Ride-hailing service Lyft is making moves in urban planning. Working with architecture firm Perkins + Will and the transportation consultants Nelson\Nygaard, the startup recently developed a street redesign for the era of autonomous cars. The proposed concept reimagines LA’s Wilshire Boulevard, transforming it from 10 lanes of vexing car traffic into a multi-transit space with wider sidewalks, benches, planters, bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and lanes for shared self-driving cars.
The proposal seems to follow many of the popular street design solutions du jour, including a future-forward optimism. The Lyft team claims that Wilshire Boulevard’s current car-centric design can only serve about 29,600 people, but that the reimagined version—with its bikes and busses and financially incentivized car-sharing—could serve up to 77,000.
The team is likely aware of the optimistic tenor to their design. But the alternative—letting the advent of autonomous vehicles “organically” shape our streets—is a missed opportunity with potentially dangerous implications.
“AVs have tremendous opportunities for recreating the public realm, but if we don’t grasp those opportunities, it could go sideways,” said Gerry Tierney, an associate principal at Perkins + Will and director of the firm’s mobility research lab. “We’ve been though this before. At the start of the 20th century, people had no idea that cars were going to run over their cities. They can plead ignorance. We have an opportunity to right the wrongs. We know what a dystopia looks like.”
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