Five articles on self-driving cars

Five articles on self-driving cars

Tom Vanderbilt @ Wired: Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here

Molly Rants @ CNET News: Self-driving cars: Yes, please! Now, please!

John Markoff @ NY Times: Google’s Autonomous Vehicles Draw Skepticism at Legal Symposium [The first thing we do, let’s kill all the ___]

Matt Yglesias @ Slate: Three Barriers To Robot Cars

Jeremy Hsu @ MSNBC: [Sebastian] Thrun leaving Stanford for online startup: “When a Stanford University professor [and autonomous vehicle developer, ed.] first offered a free online version of his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” class, he attracted 160,000 students from around the world. Now he has given up his tenured academic position to create a startup that could deliver university-level education for low cost to anyone with an Internet connection.”

The reallocation of roadspace

Cross-posted from The reallocation of roadspace

The (re-)allocation of roadspace

Minneapolis MapThe urban public right-of-way (roadspace) is a scarce resource that is now publicly allocated.Typically at the outside is a sidewalk (this might actually be on private property, but there is a right-of-passage there). Between the sidewalk and the street there is often a “boulevard”, a planted strip with occasional street trees and the frequent sign. There there is a curb and gutter. Next to this is the “street” on which may be on-street parking, followed by movement lanes. The on-street parking may be free or metered. In some places there are designated bike lanes, or even bus lanes. In some places the lanes are reversible in direction, in others they are one-way. There may be bus-stops. Underneath the road are public utilities (water, sewer, natural gas), above or below are cabled utilities (phone, electricity, television). There may be street-lighting. There may be wi-fi antennas on the street-lights. Some blocks are bisected by alleys, others see neighbors abut.If there is no alley, Garbage, recycling, and reuse trucks ply the roads, and the material for pickup is placed on the boulevard. Driveways may cut into the street.

People may wait on the boulevard for buses (school buses or public transit). There may be a shelter, or a sign. The buses may stop on the right-of-way to board and alight passengers.

We need to be more creative about how we allocate this space. In the US, most cities west of the Appalachians arrange the streets in a grid. This regular, monotonous, grid has many features, but one that is often not used to its fullest is the ability to differentiate.

Presently the links on the grid are largely equivalent, except that some links are collectors and distributors, and serve residential land uses, while others are arterials and serve commercial land uses, and have transit running on them.

Let’s imagine we have a significant commercial arterial every tenth east-west street (10th, 20th , 30th, and so on) (approximately every mile). How do we allocate the road space on the 9 blocks between them? Are they all the same (serving moving and stored cars), or can they be differentiated.

Suppose instead of assuming all modes should mix (and therefore give dominance to the private automobile on all blocks since it has greater number, speed and mass and will win every conflict), let’s take one of those streets (say the Nines: 9th, 19th, 29th, 39th, etc.) and say it is for bicycles only. People who live on the Nines would have to park their cars on another block or in the alley behind, or maybe some off-street parking can be found. This bicycle-only street would only stop when crossing a major north-south arterial (and a yield at transit routes) or other specialize route below (i.e. on only half the blocks they would have a 50 percent chance of having a red light, and on the remaining blocks they would have unchallenged right-of-way).

These are what are called “Class I” bikeways in the jargon, as they are exclusive for bikes. (Other routes that are not otherwise allocated would implicitly be Class III bikeways, a distinction without a difference)

Suppose we dedicate the Fives (5th, 15th, 25th, 35th, etc.) exclusively to public transit and taxis. This route would be about one-half mile from the transit-served arterials, and thus would ensure all travelers are within a one-quarter mile route from a transit service (though perhaps a longer distance to a stop). The frequency here would be fairly high, and stops would be every 2.5 blocks, so the Manhattan (network) distance for the farthest passenger would be one-half mile. This route would be exclusively for transit (and taxi) movement and stops, and transit vehicles would not have to stop except at the arterials and other transit routes, where there would be stops and transfer points anyway. The Transit service would be laid out in a near perfect grid.

