Guest Opinions

Self-driving vehicles will drive ‘smart cities’ of the future

James Redfield
James Redfield

It is time to revisit an opinion first published in 2016 in the Idaho Statesman.

To recap, Mayor Dave Bieter presented to the Boise Downtown Association in 2016 his thoughts for the future of Boise, including transportation. Those thoughts are at odds with the future. To the best of my knowledge, these ideas are still current. The proposed circulator streetcar around Downtown Boise is still on the drawing boards, as it was in the 20th century. But this is not a path to the future. It is a reflection of the past.

In a short eight years we will be a quarter century through the 21st. The continuing change in transportation in those eight years will exceed those seen in the last 125. It is time for the city to revisit the future of transportation through the lens of rapidly changing advances.

By 2020, self-driving vehicles (SDVs) will begin to dominate the roads of the world. Boise will not escape. Already Portland, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, London, Walt Disney World and Georgia allow SDVs on their roads.

We all agree we need transportation in the future. But SDVs will nullify light rail at a lower cost.

Even Elaine Chao (U.S. Transportation Department secretary) acknowledged the disruptive nature of SDVs in the immediate future.

Smart cities will be safer, more efficient and provide innovative solutions to age-old transportation problems. Even though the mayor may not have his “Jetsons Jetpack,” he will soon have his SDV.

Samsung and Verizon joined Google, Apple, GM, Ford, Mercedes, Tesla and Uber in the SDV chase. Winners will reap trillions.

South Korea is now building an entire city on 88 acres to test SDVs. Recently the University of Michigan opened a 32-acre model city for SDVs.

Disruptions on the horizon: The auto insurance industry will suffer because traveling will be safer; paid parking may suffer because cities are becoming very intelligent; and traffic offenses will be reduced, lowering police income from driving-offense tickets.

What stops Boise from joining with Boise State University to build a model city in the desert just south of the city? Seems like an ideal step to take.

As Pink Floyd once rhymed (“Dark Side of the Moon,” 1973):

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.

You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.

No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

The next eight years will be momentous. It is exciting to live in such times. Let’s move Boise forward, not into the distant past.

Let’s make Boise part of the 21st century, “smart city” revolution.

James Redfield, scientist and entrepreneur, is a Boise native. For the last 20 years Redfield has been a senior manager of several Silicon Valley high-tech and medical startups and currently lives in Boise.