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Autonomous Arlington - Issue 2

Rise of the Machine: Will we wake up in a new automated transportation realiy in the next decade?

by Brandon Utterback



Cars were more efficient than horses in moving people and product as they were much faster. Cars were also cheaper and easier to operate, this made the switch from horses to cars a matter of good economics as well. “In 1900, 4,192 cars were sold in the US; by 1912 that number had risen to 356,000. In 1912, traffic counts in New York showed more cars than horses for the first time. The equine was not replaced all at once, but function by function.” Hauling freight was the last job of the horse as the motorized truck replaced the horse and cart in the 1920’s.”


“Automobile ownership spread much faster in the United States than elsewhere.” America’s opportunity to benefit from the automobile was unique in that there were vast expanses of undeveloped land. This was unlike the more densely populated cities of Europe. Therefore, the car would be found valuable in connecting far off places. In 1913 Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line. This made cars more affordable to the average family and helped to turn cities inside out where the center of the cities lost some of their value as the American dream, and reach for the suburbs, was defined.


A car was the great symbol of advancement that stood for a large share of “The American Dream.” “Just before the 1929 stock-market crash, over 26 million motor vehicles were registered in the United States. This meant that there was one car for every five Americans, and more than half of the nation’s families owned a car.” This newly realized access would shape the way that American’s looked at and used the land and would eventually give reinforcement to the concept of the suburb. “Thus, in only three decades the car had become a ubiquitous symbol of American prosperity.” “Although the Great Depression and World War II delayed the spread of car ownership to the more than 40 percent of American families without them in 1930, the automobile’s central economic and cultural role was already set.”


The American fascination with cars at the time was unique. Americans adopted cars much faster than their European counterparts. In the book Steering a New Course the author explains that “the population was more scattered, and density was lower, so many Americans did not have access to satisfactory public transit.” For them, the automobile filled a need for faster and more convenient travel. Because average incomes were higher, and wealth was distributed more equally than in Europe, more people could afford cars to fill this need.” To satisfy this fascination, America would need further develop innovations to accommodate the automobile along with the roads on which they would need to travel.


I write this blog entry to point out the paradigm shift in America where we so readily dropped the reins of the horse and took hold of the steering wheel. Cars outnumbered horses in just over a decade and all but replaced them entirely a few years after that. Will autonomous technologies replace the driven car at the same rate? Will we wake up in a new automated transportation reality in the next decade?


About Brandon

Brandon Utterback is a grad student at the University of Texas at Arlington. His undergraduate degrees include horticulture and interdisciplinary studies with a minor in environmental sustainability. Brandon will graduate in the fall of 2018 with a master in landscape architecture and a master in city and regional planning. His hopes for the future are to develop an A-Team of designers that inject magic and awe into the experience of place, and work creatively to usher in the age of autonomous vehicles.

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