(TNS) — In the next decade or so, your commute is going to look a lot different as self-driving cars hit South Florida’s roads.
Among the changes you can expect: Narrower lanes, flyover ramps at intersections, fewer public parking lots and more shortcuts through neighborhoods, say local traffic managers, who are already assessing the potential impact.
“The big question is how disruptive and how quickly will these sweeping changes occur?” asked Nick Uhren, executive director of the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency.
Some cars already have sensors that automatically brake if the vehicle gets too close to another. But autonomous automobiles will have sensors that communicate with the road, traffic signals, and each other to prevent collisions with vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians and anything else.
Fewer crashes improve traffic flow, so existing lanes can be narrowed and more lanes added to each road to handle more vehicles, said Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Greg Stuart. “The width of these [roads] is now going to be changed because within the next seven to 10 years vehicles are going to be able to pass each other within 2.5 inches,” he said.
Here is what officials predict we will see:
“You can move more vehicles in the same space on the roadways because they’re more efficient, they’re safer and they are connected to one another so their spacing is regimented,” Uhren said. “Our rights of way could be smaller, our travel lanes could be smaller, we’ll have more space for other uses.”
Other uses might include adding dedicated lanes for driverless buses and trolleys, he said.
Miami-Dade already has several bus-only roads where autonomous buses could roll.
“Transit and transit-supportive projects are the number one priority of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization,” executive director Aileen Boucle said recently.
Over the next five years, she said the county will be installing about 300 “smart signals” with cameras that monitor the busiest intersections and reprogram red light timing to quickly respond to changing traffic volume.
People who own cars will only use them for long trips, planners say. The short hops to work or shopping can use the shared self-driving vehicles.
With more cars, the look of the roads will change. Some intersections will get flyover ramps to handle the flow.
“The roadway designs during and after the transition are going to have to accommodate higher vehicle growth,” said Stuart. “That means more lanes, that means different kinds of overpasses and underpasses to get vehicles around.”
Uhren said some people in South Florida may embrace this change. As the retiree population ages, fewer will be able to drive themselves so autonomous vehicles may be a perfect fit.
“What if, all of a sudden, people who don’t have the ability to operate their own personal vehicle can get into an autonomous vehicle and be driven where they want to go? “ he said. “Are we going to see a 20 percent jump [in traffic], a 30 percent jump? That may offset any efficiencies we gain.”
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