Suppose we dedicate the Ones (1st, 11th, 21st, …) to truck movement. Trucks still need to move through the city, but the arterials are already congested with transit and private car traffic. Freight could use other links for access and egress to particular buildings, but use only the Ones for longer distance movements within the city. The roads would be rebuilt with much stronger pavements to withstand the greater use and abuse. Other vehicles could use the Ones, for movement but there would be no on-street parking here either.

Suppose we dedicate the Threes and Sevens to one-way (west-bound and east-bound respectively) vehicular movements. These routes would move a bit faster than the two-way links, would not have to compete with stopping vehicles as much, and would draw longer distance traffic. They would be given a green wave at a socially desirable travel speed.



We would do the same thing on north-south arterials, so that 29th Avenue (N-S) meeting 29th Street (E-W) would be a bicycle-only intersection.

Some of this is familiar to Minneapolitans: 20th is Franklin Avenue, 30th is Lake Street. The Midtown Greenway is roughly 29th St (though of course it is better since it is an exclusive right-of-way). 26th St and 28th St are a one-way pair. But we have not done this strategically or fully. We mix transit and private cars on arterials. Transit buses run on 26th and 28th, not on 25th. We certainly mix trucks with cars excessively.

I am not making a specific recommendation for specific routes, I am suggesting we systematically and multi-modally reconsider roadspace allocation in order to better facilitate the movement of multiple modes in a complex environment and develop a strategy for this. Clearly specific routes will need to be bent to fit the local landscape and built environment.

Award time

Congratulations to Nexus group almnus Lei Zhang for winning TRBs Fred Burggraf Paper Award for paper 11-4223 – Behavioral Foundation of Route Choice and Traffic Assignment. This work extends his dissertation.

Belated congratulations to another Nexus group alum and co-winner of the TRB 2011 Best doctoral dissertation presentation: Shanjiang Zhu: The Roads Taken – Theory and Evidence on Route Choice in the Wake of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge Collapse and Reconstruction (Advisor: David M. Levinson), University of Minnesota.

Shanjiang is now a post-doc at the University of Maryland working with Lei Zhang and prof Gang-Len Chang.

Linklist: January 21, 2012

JW sends me to Technology Review: Europe’s Driverless Car (Driver Still Required) – :

“”Driverless” technology will initially require a driver. And it will creep into everyday use much as airbags did: first as an expensive option in luxury cars, but eventually as a safety feature required by governments. “The evolutionary approach is from comfort systems to safety systems to automatic driving,” says Jürgen Leohold, executive director for research at Volkswagen Group in Wolfsburg, Germany.”

Autoblog: Average U.S. vehicle age rises 12% in the last five years:

“The average age of the approximately 240 million light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads has risen about 12 percent in the past five years, according to automotive data research firm Polk. The average car or light truck on the road last year was 10.8 years old, up from a 9.7-year average in 2006. Cars were, on average, 11.1 years old in 2011, while trucks were 10.4 years old, Polk said.”

Blog Royalties

My coauthor Matt Kahn writes: about Royalties: “Switching subjects:   I would like to show my appreciation to my uncountable number of blog readers by revealing my blog royalties for the last 3 months.
Environmental and Urban Economics
Earnings This Reporting Period:
So, over the course of 3 months I post around 100 entries. If it takes me 10 minutes to write each of these then that’s 1000 minutes or roughly 16 hours so $28/16 = $1.6 an hour  —- not bad for a big bad full prof at UCLA?”

That is infinitely times what I make from my blog, but of course, he is an economist.

Understanding bicycle markings revisited

More on Understanding bicycle markings
From StreetsWiki:

Class I
Class I bike lanes are “physically separated from motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic,” providing a buffer against faster, heavier vehicles. This physical separation can come in the form of a tree-lined path, a sidewalk, a concrete buffer, bollards, or a line of traffic cones.

