Are We on the Verge of a Seismic Shift?

Autonomous car concept. Driverless vehicle.By David Feehan

In the past few weeks, both General Motors and Ford have announced plans to be all-electric with 10 to 15 years. So what can predict from these two announcements?

First, the era of personal transportation is not dead. The pandemic has put mass transit systems into survival mode and caused not only cuts in services but rethinking about levels of service, routes, and funding. While our downtowns and business districts are going to continue to emphasize walkability and bike riding is going to continue to become more popular, people are going to want to drive their own cars–or at least leased cars–for some time to come. Good news for the parking industry.

Second, the type of vehicle people will choose is fast shifting from sedans to SUVs and SUV variants. The conventional three-box sedan could be a relic in just a few years. These electric vehicles will, however, have a drawback we discovered in Texas a few weeks ago: When the power grid goes down, will it immobilize the transportation system?

AVs are going to be more accepted, more prevalent, and cheaper as time passes. I had the experience recently of visiting my brother in Minnesota. My nephew came by one evening with his new Tesla. We drove to a restaurant about five miles away on a country road, around 9 p.m. He let me drive (or should I say, he let the Tesla drive). I took my hands off the wheel and my feet off the pedals, and the Tesla took us to our destination and back flawlessly. Now, the weather was clear, but engineers will have the remaining issues solved soon and the multiple benefits of AVs will be ours.

When you combine EVs, AVs, changes in work and travel patterns, and for those of us in urban planning, downtown development, government, and related fields, our crystal balls are not yet giving us clear answers–except to warn us that things will be very different sooner rather than later.

David Feehan is president of Civitas Consultants, LLC.