Along for the Ride #158
Back at it!
Heya friends, happy … Monday!
I hope everybody enjoyed Laura and Alex’s guest contributions this month. I’m back behind the handlebars and we’ve got a doozie of an edition today because its only been four weeks since my last proper write up. (This is the thing with writing, when you don’t do it for a weeeee bit, all of a sudden there’s a lot to say!). This edition is brought to you from various writing sessions across London, Oxford, the Atlantic Ocean, and San Francisco.
But… before I dive into the news, I wanted to share some personal news! A project I worked on last year is ~finally~ seeing the light of day: the revamped Ecobici bikeshare system has launched in Mexico City. I am so excited to see this project come to life, and to see the impact that an expanded bikeshare system will have on urban mobility in the world’s fifth largest city. *Immediately adds Mexico City to my travel plans*. If you find yourself in Mexico City, please send me pictures! Few things would bring me such joy.
In addition, there are some new folks subscribed here, so welcome! Very grateful to have you here. I always joke that with every new subscriber a bike lane gets its wings, so thank you for being here and participating in our collective ambition to make cities safer, more joyous places to live. Without further adieu, here’s the news:
Read(s) of the Week
This one is a perfect combo for my skeptical and cynical city designer heart. BIG (the Danish architecture firm that makes me roll my eyes the most) is at it again. They have released new renders of Telosa.. a proposed utopian city conceived by American billionaire Marc Lore (we hate to see it folks!). The project has a target population of five million people by 2050.
So what exactly is BIG designing? A road, air and hyperloop-capable autonomous vehicle. “The Ground to Air, or G2A, would constitute a rhomboid passenger pod that can attach to a set of wheels to become a car, rotor blades to become a helicopter, rails to form an elevated train or run underground in a hyperloop system.” Me, I’ll just stick with my bicycle. Sometimes we make things infinitely more complicated than we need to, and this is the perfect example of that.
In disheartening news, a video of a Tesla test drive went viral after the vehicle obliterated its way through a child-sized mannequin while in “Full-Self Driving” mode. The video is the central to a campaign urging the public to press Congress to ban Tesla’s auto-driving technology.
The Verge has more information on the campaign. “Ralph Nader, a former presidential candidate and nationally recognized consumer protection advocate, called on federal regulators to recall Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) driver-assist feature, calling its deployment “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades.””
Tesla is now demanding the removal of this video which has gone viral (WashPo). And you know all the Tesla die-hards have their knickers in a knot over this. So much so they tried to recreate the experiment (you guessed it!) with real children.
And last but not least on our “Tesla Special Feature” we have the California DMV accusing Tesla of false advertising (CleanTechnica). Do you know how bad it has to be for the California DMV to accuse you of false advertising? The California DMV. These are not people with high standards my dudes. I’ve shared plenty of links about why Tesla’s “Full-Self Driving” program is named in a harmful and dangerous way, so if you’re new here, here’s a refresher for you!
Government and Policy
Because this edition is going to be long™️, I’ve going to start us out with some happy-hitters: California will ban the selling of gas-powered cars by 2035 (WashPo), Brussels is smashing some mode shift goals (going from 55% private car in 2019 to 45% in 2022!) (BX1), Denver is dropping its planned highway extension *crowd goes wild* (CPR), and congestion pricing in NYC may finally come to fruition (TransAlt). A moment of gratitude and appreciation for all of the ~good things happening~.
*Cough* Political Will *Cough*. Even with new funding sources that allow States to remove and reduce highway lanes (especially those that intersect with city centres), there are still challenges to realizing these ambitions. This article is a bit of a long read looking at this specific challenge in Dallas, Texas and the trials and tribulations of changing heavy and hardened and historically underfunded transportation infrastructure.
The subtitle of this NYT piece is “Sometimes it’s better to be safe than first.” And I’m just sitting over here like … yes? Especially with regards to cars where the price for not being safe can be human life.
“The danger is that an artificial sense of urgency or a zeal to “win” could create unnecessary safety risks, give companies permission to hog more of our personal information and prioritize corporations’ self-interest at the expense of the public good.”
Speeding related collisions make up about a third of all US traffic fatalities (more than 10,000 people annually). This article looks at home speed governors (that limit the speed of a vehicle using geofencing technology) prevent vehicles from surpassing speed limits / set thresholds. “Cars currently sold in the US do have speed governors, but they’re set very high: Some only kick in at 155 mph, far above 85 mph, the highest speed limit anywhere in the country.”
“US drivers have become largely desensitized to an annual traffic death rate several times higher than that of other developed countries like France and Canada. Speed governors would especially benefit the pedestrians and cyclists who are at elevated risk of being killed, but drivers and carmakers alike have shown only tepid interest in safety technology that isn’t focused on vehicle occupants.”
Some good news: Sen. Brad Hoylman has introduced a new bill in New York State to introduce speed limiters for large SUVs. A small, but mighty, step in the right direction (StreetsBlog NYC).
