Self-driving cars solution for traffic congestion.

Denver traffic

With Colorado’s growing population causing increased traffic density in the Denver metropolitan area and other locations, autonomous cars might be the answer, Alan Gionet wrote in a CBS Denver article. Traffic during rush hour can be frustrating, and it gets even worse when the weather is bad, he said, adding: “Get used to it.”

Infrastructure Limitations

Gionet asked how certain roads will accommodate a projected 2.5 million more residents in the state over the next 20 years:

So how do you fit them through the tunnels atop Loveland Pass? How do you get more vehicles on the corridor between Denver and Fort Collins? How do you squeeze more on Interstate 25 through the Tech Center at rush hour?

It would not be easy to widen roads in the middle of the city; at the very least, the cost would be prohibitive. Colorado Department of Transportation Planning Manager Jeff Sudmeier said the department does not have the funding even to maintain the system at its current level, “much less improve or expand the system to meet the needs of that growth.”

Self-Driving Solution?

Gionet suggests that self-driving vehicles might solve the congestion problem. Although the technology is not yet ready to handle city streets, or roads with lane lines buried under snow, invisible to sensors, autonomous cars hold a lot of promise to help reduce traffic. In Gionet’s article, Sudmeier talked about how connected vehicle technology will eventually help by keeping vehicles a certain distance apart from each other on roads, a distance that could be less than than considered safe for cars driven by humans. At present, even on crowded highways, there is a huge amount of unused space.

Because self-driving cars have technology that keeps them centered in their lanes, at some point in the future lanes could be narrowed, possibly making room for extra lanes. Tesla and many less expensive cars already have systems to avoid car accidents. “Eventually that will improve to the point where there are likely to be fewer crashes,” Gionet wrote.

Public Transportation

Sudmeier said there will need to be more public transportation options. A letter to the editor of the Longmont Times Call raises a similar concern. Sadaf Ghiasy wrote to the editor that Colorado needs more funding for transportation, particularly public transportation.

Ghiasy suggested that free public transportation would relieve traffic congestion because fewer people would be driving to and from work. An AAA poll found that 70% of United States residents believe the U.S. needs to allocate more money for roads, bridges, and mass transit:

A slowdown in oil and gas drilling could trim economic growth in Colorado enough to trigger an automatic increase in transportation funding next year.

Ghiasy wrote that if more Coloradans traveled via bus or train, it would help the environment, as well as household finances. The website says that to be affordable, transportation should not require more than 20% of a person’s income, she wrote, noting that a household could save about $6,251 annually by using public transportation instead of having to make car payments, buy gasoline, and pay for parking. That could lead to better health, because people would have more money for medical services, better living arrangements, and health-promoting food. “Even if taxes were higher, people will still have an advantage with public transportation,” she concluded.

Image by Jared Tarbell, used under its Creative Commons license.

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