A World Without Driving?


I had dinner a few weeks ago with a friend who was a veteran planner in Broward County.

In retirement, my friend has become involved with the Smart Growth Partnership, a wonderful non-profit that promotes urbanism. They’ve been to Delray and I’ve spoken at a few of their events. I wish we could clone the people involved, because they get it.

As dinner progressed, we talked about traffic, technology and the exponential pace of change.

“We’re trying to get local governments educated about some trends and changes we’re anticipating,” he said. “So they can plan properly.” Planning? What a concept.

Instead of being reactionary, the concept of allows you to shape the future and if you’re lucky proactively position your city to take advantage of change.

Change? What a concept.

It’s inevitable, like death and taxes, but resisted nonetheless. Kind of like death and taxes, come to think of it.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the only human being who embraces change is a baby in a wet diaper.

There’s truth in that comment, but I’ll point to another Mayor who embraced change—his name is Tom Lynch and he served Delray from 1990-96. He’s now mayor of the Village of Golf.

Tom is a “Darwinist.” He believes that those who embrace change and adapt will survive and thrive.

I agree.

Now back to the dinner conversation. One of the things the Smart Growth Partnership is beginning to consider are profound changes in our car oriented culture.

A few months back, I told you about a conference I attended in Miami in which a futurist from Singularity University predicted with certainty that his young son would never have a driver’s license. He wouldn’t need it, because we were heading toward a society that would embrace driverless cars. Google, Tesla and supposedly Apple are hard at work on perfecting this technology which already exists. Several Israeli start-ups including a really cool company called Mobileye are far down the track designing safe systems.

Mobileye believes regulators will embrace a marketing pitch that emphasizes safety over convenience and productivity.

I think they’re right. Regulators don’t care that you want to text while in a car, but they do care that a self-driving car may be safer.

Self-driving cars?

You must be kidding right?


The Boston Consulting Group said self-driving cars would be a reality in a decade and a common site within two decades. Already, the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration is reviewing safety rules to see if they conflict with autonomous driving technologies.

This is happening folks. Really, it is.

And there are planners and technologists out there who believe we ought to be thinking about what this all means.

Salim Ismail of Singularity U. believes self-driving cars will translate into the biggest real estate opportunity of our lifetime because a lot of the land we devote to car infrastructure can be returned to nature or a more productive use than parking or wide lanes which promote speed.

We won’t need as many lanes if cars self-drive and if we summon a service like Uber to bring us to and fro, we won’t need to devote acres and acres to parking lots either.

The implications are staggering.

Smart cities– and Delray and Boca are smart cities –should at the very least begin to think about what a less car-oriented future might look like.

Millennials, especially urban millennials, really do drive less.

Proof of this trend comes from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey on commuting by auto.

The survey shows that millennials, if they live in cities or urbanized suburbs, do indeed drive less. Wary of car payments, insurance and maintenance costs, many use ride sharing services, bike to work, want to live in walkable environments and or car share or ride transit—if it’s available.

The world as we know it is changing. And there are opportunities galore if we plan for the future.