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Mayor Wheeler on autonomous vehicles: Portland is “open for business”

Posted by on April 19th, 2017 at 10:56 am

Bike traffic on NW Broadway-20

Don’t worry! Those cars are driving themselves.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Hoping to get out in front of what many see as an inevitable tidal wave in vehicle technology that will transform our streets, the City of Portland has announced the Smart Autonomous Vehicles Initiative (SAVI).

The announcement was made this morning at the Portland Business Alliance’s April Forum Breakfast event. Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Dan Saltzman spoke at the event and formally launched the initiative via the Portland Bureau of Transportation (which Saltzman oversees). By the end of this year the city will develop a suite of policies and review proposals from private companies that want to test AVs on Portland streets.

“My goal is to have an autonomous vehicle pilot program in Portland, working for Portlanders, by the end of the year,” Wheeler said in a statement. “To the inventors, investors and innovators, I’m here to say that Portland is open for business. By working with private industry, we can make sure that cutting edge technology expands access to public transit and reduces pollution and congestion.”

Commissioner Saltzman, who has made it clear that Vision Zero is his top transportation priority, said he think AVs can make streets safer, “By taking human error out of the equation.” As we reported yesterday, a new study found alarming rates of phone use and distraction among drivers. And that doesn’t even take into account other — and often purposeful — dangerous driving behaviors that are common on our streets every single day.

“As we work towards our Vision Zero goal of ending traffic fatalities and serious injuries,” Saltzman added. “The public has a right to expect that the city will help make sure that safety standards are met.”

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“As we work towards our Vision Zero goal of ending traffic fatalities and serious injuries, the public has a right to expect that the city will help make sure that safety standards are met.”
— Dan Saltzman, Portland City Commissioner

PBOT hit the ground running on some of their AV policies due to their work on the US Department of Transportation’s “Smart Cities Challenge” grant they applied for last year.

PBOT Director Leah Treat said this new initiative is about, “Realizing the potential of autonomous vehicles,” which starts with, “making smart choices and setting clear standards that support the interests of the autonomous vehicle industry and our community.” If done right, Treat says, AVs will, “increase affordable transportation, reduce congestion and fight pollution.”

Here’s more about SAVI from a statement released by PBOT this morning:

The directive tells PBOT to take four actions to advance SAVI within the next 60 days:
1. Propose for City Council and public consideration Interim Transportation System Plan (TSP) policies that ensure connected and autonomous vehicles will serve Portland’s safety, equity, climate change, and economic goals;
2. Publish a Request for Information (RFI) that invites AV testing specific to advancing safety, equity, climate, and economic goals;
3. Adopt an Interim Administrative Rule that provides a clear path to permit innovators to apply to test, pilot or deploy AVs in Portland; and
4. Develop public engagement, reporting, and evaluation plans that ensure Portland residents, workers, and businesses have opportunities to shape the “rules of the road” for AVs in Portland.

While city leaders are making rosy statements about an AV future, they are smart to take a cautious approach that keeps our community values at the forefront of the conversation. There remains vast uncertainty about the impacts AVs will have on our transportation system. Many researchers — including Fehr & Peers, who had advised the City of Portland on the top of AVs — have found that widespread adoption of AVs could lead to significant increases in average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and a corresponding decrease in bus ridership.

Those issues and many others are likely to spur a robust debate in Portland as this issue moves forward.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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165 Comments
  • Craig Giffen April 19, 2017 at 11:03 am

    “I think we need to take a step back,” she said. “I’m concerned about a future where people go from morning to night not talking to anybody. You call yourself an autonomous vehicle, you go by yourself to pick up the groceries that have been collected for you. … Is this something that we want?”

    From the OLive article, let’s play the the game of “Gee, what PDX commissioner said this?” Prize includes getting t-boned by a driver running a red light while texting.

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    • Chris I April 19, 2017 at 11:48 am

      Ooh ooh! Is it the one who seems to be grossly misinformed about most issues, but especially misinformed on issues related to transportation? Is it that one?

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  • rick April 19, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Better bicycle infrastructure can give a better economy. Autonomous cars still “need” places to park, room to store, room to repair, room to recycle, room to crash.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      We are a long way from the time when people will own their own automous cars; I think we’ll enter a phase where they work like taxis, with passengers paying by the ride. If that model works, we may never get to the point of widespread individual ownership.

