Along for the Ride #163
Podcasts and prom!
Heya friends, happy Friday!
Kicking off this newsletter with some housekeeping items:
I was recently interviewed for Avison Young’s Changing Places podcast alongside some very cooool (and humbling) people. I talk about all my favourite things: bike lanes, street corner radii, and why AVs are not the salvation of the transport industry.
Prom on the Prom is this weekend! I’ll be there advocating for the ✨ joy ✨ of car-free spaces while also dancing away the afternoon. Hope to see those of you in SF there!
I’m hosting a fundraiser for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition on October 19th talking about activism, new mobility, and changing street design. You can register to attend here!
Alright now onto the news!
Read(s) of the Week
Cruise continues to lose control
When a PR press trip turns into a PR nightmare. A NYT’s reporter went to the streets of San Francisco to try one of Cruise’s experimental AVs. And as described in another article below, what the reporter was experienced was one of the company’s rougher journey—a pattern seen across the City since May. The ride included numerous safety concerns including stopping in the middle of crosswalks, swerving, hitting the brakes, and the finale… “just as we hit some nighttime traffic, the car detected a possible accident and pulled over. It was a false alarm, but the car wouldn’t budge. My ride was over.”
All this alongside another great article from Bloomberg about how even after $100B in investment, AVs are “going nowhere”. Makes me wonder why we're not investing hundreds of billions into bike lanes, light rail, bus rapid transit, and other *actual* improvements.
Speaking of actual improvements… A recent study shows that the share of journeys made by car in the city has fallen by nearly half (!), including in the General Paris region. A slew of investments to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists and transit (à la 15 minute city) introduced by Anne Hidalgo since she was elected as Mayor in 2014 are starting to deliver significant results. The long-ish reads gives a nice recap of the measures taken and their impact—and serves as a much needed dose of inspiration.
Government and Policy
In some exciting news at the national level in the US, the Environmental Protective Agency is opening an office of environmental justice. The office will address the disproportionate harm that climate change has caused in low-income areas and BIPOC communities.
Rail transit from around the world
The Eno Center for Transportation has released a report detailing various rail-based public transit delivery projects across the world. As the US considers new funding through the infrastructure bill, the report outlines lessons the US can learn from its peer nations with respect to transit project delivery.
Cruise’s San Francisco nightmare
Seems like at least once a month I write about Cruise’s dangerous “mishaps” on the streets of San Francisco. This story talks about a 36-page report released by SFMTA and SFCTA about Cruise’s failure to deliver a safe and reliable service to customers.
“A full third of the 28 emergency calls related to Cruise vehicles placed between May 28 and Sept. 5 “involved multiple non-operational Cruise AVs and affected multiple travel lanes.” Though the city said it lacks reliable data on the number of incidents, they can last hours. San Francisco officials have identified a further 20 such incidents on social media, they said in the report.”
The more you know!
Parking lots are a climate crisis (Time)
Bureaucracy is the barrier to safer streets (WPR)
Can your mode of transportation make you happier? Me to me: yessss! (MPR)
California to decriminalize jaywalking! (SF Chronicle)
How to host your own bike bus (Route Fifty)
Car companies advocate for AV safety exemptions
Many an auto OEM (Ford and GM for example) are asking for temporary safety exemptions from NHTSA and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). Their primary concern is that without these exemptions, it limits their ability to test and trial new technology, that could deliver safety improvements. So far neither organization feels compelled to cut them any slack. NACTO has formally pushed back on their call for exemptions (Streetsblog).
How AV companies and cities work together
This article is a bit wild, it starts by detailing Waymo’s process of working with cities and ends with Miami’s ambition for “fully operational autonomous-vehicle services” which they label as … “The Pizza Conundrum”. The point here is to consider what happens when a driver no longer plays a role in a given service, such as pizza delivery.
“If the pizza delivery guy is no longer going up three flights of stairs to get the pizza to your door, that means you have to come down to the street,” Cruz-Casas said.