Class II
Class II bike lanes are demarcated by paint on asphalt. In some cases, the entire lane is painted a distinct color so as to be distinguished easily from the rest of the street. In most cases, the lane is marked by a stripe, often thicker than a standard dotted white line. Some Class II lanes also receive a stencil in the middle of the lane (also refered to as a “sharrow”).
Class III
Class III lanes are bike routes that are represented only by posted route signs.

Brendon commented on my post “Given recent severe crashes, I’d say eliminating markings will not make things safer. In a perfect world where drivers always expected and anticipated all legal modes might be using the road, perhaps so, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”
and Hokan said “The point of these markings isn’t so much actual safety (although the hope is that they don’t make things worse), but perceived safety (comfort). This improved comfort is supposed to encourage more people to ride bikes rather than drive cars.”
I argue instead that Class III bike lanes are a meaningless distinction. All roads where bikes are allowed and not given their own marked lane should be considered Class III. Signing (or marking) something in some places that is legal everywhere is confusion-creating. It will lead motorists to think they can ignore bikes (or worse, that they are illegal) where they are not marked, just as drivers ignore unmarked crosswalks.
I understand the logic of network effects that Brendon suggests, more bikes make roads safer by reminding motorists. However more signs do not do that. While the signs may hypothetically attract bicyclists (I would be interested in real counts before and after signage as a Class III bikeway on and off the bikeway, i.e. are bicyclists actually attracted by such signage, or is it just feel-good politically correct actions on the part of the bicycle bureaucracy), but the signs are more visual clutter distracting from important information about the environment (e.g. watching for actual bicycles and pedestrians rather than bicycle signs).
Many signs are ineffective (See Tom Vanderbilt on Children at play signs), and too many signs are counter-productive.
Kevin Krizek also comments.

Nexus Group @ TRB

Nexus group research will be presented at the Transportation Research Board conference in Washington DC, next week. Details of sessions are below, along with links to the papers:

Type No. Sponsor Session Location Time
Workshop 173 ABE10 Analyzing the Risks and Rewards of Public-Private Partnerships Hilton, Georgetown East Jan 22 2012 1:30PM- 4:30PM
Session 328 ABG20 Alternative Pedagogical Strategies and Tools for Effective Learning (paper) Hilton, Columbia Hall 5 Jan 23 2012 1:30PM- 3:15PM
Poster Session 352 ABE20 Issues in Transportation Economics: Marginal Cost of Travel, Value of Time, Value of Reliability, Vehicle Miles Traveled, and Economic Activity (paper) Hilton, International Center Jan 23 2012 2:00PM- 3:45PM
Poster Session 600 ABJ30 Taking Urban Data to New Heights: New Sources, New Techniques,and New Applications (paper) Hilton, International Center Jan 24 2012 2:00PM- 3:45PM
Session 622 ADD30 “Where” Matters: New Evidence and Approaches to Analyzing Location Choice (paper) Hilton, Columbia Hall 7 Jan 24 2012 3:45PM- 5:30PM
Poster Session 711 ADB10 Innovations in Activity and Travel Behavior (paper) Hilton, International Center Jan 25 2012 8:30AM- 10:15AM
Session 768 ADB10 Route Choice Modeling (e-Session) (paper) Hilton, International East Jan 25 2012 2:30PM- 4:00PM

Linklist: January 18, 2012

Robin Hanson @ Overcoming Bias: Why Hate Firms, Love Cities?:

“First, firms and cities are similar in many ways. They both vary greatly in size, and can be costly for long-time associates to leave. Both tend to be “selfish” in avoiding and excluding those who do not benefit other associates, and thus tend to favor rich folks. People can relate to both kinds of units as investors, suppliers, leaders, and customers.
Second, people tend to like cities more than firms. For example, many movies are love songs to particular cities, yet few movies have cities as villains. Many movies have firms as villains, but few have firms as heroes. Sporting teams tied to cities play in huge stadiums, while teams tied to firms play in local parks.”