      That means greatly reduced parking and storage requirements. Repair/recycle room is essentially already in place. And crashing? Likely to be much less than today.

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      • Chris I April 19, 2017 at 1:18 pm

        Several new cars already have autonomous modes, and very few of them are being used as taxis. Autonomous cars will be a toy for the rich at first. This tends to be how things work in America.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 1:28 pm

          There are no cars capable of working as fully autonomous taxis today. That’s why we see so few on the streets.

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    • Stephen Keller April 19, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      Don’t forget plenty of extra room for angry and distracted drivers to pass wildly because the autonomous cars are so cautious.

      I don’t think mixing robotic and human drivers into the same transportation infrastructure is a great idea. I’m concerned we’ll get a lot of human-caused crashes around autonomous vehicles with a sad litany of collateral damages. Of course, that’s more or less what we have now, minus the robots. Maybe it’ll be okay.

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      • Pete April 26, 2017 at 11:32 am

        Sounds not unlike what the UCI said about disc brakes a few years back.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 26, 2017 at 12:08 pm

          Disc brakes will never catch on.

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    • Pete April 26, 2017 at 11:35 am

      “…room to crash.”

      Oh c’mon – they’ll at least do a better job of avoiding storefronts and swimming pools!

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  • Kyle Banerjee April 19, 2017 at 11:12 am

    There is some real potential to improve things (though that is hardly a given).

    Aside from the fact that autonomous vehicles will be programmed to avoid cyclists, only pass safely, and observe safer procedures at intersections, presumably they will obey speed limits — which affects all vehicles behind them.

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    • TonyT
      TonyT April 19, 2017 at 11:24 am

      I’ve often thought that an early use might actually be local governments putting autonomous vehicles out there as pace setting vehicles.

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      • soren April 19, 2017 at 11:45 am

        the herd immunity effect of AVs driving *under* the speed limit will be glorious to see.

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        • Kyle Banerjee April 19, 2017 at 6:10 pm

          Agreed.

          One thing I would be afraid of is that car drivers might resist these things once they’re on the road. Aside from enforcing safer behavior, individuals who don’t like them for whatever reason will have the power to singlehandedly stop traffic since all you need to do is get in the way. We’re certain to see at least a little of this, I’m just hoping it’s not too much.

          I personally have more faith that autonomous vehicles can be taught to work well with cyclists long before we get all the humans fixed.

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      • Dan A April 20, 2017 at 5:39 am

        If they are controlled by our current local governments, will they be programmed to go at 10mph over the posted speed?

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    • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      I’m excited about all of this too, but human impatience will still be a problem to contend with. Auto manufacturers have the technology right now to limit the speed cars can accelerate to, but because of market pressures, they don’t. There are myriad ways we could impose our a-hole values on the way these vehicles operate, unless those options are manufactured or legislated away.

      My other worry is that the moral questions (does the SAV hit the pedestrian to save its driver? etc.) will ultimately be resolved by making certain streets SAV-only – not accessible to bikes or pedestrians, ‘for our own good’ – – sort of the way that pedestrians using the roadway was reframed as jaywalking in the early days of cars. Once that’s done, SAVs could be allowed to travel at significantly higher speeds – higher than motorists are allowed to drive now. Then we’ll have the ugly blight of cities and neighborhoods transected by a network of whizzing SAV speedways.

      Also, as Jonathan pointed out, many researchers are concerned that SAVs will only increase single-occupant vehicle miles traveled per person. Even if these vehicles are electric, they still kick up a lot of pollutants (http://www.treehugger.com/cars/we-need-reduce-non-exhaust-pollution-traffic.html) and take up a lot of space.

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      • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 12:18 pm

        And all of this just because people are too soft to take the bus.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm

          Or the bus is too unmanly to be reliable and accessible.

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          • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 1:04 pm

            I never thought of reliability or accessibility as intrinsic qualities of men, but then I may not be paying enough attention! I do like thinking of the comparison photos for a manly and an unmanly bus. 🙂

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 1:09 pm

              Ah yes… I struggled with that word, but it was hard to find a better anthropomorphic term that adequately responded to your comment. I’d be happy to submit a new comment if we can find a better word.

