Tag Archives: driverless cars

Not My Utopia

If Waymo and other manufacturers can get the bugs out, driverless cars promise many benefits including reduced congestion and pollution and increased speeds and safety. But anti-car people are upset because the utopia promised by self-driving cars is not the utopia they want, which is a city without, or at least fewer, cars.

A graphical op-ed published in the New York Times argues that cities should design streets for “people not cars,” as if cars don’t have people in them (or the people in them somehow don’t count). Only mass transit counts.

The op-ed distorts numerous facts and issues. For example, it starts out saying that streets in the early 1900s had pedestrians, bicycles, and wagons, and the result was “chaos. . . but it work[ed] because no single mode of transportation is privileged.” Whoever wrote this didn’t actually see those streets in the early 1900s, when New Yorkers complained at least as much about congestion as they do today, pedestrians stuck to the sidewalks (as they do today) because getting in the way of streetcars (which the op-ed doesn’t even mention) was dangerous and no one wanted to step in the pollution left by all the horses. Continue reading

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Tempe Crash Shows We Need Driverless Cars

Shortly after the Uber driverless car killed Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, the Tempe police announced that it wasn’t Uber’s fault. “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway,” Tempe’s police chief told the San Francisco Chronicle. However, the Chronicle noted that “the police have not released the videos.”

Based on the police description of the accident, the Antiplanner’s analysis presumed that Herzberg had just stepped into the street from the left side (where people on the curb would be obscured by vegetation) and the car was in the left lane when it struck her. This would have given any driver almost no time to see and prevent the accident. But the release of the video above reveals that the car was in the right lane when it hit her, which has led to claims that the accident was in fact avoidable and the fault belongs to Uber’s technology. In particular, Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik, stated, “We have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one.” Continue reading

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Driverless Car Fatality in Arizona

A woman crossing a street in Tempe was struck and killed by an Uber autonomous car at 10 pm Sunday night. Although it is too soon to tell for certain, it appears that the accident could not have been prevented no matter who was in control of the car.

Scene of the accident. Scroll left to see the poorly designed pedestrian path that the woman was apparently using before crossing the street.

According to police, a woman pushing a bicycle laden with shopping bags stepped from the roadway median into 35-mile-per-hour traffic. The Uber vehicle, which had a back-up human driver behind the wheel, did not have time to even brake before it hit her. Continue reading

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Just the Infrastructure We Don’t Need

Here’s the great thing about driverless cars: They will need no new infrastructure because the people designing them are making them work with existing infrastructure. All they ask is for cities and states to fill the potholes and do other basic maintenance.

Here’s another great thing about driverless cars: Most congestion results from slow human reflexes, and simulations show that congestion will significantly decline if as few as 5 percent of vehicles on the road are driverless. So, even if you don’t have a driverless car, you will benefit from others being driverless.

So what the heck is Bexar County (San Antonio) Commissioner Kevin Wolff thinking when he proposes that the county use federal infrastructure dollars to build new interstate highway lanes open only to driverless cars? On one hand, they don’t need special lanes. On the other hand, separating them from other traffic eliminates the congestion relief benefits they can provide. Continue reading

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Who Will Get to Own Driverless Cars?

Some people have predicted that, by 2030, 95 percent of all travel will be by shared driverless cars. The prediction is based on an estimate that the cost of using a shared car will be so much less than the cost of owning a car that hardly anyone will want to own a car.

Some environmental groups, including NRDC, ICLEI, and Transportation for America, want to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. They have proposed that no one should be allowed to drive a private car in “dense urban areas”; instead, only vehicles in “shared fleets” should be allowed. Since it is also their joint goal to make all urban areas dense, effectively they want to ban car ownership except in rural areas.

Not surprisingly, the companies that want to operate those shared fleets, including Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar, are supporting the proposal. So far, however, no auto manufacturers have signed on; no doubt they will be happy to sell their cars to anyone who buys them. Continue reading

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2017: Year 1 of Driverless Cars

This year may be remembered as the year that driverless cars became real. This is because Waymo has officially started operating driverless cars, without back-up drivers, in a public ride-sharing service in several suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.

Driverless cars are legal in most states so long as a licensed driver is at the wheel ready to take over if there is a problem the computer can’t handle. Without the back-up driver, they technically aren’t legal anywhere. But the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, has promoted a “rules-free environment” for driverless car experimentation.

