Along for the Ride #111

Heya friends, happy Friday!

Super excited that next week is our second (!) Guest Author. I grow excited each month for this edition to come out as I think it’s crucial to the mission of this newsletter. As always, I encourage you(!) to reach out if you’re interested in participating—especially if you feel like you don’t have much to “add” to this industry as I can almost guarantee it’s a much-needed perspective. I am happy to more share details, you’ll be paid, and I’ll even mail ya a hand-written note because I am cheesy like that (but you knew that already).

P.S. Enjoying this subscription? Share it with your fellow transit wonks, bike-buddies, and bus nerds!

Ok, onto le news!

Read of the Week

Why are cities designed for six foot tall men? And how are women architects changing this tide?

Featuring yours truly and Le Corbusier’s Modular Man at Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, France. And yes, I did send this to my architectural art history professors who now use it in their lectures on the subject 😂

Before I even read this article from the Guardian’s Oli Wainwright, I knew I’d be able to dig out this ol’ image of me next to Corbusier’s Modular Man, a “unit of measurement” he famously modeled all of his spaces after (human centred design in the past, and today, continues to have a real focus on the “man” in human). When he first designed Modular, it was based on the average French man's height of 1.75 metres (5 ft 9 in), but it was eventually changed to 1.83 m in 1946 because "in English detective novels, the good-looking men, such as policemen, are always six feet tall!" [Can’t make this shit up y’all!!].

This article looks at the history of how this type of design and male-centred approach has impacted city-making and architecture the world over, and how women are starting to finally turn that tide to be more inclusive. Feel free to read the comments if you want to know how important this issue remains 🙃

Government and Policy

Paris’ plan to go car-free in city centre

Paris may no longer only be known for its romantic vistas, but soon for its unwavering commitment to squashing driving through the city centre (also romantic imho). Last week the city announced a new zone that would make it illegal to drive across the city centre without stopping. That would cover about 55% of total traffic—more than 100,000 cars—passing through this zone on average per day, the city says. Enchanté.

N.B. If done successfully, this plan will *need* to work for Parisians of all walks of life. As proposed, the plan would allow for people with disabilities to be exempt from this policy.

Meanwhile, Madrid will scrap their successful Low Emission Zone

After years of contention, Madrid’s Low Emission Zone which limited car traffic in the city centre is ending in response to a case ruling from Spain’s Supreme Court. And by “contention” I mean incessant complaints from car drivers. This absolutely breaks my heart as the zone was incredibly impactful on air pollution—which the city has historically failed to address. “According to a report in Spanish newspaper El Pais, nitrogen oxide emissions fell by 38 percent in Madrid’s centre during the first month of the zone’s operation, while carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 14.2 percent.”

US labour leader asks for AVs to have … drivers

In an effort to protect jobs, Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department for the AFL-CIO (I am *not* an expert here, but this is a Union group!), spoke with the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee about AVs, arguing that the vehicles place "millions of jobs at risk." In particular, he asked that any legislation to speed deployment of self-driving cars should not apply to commercial trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or more, which is tricky as that is potentially one of the fastest routes to market for many OEMs.

US has a new bill that proposes to measure access for non-drivers too

The newly proposed (COMMUTE) Act, advocates for the establishment of a pilot program that would “provide data to states and local governments to measure accessibility to local businesses and important destinations, and inform investments in transportation systems.” While today developers and DOTs are often legally required to conduct traffic-impact analyses, these studies usually predict impact on drivers, but rarely take into account the impact on non-drivers. An example of why this matters? “According to the National Equity Atlas, Black workers have 12 percent longer commute times than their White counterparts across all modes—and statisticians don’t even know how long it takes the average BIPOC to reach essential services.”

West Cambridge to launch AV trials soon

Love an autonomous shuttle trail! Cambridge, UK will be one of the first cities in the UK to run a pilot on public highway. In this trial,  the shuttles will be used to run a 3km loop from a Park & Ride site, over to West Cambridge along the length of the site and up to the University Institute of Astronomy, then back along to the Park & Ride site. 

Who is responsible in an AV crash?

