Nothing at CES Solves the Nightmare of Getting Around Las Vegas

Nothing at CES Solves the Nightmare of Getting Around Las Vegas

A view of the Las Vegas Loop underground transportation system during CES 2023 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV on January 4, 2023. Photo: Sipa USA via AP (modified) (AP)

Ever since Silicon Valley began eyeing the nearly $3 trillion auto industry, Consumer Electronics in Las Vegas has become the place to track the hottest trends in mobility technology. And so, every January, people like me descend on Sin City to feast from this sleek all-you-can-eat buffet and brush up on the choicest knowledge in the public blur.

Performed every year, this ritual seems quite normal. But after a three-year absence caused by the pandemic, the whole exercise is starting to feel extremely strange. Not only do trends repeat themselves—this year, artificial intelligence, driver assistance, and automated work vehicles all emerged as critical trends of the year—but somehow none of them ever make CES or its host city more interesting. easy to traverse.

The great irony of coming to CES to witness the future of mobility has always been the fact that Las Vegas is notoriously difficult to get around. Just to get from one rosy keynote about a “frictionless” mobility future to the next, you have to contend with the inhuman scale, perpetual congestion and incoherent infrastructure of this neon Babylon. And where the dystopian present of mobility in Las Vegas may once have helped sell the techno-utopian glitz on display at CES, the contrast now only heightens the sense that the better future we’re being sold is all a big mirage glittering

The author at the Convention Center Loop station. Photo: Courtesy Ed Niedermeyer

This impression is most striking from the back seat of a Tesla, as you’re cruising slowly through a neon-lit tunnel. The Boring Company’s new “Loop” was never advertised at CES — Elon Musk is too cheap for trade shows — but its mix of half-baked solution and color-changing LEDs is a typical triumph of futuristic aesthetics in Las Vegas on pragmatic considerations. If the inherent inadequacy of using cars in tunnels to move high volumes of conference attendees seems obvious, consider that Las Vegas has no fewer than four rail-based people movers around The Strip, ranging from 1,000 feet to nearly four miles in length. none of them connect to any of the others (let alone Downtown or the airport).

Riding the Loop. Photo: Courtesy Ed Niedermeyer

From the first ride on the new Loop, it’s clear why the service is only open during conventions: In addition to the army of drivers, each station requires dozens of employees to manage loading zones, direct traffic and generally maintain a cap. internal chaos of the system. Even with this amount of work, I saw huge lines that suddenly appear and disappear out of nowhere, drivers taking riders to the wrong destination, and a look of exhaustion and frustration that always identifies people who work for Elon Musk. My Autonocast cohoist Kirsten Korosec tells me that Loop even shut down its Resort World line early Saturday night, saving what must be massive operating costs but stranding riders who might have depended on it.

Then again, such dysfunction simply blends into the background in a city like Las Vegas. At once one of America’s largest pedestrian areas and one of the most pedestrian-hostile places on the planet, The Strip’s design dramatizes America’s tortured relationship with urbanism. The goal is not to facilitate, let alone encourage, the actual mobility of pedestrians between resorts, but to trap you inside a windowless maze of a casino and punish you if you want to go elsewhere. In a city whose main tourist activity is drunken flâneurie (the French term for loitering around and slouching), the entire Strip has been given over to snarling car traffic, forcing revelers to climb outdoor deck bridges third to pass intersections. Even the stylized City Center development is dominated by six lanes of traffic, making it almost completely unusable for pedestrians, even with the addition of an embarrassingly slow and bumpy tram.

On the most pedestrian-heavy part of the Las Vegas Strip, the only way to cross this giant intersection is a footbridge accessed by elevator, escalator or three-story staircase. Photo: VWPics via AP Images (AP)

At one point in the battle against Las Vegas’s actively hostile mobility design, you get it: Very few of the new “solutions” on display at CES would make getting around the show any easier. At best, they’re mostly Band-Aids for the kinds of structural problems that Las Vegas takes to cartoonish extremes, but that limit mobility in less dramatic ways across the country. At worst, they’re futuristic farces, like Loop Teslas in tunnels, which not only steal resources from current high-volume mobility solutions, but make a mockery of the concept itself.

That’s not to say that companies at CES aren’t developing technologies with massive potential to change the way we get around. Seeing Nuro’s delivery robots ring around boxes I’d dropped off at the company’s test track and an autonomous Indy car racing down a darkened Vegas highway using Luminar lidar, it was clear to see how much potential it has the future. The question is not whether new technologies will shape the ways we walk, but how and why.

For years, CES has felt like just another Las Vegas casino, a swirling fog of possible futures whose long odds are offset by the possibility that one of them might just transform everything. Now, after more than a decade of mobility technology mania, it’s clear why we haven’t hit the jackpot: Even the most brilliantly conceived “solution” is always part of a much wider system of infrastructure, interests economic and human habits. When we lose sight of this larger context, we fall victim to overload and outright deception.

Which, of course, never happens in Las Vegas.

Ed Niedermeyer began blogging about the auto industry in 2008, and his work has since been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Opinion and elsewhere. He is the author of Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, host of The Autonocast, and co-creator of the I’m Not Sure How Much Mobility Innovation I Can Take live stream. You can find him on Twitter @Tweetermeyer and Mastodon at [email protected].

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