Manhattan-based architecture practice Edg has created an ambitious proposal that replaces major highways into driverless ones, as well as adding green corridors spanning the length of the island. Named “Loop NYC,” the scheme aims to improve Manhattanites' quality of life and reduce the city’s urban pollution. Edg has released a video outlining the proposal and its uses (see above)—read on for the project breakdown.
Loop NYC works by transforming existing major city highways into driverless expressways and 1-way streets, with major city streets (14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 86th, and 110th) that cut across the island exclusively hosting driverless vehicles. With the exception of 110th Street, the streets mentioned are part of the original 15 designed to be wider than 30 meters by the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which was responsible for the original grid-design of Manhattan—making them some of the busiest streets in the city today. By combining the cross streets with major highways circling the perimeter of the city, driverless expressways work in a series of “loops,” quickly and efficiently transporting passengers while optimizing traffic flow. Currently, a loop from Grand Central Station to Lower Manhattan and back takes 40 minutes; Loop NYC offers to get you around in just 11.
In addition to driverless freeways, pedestrian paths and enormous green spaces are also part of Loop NYC’s master plan. Pedestrian bridges are designed to span over driverless channels and a 13-mile (21-kilometer) long pedestrian park is created to span from Battery Park in the south of Manhattan forking at Union Square, converting Broadway and Park Avenue into giant green corridors solely for pedestrian and bike use.
The benefits of the proposal are all geared towards improving the quality of life of people living and commuting within the city. Green corridors replacing busy avenues would reduce noise pollution for inhabitants, with more trees reducing air pollution overall. More interaction between neighbors would happen in communal spaces, and with the success of Manhattan’s High Line and similar walkway projects appearing in major cities, the giant green avenues aren’t a far cry from existing counterparts.
However, Loop NYC remains a largely speculative project with assumptions made about the extent of people using it and the role of driverless cars in general. Would automated expressways integrate well inside the urban core of a city? How would public and private transport really balance out in an effort to reduce cars overall? Who would really be using these channels and benefitting from the 30-minute reduction in commutes?
The driverless car, while being developed by Amazon, Google, Tesla and more recently the Audi A8 (to name a few) is still largely un-drivable for now, with questions arising about the autonomy of the car in the first place. Current driverless cars still rely on human backup—a recent article published by WIRED argues for the importance human-car interaction has despite going driverless. Alternatively, with projects such as Hyperloop One also being tested, we may have alternative solutions shaping travel in our cities to come.
Loop NYC marks one of the emerging urban exercises that incorporate driverless cars as something beyond a futuristic “utopia”—instead generating an idea that addresses problems in cities without razing the existing built environment into a clean slate to work with. With Tesla’s new Autopilot update, driverless cars are being developed to drive along highways rather than being limited to slower streets. Initiatives such as Audi’s Urban Future Award and NYC’s “Driverless Future Challenge” demonstrate that architects and urban planners are engaging with the possibilities of self-driving vehicles as something that’s not solely limited to the imagination, but could possibly be achievable in the years to come.
Information via Edg.
The driverless car future could be just around the corner, and the normally slow-changing infrastructure of cities could be forced to apply quick fixes to adapt. At the same time, the full potential of driverless cars cannot be realized without implementing significant changes to the urban fabric.