In 2015, Los Angeles, California Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an initiative called Vision Zero with the goal of achieving a 20% reduction in bicyclist deaths by 2017. Furthermore, the initiative aimed to reach zero such fatalities by 2025.
However, according to U.S. News and World Report, bicyclist fatalities actually rose since the initiative was enacted. In 2015, 17 bicyclists were killed in L.A. That number increased to 21 bicyclist deaths in 2018.
What’s more, pedestrian fatalities ticked upwards during that same period, climbing from 82 in 2015 to 127 in 2018. This, despite Mayor Garcetti boasting at a City Hall conference last year that L.A. had implemented “over a thousand Vision Zero improvements.”
The political gridlock in the City of Angels preventing meaningful traffic safety improvements is understandable. City Hall is in the middle of a struggle between commuters, business owners, homeowners, and bicyclists. Adding a bike lane to a major road cuts into much-needed space for cars and could potentially eliminate crucial parking spaces in front of businesses.
Meanwhile, without new cyclist lanes, bikers are increasingly less safe on the city’s streets.
It might seem like a cop out (for politicians) to suggest, but self-driving cars might just be the solution cities like Los Angeles need to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety. With sensors and systems that prevent the cars from hitting bikes and people, they could greatly reduce roadway death rates.
Self-driving cars can’t be seen as a panacea or silver-bullet solution. As mobility devices like e-bikes and e-scooters grow in both popularity and prevalence, drivers — robot and human — will have more obstacles to avoid.
Not only that, autonomous vehicles will be introduced into the marketplace rather slowly. Plus, they won’t be infallible, as evidenced by the infamous autonomous Uber vehicle that killed a bicyclist in Arizona last year.
Rather, self-driving cars will take some of the pressure off politicians to wholesale rework their city’s infrastructure. That doesn’t mean, though, that improving roadway safety won’t require some tough choices and result in some unhappy constituents.