Hard to tell:
It’s from Streetsblog US here.
Alan Berger, a professor of landscape architecture and urban design at MIT, … as co-director of MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU), recently helped organize a conference at the university titled, “The Future of Suburbia.” The meeting was the culmination of a two-year research project on how suburbs could be reinvented. …
One such technology is the autonomous car, which is what Berger talked about. A lot of media attention has been paid to the prospect of fleets of driverless vehicles constantly circulating on downtown streets, but he says the invention’s greatest impact will be in the suburbs, which, after all, have largely been defined by how we use cars.
“It will be in suburb-to-suburb commuting,” Berger says. “That’s the majority of movement in our country. As more autonomous cars come online, you’re going to see more and more suburbanization, not less. People will be driving farther to their jobs.”
With truly autonomous vehicles still years away, no one can say with much certainty if they will result in people spending less time in cars. But Berger does foresee one big potential benefit—much less pavement. Based on the notion that there likely will be more car-sharing and less need for multiple lanes since vehicles could continuously loop on a single track, Berger believes the amount of pavement in a suburb of the future could be cut in half. You would no longer need huge shopping center parking lots, or even driveways and garages.
… interdependence between suburbs and downtowns is at the heart of how Berger and others at the CAU see the future. Instead of bedroom communities of cul-de-sacs and shopping malls, the suburbs they’ve imagined would focus on using more of their space to sustain themselves and nearby urban centers—whether it’s by providing energy through solar panel micro-grids or using more of the land to grow food and store water.
A comment from Geof on Autonomous Vehicles and City Building:
Silicon Valley is just about the worst place to invent the future city. Because it isn’t one.
Where zoning limits houses to a single storey; where the sidewalks that exist are sunbaked deserts; where the only way to get around is by car; where public space is lacking; where there are no streets in Jacobs’ sense, only freeways and roads resembling country lanes; where the goal of travel is to move from gated private space to Utopian private space (e.g. the Google campus, with its fleets of free-to-use bikes for internal trips only): there, autonomous cars look like the solution.
I can easily imagine automated cars navigating Mountain View. The chaos and unpredictability of Vancouver is another matter. I think Mr Price’s question is right on the money: when cars succeed there and fail elsewhere, the engineers will think it is the city at fault, not the imaginary islands where the cars were invented.
Sand Hill Road, often shortened to just “Sand Hill“, is an arterial road in Menlo Park, California, notable for its concentration of venture capital companies. The road has become ametonym for that industry; nearly every top Silicon Valley company has been the beneficiary of early funding from firms on Sand Hill Road.
Sandy James: This piece has just come out from Ryerson on the issue of autonomous vehicles. I took one look at this and wondered what people in fifty years will say when they look back on this type of video-will they think the same as we do now looking at those early videos of the benefits of the 1950’s highway construction across the USA?
What is notable is that walking and accessibility really do not get prime points here, and the interfacing between this new technology and peds/bikers gets no shrift.
pricetags: Given how easy it will be for pedestrians and cyclists to frustrate the flow of AVs, knowing that the vehicles will always stop and accede the right-of-way, will there be pressure to prohibit any other users than cars on the roads except in designated places like crosswalks (on the light) and separated cycletracks?
This is my second article on Good Friday about a development application that saves or restores a church. And I’m not even Christian. Also, I recommend this article be enjoyed accompanied by Geoff Berner’s song Higher Ground.
From the City’s website (bolded font is my doing):
The City of Vancouver has received an application to rezone 969 Burrard Street & 1019-1045 Nelson Street from CD-1 (445) (Comprehensive Development) to a new CD-1 District. The proposal includes:
- restoration of First Baptist Church;
- new church ancillary spaces, including a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, offices and a cafe;
- a new eight-storey building containing 66 social housing units, owned by the church;
- a new 56-storey tower containing 294 market strata residential units, with a cafe at ground floor;
Other key parameters of the proposal include:
- a combined total new floor area of approximately 561,881 sq.ft.;
- a floor space ratio (FSR) of approximately 10.83;
- 497 underground vehicle parking spaces.
This rezoning application is being considered under the Rezoning Policy for the West End and the West End Community Plan.
The project is called First Baptist Church (FBC) for now. I live close to this property. I think 56-storeys at the highest point downtown in earthquakey Vancouver is a little high but I can live with it if it’s structurally well-built. This building does not obstruct view corridors and falls within the dome skyline.
