This story about Lyft and urban congestion was first published on Gas2.
Los Angeles is ground zero for car culture in America. Its streets are choked with automobiles at all hours of the day. The freeways that lead to and away from it are more like parking lots than highways. For 50 years or more, the response to Los Angeles’ traffic woes has been to add more roads with more lanes (something that has helped urban planning researchers to understand why more lanes don’t lead to less traffic).
The problem is so bad, it inspired Elon Musk to dream up the Hyperloop one day while sitting in traffic on the way to the airport. Musk has since amended that vision somewhat. Now he wants to build a multi-tiered system of tunnels underground so some lucky motorists will be able to speed along beneath the vehicular chaos going on above.
The folks at Lyft have been pondering the congestion problem in Los Angeles and they think they have a better — and far less expensive — solution to LA’s chronic traffic woes. They propose fewer but more efficient lanes that take advantage of autonomous driving technology. Lyft, in cooperation with General Motors, has been conducting trials of self-driving cars. Just this week, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, said it is ready to invest a $1 billion in Lyft.
Wilshire Boulevard is one of the more famous streets in Los Angeles. Currently, it is 10 lanes wide, but if it had twice as many, it would still suffer from congestion that slows traffic to a crawl. Working with engineers and designers at Perkins+Will and Nelson/Nygaard, it is developing a plan for what that iconic thoroughfare might be like in an era in which self-driving cars replace individually owned cars and public transportation options expand.
Today, Wilshire Boulevard is able to transport about 30,000 people an hour. Under the Lyft proposal, that number would soar to 77,000 per hour. Only three lanes would be used for general purpose driving. There would be a dedicated bus lane capable of serving 35,000 customer per hour, two dedicated bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks with more landscaping, and dedicated loading zones reserved for picking up and dropping off ridesharing passengers.
The idea is just a concept at the moment — more of a talking point, really — but Lyft is working with the Southern California Association of Governments on a plan to bring more intelligent streets to the area. Los Angeles itself is committed to becoming a sustainable city and supporting the goals of the Paris climate accords.
Although autonomous cars are still a novelty, there is no question that ridesharing and ride-hailing services will become an important part of how people get around in cities in coming years. Good for Lyft for thinking ahead. Now is the best time to begin thinking about the future.