Along for the Ride #135
It's me, on a podcast!
Heya friends, happy Friday!
I was recently invited to speak on the How AI Happens podcast (one small step for human geographers everywhere, amiright). They just published my episode yesterday, and you can listen to me ponder the history of AVs, whether they will save us all (they won’t), and what cities and technical practitioners can be doing to re-orient the conversation around outcomes and not just sexy technology. Thanks to AFTR reader Rob for the nudge + interview.
Also, if you’re in San Francisco and feel like advocating to save Car-Free JFK there will be a rally tomorrow starting at 10am. You’ll be able to find me there, and I’ll be the overly excited one in a bright orange hat. Very hard to miss, promise.
Celebrating Black Excellence
Black History Month represents more than just a moment for us to reflect on the contribution Black people have made in our communities, cities, and institutions. If anything it is an opportunity to consider how Black folks have always fought for justice, and continue to lead this charge—and how White folks can and need to prioritize our own anti-racism work to dismantle the hold White Supremacy holds over these same communities, cities, and institutions. I am personally grateful for this (continuously updated!) resource of things White people can do for racial justice, and I would recommend regularly reading to consider what more White folks can take on, in hopes of creating a more just future.
Today I want to share and celebrate a few resources that I think will resonate particularly well with this readership:
11 Black urbanists you should know: From the first Black city planner to community activists, academics, and authors there are so many Black stories to better understand and celebrate across our industry. I encourage you to peruse this list and consider purchasing some of their work (ideally from a Black owned bookstore)!
Creating meaningful space for Black folks in urbanism: Black + urban was “created as a safe space for Black urban planners, designers and forward thinkers. The platform is intended to document practical and visionary solutions for the issues that plague Black urban spaces through the lens of research, experiences and case studies.” In particular, check out their articles, research and projects with a transportation focus.
Where are the Black women in urban planning? Consider reading this piece about why we see so few Black women in the urban planning profession (current estimate in the UK is 3% of urban planners, despite making up 17% of the population).
“The planning field needs to start acknowledging that Black women have been doing planning work without academia accredited planning training since the concept of planning was birthed. We need to credit their experience, value it, and find a way to appropriately and competitively compare their wealth of knowledge with more traditional—read white-serving—education backgrounds.”
Government and Policy
There’s been a lot of chatter recently at the federal level about how to safely deploy AVs, and this truly seems to be the big ticket item everybody is talking about this week. More on this in the industry + opinion sections too.
“To date, the approach of pursuing voluntary industry agreements, sometimes with government agency involvement, consistently has been demonstrated to be insufficient to ensure public safety,” said Catherine Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
You can also read Professor Nico Larco’s statement from the hearing here as well. It’s a long-read but it will have you head-bobbing in agreement all the way through. “AVs are not just another vehicle – in the same way that over a century ago cars proved to be not just a different horse. I will describe how AVs might create cascading impacts beyond moving people and goods, and how they have the potential to substantially reshape our communities.”
I reported last week about the many recalls faced by Tesla, but I found this article interesting explaining how the government is able to enforce these recalls, and the problematic process of approving new technology.
“This trend is especially concerning because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency that will oversee the recalls, can only take action after the Tesla software has been released to drivers. Tesla typically pushes these updates to its vehicles when they’re connected to the internet, so they don’t come at a significant cost to the company. That’s left Tesla free to release and test new features with drivers on the road — until the government catches up and intervenes, or Tesla identifies issues on its own.”
Boston’s Mayor Wu is making a lot of fantastic transportation decisions and now I maybe want to move to Boston? The City announced the launch a two-year fare-free programme on MBTA bus Routes 23, 28, and 29. This comes after fares were eliminated in August 2021 on one of the chosen routes, and ridership increased to more than 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels with over 12,000 riders every day.