Currently the entrance is quite unwelcoming with fencing and a big, flashing, lighted sign at Nelson & Burrard. It’s unclear where to enter and not wheelchair accessible. The plans for creating an open, accessible space with a cafe look inviting. The sidewalk on Nelson may be widened as the left turning lane west of Burrard is not well used.
The developer is the First Baptist Church. The builder is Westbank. The architect is Bing Thom. The Traffic Consultant is Peter Joyce of Bunt & Assoc. I spoke to him and others at the Open House – which PT Guest Editor Thomas Beyer covered.
What I object to strongly is the amount of car parking they plan to include. They want 120 parking spaces over the minimum required for a total of 497. (Do we still have minimum parking requirements in downtown Vancouver and why don’t we have a maximum number permitted?)
The overall parking ratio is 1.4 – in the centre of downtown Vancouver at the corner of Nelson & Burrard. That means 1.4 parking spaces for every 1 unit. It’s 0.4 for the rental building and a whopping 1.6 for the strata.
To give you some perspective, these days in Metrotown many high-rises will have a parking ratio of about 1 or less. Portland is building high-rises with 0.6 or less. Some high-rises are proud to be at 0. Granted, this high-rise plans to have a number of 2-3 bedroom suites. Still, allowing so much car parking downtown encourages too much driving and drives up costs. This much car parking doesn’t meet any of our City goals.
I have worked with numerous developers over the years interested in having all access carsharing in their buildings – even before there were incentives from the City to minimize parking requirements for doing so. It’s a popular amenity for buyers. FBC is not including any carsharing as they have no interest in reducing minimum parking requirements. This leaves their buyers with fewer convenient, transportation choices.
The plan is to have 6 levels of subterranean parking. The cost of adding 6 floors underground is staggering in concrete and steel. For developers, the reduced construction time with fewer levels can be a considerable savings for them as well. Housing rates are so expensive in Vancouver that even if the intention is to sell posh 2-3 bedroom suites, the higher cost of the units from additional parking doesn’t make sense to me. Many downtown families have 0 or 1 car and carshare when they need 2 on one day.
Also, units will be sold with parking spots – not unbundled (where the buyer gets to choose to buy a unit with or without a parking space).
Joyce told me the building is likely to be complete in 3 years. I explained that in 5 years or so it’s likely driverless carsharing will be available. People will be even less likely to own vehicles by then. He said it was quite easy to repurpose the underground parking.
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On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
“People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it. We [all already] know the streets aren’t perfect.”
She estimated that once [in 5-10 years] shared, driverless cars are operating in our cities, most of our on-street parking won’t be needed. In the meantime, one of the many community requested programs is time-of-day based pricing for on-street parking. Of course, the higher turnover of vehicles is better for business.
Even better for business is putting in bicycle lanes. Some of the areas where businesses were most opposed have some of the highest bike volumes now.
It takes 4 things to increase bicyclist volumes significantly and NYC does them all.
JSK saw 3 of the above steps to fruition. Mayor de Blasio lowered speed limits to 25mph in November, 2014.
When Broadway closed to cars and opened to people, in Midtown:
Ciclovias, Car-free Spaces and Street Art
“The Public Domain is the Public’s Domain.”
“We asked the community where they wanted plazas and they took ownership of them.”
“The canvas of our streets was transformed by artists.”
Ciclovias involve closing streets to vehicles and allowing people to roam on them via any active transportation mode, often on weekends. In NYC it’s known as Summer Streets. Every Saturday in the summer from 7am-1pm they have about 300,000 people take part. Small businesses along the way have seen sales increase by 71%.
On making parts of Robson Street a car-free space, JSK said: “Try it; you’ll like it.”
Three words: Dedicated. Bus. Lanes.
These are enforced by cameras. Green traffic lights are synchronized with bus use. Like in Colombia, they have off-board fare collection. [Senior planners at TransLink would love dedicated bus lanes on Georgia Street, Hastings Street, or Broadway in Vancouver.]
NYC needs to up our game on the following:
Migration Astonishment: 1M here, 1M there
I was astonished (and by the looks of it so was Gordon Price) that NYC estimates that they will have 1 million more people living there by 2030. That’s the same number we expect in Metro Vancouver by 2030! Clearly, the impact here will be a much larger transformation. There’s a lot of work to do.
JSK advised: “Leverage the density. Recognize the value of density.”
“People want safe streets (and affordable housing) and are ahead of politicians and the media.”
“Inaction is inexcusable,” JSK said.