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              • Middle of the Road Guy April 19, 2017 at 1:22 pm

                Well he have to be careful of calling something “girly”…

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              • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 2:47 pm

                I enjoy the idea of a ‘manly’ bus. I think it should be designed to look sort of like Stephen Seagal – macho, but reassuringly uncool.

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              • rachel b April 20, 2017 at 1:56 am

                My bus would look like Yul Brynner.

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              • KTaylor April 20, 2017 at 9:22 am

                Yes! It would be terrible to have a bus that was constantly running over its own ponytail.

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              • Concordia Cyclist April 20, 2017 at 10:00 am

                Jerome Bettis has already been created.

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              • KTaylor April 20, 2017 at 11:35 am

                Ha! 🙂

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            • q April 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

              If you want evidence that manly vehicles are more reliable, just look at the post office. They only use male trucks.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 11:44 am

                Unfortunately, most of what the USPS does is being supplanted by fe-mail.

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              • q April 20, 2017 at 1:12 pm

                Ironically, the fee mail usually comes sooner and more reliably than the mail.

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        • Kyle Banerjee April 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

          In all fairness, I won’t take the bus simply because it is too dаng slow and doesn’t run often enough unless you are along certain lines at the right times.

          Cycling is way faster and better. On foot often faster and better, and when it isn’t, there’s not enough difference.

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          • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 1:05 pm

            I prefer biking and walking too, Kyle! Far and away the best options.

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          • soren April 19, 2017 at 1:48 pm

            portland’s diesel buses are also a *major* source of particulate pollution.
            i have never understood why the portland area does not have electric trolley buses like vancouver, seattle and san francisco:
            http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2015/08/metros-next-generation-of-capitol-hill-friendly-electric-trolleys-ready-to-roll/

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            • Tom Hardy April 19, 2017 at 2:13 pm

              Soren. Portland had Trolly busses up until 1960ish when some of the distribution transformers died from lack of maintainence. They were installed in the 1890s for the electric trollys (way preMAX) that were removed to allow Chevron, Firestone, and GM t promote stinky diesel bus service.

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            • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 2:48 pm

              Yes – that would be a huge improvement. I saw those for the first time in Vancouver, BC when I was a kid and wondered the same thing. Maybe the expense, or the shared roads? Or the fact that you have to have fixed lines.

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          • wsbob April 19, 2017 at 11:44 pm

            …better than walking when desperate, but otherwise, city buses offer a stinky, rough ride on uncomfortable hard seats. On those counts, light rail is better than city buses, and could be much better than it is; during commute hours, light rail when crowded, has much to be desired. During those hours, the ride experience poses lots of incentive to drive a personal car.

            Could AV cars or buses introduce an improvement on the poor ride experience during those hours? That’s the question I’d be looking forward for answers to.

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        • Tim F April 25, 2017 at 3:46 pm

          There’s a class of small autonomous minibuses (EasyMile, Navya, Olli) that are programmed to go about 10MPH (max speed is 20, but they’re all limited now). They would serve pretty well as neighborhood shuttles to light rail or bus rapid transit routes. It’s a far easier task for autonomous vehicles than either general-purpose personal cars or autonomous full-size buses. Ideally they’d be deployed along with bike share to extend the coverage of traditional mass transit.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 12:37 pm

        What we’re likely to end up with is a hybrid model, where some vehicles are single-occupant, while others may be like mini-vans with several passengers, offering cheaper fares, but still providing point-to-point service like a taxi. I could easily see this leading to a transportation system that requires less energy overall than today’s, be much safer, and provide a higher level of service for a lower cost.

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        • Alex Reedin April 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

          Oh great! I’ll move out to Mosier where it’s beautiful and less rainy, and have my efficient, electric self-driving car take me in to work downtown then go park itself for free in Ladd’s Addition. That won’t cause any problems when everyone else does variations on the same thing….

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 12:45 pm

            More likely, you’ll have your car work as a taxi while you are at work, offsetting its cost. Or, even more likely, you won’t own one at all, and will just call one when you need it. Even more more likely, you’ll telecommute and save the 2+ hour round-trip.

