Preparing Our Freeways for Driverless Cars

Preparing Our Freeways for Driverless Cars

Freeways

This September, Vancouver hosted the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference. Bill Gates, Satya Nadella, and other West Coast CEO superstars gathered to consider how Vancouver and Seattle can become innovative hubs for international business and development.
The conference may at first seem off the radar of automotive news. What makes it of particular interest to all those interested in automobiles and related issues, however, is one of the topics up for discussion: future innovations to the I-5 corridor connecting Vancouver not only with Seattle but with the major cities of Oregon and California. Why not, it has been suggested, open the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. running from Seattle to Richmond BC and from there on Highway 99 into Vancouver, to driverless vehicles?
According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, turning the HOV lanes over to driverless cars would increase efficiency, productivity, and road safety while demonstrating that Vancouver is on the cutting edge of automotive technology.
Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group commissioned the report on the possibility of opening the lanes to driverless vehicles, and announced its results at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference. The report’s data and conclusions were met with enthusiasm.
Both cities currently suffer from serious traffic congestion. This hasn’t been substantially eased by various traditional approaches to the problem. Wouldn’t adding to the freeways more cars in the form of driverless vehicles actually exacerbate the current situation?
The report presented by Madrona Venture Group actually addresses this issue, but answers it in a manner that might surprise some automotive news followers. For individuals involved in business and technology, traffic congestion is a problem especially because it reduces productivity. If, by using a driverless car, one could continue on with one’s work despite traffic congestion, the problem would be effectively solved.
The report suggests that, by adopting its proposals, the I-5 corridor could see some serious improvements over the next 10-15 years. It predicts a radical decrease in road fatalities, less land required for highway development, and billions of dollars in productivity saved. Driverless cars are able to drive safely at closer distances and can do so in narrower lanes. This fact implies that the capacity of the road is increased, fewer accidents occur, and traffic moves on an average more quickly.
The Madrona Venture Group’s proposed plan is designed to be developed in three phases. In the first phase, which could begin right away, driverless cars will be allowed to share the HOV lanes with other cars. Over time, as driverless vehicles become more available and as public opinion becomes more amenable to using them, the HOV lanes will be restricted to driverless cars. In the final phase, predicted to be 10-15 years in the future, only driverless cars will be allowed on the I-5 corridor, except for late-night hours and weekends when congestion is not a problem.
The report also addresses the 8-mile stretch of I-5/Highway 99 that runs from the Vancouver Airport into downtown Vancouver. This part of the drive is particularly challenging to commuters as it is involves driving through densely populated areas and negotiating traffic lights. The report suggests that productivity could be greatly increased by having the driverless vehicle drop its passengers off at the SkyTrain Bridgeport Station and then go park itself at the facility nearby.