Wayve’s powerful AI can drive different vehicle types
Hip-hip-hooray for our friends at Wayve who received a lot of press in the last two weeks about their AI that can be applied to different types of vehicles including delivery vans and passenger cars. There’s quite a few on this email list, so congratulations for being so smart the MIT tech review features you! That’s the big league.
“The advance suggests that Wayve’s approach to autonomous vehicles (AVs), in which a deep-learning model is trained to drive from scratch, could help it scale up faster than leading companies like Cruise, Waymo, and Tesla.”
Waymo says their AVs are safer than human drivers
Based on their own tests and measurements. Always a grain of salt, friends. Last week Waymo released a blog post outlining its benchmarking process for collision avoidance in simulated recreations of potentially avoidable fatal crashes. The report compares Waymo’s Driver AI to the fictional NIEON (non-impaired, with eyes always on the conflict) human driver… finding their car was better able to avoid collisions than humans. Shocking!!
Uber has announced a 10-year partnership with Motional (a combo of Hyundai and Aptiv). Motional is a partner of fellow ride-hailing company Lyft, and this partnership will make Motional’s AVs available to Uber riders in select markets.
The more you know!
Zoox is bringing AVs to the streets sooner “than expected” (Bloomberg)
Volkswagen releases their ~next~ generation AV (CleanTechnica)
Intel’s Mobileye files for IPO (The Verge)
ArgoAI and Lyft launch in Austin, TX (TechCrunch), while Cruise also plans to launch AVs in the city (KUT)
Research and Academia
Demand-driven bike infrastructure
“Cycling is crucial for sustainable urban transportation. Promoting cycling critically relies on sufficiently developed infrastructure; however, designing efficient bike path networks constitutes a complex problem that requires balancing multiple constraints. Here we propose a framework for generating efficient bike path networks, explicitly taking into account cyclists’ demand distribution and route choices based on safety preferences. By reversing the network formation, we iteratively remove bike paths from an initially complete bike path network and continually update cyclists’ route choices to create a sequence of networks adapted to the cycling demand.”
Relationship between walkability and quality of life
“To improve social factors related to quality of life (QOL), slow travel modes, represented by walking, may enable more opportunities for physical activities/social contacts. The impacts of walking may vary by the walkability of spatial environments, namely, by how accessible activities are by walking, and how safe, comfortable, and pleasant neighborhood streets are for walking. Little is yet known about the influence of walkability on various QOL outcomes, especially in car-oriented Asian cities. … A questionnaire-based survey was administered to 500 inhabitants of Nagoya city (Japan) for evaluations of their neighborhoods with the indicators of walkability (neighborhood street accessibility and street quality) and QOL (work, health, social relationship, and attachment). Results showed that, neighborhood street quality (particularly pleasurability) affected the QOL outcomes through the interrelationship among the outcomes, more significantly than accessibility.”
Will AVs ever reach their potential?
“In theory, AVs could improve mobility for people with disabilities and mobility impairments, reduce climate impacts, and make transportation more accessible. But without more robust regulations and investments in public transit and other multimodal infrastructure, AVs could add to traffic congestion and encourage sprawl. As the Urban Institute’s Yonah Freemark explains, “The ability to travel longer distances without the task of driving could encourage people to live further from urban centers.””
The long road to autonomous trucking
“If these companies can indeed get drivers out of their vehicles, this raises new questions. How will driverless trucks handle roadside inspections? How will they set up the reflective triangles that warn other motorists when a truck has pulled to the shoulder? How will they deal with blown tires and repairs?”
Extra Bits + Bobs
The future of AVs: Populus is hosting a panel about the future of AVs next week, featuring ✨ an all women panel ✨. I’ll be there and hope I can see some of you there too!
Car sales and inflation: Somewhat related (!) to our interests is this episode from NYT’s The Daily podcast about inflation in the US, using the example of the car market to tell the story of how interest rates and inflation continue to play out. I obviously wish there was more critical thinking about the automobile’s place in society, but worth a listen nonetheless!
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends.
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