Taking Back the Streets, Sunday NY Times

"Taking Back the Streets,"
by Jeff Byles, New York Times,
p. CY11, Sun. April 6, 2008.

Gentle Congestion:
Instead of designing cities for cars, why not design cars for a kinder city?
That’s what researchers at the Media Lab of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology have cooked up: smarter, gentler modes of urban transportation. “If you think of your average car, it doesn’t have the same smarts as a horse,” said Mitchell Joachim, a former Media Lab researcher. A horse, he points out, is unlikely to run off the road, naturally avoids head-on collisions, and at least comes when you whistle. With the horse in mind, Dr. Joachim, now executive director of a New York design collaborative called Terreform, has helped conceive of a lightweight electric car that would sense the presence of other vehicles and slow down in potentially dangerous areas.
On-board navigation systems would drive people where they wanted to go. Parking meters, linked to each other and to the vehicles, could signal an open space. These smart cars would even sense that pothole you just ran over, and report it to maintenance crews. Because the vehicles could be made of soy-based plastic shells that could bump into each other without damage, they could move in flocks. Designers call it “gentle congestion.” Quick braking systems protect pedestrians, so there is no need for sidewalks, lanes or signals.