China has released the first national draft guideline on the use of AVs for public transport. “The country will encourage the use of self-driving vehicles such as buses in an enclosed Bus Rapid Transit or BRT system, and allow autonomous vehicles to offer taxi services under simple and relatively controllable scenarios, according to draft rules published by the Ministry.”
Thanks Bridget for sharing this article! Amazon Prime has a new documentary capturing America’s traffic fatality crisis through the lens of a true crime series. I sadly won’t be able to offer any critiques or impressions about the show as I live an Amazon Prime free life (if you know me in really life you know I’m a bit of a Luddite). But please tell me how it is!!
The more you know!
One million square feet of Los Angeles roads are being covered with solar-reflective paint (FastCo)
Switzerland wants AVs to deliver goods underground (Prudent Press Agency)
The UK government has released £100m in funding to see AVs on roads by 2025 (BBC)
UBC’s Vancouver campus ends it’s AV trial (shout out to my fellow Thunderbirds!!) (DailyHive)
France is giving €4,000 to people who trade in their car for an ebike (The Verge)
Of all the companies to steal trade secrets from …. Apple is not the one!! The case started in 2018 when Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple employee, was charged with stealing trade secrets.
“In July 2018, a federal grand jury in San Jose indicted Zhang for obtaining a 25-page document containing detailed drawings of a circuit board designed to be used in Apple’s autonomous vehicle. In April that year, Zhang told Apple that he was resigning to be closer to his ill mother in China. Apple later learned that the former employee had gone on to work for Xpeng, an electric vehicle upstart in China. On the day of Zhang’s planned return to China, federal agents intercepted and arrested the engineer at the San Jose International Airport.”
TuSimple is trying to pass off a crash that happened last year in Arizona as human error. However, it’s not so simple. Typically if a company notes a crash is caused by “human error” that denotes the driver being in charge of the vehicle completely. However, that is not the case here.
“An internal report viewed by the Journal says that the crash occurred because “a person in the cab hadn’t properly rebooted the autonomous driving system before engaging it, causing it to execute an outdated command.””
Experts are arguing that common safeguards would have prevented the autonomous driving system from executing the outdated command and likely would have prevented the crash.
Cruise has shared that a server crash is what led to their vehicles sitting motionless at red lights and in the middle of cross walks in San Francisco in June. The cars had no drivers, and trapped folks in traffic and riders in the vehicles alike. What’s worse? This wasn’t the first time.
“On the evening of May 18, the company lost touch with its entire fleet for 20 minutes as its cars sat stopped in the street, according to internal documentation viewed by WIRED.”
How these instances have not lead to a complete revocation of their permit to operate without drivers in SF (or operate full-stop) is beyond me. The SF Examiner even found that Cruise vehicles have been involved in nine hit and runs so far this year.
The more you know!
VW is buying $4 Billion worth of AVs from Innoviz (Car Scoops)
ArgoAI brings in a safety panel of outside experts (The Verge)
Lyft and Motional launch AV service in Las Vegas (GovTech)
Baidu plans to operate AVs in Wuhan and Congqing (TechCrunch)
Research and Academia
Shout-out to Pamela for sharing this research!
“The MIT AgeLab’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Consortium has undergone a years-long effort to track and understand the public’s attitudes and perceptions toward autonomous vehicle technologies as they slowly begin to appear in the wild. Over the six-year survey period, consumers have grown increasingly comfortable with vehicle automation technologies—but their comfort has boundaries. Respondents were far more likely to express comfort with driver assistance systems—which help the driver with operating a vehicle without taking over the driving task entirely—rather than partial or full self-driving.”
“The project delivers a key component for the success of robotic applications in cities: It develops critical understanding about how autonomous vehicles in urban environments need to interact with the people that they share those spaces with. The project investigates whether people are more likely to trust the technology and feel safe if they are able to understand how the system makes decisions and to directly influence its behaviour. It has three overarching aims:
To identify which decision-making processes AVs in shared spaces should communicate to pedestrians and in what ways.
To create interaction techniques for pedestrians to directly influence the behaviour of AVs in shared spaces.
To develop strategies for safely testing the interaction between multiple pedestrians and AVs in simulated virtual environments.”
The more you know!
Pedestrian access to transit in evolution: unfolding the spatialization of rapid-transit planning (Journal of Urban Design)
Trust and safety in autonomous mobility systems (University of Sydney)
Adults’ self-reported barriers and enablers to riding a bike for transport: a systematic review (Transport Reviews)
I feel like this is the drum I have been beating on for like … ten years and to see it in a headline (referencing a Hyundai exec) is somehow validating? Glad we can all stop pretending that auto OEMs were investing in smart cities to make less cars when it has been so blatantly obvious they want to do the opposite.
The more you know!
What can London learn from Singapore’s transport system? (Centre for Cities)
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful week(!) friends.
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