In recent years, there has been a growing interest in autonomous vehicles. Big tech and car companies are pouring tons of money into making the dream of self-driving cars a reality. It might sound like we’re finally close to achieving the future we’ve been sold on by countless sci-fi movies, but maybe we’re missing the mark here. Maybe what we really need isn’t another fancier car on the road, but more people on two wheels instead – I’m talking about bicycles and e-bikes, of course.
Not that driverless cars aren’t without advantages. The idea sounds good in theory, removing human error from the equation and replacing it with a supposedly infallible computer. The problem is, even if we ignore the major safety risks of testing this unproven technology on public streets around non-consenting individuals, you’re still left with an increase in the number of cars on the road, leading to the same problems that cars cause today.
Hello to bicycles and goodbye to traffic jams
One of the most immediate benefits of increasing the number of cyclists on the road is a significant reduction in congestion.
Bicycles take up much less space than cars, and even a modest shift from car travel to cycling can result in a noticeable reduction in congestion, resulting in a smoother and faster commute for everyone.
In contrast, driverless cars, while possibly one day able to optimize routes and reduce human error, still take up the same amount of physical road space, doing little to alleviate congestion. Their goal is to solve some problems that they can eventually do successfully. But flooding the streets with driverless Ubers like this will just create more problems. Just as Uber itself was supposed to solve many of the transportation industry’s problems, almost a decade later it has left us with simply more traffic than ever before, fueling the filling of the roads with an ever-increasing number of vehicles.
Your heart (and waistline) will thank you
Encouraging cycling not only contributes to cleaner air by reducing vehicle emissions, but also promotes an active lifestyle.
Regular cycling has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Electric bicycles, with their pedal assist feature, make cycling more accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels, ensuring that the health benefits of cycling can be enjoyed by a wider demographic. On the other hand, the convenience of driverless cars leads to even more sedentary lifestyles, exacerbating current public health problems related to lack of physical activity.
Not everyone can ride an e-bike and not every trip is suitable for an e-bike. I can’t call electric bikes a global solution for every transportation need. But the types of journeys made by driverless cars now are often short city hops, and thus a prime example of electric bike commuting.
Stronger, friendlier and more socially connected communities
When you are behind glass in a private car, you are disconnected from the world. But cycling promotes social interaction and a sense of community.
Unlike the isolating nature of cars, cyclists are more likely to engage with their surroundings and with other people. Creating bike-friendly cities promotes vibrant street life and fosters a sense of belonging and connection between residents.
Not every ride is an opportunity to stop and chat, but riders tend to be happier, more engaged people because of it. A friendly wave or a chance to say hello on the way to work can be a little mood booster that does wonders for mental health. As social creatures, isolation is rarely good for our minds and bodies.
Supporting sustainable urban development
As urban areas continue to grow, sustainable development becomes increasingly crucial. Prioritizing cycling infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes and secure bike parking, promotes more efficient use of space and resources.
It promotes compact mixed-use development that is accessible by bicycle, reducing the need for extensive road networks and extensive parking. This not only preserves green spaces, but also creates more livable, human-centered urban environments. No one ever said “You know what this neighborhood needs? More asphalt!” Less dependence on cars means more priorities in designing cities for people. Two- and three-lane streets can become one-lane streets with a bike lane and wider sidewalks or parkways that add more green space to urban areas.
It’s even better economically for businesses, as many areas that have renovated streets to make them more pedestrian and bike-friendly have found that increased foot traffic means local businesses thrive.
Addressing economic disparities
Bicycles and e-bikes are more affordable than cars, driverless or otherwise. And a growing list of incentives to buy e-bikes, especially for low-income people, makes them more affordable than ever.
Investing in bicycle infrastructure and e-bike subsidies can help close transportation gaps in low-income communities by providing affordable and reliable mobility options. This is even better for local city governments and municipalities, reducing the economic costs associated with road maintenance and congestion-related productivity losses.
Summing it up
While driverless cars promise a high-tech, automated future, they are not a panacea for the many challenges facing our transportation systems. Driverless cars are cool, don’t get me wrong. The technology is impressive and undoubtedly holds promise in certain situations that a bike can’t handle. But they are mostly used in areas where bicycles can do the same job in a cheaper, more efficient and perhaps safer way.
Driverless cars are not the magic solution to our traffic problems and our health problems. Bicycles and e-bikes offer a grounded solution, connecting with your neighbors, providing an endorphin rush that driverless cars simply cannot match. So how about we give our cities, our health and our wallets a break and give cycling the spotlight it deserves?
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