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            • BB April 19, 2017 at 12:55 pm

              Oh yes, the promise of “telecommuting” to save us, reanimated from its mid 90s grave..

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 2:02 pm

                Telecommuting is great! It’s what lets developers from the Bay Area live here where it’s cheap, and work from home. What could be better?

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              • q April 19, 2017 at 3:09 pm

                Don’t dismiss it yet. We are on the verge of being able to hold virtual business meetings using our microwave ovens. The technology is already being used by the FBI and CIA.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 3:14 pm

                I think I heard about that somewhere. I’ve disabled all the telecommuting options from my microwave, just to remove the temptation of climbing in and trying them out.

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              • Dan A April 24, 2017 at 6:34 am

                I work from home two days a week, and we have a number of employees who are full time from home. We even have an employee who moved to Spain and kept his job here. Doesn’t seem dead to me.

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              • q April 24, 2017 at 10:08 am

                Dan A: I agree. The reason people don’t talk about “telecommuting” is because it’s become so common (esp. part-time) not because it died off. Nobody talks about “going online” or “shopping on the worldwide web” anymore either–doesn’t mean it’s not happening anymore.

                Some morning everyone who works at home (even if it’s just answering emails so they can avoid a rush-hour commute once or twice a week) should all commute into the office (or to where your office might be if you didn’t work at home) during the morning rush hour. That would show how many people do it.

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              • Dan A April 24, 2017 at 10:26 am

                On days when I drive in, I either go in really early (before 6am) or I work from home until traffic has cleared up and go in late (~11am). We’ve always had flexible hours here (our ‘shared hours’ are between 9 & 3), but the going in to work late part has finally gained cultural acceptance, since we all know we can get more work out of people during our busy season if they aren’t sitting in traffic for an hour trying to get here. Amazingly though, we still have employees who doggedly stick to driving in between 8 and 9 and heading home between 5 and 6, even though it’s a complete waste of time, and they make the roads worse for people who don’t have flexible schedules.

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            • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 1:03 pm

              Hello, Kitty – hello (to paraprhase Neil Diamond). I think people’s expectations will have to change a lot for this to happen – or a system like this would need to be seriously nudged along by government. A lot of car-only travelers I talk with don’t use vehicle share because it’s dirty and they can’t leave their stuff in their car. Many of the issues people raise about vehicle share are the same reasons they give for not using transit.

              As for our transit system, it is seriously underfunded, so of course it’s not as convenient as driving a car.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 1:08 pm

                You may be right, or, not. I predict the final outcome will be based on cost of the taxi model vs cost of the private ownership model. It really is too soon to tell.

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              • soren April 19, 2017 at 1:20 pm

                cars are square.
                i think sharing an AV with fancy electronics and high-speed connections will be more attractive to younger generations than plonking down a significant amount of money for a “basic” AV that will sit around unused much of the time. i also strongly suspect that AVs will become a major “captive audience” advertising platform.

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              • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 2:55 pm

                For sure – the jury’s still out. But sadly, I think what people decide to do is going to be dictated to a great extent by which corporations win the war for dominance. If it’s Uber and other ridesharing apps, more people will climb on board with the connected rideshare future. If it’s the auto industry, everyone will keep buying their own vehicles.

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            • soren April 19, 2017 at 1:09 pm

              i think it is even more likely that you won’t own your AV at all.

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            • Chris I April 19, 2017 at 1:20 pm

              “Eww, you let strangers ride in your car? That sounds gross.” – Basically every American

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            • SD April 19, 2017 at 10:13 pm

              How many cars/corporation will be allowed on the road?

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          • soren April 19, 2017 at 1:08 pm

            i believe many, if not most, AVs will function like combis or microbuses in the developing world: http://www.acertainbentappeal.com/2016/09/how-to-take-bus-in-mexico-city.html

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          • chris April 20, 2017 at 9:52 am

            Ladd’s Addition will certainly implement parking restrictions in response to this.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 11:36 am

              Parking restrictions are good, right?

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      • rachel b April 19, 2017 at 2:15 pm

        Hear, hear, KTaylor! Well spake! Also: I nominate this for the title of America’s autobiography: “America: Our A-Hole Values.” 🙂

        Lemme on the Girly Bus!!!! Or I will punch you in the throat!

