Along for the Ride #181
happy international women's day ❤️🔥
Hey friends, happy Friday!
First and foremost, a big ol’ thank you to everybody who liked and commented on last week’s newsletter. It was the most liked newsletter ever (28 whole likes! I am blushing!), and with the most comments (10 in the thread and 2 over email!). For those of you who don’t know, I am a middle child and this much attention is almost over-whelming 😂. For those who want to keep making my day, please like / comment / share this edition!
Secondly, those of us in San Francisco are (once again) experiencing heavy rainfall [fun fact for international readers, here in San Francisco we call heavy rain an “atmospheric river”, and no I am not kidding]. I am attempting to stay warm and dry by writing this newsletter from the comfort of my couch—and I hope wherever you are that you are warm, dry, with abundant coziness.
And finally! Substack now shares more stats about my subscriber base, and this week I learnt that Along for the Ride is read across 31 US states and 44 countries! Which is pretty flipping cool. Thanks for being here.
Alright onto ze news!
International Women’s Day
In honour of international women’s day, I am sharing an article I share almost every year because while it’s an oldie, it’s still a goodie.
“If this sounds utopian, and a million miles from such urgent problems as unaffordability and the rise in homelessness, think of the lack of workplace creches, continuing arguments about breastfeeding in public places, or concerns that women cyclists are more vulnerable to being killed and injured on the roads. Such issues signal a more productive direction for public discussion of the built environment, surely, than the recent kerfuffle over the suggested resemblance of Zaha Hadid’s 2022 Qatar World Cup stadium to a vagina, or what we think of the latest skyscraper. Design is a feminist issue. There’s another surprise.”
P.S. Be sure to include trans women in your celebrations for IWD!
P.P.S. You can celebrate all year round by checking sexism at the door!
Deep-er dive on Gondolas!
Last week one reader, Steve (hi!), noted that perhaps I had been too dismissive of our old friend the gondola. Given the niche-ness of the subject matter I wanted to dive a bit deeper on the context of Gondolas as a mode of urban transportation.
Last year, Fast Co even had a whole article about how gondolas grew from a tourist trap to a form of public transit. While novel, there are still plenty of examples of cable cars being used to transport tourists over and above low-income communities in many applications—without serving the communities themselves. Research has shown that “the lowest income and education classes rarely use [the gondola] for commuting.” Even with low or no cost options, gondolas require intentional development in order to reach under-served groups.
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) on Rio’s gondola: “Today, the cable car has stopped running. The cables which carry the cars require maintenance, and Rio, in the midst of a terrible recession, doesn’t have the money to make the repairs. Violence is rising in the favelas, and unemployment and poverty have remained stagnant, while sanitation problems persist.”
As the system closed down, Wired wrote an article about how Rio’s system demonstrated style over substance (even though the system was free for locals to ride, only 8% of residents ever registered to use the systems—a substantial miss for the city’s 70% target).
Government and Policy
China creates a standard for AV mapping
China's Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) announced this week plans to phase in a standard map system to support AV deployment by 2025. “According to a guidance plan unveiled by MNR, more than 10 core standards will be made for the primal standards map system including basic application, data collection, update and distribution, among others, in order to address some urgent issues in the early stage of applying mapping as part of auto-pilot operation.”
How Chicago’s electric buses fare in the Winter
Interesting little article about how Chicago—a very chilly lil city—is managing a transition to an electric bus fleet amidst the challenges of winter. “Cold weather is the CTA’s biggest problem. As the temperature drops, lithium-ion batteries that run the buses aren’t as efficient and lose range. Most of the energy drained from the batteries goes to keep the bus interior heated to 70 F (21 C).”
How cities are rethinking their parking policies
“Overturning the requirements is not the only way parking lots are being refashioned. There have been efforts to landscape them with plants to absorb rainfall rather than letting it run off, which can cause flooding. The greenery can also reduce heat radiating from the asphalt. Some lots have been transformed into parks, while others are topped with solar panels to provide power as well as shade.”
There’s not a lot of meat to this story, other than Cruise saying publicly that this year they will be focusing on cost savings measures. According to Cruise COO, Gil West, the company will “continue to look at hardware, software—both in terms of component costs as well as the quantity of components that are on the vehicle—and continue to drive cost out as we move forward.”
