Nav: Home

Pedestrians walk freely in a world of self-driving cars

October 26, 2016

SANTA CRUZ, CA--Imagine an urban neighborhood where most of the cars are self-driving. What would it be like to be a pedestrian?

Actually, pretty good, according to Adam Millard-Ball, assistant professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. In fact, pedestrians might end up with the run of the place.

In a new study published online Wednesday (Oct. 26) in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, Millard-Ball looks at the prospect of urban areas where a majority of vehicles are "autonomous" or self-driving. It's a phenomenon that's not as far off as one might think.

"Autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform travel behavior," Millard-Ball says. He uses game theory to analyze the interactions between pedestrians and self-driving vehicles, with a focus on yielding at crosswalks.

Because autonomous vehicles are by design risk-averse, Millard-Ball's model suggests that pedestrians will be able to act with impunity, and he thinks autonomous vehicles may facilitate a shift towards pedestrian-oriented urban neighborhoods. However, Millard-Ball also finds that the adoption of autonomous vehicles may be hampered by their strategic disadvantage that slows them down in urban traffic.

"Pedestrians routinely play the game of chicken," Millard-Ball writes. Crossing the street, even at a marked crosswalk without a traffic signal, "requires an implicit, instantaneous probability calculation: what are the odds of survival?"

The benefit of crossing the street quickly, instead of taking a long detour or waiting for a gap in traffic, is traded off against the probability of injury or even death. Pedestrians know that drivers are not interested in running them down--usually. But there is the chance a driver may be distracted, drunk, or a sociopath.

Self-driving cars are programmed to obey the rules of the road, including waiting for pedestrians to cross. Secure in the knowledge that a car will yield, pedestrians merely need to act unpredictably or step into the street to force the risk-averse car to stop.

Self-driving cars could provide the most dramatic transformation in urban transportation systems, and the largest upheaval for transportation planning practice, since the arrival of the automobile more than a century ago, Millard-Ball says. Parking, street design, and transit and paratransit service networks are likely to be revolutionized.

Millard-Ball's research links urban planning and environmental economics, with a focus on intersections between climate change and transportation policy. In a previous article, he looked at parking strategies in urban environments that might reduce the practice--and environmental costs--of circling the block to find an open spot.

In his latest study, he also suggests that the potential benefits of self-driving cars--avoiding tedium of traffic and trauma of collisions--may be outweighed by the drawbacks of an always play-it-safe vehicle that slows traffic for everybody.

"From the point of view of a passenger in an automated car, it would be like driving down a street filled with unaccompanied five-year-old children," Millard-Ball writes.

The ultimate impacts of autonomous vehicles depend not only on technological advances and market adoption, but also on how planners and policy makers respond, Millard-Ball concludes. One approach would be to maintain traffic speeds by eliminating crosswalks, erecting fences between the sidewalk and roadway to corral pedestrians, and stepping up enforcement against jaywalkers.

Alternatively, planners could seize the opportunity to create more pedestrian-oriented streets, and relegate drop-offs to the fringes of urban commercial districts.

Autonomous vehicles could usher in a new era of pedestrian supremacy.
-end-


University of California - Santa Cruz

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.