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        • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 3:39 pm

          Hahaaa! Thanks, rachel b!

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      • wsbob April 19, 2017 at 7:08 pm

        “…many researchers are concerned that SAVs will only increase single-occupant vehicle miles traveled per person. …” ktaylor

        sav’s could be programmed to only accept more than one person before setting out on a drive. The vehicles should be smart enough to make a decision about number of passengers.

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        • KTaylor April 19, 2017 at 8:03 pm

          Sure, they could be – just like the autos we have now could be designed to stay under 55. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t share a cab with a stranger now, and would be totally unwilling to get into an unmanned vehicle with one (though that could be a pretty amazing update of ‘Strangers on a Train’). I don’t think the introduction of SAVs is going to automatically make people more comfortable with sharing.

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          • wsbob April 19, 2017 at 11:29 pm

            “Sure, they could be – just like the autos we have now could be designed to stay under 55. …” ktaylor

            And maybe they should be, if not at 55, some other even higher speed that’s likely to work well with AV technology to efficiently and safely move traffic on the freeways. Being able to virtually eliminate unnecessary lane changing and passing, could greatly help freeways work better for people using them for travel.

            There may be ways to have AV minimum passenger load requirements work out to resolve the stranger uncertainty. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility out of hand without some thought given to it. People do share cabs, and they carpool. There’s no certainty at this point in the evolution of the eventual use they’ll eventually be put to.

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            • KTaylor April 20, 2017 at 9:57 am

              But *most* people don’t share cabs or carpool. I’m not disagreeing it would be great if SAV made transportation more sensible in the ways you describe, but policy doesn’t always (or even usually) follow best practices in the US – and people’s personal choices certainly don’t. I’m not bringing this up because I’m somehow opposed to SAVs solving congestion and environmental problems – I just don’t think there’s any good reason to believe they will, without serious and very wise-headed government intervention that I don’t see happening. It’s important to consider the worst possible outcome and decide if we are willing to live with it, rather than just letting it happen and dealing with the fallout.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 11:36 am

                It won’t be a policy question, but one of economics.

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              • KTaylor April 20, 2017 at 12:59 pm

                That’s what worries me.

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              • wsbob April 20, 2017 at 5:49 pm

                The reality of personal economics is why some people carpool and share taxis. Of course, if they have lots of disposable income, they’re not going to bother arranging to share a ride in a motor vehicle with a passenger they don’t know. They’ll just rent a cab or a town car for themselves.

                But nobody knows how this av technology will be used in reality. For cities wanting to get in on this, so far, it’s just counting chickens before the eggs are hatched.

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    • Evan April 20, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      Don’t take AV safety for granted. Tesla’s AV mode allows the driver to choose a speed 10mph over the signed limit.

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  • OrigJF April 19, 2017 at 11:29 am

    The allowance of autonomous vehicles to be sharing the same space as human driven vehicles (both cars and bicycles) makes me a little nervous. How are autonomous and human vehicle crashes going to assign blame? How will insurance companies decide fault? If the autonomous vehicle is in a situation where it needs to hit something or be hit, what will it do? Will it make a decision based on some database it contains with vehicle license plates connected to income and/or insurance status to make the decision. “Let the Mercedes hit me because it is owned by someone making 1 million a year” or “lets sideswipe the person riding the bicycle because the bike is at most $5k and only a single occupant, where the person driving the car about to hit me has 5 people in it and the owner is currently uninsured.”

    After the Volkswagen diesel gate technology bypass decision to make money over protecting human health, I wouldn’t put it past any insurance company to make that same type of decision if able.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      >>> How are autonomous and human vehicle crashes going to assign blame? How will insurance companies decide fault? <<<

      The lawyers will review the sensor data, and the situation should be clear. If the AV is at fault, it's software will be modified, and the entire fleet will do better when it encounters the same situation in the future.

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      • 9watts April 19, 2017 at 9:40 pm

        credulity thy name is Kitty.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 1:24 am

          Time will tell.

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        • rachel b April 20, 2017 at 2:00 am

          I spit tea when I read “Credulity, thy name is Kitty.” I’m hearing it in the voice of Laurence Olivier.

