So, how will we get around San Diego 25 or 30 years from now? Who knows. Perhaps we’ll be using a smartphone (iPhone version 37…) to call a driverless car to pick us up.
Electric bikes might be big.
Maybe — just maybe — the trolley will finally go to the beach … and to the airport.
The potential for major change — brought about by technological advances that might not be far off — has imaginations soaring. Could the changes mean less carbon emission, quicker commutes and more and cheaper transportation options for the economically disadvantaged?
Take the driverless car.
Jim Stone, executive director of Circulate San Diego, a nonprofit that focuses on transportation and land issues, says one report predicts that by 2020 — just three years from now — as many as 10 million cars will be operating with some sort of autonomous feature.
“Will we be like the Jetsons in our driverless cars?” he mused.
Could that happen in San Diego, where our transportation infrastructure is so tied to the present-day automobile?
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer supports the technology. In his recent State of the City Address, he said:
“Now, autonomous, self-driving vehicles hold the opportunity to supplement our existing transit network … and making getting around safer and more efficient.
“My kids are going to get their driver’s licenses soon. And if you’d ever been in the passenger seat with a 15-year-old behind the wheel, you’d be excited about self-driving cars too.”
Just recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated the San Diego region as one of 10 proving grounds for autonomous vehicles in the nation. SANDAG, Caltrans and the city of Chula Vista submitted the application together.
The region has three distinct training grounds, supporters of the technology say. That would be the I-15 Express Lanes, the South Bay Expressway and the city of Chula Vista.
“This is great news for the San Diego region,” SANDAG Chair and County Supervisor Ron Roberts said in a statement. “We are at the start of a new transportation era, and it’s tremendously exciting for our region to be part of a national initiative to foster innovations and best practices that will enable the safe deployment of driverless vehicles.”
But how might this technology change our region? According to some scenarios, driverless cars would do the amazing, perhaps negating the need for traditional transportation modes.
The cars would zip into traffic, but not the type of traffic we know today. Cars would be moving within a few feet of each other because driver error would be a distant memory thanks to the cars’ ability to communicate with each other. (Allstate will be bummed.)
The cars will be smaller and narrower because safety equipment won’t be necessary anymore. They won’t have steering wheels or bumpers or windows.
Think of the rush-hour traffic at the Interstate 5 and 805 merge today. One day, could it magically vanish?
Make no mistake: If autonomous cars become a reality, we are in for one heck of a ride. It’s goodbye Orange Cab. Truck drivers will lose jobs. Same with Uber and Lyft drivers.
Still, some question how close we actually are to realizing this futuristic dream. Even though tech giants such as Google and automakers such as Ford and Tesla are moving rapidly, some wonder if this transition is possible.
Slate magazine has questioned the hype around the Google car, speculating that the necessary level of artificial intelligence could be years away.
Yet, that’s far from a universal opinion. Angus Clark of HulaCar, an all-electric car sharing company designed for hotel guests and resort goers in Southern California, is a believer in the possibilities.
He was a panelist at a recent forum on the future of transportation held by Circulate San Diego, which plans to hold several more discussions on the subject during the next year.
Clark thinks driverless cars are a game changer.
“They are coming,” he said.
Clark envisions a person using a smartphone to summon a car. Once the person’s destination is reached, the car goes off to its next assignment. They’ll be like airliners — always on route someplace.
That should increase transportation efficiency. Right now, most of us use our cars to commute. They sit idle most of the day and night. It’s a huge waste.
“It offers a higher benefit of the car,” Clark said of the change.
Ray Traynor, director of operations for SANDAG, who was also a Circulate San Diego panelist, said this is the most challenging time of his 30 years in transportation.
He cited the technological changes that may revolutionize how we move about. Traynor spoke of vehicles that could talk to us. Say you’re a pedestrian: You could get a warning on your smartphone from a car that senses it’s coming too close to you well before it gets there.
Right now, given the scant number of charging stations, charging an electric car can be pain. Imagine if a car could recharge wirelessly while on the road, he said.
He noted concern about cybersecurity. Suppose the car you’re riding in gets hacked and starts acting as if Friars Road were the Indianapolis Speedway.
Khalisa Bolling, a member of the board of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said driverless road systems won’t need as many lanes because the cars will be narrower. That will mean more space for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Regardless of whether driverless cars become common, she said, bikes should play a greater role in our travel needs. They offer a wide range of benefits — for people and for the environment. You get fit. And you don’t drive something that releases emissions.
She noted that 40 percent of the trips we take are less than three miles in distance, yet we drive cars for two-thirds of them.
The electric bike could be promising, she said, because of the many hills in San Diego. They’re getting less expensive, as well.
While all of these innovations sound pretty amazing, could they cause unintended consequences? For instance, could driverless cars cause the demise of traditional mass transit, such as the trolley and trains? Why take those if a driverless car can zip you about more easily?
Traynor said he doubts that transportation modes that carry large numbers of people will disappear. They will still offer efficiency.
However, they too could become driverless.