While AVs are *still* in their infancy, issues of who is responsible during a crash / collision remain top of mind. I haven’t talked much about this issue recently, and Bloomberg has a nice recap this week about the issue. The argument is that legislation that would allow carmakers to test and sell AVs has stalled, and is something the industry says it needs to fully develop and eventually market AVs to consumers. A bill to do that sailed through the House several years ago but has been bogged down in the Senate over the liability question.

Industry

A bunch of traffic cones really confused this Waymo vehicle

It’s not really “news”, but there’s an interesting article about a hiccup / fault recorded by a Waymo rider in Chandler, AZ last month where the vehicle “became stranded on an Arizona road earlier this month while carrying a passenger and then unexpectedly driving away as a worker from the company's roadside assistance arrived to help.” It then got really confused by a bunch of traffic cones.

Waymo execs are dropping like flies

This isn’t so unexpected, as many companies see execs leave after CEOs and the like depart the business, but Waymo’s currently tally includes:

  • John Krafcik, CEO 

  • Vijaysai Patnaik, Head of Waymo’s self-driving truck division

  • Deborah Hersman, Chief safety officer

  • Sherry House, Treasurer and investor relations

  • Tim Willis, Chief manufacturing and global supply officer

More details on Tesla’s fatal crash in California

On May 5th, there was a fatal collision in Fontana (50 miles east of Los Angeles), involving a driver and Tesla’s autopilot mode. New reports show that the driver posted social media videos of himself riding in the vehicle without his hands on the wheel or foot on the pedal.

VW and ArgoAI to begin tests in Munich this summer

*This is the vehicle that is a revamped VW van / has strong toaster aesthetic vibes* Volkswagen will start testing its new AVs in Germany this summer. Using VW’s electric ID Buzz vans, the trials will also use hardware and software developed by Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based startup that is backed by Ford and VW. The aim is to launch a commercial delivery and micro-transit service in Germany by 2025.

Cruise to begin production of The Origin in 2023

Speaking of toaster vehicles… Cruise announced this week that they expect production of Cruise Origin (their autonomous shuttle) to begin in early 2023.

Research and Academia

The environmental trade-offs of AVs

New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison addresses the use-phase implications of autonomous vehicles using a stated preference survey to reveal the potential users of autonomous vehicles and the resulting level of competition with traditional modes of transport. The results show an expected increase in environmental impacts across all the categories studied, due to a shift from less carbon intensive transportation options.

Assessing job-access inequity for transit-based workers 

New research from the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign examines the job-access inequity between the richest 10% and poorest 40% transit-based workers across space (i.e. central city, the inner-ring/outer-ring suburb) and race (i.e. white, black and Hispanic) in Chicago. The results indicate that there are job-access inequities across both space and race. In terms of job-access inequity across race, there are more job-access inequities for whites and blacks than for Hispanics. In terms of job-access inequity across space, the central city has the least cross-race inequities while the outer-ring suburb has the most cross-race inequities.

Opinion

Why cities say no to new technology

“For better or for worse, each of these examples — both contemporary and historical — involves urban residents and elected leaders grappling with the societal impact of a new mobility mode. “Opposition to a new transportation technology can be based on vested interests, on NIMBYism, or on genuine problems,” says Norton. “I don’t think we can ever fully extricate these things.” The debates may be messy, but they have taken place in public, with city residents and their officials deciding whether a newly-deployed technology deserves an enthusiastic welcome or a cease-and-desist notice.”

Is it time for free public transit?

*Silently screams yessssss*

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed just how much lower-income and nonwhite riders depended on mass transit to get them to the essential jobs they couldn’t perform at home. Where ridership on subways and regional rails took significant hits once pandemic restrictions took effect, bus ridership in major cities fell far less. Many lower-income workers relied on buses to get them where they were going. This, in turn, has led transportation equity advocates, elected officials and even transit agency managers to consider making reduced or free fares a permanent fixture as ridership recovers.”

Why we shouldn’t expect AVs until at least 2050

Immediately upon reading this headline I questioned just how long I’ll have to keep writing this newsletter. This piece succinctly recaps all of the broken promises of the industry, distinguishing what is hype or reality.

That’s all from me folks. Have a beautiful weekend.

Sarah