Along for the Ride #110

Heya friends, happy Friday!

Before we dive in, here’s a very light touch background lesson on the Israel and Palestine crisis, that I found incredibly informative this week. If you, like me, are behind in your understanding of the last 70 years of this conflict, there is no better time to learn than now. And once you’re informed (I’d recommend further reading beyond that BBC article!), there is no better time to write to your representative than now too.

Now onto the ever important news about cars that drive themselves….

Read of the Week

We should all be more afraid of driving

This week’s read of the week is one that sends a shiver down my spine. As a note of warning, if you’ve ever experienced traffic violence—from getting hit by a car, or harassed by a driver who seems not to care whether you live or die—then this might be a heavy read.

As somebody who mostly moves via bike or walking (I refer to both as the two feet and a heartbeat mode), one of the things that scares me most on a daily basis is cars. Maybe it’s the fact that drivers don’t seem to understand the basic parameters of a four way stop in California, or the sheer speed with which cars are permitted to drive, but rarely do I leave my house without a ever-present knowing that due to a driver “error” or traffic “accident” I very well might not make it home. I am always amazed with the empathy friends and loved ones toss to drivers (maybe they haven’t bit hit by a car? or had a driver pretend to door them at the top of a steep hill?).

This article reminds me that we’ve set up both drivers and our transportation networks to fail, and sometimes the cost of life is the price tag we pay for car culture.

Government and Policy

How slow streets have helped bolster small businesses

One of the most vocal oppositions to slow streets can be (small) businesses, arguing that without vehicle access such as on-street parking, revenue will decrease. CityLab works with Yelp to examine restaurant data from the pandemic to find that slow streets have helped to support these businesses throughout the pandemic.

“Eateries in car-free areas saw more consumer interest (based on the amount of views, posted photos and user reviews on Yelp listings) when their streets were strictly limited to pedestrians and cyclists, they found.”

See here for a study in London that completely debunks this myth too.

How mis-managing curb space is costing cities *billions*

In many ways, the curb is crucial to the success of a variety of industries— especially in the post-Covid city where micromobility and outdoor dining are now also vying for space to be dedicated above and beyond car use. This vital, finite community space is proving to be one of the most extensive and valuable pieces of real estate in a city.

“Still, we've undervalued our curbs for decades. Most are designed and managed only for parking, or what we call the "analog curb." And even then, we often fail to get it right. Most cities don't price on-street parking based on the true value of demand or cost recovery, and they inadequately enforce regulations like parking time limits and loading zones.”

More policy news:

  • National Law Review on AVs (The National Law Review)

  • AVs are creating more liability questions than answers (GovTech)

  • Why the US needs new road rules (Bloomberg)

  • The US government is moving too slowly for Tesla (Vox)

Industry

Consolidation in the AV space

The tag line for this piece reads: “The AV industry has promised too much for too long, and has delivered too little.” And I’m sure a number of us are nodding along right now, like “yup”.

“After years of positive vibes about the future of autonomous vehicles and nearly unrestricted access to cash from Kool-Aid-drunk venture capitalists, the AV industry is confronting some hard truths. The first is that autonomous vehicles are going to take a lot longer to reach mass scale than previously thought. The second is that it’s going to be a lot more expensive, too. And the third hard truth: going it alone is no longer a viable option.”

More information on Tesla’s autopilot crash

This is the crash that caught the world’s attention after local police told reporters that their investigators believed nobody was in the driver’s seat at the time of the collision. “The NTSB has not yet concluded what caused the crash,… [h]owever, the NTSB in tests on the same stretch of road did find it was unable to engage one feature of the Autopilot system known as “Autosteer,” which helps a car stay centered within a lane.”

More news:

  • Beijing’s got a new robotaxi (CitiesToday)

  • Oxbotica and Navtech partner to increase localisation accuracy (SmartCitiesWorld)

  • China’s booming AV development (Bloomberg)

  • ArgoAI’s fancy, new LiDAR tech (Bloomberg)

  • Pony.ai’s also fancy, new LiDAR tech (The Verge)

  • Another year, and still no “full self-driving” from Tesla (Reuters)

  • Einride raises $110M to expand automated trucking in the US (TechCrunch)

  • Soon San Franciscans will be paying for self-driving car rides (if Cruise and Waymo get their way) (KFGO)

Research and Academia

Transportation access in America (via Mississippi State University)

New research explains how transit access to jobs drops with network distance from the Central Business District (CBD), and introduces the urban space-time structure—across the 45 most populated American cities. “The analysis finds, regardless of the city, transit access declines as one moves out from the center, and in most cities, transit access decays from a surfeit of employment to relative scarcity. In this transition, the transit network acts as a “catalyst” to induce access to CBD employments centralization.”

Digital inequalities in transportation services (via TU Delft)

“Data-driven and algorithm-based decision-making present a particularly pernicious form of digital exclusion from transport services. As digital technologies are progressively becoming indispensable to navigate the world of transport services, low levels of digital engagement may create a new layer of transport disadvantage, possibly on top of existing ones. Although digitalisation can be part of the solution to transport disadvantage, it can also be part of the problem.”

Opportunities for research on transportation and equity

TRB has pulled together a report compiling areas of study related to transportation equity that require “the urgency of research”. On a high-level, TRB has broken the content down into four categories:

  1. Access to Employment, Health Care, Education, and Other Opportunities

  2. Displacement, Gentrification, Affordable Housing, and Land Use

  3. Environmental Justice and Inequitable Impacts

  4. Institutional Issues and Decision-Making

Opinion

We should just invest in buses already

“What we need are not more energy-efficient cars or self-driving cars or, as Zimmer fantasized, privately owned fleets that are available for hire, but fewer cars entirely. We need people biking, walking, taking buses and trains and subways, or otherwise riding in something besides a free-ranging, 3,000-pound metal exoskeleton with an error-prone operator, digital or human. If safety is often cited as a prime reason for developing autonomous vehicles—about 36,000 Americans die in car accidents [sic] every year—then perhaps a better way of saving lives is to have fewer cars on the road, replaced by mass transit and other public options.”

Humans are the problem with driving (duh!)

Filed under articles that make me want to pull my hair out for lack of nuance.

“This week I had my first encounter with a driverless car. That is to say, a Tesla drove itself past the T-junction at which I was waiting. There was a man sitting in the driving seat but he was on his iPad, engrossed in whatever passes for Angry Birds these days. For now this man is very much breaking the law but for how long? Last month the government announced the first giant leap towards self-driving cars on UK roads. By the end of the year the use of automated lane-keeping systems — technology that controls the speed and position of the vehicle — will be legalised.”

That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends!

Sarah