Zoox is being audited after self-certifying their AVs
The NHSTA is opening a probe into Zoox’s (aka Amazon) self-certifying their AV, despite the vehicle missing traditional driving controls. The NHTSA sets the requirements for such vehicles and a company then develops its own process to prove that they meet the requirements. The drama comes from Zoox’s vehicle design (presumably) being outside of these standard parameters.
Autonomous trucking company Embark shuts down
Last week Embark announced that the Y-combinator start-up is slowing to a halt. Embark is the second AV company in the last six month to close up shop, following ArgoAI. See a snippet from the CEO’s email: “The last nine months have been tough for the autonomous trucking industry, and for Embark — the capital markets have turned their backs on pre-revenue companies.”
Ford transitions ArgoAI staff to Latitude AI
Speaking of ArgoAI, Ford announced this week that ~550 staff from ArgoAI are transitioning to a new company, Latitude AI. Where Argo focused on full autonomy, Latitude will focus on Level 3 capability (assisted driving tech).
The more you know!
Autonomous vehicle start-up Momenta seeks a $1 billion IPO (in this economy?!) [TechNode]
An interview with Zoox’s CEO, Aicha Evans [CNN]
Research and Academia
Sidewalk AVs and human interactions
“Findings from this study, which provides initial real-world insights into the impacts of sidewalk autonomous delivery robots (SADRs) sharing pathways with pedestrians and bicyclists, are intended to help inform facility management strategies capable of supporting the safe introduction of this emerging autonomous freight technology on shared-use facilities in current and potential future settings.”
AAA surveys drivers, and they’re not ready for AVs
“Almost 70 percent of motorists are nervous about the use of self-driving cars, according to a new poll from the American Automobile Association (AAA). The AAA poll released Thursday showed 68 percent of respondents said they are afraid of fully self-driving vehicles, up from the 55 percent who said so in the association’s poll last year. The 13-percentage point increase is the largest since 2020, though the group’s methodology for gathering data for the poll changed in 2021.”
Safety at midblock pedestrian signals
“Midblock pedestrian signals (MPSs) provide safety benefits and support “complete streets,” a transportation policy and design approach that calls for roadways to be designed and operated with all users in mind: bicyclists, public transportation users, drivers, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. TRB presents a state-of-the-practice guide to midblock pedestrian crossing treatments, summarizes the safety effectiveness of MPS installations, and proposes language for consideration in future updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) for MPSs.”
The future of public transit is the bus
Did you know that in London the most-used mode of public transport is the bus? With over 2.3 billion journeys each year, the bus beats ‘em all, espically when compared to 1.2 billion trips on the Underground.
“Rapidly extending bus networks would be the speediest and most economical way to serve these families and grow transit ridership in the sprawling landscape of American metros. U.S. roads and highways are already maintained by the government, eliminating the need to build and maintain expensive rail lines.”
“Over the past year or more, there has been a recalibration when it comes to autonomous driving, on which in excess of $100bn (£83bn) is estimated to have been spent. Back in the 2010s some thought we would be doing most of our trips in autonomous vehicles by now. Many traditional car companies are now saying private self-driving cars, unconstrained by where they can travel, are a long way off and have switched their attention to advanced driver assistance systems instead.”
The conspiracy theory that is the 15 minute city
Thanks to AFTR and friend Sam for sharing!
“Now, I don’t know how many Americans would choose the walkable-city lifestyle if it were widely available, but surely many more than are living it now. Unfortunately, urban planning — for cities are always planned, one way or another — is yet another casualty of the politics of grievance and paranoia.”
Extra Bits + Bobs
I recently made this lentil, walnut, feta, and basil dish and was very surprised by how tasty it was. It was one of those meals where I ate a bite and then paused—and thought to myself… “is this really this good?” and the answer was yes, yes it was.
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends.
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Big fan. Didn't comment last week because I thought you'd be overwhelmed, such is my view of the quality and, therefore, obvious popularity of your blog.
Hi Sarah! I wrote my Master's thesis about the cable cars in Rio and looking back 10 years later it's sad to have confirmation that this wasn't an investment in the community, and instead virtue signaling to the international community in advance of 2 mega events :(....