Along for the Ride #154
The Monday Edition
Heya friends, happy
I thought there was a chance there’d be no newsletter one of the week’s I was in NYC but I didn’t expect there to be two. I blame the sheer amount of joy I had taking 50+ Citi Bike rides in 12 days, eating doritos on the ferry, and basking in the subway AC. Not to mention the absolute nerd-herd adventures that were had with some of you subscribers! We went to the beach, walked the entirety of Long Island City, grabbed coffee, went to happy hours, met for the first time serendipitously, and enjoyed a few
too many whiskey sours. Some of you will say I didn’t eat enough pizza (you know who you are!), to which I say: I’ll be back soon.
There’s a lot jammed into this newsletter this week due to the Fun™️ that was had by all. But before we dive in.. I will share with you this great meme that I saw recently that resonated deeply with yours truly. Thank you to everybody who loves this newsletter enough to accept it as it is, typos and all. For anybody new here (there’s lots of you! Not sure where you’re coming from but so happy you’re here!) there will be typos. It’s the only thing I can promise is change resistance.
Without further adieu, le news!
Read of the Week
Today’s irony is a piece in the New Yorker about San Francisco, and the overwhelming overabundance of AVs on city streets and little honey bears painted by a local artist. It is a must read.
“I came to find the cars symbolically interesting—to wonder what it meant that an idealized transportation model, touted as the future, was one that minimized human interaction. Suppose the fully autonomous future never arrived—then what, or whom, would the cars be for? Earlier this year, Vice reported that the San Francisco Police Department was making use of the footage captured by Waymo and Cruise cars. I began to see the vehicles as promoting certain ideas, or values, of urban life: privatization, atomization, surveillance. Their constant, roving patrol, their opacity and ubiquity, their bland and cutesy sameness, their programmatic logic seemed to presage a future without privacy or mystery.
Living in any city means jostling with other people’s fantasies for the future. Honey bears and self-driving cars promote such a fantasy. It’s one in which the urban environment is governed by the principles of marketing, the aesthetics of high-tech homogeneity, and the interests of venture capital, and imbued with the sterile, cheerful infantilization of startup branding.”
Government and Policy
Shoutout to AFTR reader Bridget for sharing this article and critique!
“I’m glad these headlines are getting put out there, paired with vibrant graphics and shared. My only complaint is that it doesn’t go far enough to speak to the lack of black women directly in roles and not supported in in-direct roles that can effectuate change in every aspect of the urban environment.”
As if we needed more reasons to stroll through the human-sized streets of Madrid or Barcelona… Spain is making it easier than every for people to travel by train this autumn by offering free short and medium distance train journeys across the country.
There’s a gondola, 450km of new protected and separated bike lanes, a doubling of bus service with nine new BRT lines, and an extension of the Millennium Line to UBC. Vancouver is officially somewhere over the rainbow where blue birds fly and bike lanes have wings.
I continue to be inspired by Vancouver’s ability to (a) have a government that dreams big, and (b) the political will power to deliver upon these big dreams. You can read more about the plan here, but be prepared to feel infuriated at your local government.
Starting August 1, Shenzen will allow AVs without safety drivers to operate in the city, limited to certain roads designated by the city’s traffic management department. It will be interesting to see how defining specific roads for AVs will deliver specific results, and shape future policies. Shenzhen is the first city in China to introduce an extensive regulatory framework for connected and autonomous vehicles.
The USDOT is considering a new rule that would require states and metropolitan planning agencies to establish targets to reduce GHG emissions in line with the Biden administration’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. This would track reductions related to driving in particular. The proposed rule comes after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to abandon us all (and future generations) in their ruling for West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency.
The more you know!
Tallinn launches a free AV bus pilot (Smart Cities World)
Why less pedestrian-friendly cities see fewer car crashes per mile (Streetsblog)
An interview with Boston’s Mayor Wu about free public transit and why it works (The Guardian)
Norway launches an electric, autonomous bus into full service (Electrive)
Me to me: Why (whhhhhhy) are we designing AVs with the same dangerous, box-y, SUV design that keeps killing more people (by design!) for AVs?! Where is the innovation in keeping deadly car design with enhanced gadgets? In the words of the youth: Burn it all down!!
The design features more novel features—such as the detachable steering wheel, vending machines, gaming consoles are more—that point towards a future where passengers can completely zone out as the device algorithmically determines direction and actions. The plan is to roll the vehicle out across China to begin with.
Note: This may be behind a paywall for some of you! My apologies! Similar to the above, in the US, Ford and GM are pushing the NHSTA to remove vehicle requirements that devices must have a steering wheel and pedals, enabling them to test and trial their new form factors in the US. This isn’t so new, companies have been pushing for this type of regulatory change for a while, and only time will tell when or if NHSTA bends to their pressure.
