Boulder: The shape of things to come

What will be the biggest changes in Boulder 20 years from now, and how will Boulder Weekly be covering them?



Well, as Yogi Berra famously remarked, it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

Fortunately, science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle offers would-be oracles somewhat clearer guidance: Most of your predictions for five years in the future will be too radical, he says. But most of your predictions for 20 years in the future will be too conservative.

In other words, when making predictions for what’s going to happen 20 years in the future, it doesn’t hurt to swing for the bleachers from time to time.

So here goes: The biggest and most noticeable change in Boulder in 2034 will be that most of the cars and trucks on the streets will drive themselves.

The advent of self-driving vehicles will change life as profoundly as the arrival of the automobile itself did 120 years ago — and it will do it a lot faster.

Self-driving cars and trucks will allow Boulder streets to accommodate twice as many cars than they do now. Cars will be able to talk to each other and get real-time traffic information from the Internet, so there will be a lot less congestion even if the number of cars in the city increases. Traffic will move so efficiently that road widening will be replaced by road narrowing.

Streets in residential neighborhoods will be able to dispense with stop signs, because the vehicles will be able to let each other know where they are; alert each other to road hazards like bikes, raccoons, prairie dogs and children; and synchronize their moves accordingly. Traffic lights will be removed from all but the busiest intersections.

Neighborhood associations and NIMBYs will be horrified by the prospect of driverless cars roaming their streets, of course, and Boulder Weekly will be full of anguished letters-to-the-editor. The paper will investigate and discover that Big Auto (Big Oil’s evil twin) was making money selling self-driving cars to people.

Attempts will be made to ban “franken-cars,” but these will be thrown under the bus — assuming anybody can still find one — because the early adapters of self-driving cars will be geezers who will see them as a way of preserving their autonomy and independence.

In this, they will be joined by their adult children, who will see self-driving cars as a way of preserving their parents’ autonomy and independence and not having to drive them everywhere.

The Soccer Car will replace the Soccer Mom.

Drunks will see self-driving cars as a way of getting home without a detour through the criminal justice system.

There will be less demand for parking. After a self-driving car owner has been driven to work, he or she can send the car home until quitting time.

People dashing into coffee shops, drug stores, liquor stores, pot shops or banks will tell their cars to drive around the block until they’re done.

Restaurants’ take-out business will explode.

There will be a lot fewer healthy lifestyle accidents between cars and bicyclists and joggers. There will also be a lot fewer flattened prairie dogs, leading to a further population explosion.

There will be calls to cull the colonies by re-programming the cars.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of driverless taxis will appear on Boulder streets. People will be able to hail a cab and get one within seconds. Some car owners will let cab companies use their cars as “reserve cabs” during peak traffic periods for a fee. Getting around Boulder without owning a car (or wearing Spandex) will become a real option. Auto-makers could finally add television and computers to in-car entertainment systems. The digital edition of Boulder Weekly will be available free on screen.

Commuting will cease to be a burden and will become a source of valuable personal (and private) time. The porn business will prick up its ears. Many CU students will abandon dorm life for commutes from Denver or even Colorado Springs because the daily commute will give them extra time to play the educational computer games that are rapidly replacing college textbooks, (like the introductory biology game “Call of Duty: Biowar,” where players learn the fundamentals of genetics, molecular biology and epidemiology by designing and militarizing their own pathogens and antidotes.)

Boulder traffic will make a lot less noise than it does now, because most of the cars and light trucks on the streets will be electrics. This will not be because of any government program or subsidy, but because multiple advances in battery performance, some dating back 20 years, will have been commercialized and will make it possible for electric vehicles to compete with gasoline-powered ones on the basis of performance and price.

Related advances in battery performance will make it possible to rely on wind and solar energy for base-load electricity. Boulder Weekly will be covering the ongoing debate over whether wind turbines and solar arrays should be deployed on city and county open space.

The city council will be anguishing over whether windmills and solar panels can co-exist with prairie dogs, eagles, jumping mice and NIMBYs, or whether the city utility, which has been making out like a bandit by selling electricity to electric car owners, should add additional gas turbine generating capacity, fueled by natural gas from horizontal, fracked wells drilled under Boulder open space.


This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.