“Leaders in the Shadows: The Leadership Qualities of Municipal Chief Administrative Officers” is the title of a recent book by David Siegel, a Professor of Political Science at Brock University. Yes, it’s about city managers – those who stay out of the limelight, but who directly influence the decision-makers, making recommendations that they are then charged with implementing, hence influencing both the inputs and the outcomes. All very ‘Yes, Minister.’
It’s a perfect phrase for those whose names you didn’t read about or may not even know, but who must have influenced the Premier in her decision to announce the building of the Massey Bridge as a done deal, prior to the transit referendum in 2014.
These Leaders in the Shadows have contacts up, down and across the decision-making apparatus, notably those in the Gateway initiatives. They then have to provide the justifications for a policy or project, even if the stated reasons aren’t actually the ones that determined the decision. (Which in the case of Motordom is sometimes just the need to keep feeding the machine with multi-billion-dollar projects on a regular basis. See ‘Sunshine Coast Connector.’)
The Massey Bridge proposal had no relationship (or even mention) in the regional transportation plan, or for that matter in any of the current provincial transportation plans. The previous Minister, Kevin Falcon, had even ruled it out. But the LitS can come up with a new set of justifications. Hey, it solves the worst congestion in the province! Plus whatever other arguments are needed to justify a $4 billion exercise in excess. (Sure, throw in another lane; we can get this sucker up to at least ten.).
So far they’ve been able to avoid having to explain just how the decision-making actually worked and what factors went into the process – or did not. Here’s an obvious one:
Did you take into account the possible impacts of new technologies and new ways people will be using vehicles – whether automated vehicles, car-sharing or Uber-like ride-sharing? If so, do share the results.
With respect to the impact of automated vehicles, we can be pretty sure that no serious work was done, if other jurisdictions are any indication – as noted in this piece from today’s New York Times:
Self-Driving Cars May Get Here Before We’re Ready
Even though fully autonomous cars could be ready for the road within the next decade, only 6 percent of the country’s most populous cities have accounted for them in their long-term plans, according to a study from the National League of Cities, an advocacy and research group. …
Google, Uber, Tesla and a host of automakers have been moving at full speed to develop driverless technologies. Although the federal government has expressed support for autonomous vehicles, it has so far left regulatory decisions to state and local governments.
“Paradoxically, despite a lot of cities’ thinking this technology is coming, very few have started to plan for it,” Mr. Mitchell said.
In the case of Massey we can reasonably conclude that it is being planned in spite of whatever technology might bring or the consequences of road pricing and the ability to regulate traffic volumes through market mechanisms. But shovels have to be in the ground by the time the 2017 election rolls around.
Prediction: the Massey Bridge may be one of the greatest boondoggles in a province that historically has had no shortage of them.
A thought experiment that intrigued Clive Rock – from the BBC:
Mike Hearn … a Zurich-based software developer is both an ex-Google engineer and one of the leading Bitcoin software developers. …
Emancipated automobiles sounds like a crazy concept. But the man advocating the idea goes further: he thinks they’ll have babies. …
At the heart of his vision is the idea that once driverless cars become commonplace, most people won’t want or need to own a vehicle any more. And in a world dominated by self-steering taxis, each ride becomes cheaper if the vehicles are autonomous rather than owned and run by major corporations.
Instead of controlling which car goes where via proprietary software, the cars would communicate with people and the surrounding infrastructure via a new internet-based commerce system, he dubs the Tradenet.
“You would be using an app that goes onto Tradenet and says: ‘Here I am, this is where I want to go, give me your best offers,'” the developer says.
“The autonomous taxis out there would then submit their best prices, and that might be based on how far away they are, how much fuel they have, the quality of their programming.
“Eventually you pick one – or your phone does it for you – and it’s not just by the cheapest price, but whether the car has a good track record of actually completing rides successfully and how nice a vehicle it is.”
More realistically – from SustainableCitiesCollective:
Probably the biggest change is the demise of the large parking lot. These huge slabs of asphalt dominate suburban commercial landscapes, often taking up 80 percent of commercial parcels. They dominate the streetscape, and arterial suburban roads are lined with them. Without personal vehicles to park, there’s no need for a parking lot. That land could be put to productive use.
With a transportation system that’s five times as efficient, too, there’s little need for wide arterial roads packed with single-occupant vehicles. As well, without human drivers, there’s no need for “forgiving engineering” focused on driver psychology and driver needs. We can narrow lanes from 12 feet (freeway width) down to 10 feet or even 9.5 feet and have the same vehicle capacity and speed. There would rarely be a need for roads wider than 2 lanes in the suburbs.