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    • Tom Hardy April 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      The VW diesels that were bought back or traded out of service will be again legal within 6 months as the new EPA administrator removes all emission restrictions. They will be given a cost incentive to buy and use them.

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    • X April 19, 2017 at 7:41 pm

      How often does a person have to choose between running over a baby carriage or ramming a Maserati? In a true emergency most drivers don’t actually have time to make those kinds of choices. Most people just stomp the brake. By definition a good driver doesn’t get in a situation where not one, but two or more things must be immediately avoided. Autonomous Vehicles will either observe speed limits, hold lanes, signal and leave appropriate following distance, etc., or have a disastrous safety record and be taken out of service.

      I imagine that there will be some incidents with AVs, but I also expect that they will be a lot safer than the average human driver. I would support a law restricting AVs from left turns off two-way streets unless the alternate routing caused, say, a 3-minute delay. That would avoid a lot of problems and would also make clear that left turns at uncontrolled intersections cause delays and crashes that are avoidable.

      An AV already knows what a pedestrian looks like, and it would be pretty easy to program it to recognize and respect a universal gesture for “I’m using this crosswalk, please yield.” Just as AVs would act as speed limit pace cars, they would also make it possible for pedestrians to cross streets without delay or damage. The higher the percentage of AVs on the streets, the safer they will be.

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  • encephalopath April 19, 2017 at 11:34 am

    There are lots of products and processes where you can trial and error your way to a working finished product. This isn’t one of them.

    Autonomous vehicles will never get from the “kinda works in most situations” phase to “works well in all situations” goal. Even is you get the autonomous car to perform better than humans do, people will not accept mistakes from a computer the way that they are willing to accept them from other people.

    The first time one of those things is at fault for killing someone the “that vampire robot killed my baby” response will kick in and it will be nothing but torches and pitchforks from then on. Autonomous vehicles will sued out of existence before they ever have the chance to get anywhere close to the “works well in all situations” stage.

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    • John Lascurettes April 19, 2017 at 11:58 am

      I don’t disagree with you. Humans make “mistakes” and have “accidents” in the eyes of most. Computers make “errors” and are flawed. The great irony is that it won’t matter in the eyes of most that it’s a reduction of errors/mistakes per mile travelled — the pitchforks and torches will come out. The only way to combat them is with hard data.

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    • X April 19, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Here’s a partial list of companies developing AVs: Google, Uber, Tesla. They all have a lot of money right now, and a lot of really smart people. If they need more of one or the other the world is hot to get it to them. They may screw up, and they may get sued, but they’re not really afraid of lawyers. (You didn’t mention hubris)

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  • J_R April 19, 2017 at 11:59 am

    I’m pretty certain that the algorithm used for AV’s will not include an “I hate bicyclists” or an “I don’t really care about bicyclists” component. The former seems to be imbedded in about 1 percent of human drivers; the latter in about 5 percent.

    I’m looking forward to AV’s.

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  • Cory P April 19, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    It seems like most people just want to play on their phones these days. AVs will facilitate doing that. I would feel much safer being passed by a self-driving car vs a human driven one.

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  • bikeninja April 19, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    The way virus’s and state sponsored malware are infecting our phones and computers it will not be long after they become common, that Mischeivious Hackers will compete with each other to see who can crash the AV ( and its occupants) in to a lamp post with the most style.

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  • Todd Boulanger April 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Did PBoT bring this before the PBAC for advise and comment?

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  • Todd Boulanger April 19, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    As a transportation consultant focusing on designing safety, I see the upside and downside to this “autonomous vehicle” trend…though I am cautious…

    …I would strongly recommend that Portland’s leadership, PBoT / legal staff and advocates put a decidedly Portland (Vision Zero) spin on this new pilot initiative by:

    1) setting up city code and enforcement procedures that have the default assumption that the autonomous vehicle is 100% at fault if a vulnerable roadway user is hit by such a vehicle (with or without a human operator). This would be similar to the Dutch practice of treating all vehicular crashes with a vulnerable roadway user as the driver’s fault; and

    2) Prohibit autonomous vehicle operation (and testing) along substandard roadways (sidewalk gaps, missing ADA ramps, barriers etc.) where pedestrians and those with ADA devices would be expected to walk in the street…

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 19, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      3) Prohibit all Uber employees from setting foot in Portland.