Guaranteed ways to ruffle transportation twitters feathers: praise Tesla for negligent behaviour and refer to their cars as being autonomous. The NYT reported on how Tesla was able to maintain high-level of vehicle production throughout the pandemic and celebrated the ingenuity the company must have demonstrated to reach such record sails. Meanwhile, CNBC took a slightly different approach calling out Tesla for removing steering components from their vehicles to deal with chip shortages. The company chose not to disclose this change to customers.
P.S. These articles also depict that the way we measure success for auto OEMs is still by how many cars they sell per quarter. I’m looking forward to a day when we consider new metrics for success that don’t align with increased vehicle usage.
TuSimple, the automated freight company, has secured a partnership with Union Pacific who will be the first customer to use TuSimple’s automated trucking service to haul cargo in Arizona.
Cruise recently started offering rides in the AVs in San Francisco, with over 500 trips taken so far. But these trips aren’t happening during day light hours. The service hours for the AV service run from 11pm-5am, and I don’t know about you but that is past my bed time.
South-Korean based Morai has raised a new round of funding. Morai provides autonomous vehicle developers with automotive simulation tools to verify the safety and reliability of self-driving systems.
Research and Academia
Major kudos to AFTR reader (+ friend!) Marcel for this important research.
“Manual review of satellite imagery documents that crosswalks are present at 58% of San Francisco’s roughly 6,400 intersections, though they are not evenly distributed across neighborhoods.. Intersections exhibit crosswalk ‘corridor effects,’ in that crosswalks often cluster along certain streets, including (but not limited to) commercial areas. In addition, crosswalks in four neighborhoods were analyzed to a deeper extent, including category(e.g. ladder, continental, standard), condition, and ‘completeness’ or the number of adjacent blocks with a connecting crosswalk. Across these roughly 1,000 intersections, coverage varied from 51% in the Bayview (a historic African American community) to 83%in Pacific Heights (a high-income, majority-white neighborhood).”
The latest publication from Susan Shaheen and Ata Khan dives deeply into the shared component of AVs. “Serving as a source of information on how best to shape shared vehicle systems of the future, this book contributes knowledge on key facets of shared mobility. It includes shared vehicle systems as well as shared automated vehicle systems.” Grateful to academics like Shaheen who have been on the shared-transport wagon for decades, and continue to contribute so meaningfully to the industry.
Research out of Princeton considers how the pandemic has impacted remote work, and what groups benefits the most from this transition, and those who bear the brunt.
“If remote work becomes more prevalent, many business service workers may leave expensive cities and work from elsewhere withdrawing spending from the local non-tradable service industries dependent on their demand. We use the recent COVID-19-induced increase in remote work to test for the strength of this mechanism and find it to be strong. As a result, low-skill service workers in big cities bore most of the pandemic's economic impact. Our findings have broader implications for the distributional consequences of the US economy's transition to more remote work.”
Everybody’s favourite topic: land use x transport! Research out of Hong Kong considers the impact of high speed rail development in cities, finding that it can cause urban expansion and polycentricity. But it isn’t without its challenges and the authors recommend seriously investigating local municipal fiscal conditions before the deciding to implement high speed rail.
“Like cars, autonomous vehicles were born not from public need but from technological opportunity. Phil Koopman, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has worked on autonomous technology for more than 25 years, saw classmates developing prototypes that lumbered through Carnegie Mellon’s campus when he was a doctoral student in the late 1980s. “They weren’t solving a societal problem,” he says. “They were solving the ‘It would be cool if we could get cars to drive themselves’ problem.””
Extra Bits + Bobs
Newsletters you should subscribe to! If you love this newsletter, you may also enjoy Su$tainable Mobility, a weekly digest on all things electric, active, and more. Written by AFTR reader Alex Mitchell, the newsletter brings a VC-lens to industry news and regularly features deep-dives on everything from curb management to policy proposals.
Looking for women to be on your panel? Well, look no further than this fantastic resource from Trucks: the ultimate list of women transportation leaders.
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends.