Category Archives: News commentary

Autonomous Cars Yes, V2I No!

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech in Virginia calling for mandatory installation of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications in all cars. By coincidence, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is holding its annual symposium on autonomous (that is, driverless) cars in California.

V2V allows vehicles to communicate with one another to allow them to avoid accidents, while V2I allows highway infrastructure (such as traffic signals) to communicate directly with motor vehicles. While Obama touts the safety benefits of these technologies, there are at least four reasons why they should not be mandatory.

First, V2V and V2I communications pose serious security risks for travelers and cities. With V2V communications, an automobile that suffers a fender-bender would communicate to all nearby vehicles that they ought to take a different route to avoid congestion.

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San Antonio Petition May Stop Streetcar

San Antonio streetcar opponents submitted a petition today to allow voters to decide whether the region’s transit agency, VIA, should spend $280 million on a 5.9-mile streetcar. They needed about 20,000 signatures, and submitted well over 26,000 of which they personally pre-verified nearly 24,000.

SApetition
Streetcar skeptics hold a press conference on the steps of San Antonio’s city hall as they present signatures for a ballot measure requiring that voters approve any streetcars built in city streets or rights of way. Photo by Michael Dennis.

Unfortunately, this petition still has several hurdles to leap. First, the city is claiming that signature gatherers didn’t follow proper procedures; the petitioners claim they did, and that the procedures the city wants them to follow only apply to recall petitions. Second, even if the measure makes it to the ballot and is approved by voters, VIA argues that it won’t be bound by the results.

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Is MagLev a Game Changer?

Much like the proposed Florida passenger trains that can be run without government subsidies (but can we have some anyway?), train supporters are gushing over Japan’s tentative decision to build a magnetically levitated (maglev) line from Tokyo to Osaka. Japan apparently sees this as a way to revitalize its economy, especially if it can sell the trains to the United States and other countries.


Maglev train being tested in Japan. Wikimedia commons photo by Yosemite.

The Antiplanner has maintained that transportation improvements are economic game changers only if they make travel faster, cheaper, and/or more convenient. Maglev meets only one of those criteria: at projected speeds of a little more than 300 mph, maglev would be at least 50 percent faster than existing high-speed trains and possibly even faster than flying over short distances. Flights from Tokyo to Osaka, the route of the proposed maglev, take about 80 minutes, and the maglev promises to reduce times to little more than an hour.

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Funny, Funny Men

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver are very funny men. Their humor also has a distinct liberal bias. It’s possible that they don’t think they are biased, because they sometimes criticize Democrats as well as (though not nearly as often as) Republicans. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t biased.

By “liberal bias,” I don’t mean they always support Obama. Most of their humor is directed to two targets: first, government officials who lie, waste money, and/or support policies that kill innocent people; and second, people who don’t trust government.

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Good-Bye Drakes Bay Oyster Co.

Antiplanner readers know that I have no sympathy for Clive Bundy, who has been trespassing on federal lands for two decades and somehow made people feel like he was the victim. Perhaps it seems strange, then, that I have a lot more sympathy for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, whose operations in California’s Point Reyes National Seashore the National Park Service is trying to shut down.


Incompatible use? As long as the oyster company could avoid using motorized equipment in the part of the bay designated wilderness, oyster growing should be compatible with wilderness. Flickr photo by Earthworm.

At first glance, the facts are similar. Both Bundy and Drakes Bay
used public lands or waters for decades, and were allowed to continue to use those resources after the BLM took over the former and the Park Service took over the latter. Then Congress passed laws–the Endangered Species Act in Bundy’s case and a wilderness law covering the oyster farm–that restricted the use of those resources.

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Solar Conways

Crowdsourcing is one of those great ideas that could only come about because of the Internet. But it also opens up the possibilities for con artists, or at least advocates of really bad ideas, to get money from people who don’t know any better.

One of those bad ideas is solar roadways, which–thanks to a tweet by George Takei (because actors on science fiction TV shows know so much more about science than other celebrities)–received more than $2 million in pledges when its promoters asked for only half that. The pledges kept coming in even after numerous web sites debunked the proposal to turn roads into solar energy collectors.

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There’s an App for Disruption

A former limousine driver and current editor of Limo Insider Report has written a persuasive letter of complaint about Uber to the U.S. Attorney General, accusing the ride-sharing company of circumventing all sorts of laws and regulations. Similarly, the Taxicab, Limousine, and Paratransit Association argues that Uber and Lyft are risky for consumers to use. These are both good points.

At the same time, at least some of those regulations are in place for the specific purpose of limiting competition within the taxi industry. As a result, as the Washington Post observes, taxi medallions “have been the best investment in America for years.”

When regulations are in place to protect the providers of a good or service, the consumers usually are the losers. Politicians, policy makers, and opinion leaders need to understand that the true value of a policy must be judged from the point of view of consumers, not providers.

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Polarization and Freedom

A new Pew poll finds that three out of four “consistent liberals” would rather live in a community “where the houses are smaller and closer to each other” but within walking distance of schools, stores, and restaurants. Conversely, three out of four “consistent conservatives” would rather live in a larger home on a large lot even if it means driving to schools, stores, and restaurants.


Source: Pew Research Center. Click chart to download Pew’s 121-page (3.5-MB) report on polarization in America.

Pew says this shows that “differences between right and left go beyond politics,” which Pew claims is one of the seven most important things to know about polarization in America. Yet the left has turned the choice between a traditional suburb and a so-called walkable community into a political issue, so it is no wonder that people’s views on this choice are polarized.

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House Defunds Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

The House of Representatives has approved an amendment offered by Arizona Representative Paul Gosar to the Transportation and Housing & Urban Development appropriations bill that would prevent HUD from spending any resources on its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program. As previously noted, this program is basically an attempt to use fair housing laws to force suburbs to rezone land for higher-density housing.

As described by Stanley Kurtz, under regulations drafted by HUD, suburban communities of single-family homes that do not have a perfectly balanced racial composition would be de facto guilty of housing discrimination. To remedy this, such communities would be required to rezone for multifamily housing.

Ironically, the rules implicitly make a racist assumption that racial minorities prefer multifamily housing. On a per-square-foot basis, single-family homes are less expensive to build than multifamily, so the rules could have required construction of smaller homes. But, of course, the real goal isn’t racial integration; it’s increasing densities.

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First Fully Self-Driving Car

Yesterday, Google unveiled the world’s first fully autonomous car, “complete” with no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals, rear-view mirrors, or other accessories needed by primitive human-driven cars. On the outside, the car appears to be a tiny two-seater; insides, it has enormous amounts of interior and legroom.

The car is still topped by an ugly, spinning laser sensor, which joins with infrared and optical sensors to detect lane stripes, traffic signals, and all possible obstacles. Eventually, these laser sensors–which, at about $50,000 apiece, are the most expensive part of the car–will have to be miniaturized. Some have projected that, when built in large quantities, the cost of the laser sensor will come down to around $250.

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