So, we can wave goodbye to parking lots and wide arterial roads.
I’ve mentioned every so often that Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia, was my source for the concept of “Motordom.” In “Fighting Traffic,” he tells the story of “one of the biggest public relations coups of all time” that led to the reshaping of cities and the car-dominant design of urban regions. Emily Badger tells the story of the story in the Washington Post:
For decades, Americans have been in love with the automobile — or so the saying goes. This single idea has been a central premise of transportation policy, pop culture and national history for the last half-century. It animates how we think about designing the world around us, and how we talk about dissidents in our midst who dislike cars.
“This ‘love affair’ thesis is like the ultimate story,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia, who warns that we need to revisit how we came to believe this line before we embrace its logical conclusion in a future full of driverless cars. “It’s one of the biggest public relations coups of all time. It’s always treated as folk wisdom, as an organic growth from society. One of the signs of its success is that everyone forgets it was invented as a public relations campaign.”
… the story Norton disputes, which he has written about in the book “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” is the history that says that we’ve built car-dependent cities and suburbs because that’s what Americans wanted, the story that says all our surface parking lots and spaghetti interchanges are a pure product of American preferences.
“When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”
Media at the time recount pedestrians ranting against the automobile as an intrusion and an undemocratic bully. Newspapers contained cartoons portraying rich drivers in luxury cars running over working-class kids. Three-quarters of traffic fatalities at the time were pedestrians.
In 1923, 42,000 people in Cincinnati signed a petition to put an ordinance on the ballot that would have forced all cars in town to include a speed governing device to prevent them from traveling faster than 25 miles an hour.
“All of that history,” Norton says, “has been lost.”
So, too, has the history of how the auto industry responded. In the mid 1920s, Norton says, the industry began a concerted effort to fundamentally recast the problem: Cars weren’t intruding on a public domain long freely used by pedestrians; pedestrians were wandering into roads that should be reserved for cars.
The auto industry effectively codified this idea in the crime of “jaywalking,”which remains with us today.
What cars gained through sheer force — the right of way in public space — the auto industry reinforced with a model municipal traffic ordinance. The code, drafted by a committee chaired by a Cadillac salesman, further formalized the basic governing assumption, which remains with us in cities across the country today, that streets are for cars, not people.
Today, even when we grumble about the misery of commuting in traffic, the culprit, invariably, isn’t the car itself — it’s the insufficient infrastructure that can’t quite contain it. It’s the highways that need widening, the roads that demand higher speed limits, the traffic lights that could use synchronizing.
Now, about 86 percent of Americans get to work every day in a private car – a statistic that’s often interpreted to mean that the vast majority of us chose to travel that way.
This conclusion conflates preferences with constrained options. “I actually drive most of the way to work,” Norton admits. “I do it because the choices stink.” To extract from today’s ubiquitous parking garages, drive-through restaurants and busy roads a preference for cars ignores all the ways that public policy, industry influence and economic incentives have shaped our travel behavior.
“If you locked me in a 7-Eleven for a week, and then after the end of the week unlocked the door and you studied my diet over the previous seven days, then concluded that I prefer highly processed, packaged foods to fresh fruits and vegetables, I would say your study is flawed,” Norton says.
We make the same mistake, he says, with the history we tell of the car. And this popular story of that past makes it hard for us to envision alternative futures before us.
If you believe that cars are the best way to get everywhere — to the neighborhood grocer, to a job downtown, to a weekend vacation — then the prospect of driverless cars would only improve that picture. Now we can do work while we’re driving to work! Now we can plan meals on the way to buying them! If you decide where to shop or dine based on the ease of parking, driverless cars can solve that problem, too. Soon cars will do all of our parking for us – or entirely eliminate the need!
This picture, though, doubles down on all the ideas we’ve inherited about cars, without considering that perhaps we may want some other future: one where “foot travelers” regain some of their lost rights to the public way, or where we create subway systems so appealing people who can afford BMWs prefer them. Maybe in this future driverless cars serve a specific purpose, not every purpose, and we’re cautious about how we remake our cities to make way for them.
“It’s the history that gives us the assumptions that limit our choices,” he says. History reminds us the car-dominated city wasn’t the inevitable path of progress, but one path among others not taken. History also teaches us that we should be skeptical of the power of 21st century stories in the tradition of the American “love affair with cars” — like the narrative today that urban elitists who advocate for other forms of transportation are waging a “war on cars.”
