Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Will the suburbs move to urban mass transit or to electric self-driving personal vehicles?

In this Forbes article, "Autonomous Cars Are About to Transform the Suburbs,"  Joel Kotkin--a noted community transportation planner--and Alan Berger--an MIT professor of urban design--argue that we may be changing to a different kind of suburb nationwide, one reliant on zero-emission autonomous vehicles, than the dense urban high-rises Fairfax County expects and is counting on to bail out its financial condition.  

"Americans are again heading to the suburbs in large numbers, particularly millennials.

"So rather than fight the tide and treat suburbanization as an evil to be squeezed out, perhaps a better approach would be to modify the suburban form in ways that address its most glaring environmental weakness: dependence on gas-powered automobiles. The rise of ride-sharing, electric cars and ultimately the self-driving automobile seem likely to alter this paradigm. In most other ways, suburbs are at the least no more damaging than dense cities, and they are superior in terms of air quality, maintaining biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storm water management.

"We may well be on the verge of evolving a new kind of highly sustainable, near–zero carbon form, one linked by technology, and economically (and increasingly culturally) self-sufficient. Autonomous cars will remotely park in solar-charged sheds off-site, to be called to the home through handheld devices, thus eliminating the need for garages and driveways. With safer vehicles that can see and react to situations better, roadways will be designed with much less paving to mitigate storm water runoff and flooding. Homes will have drone delivery ports built in, greatly reducing the number of daily household trips and congestion. With much less redundant paving and more undisturbed land, autonomous suburbs will expand parks, bike trails and farms, and reduce forest fragmentation. Some of the next generation of suburbs will be anchored by main street districts, some of them restored, while others will be built from scratch, as we have seen in places like the Woodlands outside Houston and Valencia north of Los Angeles."

OK, not even Reston 20/20 is ready for all that, but it should make our community and county leaders think again about their headstrong commitment to urban density in Reston and other communities like it.  It may lead to their failure, not their success in generating new county tax revenues.

The article goes on:

"Simply put, the advantages of private transportation are, for the most part, too compelling in a country dominated by long distances and dispersed development. Elon Musk recently shared a brutally honest critique of mass transit. 'It’s a pain in the ass,' he said. 'That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.'

"In fact, no regional rail system has managed to make any sort of dent in car use. Since 2000, the increase in workers driving alone has been 15 times the increase in those using transit. Even the Progressive Policy Institute, a research organization affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council, has noted, 'The shortest distance between a poor person and a job is along a line driven in a car.'"

Later on:

"Americans continue to move, for the most part, to less congested, less dense areas with lower levels of transit service and away from the more tightly packed areas with better transit service, and autonomous vehicles will likely exacerbate this trend. By one estimate, as much as a trillion dollars of real estate value could swing to locations far from job centers that will become more attractive due to autonomous vehicles while reducing the “premium” now awarded to closer in neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs."  All of which could mean huge losses for county coffers.

Click here to read the full article. 

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