Traffic Fantasy: Michigan Pitches Dumb Idea

As if we needed more evidence that the people running things may actually be even dumber than we are, Michigan leadership has proposed building a separate lane for autonomous cars to run between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The special road would implement a vehicle-to-infrastructure communications network and is planned to be built alongside Michigan Avenue and I-94 as its own separate lane. Kind of like a bus line or railroad.

Reminiscent of the “Highway of Tomorrow” that premiered in General Motors’ 1956 Motorama short Design for Dreaming, where a woman dances around the latest automotive products before the whole thing descends into futurist madness, Michigan’s more-modern concept is only slightly less ridiculous. State governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the project on Thursday, noting that it already had support from both the public and private sectors.

That doesn’t mean it will leave the realm of fantasy, however. 

Having grown up in Michigan, your author recalls a rail network that was supposed to link Detroit and Ann Arbor (aimed at revitalizing the former) that never happened. But that plan wasn’t backed by Cavnue — which is backed by the Alphabet’s (Google) Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners. The program even has its own advisory board, comprised of experts from companies including Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple, and Waymo (Google again).

Industrial partners will be joined by the University of Michigan, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and the American Center for Mobility.

“The action we’re taking today is good for our families, our businesses, and our economy as a whole. Here in Michigan, the state that put the world on wheels, we are taking the initial steps to build the infrastructure to help us test and deploy the cars of the future,” said Governor Whitmer said in front of Michigan Central Station (now owned by Ford). “As we rebuild our roads to ensure every Michigander can drive to work and drop their kids at school safely, we will also continue working to build smart infrastructure to help prepare us for the roads of tomorrow. In Michigan, where the health of our workers and our economy are directly tied to the health of our auto industry, we will continue this innovative work to secure our state’s position as the automotive capital of the world.”

It sounds good, and your author would love to see his home state getting some of its swagger back, but the idea just seems too damn stupid to get off the ground. The whole point of autonomous vehicles (which still don’t exist in a mature format) is to make them functional on existing roadways. Isolating them to a private, 40-mile stretch of roadway adjacent to the concrete slab linking two of the state’s most-populous cities offers nothing. However, Gov. Whitmer claimed the route could also be used to shuttle passengers in autonomous pods and serve as a freight route for self-driving trucks. Later, of course. The first batch will be a bunch of test vehicles vying to see if they can navigate a straight expanse of road that’s loaded with sensors.

Officials are also saying they want to evaluate the project for 24 months before making any moves. That’s just enough time for leadership to virtue signal about a cutting-edge program before it’s funneled down the memory hole.

At least the news gives us an excuse to share GM’s boldly optimistic and hysterically sexist Design for Dreaming again. It’s just too bad none of us will actually have an opportunity to fire up the old Firebird 2 and take off on the highway of tomorrow.

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