Surely that phrase would be laughable to people who once feared a war on pedestrians.
Said Tara Grescoe: “The more I read about self-driving cars, the more I realize that nobody knows what they’ll mean for our cities.”
More evidence (something else that never occurred to me) from CityLab:
A new simulation-based study of driverless cars questions how well these two big secondary benefits—less traffic and more comfort—can coexist. Trains are conducive to productivity in large part because they aren’t as jerky as cars. But if driverless cars mimic the acceleration and deceleration of trains, speeding up and slowing down more smoothly for the rider’s sake, they might sacrifice much of their ability to relieve traffic in the process. …
… if we want riding in a driverless car to be as comfortable as riding in a train, we need to consider the possibility that more traffic will be the result. Le Vine and company conclude:
Our findings suggest a tension in the short run between these two anticipated benefits (more productive use of travel time and increased network capacity), at least in certain circumstances. It was found that the trade-off between capacity and passenger-comfort is greater if autonomous car occupants program their vehicles to keep within the constraints of HSR (in comparison to LRT).
The work is a reminder that the full benefits of a driverless-car world might take quite some time to materialize—and that we should prepare for the challenges, too. Le Vine acknowledges that congestion might very well clear up once every vehicle in the fleet is autonomous, or even once there are enough to create driverless platoons. Until then, however, the traffic outcomes are much less predictable and very possibly negative.
Consider, for instance, that these simulations didn’t include pedestrians. Doing so no doubt would have led to even more starting and stopping, and thus more delay. And if seatbelts remain mandatory in driverless cars, that might require smoother acceleration and deceleration; much of the comfort of a train ride, after all, is the lack of seat restraints. Traffic behavior would also change if manufacturers offer people several driving profile options—say, from ultra-smooth to aggressive.
All the more reason to think driverless cars will complement, rather than immediately replace, public transportation in cities.
One of our “Next Generation Transportation” participants came across this in Wired. Of course, had to share.
“They never get stuck in traffic,” said Audrey Dussutour, a University of Sydney entomologist. “We should use their rules. I’ve been working with ants for eight years, and have never seen a traffic jam — and I’ve tried.” …
In the latest findings, published in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Dussutour’s team found that ants leaving the colony automatically gave right-of-way to those returning with food. Of the returning ants, some were empty-mandibled — but rather than passing their leaf-carrying, slow-moving brethren, they gathered in clusters and moved behind them.
This seemingly counterintuitive strategy — when stuck behind a slow-moving truck, are you content to slow down? — actually saved them time. …
The results are an example of how individual behaviors optimized to serve a collective good can ultimately benefit the individual as well. If humans would let a network take the wheel, these principles might manage our own congested thoroughfares.
“We essentially would have to hand over control of the vehicle to a collectively intelligent system that would move all vehicles from their source to destination,” said Marcus Randall, a Bond University software mathematician. People would be reluctant, he said, but “accidents would be virtually non-existent and travel would become much more efficient. …
“One dominating factor in human traffic is egoism,” said University of Zoln traffic flow theorist Andreas Schadschneider.
“Drivers optimize their own travel time, without taking much care about others. This leads to phantom traffic jams which occur without any obvious reason. Ants, on the other hand, are not egoistic.”
So says CGP Grey about the impact of automation on employment in “Humans Need Not Apply – a discussion not of the desirability of automation but its inevitability.
NPR’s On the Media explores the same subject here:
People often object to the idea that the minds of machines can ever replicate the minds of humans. But for engineers, the proof is in the processing. Stanford lecturer and entrepreneur Jerry Kaplan (talks) about how the people who make robots view the field of artificial intelligence.
Kaplan demolishes the cliché that “Computers can only do what they are programmed to do.” And the real nature of the ‘robot threat:’
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You also sort of hinted that it might be a threat, but I guess you’re talking about to people’s jobs, potentially, not to their actual lives or autonomy.JERRY KAPLAN: Well, the impacts on the job market are going to be extreme. There’s a study that estimated that 47% of the US working population, that their jobs will, in the next five to ten years, come under potential threat of being completely automated.The people who are building these systems are going to have a unique advantage, in terms of skimming off the increased economic value that they’ll be providing to society. So it’s going to have a significant impact, and already is having a significant impact, on income inequality.
Google is keenly aware what’s at stake. There’s the safety component, with cities recognizing the need to strive for zero traffic fatalities.
