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Kill High-Speed Rail in favor of Self-Driving Car Autobahn?

Original post made by Forward, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 24, 2013

I listened to the governor's speech and his comments about high speed rail (HSR), and it occurred to me that maybe HSR isn't the way of the future.

I mean, what are the advantages of HSR? Speed, freedom FROM having to have a car, energy use.

What are the disadvantages? Lack of personal autonomy as one has with a vehicle, perhaps the need to rent a vehicle at either end or use a vehicle to reach a station, enormous cost to operate safely, need to maintain ridership to support operations, energy use (yes, this belongs in both), very expensive to build, requiring a huge amount of lead time, stations, wide right-of-ways required, etc.

I've thought for the last 20 years that we needed a HSR in California, and I think it would have been great if we'd had one. But the future is here, and HSR is not the most advanced or flexible way of transportation for the next 50 years.

This is a serious question: Instead of HSR, why don't we instead build an autobahn for (electric only) driverless cars?

It would give the opportunity for speed, energy savings, freedom FROM having to drive, but without many of the disadvantages of a train. If we took the money for the train and simply invested in the vehicles and rental/charging stations, the government could far better recoup its operating costs in a more flexible scenario. Plus, over time, as people themselves buy cars that can operate driverlessly (and that meet the stringent requirements of such a throughway for safety), it means the populace is basically voluntarily underwriting the renewal of the vehicles. So long as the government maintained a certain number of rentals so that everyone could rent if they wished, it would remain a form of public transportation. The government could also enter into contracts with rental car companies, further reducing the government investment. Plus, once people arrive at their destination, they just switch from autopilot to pilot and drive away (if they wish) or turn the car in and take other public transportation. Or have the car drop them off and find its way back or to another rider who wants to take it!

Plus, building such an autobahn would be more flexible, easier to add to and maintain, among many other advantages. It would not depend on a certain flow of ridership to keep it afloat, and it would very likely require a narrower right-of-way than rail.

And, icing on the cake, California would be leading in the world again instead of playing catch up!

The HSR is so expensive and locks us in for so long. I voted for it, but given the new potential for autonomous, driverless vehicles, I think we should take some time to reflect on whether we should do something much more forward thinking, that gives us the advantages of HSR and few or none of the disadvantages.

And no, I do not work for Google!

Comments (5)

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Posted by Forward
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2013 at 11:48 am

Oh, and two more advantages to a driverless car autobahn: easier to protect from sabotage and less likely to be deadly to so many people in the event something goes wrong. Also, easier to bring innovations to than HSR which would be way less flexible.

Like this comment
Posted by ILUVIT
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm

This is a great idea, it is so much more practical. No loss of home value if you live too close to Park or Alma, no loss of home to Eminent Domain if you live on Park.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2013 at 10:23 pm

And your self driving car could stop at In-N-Out to pick up a double double

Like this comment
Posted by Forward
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2013 at 12:37 am

A separate "auto" autobahn could even make it possible for cars to join up to reduce aerodynamic drag...

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I have always in the past been in favor of HSR until the costs started adding up and now I think that something along these lines would be the way to go instead.

We are no longer talking about self driving cars as being too far in the future and even if they start out as partial self driving, this type of autobahn could work as a much better system.

Apart from privately owned cars joining this autobahn, there could be zip car schemes as well as company cars and other types of rental cars that could enter the autobahn.

I could see this as being something truly innovative and the worldwide leader in such technology. Rather than jumping on the HSR at the end of its life, yes we should be jump starting a brand new technology.

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