      This one isn’t really a safety thing, but it will improve our quality of life.

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      • GlowBoy April 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm

        Uber has employees?

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      • Seth Woolley April 22, 2017 at 6:58 am

        Wasn’t expecting to be personally banished, but ok.

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    • OrigJF April 19, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      ^^ Best post of the day ^^

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    • Eric Leifsdad April 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Good ideas. How about we also start with a weight and power limit? I would much rather be mowed-down by a sub-200lb 1000W electric velomobile which cannot exceed 20mph.

      https://organictransit.com/product/elf-2fr/ fits in a bike lane, carries 2 people and some stuff. Maybe the rider can pedal to get a discount on their fare and health insurance. If the city built-out a downtown protected bike network with enough room for these *and* the amount of bike traffic we say we want, that would actually do something to solve congestion, pollution, parking.

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    • wsbob April 19, 2017 at 11:17 pm

      “….…I would strongly recommend that Portland’s leadership, PBoT / legal staff and advocates put a decidedly Portland (Vision Zero) spin on this new pilot initiative by:

      1) setting up city code and enforcement procedures that have the default assumption that the autonomous vehicle is 100% at fault if a vulnerable roadway user is hit by such a vehicle (with or without a human operator). This would be similar to the Dutch practice of treating all vehicular crashes with a vulnerable roadway user as the driver’s fault; and

      2) Prohibit autonomous vehicle operation (and testing) along substandard roadways (sidewalk gaps, missing ADA ramps, barriers etc.) where pedestrians and those with ADA devices would be expected to walk in the street…” boulanger

      Assumptions pose the risk of acting on errors in judgment. When they’re eventually rolled out for serious, regular work on the street, there’s a very good chance that autonomous vehicles will be safer vehicles for vulnerable road users to use the road with, than are vehicles operating by people.

      It logically follows that outside of a technical electronic onboard ‘crash’ or malfunction in the av’s equipment, in collisions involving AV vehicles with vulnerable road users, it may turn out to be most common that the vulnerable road user, the person walking, biking, skateboarding, etc, will have been the road user that made the road use error that contributed most to the collision having occurred.

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      • Gary B April 20, 2017 at 1:55 pm

        That’s fine. Todd advocated simply that the burden of proof is on the AV operator to show it wasn’t their fault. That gives them an incentive to make sure it isn’t, and be able to prove it. We use such liability schemes in all sorts of areas, to great effect.

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    • Seth Woolley April 22, 2017 at 7:18 am

      Wow, a transportation “consultant’ actually recommended that vulnerable road users be subjected only to the most error-prone form of traffic to “protect” their safety. Also, prohibiting AV systems from learning from what you consider situations that are more difficult for an AV in regard to safe behavior (which in this case is a false conjecture) is certainly worse in both the short and long run.

      Your insurance point isn’t accurate. The Dutch liability system is complicated and considers intentions, vulnerability, and insurance requirements. I approve of it, but your description is too simple.

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  • Mossby Pomegranate April 19, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Such low hanging fruit for Wheeler. He inherited a mess as mayor in Portland after Hales. We’ve got much bigger problems than this. Welcome to “Tarplandia”.

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  • bikeninja April 19, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    I see a future occupation as an AV Rustler. Disgruntled taxi drivers will use bikes or motorscooters with banners to heard AV’s in to waiting copper lined semi-trucks ( making them faraday cages to block signals). Then part them out and resell what I assume will be very expensive replacement parts.

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  • Portlands Electric Bike Store
    Portlands Electric Bike Store April 19, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    What is the legal status of a car in autonomous mode?

    When a car in autonomous mode kills someone, is the owner or the manufacturer responsible?

    seems like that needs to be ironed out before we see these things on the road!

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    • Seth Woolley April 22, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Depends on who was at fault, like every other system.

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  • Granpa April 19, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    So Amazon establishes an fleet of AV and robotic box trucks fitted with drones to deliver packages. That will eliminate car congestion on NW 23rd, and most shopping neighborhoods. Welcome to the future

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    • wsbob April 19, 2017 at 11:03 pm

      “…AV and robotic box trucks fitted with drones to deliver packages. …” granpa

      More noisy junk flying through the air. That’s all we need.