The nature of urban mobility itself is also on the line. Larry Burns, a former vice president for research and design at G.M. who’s now a paid Google consultant, says taxi-like fleets of shared autonomous vehicles can become viable business models if they can capture just 10 percent of all city trips. “I think that should be viewed as a new form of public transportation,” he says. Having recently invested in the ride-sharing service Uber, Google no doubt senses that marrying urban travel demand with autonomous vehicles could transform car-ownership as we know it.
How will all this affect the choices of individuals, especially those with limited options as a consequence of their income?
Imagine, for instance, the impact of this technology on insurance rates. Even if the completely autonomous vehicle is not yet ready for prime time, car companies will initially install the sensors needed to prevent collisions with both other vehicles and people. That should have a dramatic downward impact on insurance rates – for those who can afford the new vehicles with these initially expensive bells-and-whistles.
For those who can’t, however, what happens to their insurance rates? Presumably an equally dramatic upward shift. For many, they will not be able to afford cars with the technology nor the insurance for cars without.
Their choice will be the shared autonomous vehicles that Google sees as a viable business model. They’d buy a plan similar to a cell phone, structured according to their needs and wallet, purchasing a mobility service, not the hardware. If it works, if it’s affordable and if it’s pervasive, then reasonably we should anticipate a significant drop in the number of cars required, the space they consume and people’s attachment to the idea of the personal car as a reflection of status and identity.
When The New Yorker tackles a subject, one pays attention. After reading the cartoons.
In this case: Has the self-driving car at last arrived? by Burkhard Bilger.
Of the ten million accidents that Americans are in every year, nine and a half million are their own damn fault …. Someday soon, a self-driving car will save your life.
Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, told me:
“As you look outside, and walk through parking lots and past multilane roads, the transportation infrastructure dominates,” Brin said. “It’s a huge tax on the land.” Most cars are used only for an hour or two a day, he said. The rest of the time, they’re parked on the street or in driveways and garages.
But if cars could drive themselves, there would be no need for most people to own them. A fleet of vehicles could operate as a personalized public-transportation system, picking people up and dropping them off independently, waiting at parking lots between calls. They’d be cheaper and more efficient than taxis—by some calculations, they’d use half the fuel and a fifth the road space of ordinary cars—and far more flexible than buses or subways.
Streets would clear, highways shrink, parking lots turn to parkland. “We’re not trying to fit into an existing business model,” Brin said. “We are just on such a different planet.” …
… the manufacturers are much more pessimistic about the technology. “It’ll happen, but it’s a long way out,” John Capp, General Motors’ director of electrical, controls, and active safety research, told me. “It’s one thing to do a demonstration—‘Look, Ma, no hands!’ But I’m talking about real production variance and systems we’re confident in. Not some circus vehicle.”
When I went to visit the most recent International Auto Show in New York, the exhibits were notably silent about autonomous driving. … like the other exhibitors, he avoided terms like “self-driving.” “We don’t even include it in our vocabulary,” Alan Hall, a communications manager at Ford, told me. “Our view of the future is that the driver remains in control of the vehicle. He is the captain of the ship.” …
Google … engineers know that a driverless car will have to be nearly perfect to be allowed on the road. “You have to get to what the industry calls the ‘six sigma’ level—three defects per million,” Ken Goldberg, the industrial engineer at Berkeley, told me. “Ninety-five per cent just isn’t good enough.” …
Still, sooner or later, a driverless car will kill someone. A circuit will fail, a firewall collapse, and that one defect in three hundred thousand will send a car plunging across a lane or into a tree. “There will be crashes and lawsuits,” Dean Pomerleau said. “And because the car companies have deep pockets they will be targets, regardless of whether they’re at fault or not. It doesn’t take many fifty- or hundred-million-dollar jury decisions to put a big damper on this technology.” Even an invention as benign as the air bag took decades to make it into American cars, Pomerleau points out. “I used to say that autonomous vehicles are fifteen or twenty years out. That was twenty years ago. We still don’t have them, and I still think they’re ten years out.” …
The Google car drives more defensively than people do: it tailgates five times less, rarely coming within two seconds of the car ahead. Under the circumstances, Levandowski says, our fear of driverless cars is increasingly irrational. “Once you make the car better than the driver, it’s almost irresponsible to have him there,” he says. “Every year that we delay this, more people die.” …
The reality was so close that he could envision each step: The first cars coming to market in five to ten years. Their numbers few at first—strange beasts on a new continent—relying on sensors to get the lay of the land, mapping territory street by street. Then spreading, multiplying, sharing maps and road conditions, accident alerts and traffic updates; moving in packs, drafting off one another to save fuel, dropping off passengers and picking them up, just as Brin had imagined. For once it didn’t seem like a fantasy.
