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A bicycling manifesto

This week saw a minor dustup over an article in the New York Times that some in the bike community saw as yet another round of “blame the victim.” The most interesting (and profanity-laden) that I saw appeared in Bike … Continue reading

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Missing Links: Leavitt @ Montrose

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A rather short addition to my Missing Links series. This is one that I traverse every day and I think about writing this post every time I pass through here. Leavitt St. is one of the best north-south connections on … Continue reading

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Drivers gone bad

I had initially started this post as a response to several incidents that I witnessed while biking a few months ago. In light of the latest internecine bike fight and Mayor Emanuel’s proposal for increased fines for bicyclists, I’ve resurrected my … Continue reading

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Missing links

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I have been generally pleased with Chicago’s push for better bike infrastructure on major thoroughfares, and far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth. That said, I often wonder if our money isn’t better spent … Continue reading

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Guns don’t kill people, drivers kill people

I heard a sad report today on the radio about the victim of a New Year’s Day shooting – one of the first people this year killed by a firearm. Perhaps it’s my own heightened awareness, but I have noticed … Continue reading

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Blank Check

As reported on Streetsblog, Illinois DOT is eyeing a $410M expansion of the Circle Interchange adjacent to downtown Chicago to improve capacity (for vehicles, of course) and address deficiencies in the existing design. That’s an eye-popping sum of money. Or it … Continue reading

Hard Drive

Jarrett Walker over at humantransit.org recently posted a thought-provoking article about self-driving cars. While I usually agree with Jarrett, this particular post fell a bit flat for me. He (and a number of commenters) seemed very dismissive of the idea. In particular, Jarrett’s main concern was that he could not see any “intermediate states” between the status quo and an imagined future of robot cars.

I appreciate the skepticism, but, as other commenters pointed out, the future may already be here. Lexus, for example, presented new driverless technology at CES just today. And Google has been working on the technology for at least a couple of years. In Nevada, self-driving cars are actually already legal (under heavy regulation, of course).

I take a more measured view. I agree that we won’t magically see robot taxis cheaply carting us to and fro in five years’ time and I also agree that Johnny 5 won’t be your chauffeur without several years (decades?) of iterative improvements. But that has never been the vision (at least from serious proponents). If you think about it, chances are that all drivers have enlisted the help of automation to make driving a more pleasant experience: ever heard of cruise control? Just because we can’t see the evolution happening ex-ante doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Given that we’re talking about cars, it would be instructive to look at the example of motordom at the beginning of the last century. There were many who felt the automobile was a short-lived phenomenon ill-suited to cities. They were a plaything for the rich, not an everyday necessity. For good or evil, the car-centric visions of Futurama, Robert Moses and scores of others came to pass despite the initial skepticism (and even outright hostility) on the part of the public at large.

As it relates to urbanism and cities, I think it’s important to imagine how this potentially disruptive technology might change the game. For instance, how might parking requirements change if vehicle storage no longer has to occur at the immediate premises of the origin or destination? How could bicycle safety be improved if the computer was keeping a constant eye on every movement of the bicyclist up ahead? How could we improve or remake transit knowing that riders have a cheap, guaranteed last-mile ride at the end of their train or bus trip?

If we don’t think about these things now, chances are it will be too late to think about them once the change is thrust upon us. And change is something we can all rely upon.