Tim Stonor (H/T UrbanDemographics): IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki | The power of the network: “However useful they are, digital technologies can not replace the powerful and beneficial effects of the highly connected street grid – the “essential structure” of urban living.”

MinnPost: Metro Transit ridership topped 81 million in 2011:

“Ridership increased in all three types of Metro Transit bus service:

  • Urban local routes — the heart of Metro Transit’s all-day service — increased 3.9 percent, or 2.2 million rides to 58.6 million.
  • Ridership on freeway-oriented express bus routes was up 5.3 percent, or 479,000 rides, to 9.5 million.
  • Rides on suburban crosstown routes grew 7.2 percent, or 114,000 rides, to 1.7 million.

“Ongoing fleet improvements and new technologies like the Go-To card and real-time bus departure information make riding the bus more predictable and pleasant than ever,” said Lamb.
Ridership was down slightly on Metro Transit’s two rail lines. The Hiawatha light-rail transit (LRT) line carried 10.4 million passengers, a decline of 55,000 from 2010. And the Northstar commuter rail line carried 703,000 passengers, down 7,000 from a year ago.”

David Brin @ Contrary Brin: Is Libertarianism Fundamentally about Competition? Or about Property?:

“Let’s be plain here. The founder of both liberalism and libertarianism – Adam Smith – weighed in about both of these reasons for fairness, To him, they were equally important. All right, liberals and libertarians each emphasize different ones. Liberals talk about the moral reasons for fairness and libertarians the practical, competition-nurturing ones. They tend to forget that – as followers of Smith – they actually want the same end result!
What they share is something deeper that both movements ought to recognize. They want every child to hit age 21 ready and eager to join the rivalry of work, skill and ideas.”

Linklist: January 17, 2012

Kottke sends me to: Koushik Dutta – Google+: The Unintended Effects of Driverless Cars :

“Google has been working on driverless cars for a few years now. The obvious selling point is that the cars will be much safer without a human behind the wheel.
Currently, a car spends 96% of its time idle. Compare that with planes which spend almost their entire lifetime in operation/airborne. Idle planes aren’t making money, and they need to recoup their hefty $120M price tag. There is an unforgiving economic incentive to make sure it is always in use.
The proliferation of driverless cars will have a similar effect. Cars will spend less time idle: why would a household buy 2 (or even 3) cars, when they only need 1? Ride to work, then send the car home to your spouse. Need to go grocery shopping, but your kid also needs a ride to a soccer game? No problem, a driverless car can handle that.
What will begin as households cutting back to a single car, will expand. Why would a family need an entire car to themselves? That’s crazy! It may start as extended family in the same area sharing cars, then neighbors sharing cars, and then entire apartment/condo complexes in cities offering driverless cars bundled into their HOA/rent.[2]
The operating percent of a car will go from 4% to that 96%. But back to my leading statement: there are unintended consequences. Parked cars will be a relic from the past. What happens to car insurance prices if a driver is no longer part of the equation? And if cars are receiving 20 times more actual use, that would imply that there would be 20 times less cars sold.[1] This is the kind of disruptive change that can reshape the automotive industry. The recent GM/Chrysler bailout may have been for naught.[3]”

Kurzweil notes: A French autonomous car:

“French researchers have developed a self-driving vehicle, IEEE Spectrum Automaton reports.
IFSTTAR, a French R&D organization, and the Embedded Electronic Systems Research Institute at ESIGELEC, an engineering school in Rouen, are developing autonomous vehicle technologies to help test automotive safety systems.
The researchers modified a Renault Grand Espace by adding a “robot driver” to  control the exact trajectory, speed, and behavior of the vehicle and compare the performance of different safety systems.

JW sends me to Technology Review: Join the Mobility Revolution with These Five Apps Uber, Waze, NextBus, Avego, Progressive Insurance