. Therefore, the idea of creating personal rapid transit infrastructure is attractive because not only could it reduce congestion, but also it would lead to fewer deaths via car crashes. My idealistic personality, however, does not see this as the solution, and would rather work towards pedestrian friendly places that foster community and connection. Pedestrian based solutions implemented now can last for hundreds and even thousands of years.

  • Gid

    The American majority is like a child who won’t eat his vegetables and just wants dessert. Anything that seems “forced” on us, that’s different, like communities that don’t embrace the automobile, opting for an environmentally friendly option, people FREAK OUT! Attitude is a major impediment to progress, and I can envision a world where people warm up to the idea of weening automobile dependance… until a law is passed mandating people have bells on their bikes… then the cycle of obstinance begins again.

    Also, a thought I had while writing this: Have you considered that there has been a major boom in sales of noise canceling headphones? Those pedestrians who wear them, do you think a bike-friendly community might be even MORE dangerous to them than one built around automobiles, where traffic lights and pedestrian signals are prevalent and the dangers more in-your-face?

  • Ben F.

    Thanks for your comment, Gid!

    Yes, we in the U.S. are very against being forced to do anything; it challenges our deeply entrenched myth of individualism. I do think, however, that people do and will continue to want options other than cars, especially with the high price of owning a car and keeping it in good shape.

    I did not think about noise canceling headphones in terms of pedestrian safety. I believe that anytime we are in the public realm with cars and bikes zipping by us that we should do all in our power to be aware of our surroundings. Bicyclists who do not watch out for pedestrians are definitely part of the problem, yet I know of many more pedestrian deaths and accidents from automobiles than from bicycles.