Cycling in Brisbane Australia
I was doing a bit of crystal ball gazing over my morning cuppa after reading the news. It seems that someone in the world thinks that France falls out of love with the car. I'm not sure of that because like most other economic things, car sales are cyclic and just when we think we have reached peak car, sales take off again. We've seen it all before. In any case, there are a few hints surfacing about where all this personal transport stuff is heading. The people are falling out of love with the car, either because of lifestyle choices or just the sheer economic burden of car ownership. All things have their time, and all thing pass ... c'est la vie.
If science fiction is a predictor then it's a bad one. A lot of movies I have watched that are set in the future have the heroine or hero jumping into some sort of futuristic car and driving off - well that's bullshit because even now there are cars around that drive themselves and I foresee this is going to be the norm before the end of my days. There will be a lot of kicking and screaming before that happens though because driving a car is part of what defines a lot of people ... it's part of what they are, but then so was riding a horse around and there's not a lot of people using horses for daily transport any more. Things change, but usually at glacial speeds. So, my crystal ball tells me that one day in the not so distant future, the cars will drive themselves and we will just sit in them and use that time way better than we use time now. Deaths and injury on the roads will plummet, transport efficiency will increase and peoples attitude to transport will change. I don't think cars are going extinct, just how they are used will change.
Already the portents are in, there are already Google Cars and motor vehicle manufacturers are playing with self-driving vehicles. A lot of car-sharing and ride-sharing schemes are around the world, none of them outrageously successful. Cars for long distance travel will become things of the past ... even now it's far more efficient economically and time-wise to get to where you are going using mass-transit systems and hire a car or bike when you arrive. There might still be a car in every garage though, just not one you drive. If you are a taxi driver, skill up in something else ... if there are to be self driving cars then what need of taxi drivers? There will still be taxis and hire cars, just no drivers - well, nothing is of ever and we move on (most likely in self driving cars). And it won't end there, the buses will self drive, as will the trains and the planes and the ships - everything except the humble bicycle ... we could make them self ride (Baidu, the Chinese web search company has reportedly toyed with this idea), but what would the point of a self-riding bike be? Cheaper than a self driving car no doubt and subject to the same efficiencies as the self driving car, but, well, I don't think we will see them because bicycles are seen in the same way as walking.
What's this mean for the humble bicycle? Well, except for a very brief period in history since the invention of the bicycle, a decade or so maybe, modern roads have been built for cars. If cars are suddenly moving around more efficiently without idiot intervention or all the emotion that goes with road congestion and whose beating who to the next set of lights, then how we build roads will change. Cars will be "on the net" and will "know" how much traffic is on the road and will choose routes and speeds accordingly and efficiently. No bicycles on these roads though because it's going to upset the smooth operation of the networked machines if there is some dufus on a bicycle doing whatever they want wherever they want - we won't be allowed on the same road as the self-driving machines. Oh, the machines will know we are there and will most likely avoid us (bear in mind machines, unlike people, won't care at all if there is a bicycle on the road), it's just that the bicycle riders decisions will be far less efficient that the self-driving car network and that will mean separated bikeways for all ... well maybe probably.
Personally, I'd be happy to sit in a self-driving hire car, self driving to get to where I was going and I'd be even happier to be separated from the motor vehicles ... separated so far that I can't even see or hear them :)