The summer motoring season is getting underway, a time when many will be climbing into their vehicles with families in tow and heading for destinations known or unknown. Motorists everywhere are often being reminded of damage that motoring can inflict on the environment in the form of air pollution.
Happily, the news isn’t all bad, although lasting solutions may not come from mass transportation as many in the media and government have proclaimed. Instead of being coaxed out of our cars onto uncomfortable buses or inconvenient trains, we may find ourselves gradually replacing our manually driven cars on our current ‘dumb’ highways with self-driving cars on ‘intelligent’ highways, using renewable non-polluting fuels.
I don’t know much about self-driving cars, but there’s plenty being said about them by the experts. As far as I can tell, the first generation of self-driving vehicles will be operating on the roads we have now. They will have to obey the same rules of the road and hopefully keep their human occupants out of danger in today’s hazardous driving environments.
We’ll have to continue tolerating highways where several dozen vehicles can be brought to a standstill on any major highway just to allow a single car onto the road, rather than having that single vehicle wait a few more seconds for a gap to open up on the highway before the stoplight changes. However, future self-driving cars and trucks are expected to be taken over (dare I say “possessed”?) by interconnected roadside computers when moving onto any intelligent highway.
Their main functions will be to control and even choreograph all vehicle movements in a way that will almost completely eliminate any need for mandatory stopping at intersections. Interchanges and roundabouts will likely continue the way they are now because they are a safe, efficient and a natural fit for the intelligent or automated highway.
However, this revolution in traffic controls will likely let our pesky, dangerous and inefficient stoplights and left turn bays on major high speed highways disappear forever. It will be possible to convert all highway intersections into large multi-lane roundabouts without expensive overpasses on the one hand or dangerous left turn bays as the other extreme.
These big European-style circles seem to be unpopular with most drivers in our country, which mainly for that reason, is a major international outlier in a world community where most non-Canadians appreciate their ability to keep traffic moving better and more safely than in this country. However, the roadside computers that will control the traffic of the future will have no such prejudice, and Canadian motorists will be able to set their frustrations aside and enjoy the trouble-free and largely stop-free ride to their destinations.
How long it will take to undergo this traffic revolution is anyone’s guess right now, but it may come sooner than we think. Non-polluting electric cars are already on the road and the first partly automated cars are not far behind. The changeover will likely come in phases, with vehicles changing first, followed by our main highways, then our secondary through-roads, and finally our local residential, commercial and industrial roads.
The biggest barrier to implementation will likely be our provincial government in Victoria. B.C.’s distaste for investing in transportation infrastructure is well known, even when there is a major air pollution problem caused by our many traffic bottlenecks. Major transportation improvements only happen here when the provincial government can hand most of the bill to the federal government and/or the private sector. Some municipalities are trying to enforce new laws that are supposed to reduce engine idling, but these measures are futile when a proliferation of traffic lights and fast food joints with drive-through pick-ups are allowed and even encouraged by our governments.
However, even British Columbia won’t be able to stall this progress forever. I happen to be a member of the so-called “boomer” generation, the generation that has run most of our planet for the past couple of decades. Since I’m one of them myself, I think I can say my generation has largely failed at trying to solve most of the problems of our time.
Our generation and the one that preceded us has spent the last 40 years slashing governments and most of the social and infrastructure programs that can only be done properly by the public sector. We have done so as part of a “race to the bottom”, all for the purpose of transferring most of the global wealth to the private sector and reducing government revenues to a level where we can no longer be governed effectively.
I think I see a new attitude emerging among the younger generation who are now coming of age. They will be taking over the world soon, and I think we will finally see a province, country and planet that is much cleaner, more humane and more efficient than it is now.
(Chris Carss is a Chemainus resident and a long-time weather observer/recorder).