In the last two weeks the Guardian has been slow-feeding us all leaked files from the UK showing how Uber’s lobbying efforts crossed many bounds, bought out certain academics to advance these efforts, and created programs to dupe the police. I am almost surprised this is news given that this is common practice for many VC-backed companies that must bend to regulatory environments that are *gasp* financially challenging. As somebody who was in London for many years during this Uber drama, I read through the many articles (that are damning!) and just thought: “yup”.
I don’t like to pick favourites, but if I had to(!) Apple’s autonomous vehicle is my favourite because there are so few of them and I never see them and my favourite cars are ones that aren’t around! Anyways! This piece explores Apple’s eight years exploring AVs, the challenges they’ve had and continue to face.
I have written this newsletter for four years. For those of you who weren’t around way-back-when, most of the “Industry” section featured stories about big promises related to safety and collisions—as well as all the money soaring through the industry. I’ve noticed that particularly in the last six months almost every edition includes news about an AV related collision. This is your reminder to stay aware, question the rhetoric of what will save our cities, and consider “is this the best possible use of funding?”.
This article details a Waymo Via (one of their large freight trucks) being forced out of its lane when another truck entered its lane, leading to the vehicle swerving off the roadway entirely. The Waymo safety driver was sent to the hospital with injuries, and the other truck continued along its merry way without ever stopping. Olivia Rodrigo’s “It’s brutal out here” repeats over and over again in my head.
“While Waymo’s autonomous semi truck was not at fault in the hit and run, the incident highlights gaps in reporting mechanisms, and raises questions about how ready the public and law enforcement are to cope with heavy, fast-moving vehicles that have no human driver.”
The more you know!
Uber is being sued by over 550 women for sexual assault cases related to their drivers (TechCrunch)
ArgoAI lays off 150 employees (Car and Bike)
Research and Academia
“A comprehensive model is developed by incorporating the supply-side improvement of CAVs, a modified activity-based demand model supported by survey data, and a multi-class highway assignment model. The simulation results showed that VMT and emissions would increase by 10%, and CAVs could worsen travel equity across income groups. To reduce the negative impacts caused by CAVs, we proposed and evaluated a series of travel demand management policies. The results indicated that all policies help to reduce the VMT and emission growth, while their performances in enhancing travel equity vary across metrics including accessibility, travel frequency, and travel distance.”
Alternatively named: My Personal Manifesto After Spending 12 Confused Days in New York City.
“Planning scholars have identified economic, safety, and social benefits of converting one-way streets to two-way. Less is known about how conversions could impact vehicular distances traveled—of growing relevance in an era of fleet automation, electrification, and ride-hailing. We simulate such a conversion in San Francisco, California. We find that its current street network’s average intra-city trip is ~1.7 percent longer than it would be with all two-way streets, corresponding to 27 million kilometers of annual surplus travel. As transportation technologies evolve, planners must consider different facets of network efficiency to align local policy and street design with sustainability and other societal goals.”
Smart Growth America has released a new report that considers how dangerous certain state and metro areas are for people walking in the US. The report sheds light on the deadliest places in the United States based on traffic fatalities from 2016 to 2020.
“Although everyone is affected by dangerous street design in some way, this burden is not shared equally. Low-income residents, older adults, and people of color are more likely to be struck and killed while walking. Black pedestrians were twice as likely to be killed while walking as white, non-Hispanic pedestrians. Native Americans faced risks nearly three times as great. These statistics also may underestimate the toll, as hundreds of traffic fatalities are reported without race each year.”
This piece paints a picture of three likely outcomes from our order of affairs, and to say their bleak … is an understatement. Read on to learn more about: Elon Musk’s Gated Greenwashed City, The City Without Pedestrians, and The City of Algorithmic Control.
“The decisions of venture capitalists to fund companies that are transforming the way we move, consume, and conduct our daily lives should not be perceived as neutral actions. Rather, they are pushing visions of the future that benefit themselves by funding the yearslong efforts of companies to monopolize their sectors and lobby to alter regulatory structures in their favor. Furthermore, rather than challenging the dominance of the automobile, their ideas almost always seek to extend it.”
I feel like I could rename this newsletter with the above headline and my subscribers would sky rocket, because it’s really the crux of what I’m trying to get across here.
“Planners must be the first in line to stop treating everything this man says as gospel truth. Self-driving cars aren’t the only angle that planners have yet to cast sufficient doubt on Musk’s promises—there’s also the whole Boring Co. pitch, which officials from Las Vegas to Chicago to Los Angeles to Baltimore and D.C. to Miami to the Inland Empire bought to varying degrees. Musk’s fingerprints are all over the Hyperloop idea, which is falling apart even as entire regions spend big money to study the idea.”
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends.
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