Along for the Ride #104

Heya friends—

Apologies there was no newsletter last week. The news surrounding Sarah Everard, followed by the one year anniversary of both the pandemic and Breanna Taylor’s murder, and now this week’s targeted murder of Asian women and men in Atlanta.. has been a lot to digest. It is impossible to ignore the reality of how unsafe the world (and city streets) still are for many. Below are some resources if you’d like to donate available resources / time towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander groups:

If this week news about cars that can drive themselves doesn’t feel like where you want to divert your energy, I hereby recommend you skip this edition, and instead give yourself ten minutes to walk, reflect, call a loved one, eat a cinnamon bun, or anything else which will bring you a moment of joy / reprieve / release.

For those of you with me, here’s the news:

Government and Policy

Are autonomous delivery vehicles “pedestrians”?

Gonna be a nope from me. Last week, a Pennsylvania state law went into effect giving small, autonomous delivery vehicles the right to operate on city sidewalks… and it also classified them as pedestrians. I can’t help but question why the legal rights of robots is expanding at time when there are plenty of *actual human beings* who lack legal rights in cities across the US.

New Mexico passes legislation to allow AV testing on public roads

House Bill 270, a bipartisan bill authorizing the testing of self-driving vehicles in New Mexico, passed the House of Representatives last week. NMDOT will develop its own rules and regulations for AVs so those used in the state meet federal standards and operate in compliance with applicable traffic laws.

California shoots for electric AVs

California Bill SB 500 takes a critical first step in requiring autonomous vehicles to be zero emission before they are put to widespread use. The bill proposes that starting in 2025 autonomous vehicles operating on public roads must be a zero-emission vehicle.

Canada’s first federal active travel fund

Canada will invest $400 million over five years to help build new and expanded networks of pathways, bike lanes, trails and pedestrian bridges. This is the first federal fund dedicated to building active transportation through Canada—powered by people. Really looking forward to how this gets spent!

NTSB asks NHSTA to better regulate Tesla

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has critiqued the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) for its handling of Tesla’s Full Self-Drive (FSD) system. This article does a good job at spelling out the discrepancy between NTSB’s and NHSTA’s responsibilities—and how the two take different approaches to advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).

Industry

Waymo’s self-driving simulations

Waymo has simulated real-world driving scenarios, where a fatal collision was involved, to prove that their technology can save lives. Reminder of all the other life-saving technology which already exists and doesn’t get headlines: protected bike lanes! smaller curb radii! reduced speed limits! and so many more!

Cruise acquires Voyage

GM’s Cruise has acquired Voyage for an undisclosed amount of 💸. Voyage’s fleet of AVs provide trips for retirement communities. Both companies have tested their vehicles without a safety driver behind the wheel and aspire to launch commercial services soon.

UK Uber drivers to get benefits 🎉

Uber announced they will provide drivers with benefits as mandated by the UK Supreme Court. Seems they’re finally tired of refuting government mandates. Drivers will be given holiday pay, pensions, and earnings guarantee!

Baidu investing in personal transport

The Economist takes a deep dive into Baidu’s investment in AVs and electric cars, beyond the tech giant’s search engine domination.

Research and Academia

Simulating self-driving fleets

Researchers from Imperial College London analysed tens of thousands of possible AV deployment scenarios using real-world data and a range of service parameters and fleet management algorithms to build out simulations. The intention was to ensure that such services will run efficiently while reducing knock-on effects to other modes of transport, such as active and sustainable travel.

Equity and access along transitways

Is it just me or are the Twin Cities *nailing* it with research publications recently? A new report presents the results of a transit accessibility analysis for transitways in the Twin Cities, focusing on access to grocery stores, healthcare facilities, and high schools. Accessibility results are disaggregated by five worker demographic categories including age, educational attainment, monthly earnings, race, and sex.

Autonomous vehicles and traffic jams

New research takes considers if AVs will improve or worsen traffic congestion. Little surprise to us, venerable reader, the results are a bit contradictory. “Our results showed that the wave dampening effect of the [AV] does not translate between the ring road and its linear equivalent.. But our preliminary simulation results using a real-life freeway model did not suggest multiple AVs worsen traffic conditions. The contradicting results might be due to different traffic conditions such as vehicle density.”

What do age-centered transportation systems look like?

Shout out to AFTR reader Pam for this reco! Inspired by the fact that people are living longer than ever before, this research considers the creative development and deployment of new technologies and approaches required to ensure aging people can remain mobile, safe, engaged, and productive throughout their lives.

Opinion

Should pedestrians wear sensors to avoid self-driving cars?

That’s gonna be a big ol’ nope from me. I will let the words of Zack Furness take it away: "Hard for me to fully articulate the poverty of wisdom and imagination that animates this kind of myopic thinking. Imagine being so hypnotized by techno-bullshit discourses that you lack the basic ability to view human beings, not cars, as those with the real 'right to the city.'"

It’s never a bicycle accident

This piece in Slate covers the importance of language, and why referring to collisions with vehicles as “accidents” is problematic. “A child falling off his [sic] bike in the park is a bicycle accident. A wipeout on the Tour de France is a bicycle accident. Getting rammed from behind by a car is not a bicycle accident.”

Cities aren’t designed for women

“Women have had to adjust their lives and bodily needs to an urban infrastructure that simply doesn’t fit, rather than the other way around. Within this framework, it’s not surprising that when it comes to women’s safety, cities simply expect women to change their behavior. What is surprising is how little has changed, even over a period of 150 years or more.”

Can shared mobility survive the pandemic?

An interesting take on the future of shared rides, with a relatively pessimistic outlook on if shared services via companies such as Uber, Lyft and Via will rebound. In my humble opinion, I don’t see shared services going anywhere once the pandemic simmers down. Happy to hear your thoughts here readers!

Extra Bits + Bobs

  • Advancing racial literacy in tech: A new report breaks down how to bring racial literacy into technical work, covering both the product development and technical components, to organizational structures, and individual actions.

  • When lego designed bike lanes: And the whole world complained they weren’t wide enough.

  • Eno’s 21 Transportation Senior Executive Program: Applications are open for this fantastic program via the Eno Center for Transportation. Applications are due April 12th!

  • Kristen Jeffers has created a survey in order to “build a body of data to measure how Black Queer Feminist folx can thrive in spaces in general and as urbanists.” If you’re a Black women-identified person in the US, you can fill out the survey here. PS. Kristen has a great newsletter too, The Black Urbanist, and you can expect her to share findings in that digest!

That’s all from me folks. Have a beautiful weekend, and take care.

Sarah