From Montreal-based Marcon’s Autonomous Vehicle Newsletter:
Professor Alberto Broggi at VisLab’s facilities, located at the University of Parma, is a definite celebrity in the world of autonomous vehicles. He is what one would call a pioneer of machine vision as applied to driverless / unmanned vehicles. His research activities in the field of autonomous drive started in the early 1990s when few were investigating the applicability of artificial vision on board moving vehicles.
The IEEE foresees autonomous vehicles accelerating car sharing. Do you agree with this forecast?
Yes, I’m seeing the future populated by shared cars (nopersonal cars any more) which will be totally autonomous, very efficient and always available. When not in service, they will be parked out of town (no more parking downtown).
Once this technology will be considered sufficiently mature, human and goods mobility will totally change:
1 No more personal vehicles: all vehicles will be driverless and shared, just like cabs without a driver. The vehicle will be called upon necessity, and once the destination will be reached, the vehicle will be available to the next passenger.
2 No more parked cars alongside roads: once reaching its destination, the vehicle will be available to the next passenger or will autonomously reach a parking space, which may also be in a remote location.
3 No more traffic lights: vehicles, thanks to their inter-vehicle communication capabilities, will coordinate to pass through intersections with a constant flow, without interfering with each other.
4 No more traffic jams: vehicle will coordinate, avoiding to hit congested areas in order to minimize travel time.
5 No more driving licenses: everyone will enjoy enhanced mobility on roads without the need for a driving license, included elderly, young, and handicapped individuals.
6 No building of new roads for a long time: vehicle will be able to move at high speeds and with a short inter-vehicle distance so that the current road network will be able to host a larger number of vehicles; the throughput of each ex i s t ing lane wi l l be greatly incremented.
7 No more accidents: finally the road will be an accident-free environment and road.
BUT THEN THERE’S THIS:
From Megan McArdle at Bloomberg News:
I’m still worried about the future of driverless cars, not because they’re technically impossible, but because the liability possibilities are enormous.
… even if the overall number of accidents drops, the number of accidents where the automaker is perceived to be at fault will approach 100 percent. After all, they’re the ones who designed or installed the software that made the decision. And while in theory, a jury should be able to say, “Well, this was a hard design problem, you can’t make everyone happy, and this is an unfortunate tragedy,” in practice, this is unlikely. If the machine built by a corporation made a decision that killed or seriously injured a person, the jury is going to give the person money at the expense of the corporation.
These issues make me very worried for the future of driverless cars. Understand that I’d love to be wrong — I, too, want a car that will let me nap while it does the hard work. But I think this is a big hurdle for the nascent industry to jump. They may “jump” it by specifying that drivers are expected to be alert and at the wheel at all times. That would still be good from a safety standpoint — auto fatalities would fall a lot. But it would be far from The Dream.
David Roberts at Grist quotes Vaclav Havel as to why he’s optimistic about changes in transportation – once we make a distinction “between widgets, which are the discrete elements of a system, and systems themselves.”
In other words, we should be focusing less on technological changes to cars and more on the nexus between technology and land use.
“… limited range and long recharge time are likely to limit the use of all-electric vehicles mainly to local driving,” which will restrict their growth. The unspoken presumption is that consumers will continue to demand all-in-one vehicles, cars and trucks that can serve both short-distance and long-distance needs.
But consumer demand is shaped by infrastructure, markets, and policies. What if even more driving was shifted to local urban areas and long-distance travel was shifted to either public transit or rented/shared vehicles (like Zipcar or the like)? What if land use and transit could be shifted so that consumers only (or mainly) need cars for local transportation? That would remove the constraint on the growth of electric vehicles, no?
But what about those driverless cars, eh? Yeah, what about that!
Greg Wyatt, our Pitt Meadows correspondent (and car enthusiast), responds to the post on the driverless car:
Some of us actually like to drive, navigate and have the personal freedom that the private vehicle allows. Just last week I was one of hundreds of attendees at an Audi driving school held at the Pitt Meadows airport. They gave us new Audi S4’s and we negotiated a slalom course, 1/8th mile high speed oval and skid control on a water course. A truly amazing experience for enthusiasts and those just looking for more control.
