After publishing "The Future of Travel: Introducing VaaS - ‘Vehicle as a Service” I started to think about what would happen to all the roads when we do't need them anymore.
Today we have a Build! Build! Build! mentality as a way to solve for a growing driving population, to the current tune of 40 million acres of roadways, highways and parking lots in the USA alone. And no matter how much we build, congestion increases, road accidents increase and the average traveling speed decreases.
Our roads are designed for human drivers. Humans get distracted or sleepy, we make irrational moves, and take unpredictable actions. Some of us are just plain old bad drivers! By the numbers, we are not safe drivers, and as such we are constantly engineering new ways to compensate.
In contrast autonomous (or "self-driving") vehicles are rather predictable. They have lasers and radar that help them know what's happening around them and can predict traffic movements to avoid dangers. With real-time vehicle-to-vehicle communication every car can know where it will be in relation to all others and make almost undetectable changes to speed or direction in order to compensate for everyone's needs. Our traffic system will show emergent intelligence, feeling more like a living hive or a perfectly engineered puzzle.
With this level of capability we will no longer need the extra padding to keep us safe. Cars will drive 6 inches from the one in front of them, perhaps even connecting and disconnecting from each other when a shared destination is some ways off. They will be able to travel much faster because they are much safer, further reducing the number of vehicles on the roads at any given moment, and further reducing the road space required.
The four-lane road at the end of my street is currently 64 feet wide (4 lanes x 12 feet, 2 sidewalks x 4 feet, 1 median x 8 feet), yet will only need to be 6 feet wide to accommodate the width of all the cars in our neighborhood as we snake along in the future. The roadway system will resemble nothing like it does today.
Further if Elon Musk's Boring Company has anything to do with it (and they probably will), these autonomous vehicles will be able to shoot through tight underground tunnels at high speed for the majority of their journey.
So if the land isn't needed for roads anymore, what will we use it for?
The average price of land varies considerably across the country. If measured in agricultural terms, it's about $4,000 per acre, so 40m acres would be $160 billion. Looked at in Manhattan terms, which is approximately $2,000 per square foot (!) (43,650 sq ft in an acre), $87.3m per acre for a grand total of $3.5 quadrillion. Somewhere in the middle is a sensible figure - what it will represent is a goldmine for the states, and with 90%+ of roadways covered in asphalt, we might just be looking at a black-top gold rush.
I posted this question to a number of people online. Many were excited about bike paths and parks, which would be great ideas. Forests would be nice too, and really give our neighborhoods a very different feel.
If the roads in your neighborhood were no longer needed, what would you do with the space?