Can Autonomous Cars Reduce Traffic in Boston?

Self-driving cars may seem like a futuristic concept. Well brace yourself. They are already here. Autonomous car company, NuTonomy, headquartered right here in Boston has already been testing their cars in a very limited area of the Seaport District for several months and has been given approval from the city to expand the test area throughout the Seaport District and into Fort Point. With 230 miles of problem-free test driving under their belt in the quiet Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park area, they are now getting ready to move on to a greater challenge, putting their cars into a broader and more densely populated area where they will have to contend with complex intersections, traffic lights multi-lane roads, and bridges in a part of the city where traffic congestion is notorious.

So, keep your eyes on the road. The new autonomous test cars will soon become a lot more visible in Boston!

What Will Driverless Cars Mean for Boston?

What will the advent of autonomous cars mean for traffic conditions in Boston? Time will tell. A lot will depend on how fast Bostonians embrace the innovation. As a whole, we are pretty attached to car ownership. And many people are not quite ready to trust vehicles over which they have no control. But if proved out in the expanded tests, it won’t be long until driverless cars become a regular part of Boston’s traffic scene. Will they relieve congestion? Who knows? That remains to be seen. For now, they are a novelty. But if they are shown to be able to navigate this city’s most daunting traffic situations without event, and prove themselves to be safer, quicker, and easier than traditional vehicles, it will be no surprise if they become the norm, maybe sooner rather than later. Driverless cars, in the beginning, will undoubtedly be expensive, and perhaps not fully driverless. The “driverless” Tesla comes with instructions for the driver to remain alert and to keep hands near the wheel. But as glitches are ironed out and prices come down, they might revolutionize transportation.

One thing that is for sure, they will have an impact on Boston’s roads and infrastructure, now designed for a different kind of transportation. Ultimately, the roadways, traffic signals, and various other elements of the infrastructure will need to be redesigned with the driverless cars in mind.

A Safer Option?

Driverless cars, in theory at least, can reduce the number of car accident injuries and fatalities. They can enable people to work from almost anywhere, reduce the need for parking, and encourage the expansion of the suburbs into outlying, currently rural areas, as it becomes less important to live within an easy driving distance of a job in the city. Real estate values and neighborhoods will reflect the changes. And remember the days when you were allowed to drink at age 18? Those days could return as drinking and driving may no longer be an issue.

Redesigning the Infrastructure and Retraining the Workforce to Meet the Needs of New Technology

Urban planners and civil engineers will need to use the tools of their professions── street design, traffic regulation, and zoning──in different ways to accommodate the new technology and the lifestyle changes that will predictably result from the new vehicles.

A downside is that many people who now make a living driving will become unemployed and require retraining for jobs in a much more automated world. But that is a problem our society will ultimately need to face, not only in transportation but in retail, manufacturing, and many other segments of the economy.

A Transportation Revolution on the Horizon?

The transportation revolution is not going to happen overnight; but it may be here sooner than you think. NuTonomy is already making driverless car service available to the public in Singapore. Can Boston be far behind?

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