My own needs in particular and that of my associates do actually use our cars more than five percent of the time … my personal mileage is at about 220,000 km over the last six years. Sometime I think my poor car is going to scream for a rest.
With the amazing options that are available on some luxury vehicles, I would doubt whether those shared or driverless drivers would pass up the superb HID headlights, navigation systems, lane departure warning, backup and overhead parking cameras, wifi hot spots in the car (that one is really cool for those of us that carry around Ipads to communicate while on the road), smart cruise control to hold distances at highway speeds, all-wheel drive with torque split to each wheel. (I have that one on my car and in our climate it is amazing especially hitting snow squalls near Prince George while climbing a steep hill.) At 34 miles per gallon highway, expense per mile is minimal except for the very expensive service provided by the German dealers.
Would shared vehicles have all these options that I presently use? Likely not. Would I be willing to give them up and operate either a shared vehicle or a driverless with less options? Double likely not.
For some of us who do not have the luxury of riding a bicycle to work and that must travel large distances in suits, we would prefer our current mode.
My Business in Vancouver column:
I didn’t really think it was possible to develop a practical driverless car. Until Google did it. See for yourself:
Already you can buy a “self-parking” car using the technology, and just a few weeks ago, California joined a few other states in legalizing the testing of fully automated vehicles.
I still wonder what the lawyers will do to the “auto-auto” when the first serious accident happens – but nonetheless, it’s on its way, and such an imminent prospect has unleashed a tsunami of speculation.
What a blessing, for instance, for those too young to drive, for those too old to drive safely, for the disabled, the inebriated and the texting distracted.
So does this mean that the streets will be crammed with driverless vehicles?
I expect just the reverse.
A car remains idle about 95% of the time – not a particularly efficient return on your investment. But what if you could send it out into the world to earn money until you need it, especially when the cost of such cars will initially be much higher?
Then the obvious question: why do you need a personal car at all? If there are literally tens of thousands of quasi-taxis all around you, immediately available with a click on your smartphone, why not just pay for the service, not the hardware?
Concerns about safety, damage and hygiene? Just become a member of a vetted private pool, rather like car-sharing today, that might number in the thousands.
Still, even with all the new possibilities, a relative handful of cars might be able to provide much of the non-peak demand: more use in far fewer cars.
Say goodbye to the taxi industry. And goodbye to the bus, say some, forecasting the end of transit.
Not at all, counters transportation blogger Jarrett Walker: the sheer amount of space required makes the prospect impossible – at least in compact centres during rush hours. The world may stratify into two modes: high-volume rapid transit and driverless vehicles. Plus walking and cycling for short-trip commuting and recreation.
Will driverless vehicles, however, encourage even more sprawl?
Maybe not. Think about the impact on the vast amounts of parking currently required. Who needs parking lots when the cars are in close-to-continual motion, especially when there are dramatically fewer of them needed to serve the population?
And it’s parking that creates commercial sprawl – all that asphalt separating all those tilt-up boxes.
Paradoxically, driverless cars might lead to more compact urban forms, especially when land prices adjust to take advantage of the freed-up space. Other forces might then shape our residential communities, allowing for gentler and more affordable densities not constrained by the need for as much expensive in-house parking.
There’s also another constraint on unlimited use of driverless vehicles: taxes. With a loss of fuel taxes as a source for transportation infrastructure, government would find it much easier to introduce road pricing.
With the software seamlessly integrated into the vehicle, trip costs could be billed to take into account time of day, length of trip, degree of congestion, type of fuel, size of car – instantly calculated, deducted from your transportation account and made visible in a way that voters would object to if done on their personal vehicles.
Privacy concerns? You bet. Driverless cars will provoke all sorts of lawyerly fodder. But the most interesting case will be the one where it’s clear a fatality could have been avoided if the driver had engaged the automated technology.
In other words, how much liability will you as a driver be taking on by controlling the vehicle yourself – and will you be able to afford the insurance?
Not only is the era of the driverless car soon to arrive, it might be followed by the end of the human-driven car.
UPDATE: Grist reports on how the auto industry wants to keep aging boomers on the road:
Automakers are banking on boomers being able to stretch out their driving years with the aid of safety technologies — like adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning systems and blind-spot monitoring — that are becoming more common in cars. The transportation needs of millions of boomers aging in the suburbs may build greater public acceptance of automated cars that drive themselves. Some states already permit road testing of these vehicles.