This past year was also a record year for Amtrak. This puts the lie to transit-agency claims that low fuel prices are the main culprit behind recent ridership declines. An interviewer asked five transit executives what their most important challenges were and not one of them mentioned competition from ride-sharing companies. Like transit, Amtrak must compete with modes that benefit from low fuel prices, but so far it doesn’t have to deal with ride sharing. The fact that it is doing fine shows that ride sharing, not low fuel prices, are the most important source of transit woes. Continue reading

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Speed Bumps on the Road to Driverless Cars

A company called Navya introduced a driverless bus in Las Vegas, and within two hours it was involved in a traffic accident. A semi-truck was backing up and grazed the fender of the driverless bus. All the blame was placed on the truck driver, but you have to wonder if a human driver would have avoided the accident by backing out of the way.

Meanwhile, Waymo has been demonstrating its driverless technology, and is even running its cars on public roads without a back-up driver at the wheel (there is a back-up driver in the back seat, but that’s an inconvenient location if they needed to take over). One writer describe’s Waymo’s technology as “so good, it’s boring,” noting that it can deal with pedestrians, cyclists, and even squirrels running in front of the cars.

But a top Waymo engineer frets that bicycle riders are so unpredictable that they may need electronically connect to driverless cars to protect themselves. While such connections may be nothing more than a smart phone app, some gram-counting cyclists may resist carrying any extra weight. Continue reading

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Driverless Car Update

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its report about the 2016 crash that killed a Tesla driver. This has been billed as the “first self-driving car fatality,” but the truth is that the Tesla wasn’t designed to be a self-driving car. Instead, it is what is technically known as an SAE level 2 autonomous car, which is defined as “driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.”

Instead of treating it this way, the driver acted as if it were a level 3 car, meaning a car capable of performing “all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.” The Tesla was not designed to deal with all aspects of driving nor was it capable of making a request for the driver to intervene.

In this case, the car was going the legal speed limit on a highway and failed to slow or stop when a truck illegally entered the right of way to cross the highway. The Tesla was designed to detect another car in its lane but not a vehicle crossing the lane. The truck driver–who, the NTSB notes, had been smoking marijuana–cross the highway in violation of the Tesla’s right of way. An alert driver would have slowed down, but the Tesla driver was relying on his car to do things it wasn’t designed to do. Continue reading

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Using Driverless Cars as an Excuse to Do
What Planners Wanted to Do Anyway

Minnesota planners want to be “ready” for driverless cars. But most of what they propose sounds like things that the anti-car crowd wants to do anyway.

This includes things like reducing parking spaces and shrinking the size of streets–both items high on urban planners’ agendas for years. While that may be possible when driverless cars come to dominate the road, there is no guarantee, so they shouldn’t jump the gun.

They are happy to jump the gun when it comes to not building new roads. “The last thing cities should do is add lanes to existing roads,” said a planner from the University of Minnesota. This assumes that driverless cars will dramatically relieve congestion and that neither population nor personal mobility will grow in the future. Actually, a good case can be made that some lanes should be added to existing roads both because they are needed now and because population and travel growth in some areas will make up for the potential congestion relief from driverless cars. Continue reading

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Will Driverless Cars Lead to Street Wars?

“Street Wars 2035” cries The Guardian; “Can cyclists and driverless cars ever co-exist?” The article predicts that streets will be designated “autonomous-vehicle only routes” where cars will whiz by, centimeters apart, allowing no room for pedestrian or bicycle crossings. Apparently, the writer never heard of stop lights or rights of way.

“The forces of driverless motordom try to push pedestrians and cyclists off the road” shrieks Treehugger, citing the Guardian article. All this hysteria is derived solely from one quote by Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn in January, 2016. Speaking to CNBC, Ghosn said, “One of the biggest problems is people with bicycles. The car is confused by them because from time-to-time they behave like pedestrians and from time-to-time they behave like cars.”

I’m not sure why Ghosn is even considered an expert, as Renault is hardly the forefront of driverless car technology. However, Renault’s partner, Nissan, has promised to have several models of self-driving cars by 2020. While Ghosn was technically CEO of Nissan when he made the statement (Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan and Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault), I suspect his statement was just an unguarded remark and not meant to the first shot of a war on bicycles. Continue reading

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