      Helicopters, sometimes referred to as ‘choppers’, for the loud beating sound on the air they often produce, especially for their comparatively small size, can make an extraordinary amount of noise. Maye not enough people care about this kind of pollution anymore. A couple months ago, I read a story about an air base up in Washington state, wanting to increase the number of training flights over Olympic National Park, which has some protection against overflights for protection of its wilderness character. A gnawing away at the quality of experience available at our natural land and wilderness area parks, is the unfortunate consequence.

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  • 9watts April 19, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Mayor Wheeler said: “Portland is open for business.”
    Is this a fancy way of ‘starting a conversation’?

    This is so disappointing. The last thing we need in 2017 is a red carpet for MORE CARS! The verbal contortions those quoted above engage in to make yet MORE cars sound like antidotes to all the things we recognize the cars we already have threaten is crazy-making. Why do smart people in this country so reliably hang all their hopes on the newest whiz-bang technical gadget? Are they so unfamiliar with the history of technology to continue exhibiting this level of credulity for the boosterist nonsense?

    Jonathan wrote: “Hoping to get out in front of what many see as an inevitable tidal wave”
    = Freudian slip? Inadvertent comic metaphor? I know where I’d want to stand if a tidal wave is expected.

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  • Kittens April 20, 2017 at 12:39 am

    What is wrong with these people?

    The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 2.4 million Americans are employed as truck and delivery drivers. Between Uber, Lyft, shuttle, air and other transportation jobs, we are looking at about 6 million people.

    Just cheering “this is the future and ain’t it grand” doesn’t solve the underlying systemic problem of what to do with this industry.

    The US lost approximately 7M manufacturing jobs from it’s height in 1979 to present and we have seen what a tremendous hole it left in the middle class, never to be filled as promised retraining and education failed to materialize in a meaningful way.

    I hope people are no longer drinking the go-go technologist kool-aid that tech “creates more jobs than it displaces”. The results are plain to see in the upper mid-west and former manufacturing communities and ag communities before them. Our entire economy is about to be displaced by automation and guys like mayor Wheeler are only hastening it’s demise in a vain attempt to sound “relevant”.

    Additionally, if these companies want to develop autonomous systems, they are more than welcome to do so. Just do not expect or need our already cash-strapped public agencies help you figure it out.

    This is huge, bigger than Vision Zero or average trip length. This is about seeing each other as more than data points on a graph and I have absolutely no faith that people like Wheeler or anyone else in government will do anything but blindly lead us to a very dark place.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 1:14 am

      >>> “creates more jobs than it displaces” <<<

      I am quite sure this technology will be disruptive, and not in the koolaidy Silicon Valley sense, but in the real sense that it will disrupt societal patterns. We're all going to have to find a way to adjust.

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      • 9watts April 20, 2017 at 6:46 am

        “We’re all going to have to find a way to adjust.”

        This is a common enough attitude, but why? One nontrivial reason is that people like Wheeler fall over themselves to roll out the red carpet instead of arguing from principle, history, experience. It doesn’t have to always be a capitulation to these economic forces, especially since this is a doomed effort to rescue not only car companies but Middle Class material comforts from the real tidal wave which is Climate Change.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 9:23 am

          We’re not going back to the days when 90% of us worked on farms, and manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back.

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          • 9watts April 20, 2017 at 9:25 am

            a powerful rebuttal.

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          • El Biciclero April 20, 2017 at 10:08 am

            “We’re not going back to the days…”

            Probably not voluntarily, anyway. But after the robots come, I’ve already arranged to go live with my uncle Owen on Tatooine. He runs a pretty successful moisture farm there. I might trade junk on the side.

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        • q April 20, 2017 at 10:26 am

          Your point is good about the “red carpet”. Portland has a history of politicians rushing to roll it out for new things after hearing sales pitches. As a recent example, the City welcomed short-term rentals with woefully weak regulations because Hales heard “sharing economy”. PDC several times has given all kinds of incentives to bring in companies from elsewhere, not realizing they were competitors of companies that were already here. The City spent tens of millions subsidizing the South Waterfront because of visions of creating a “biotech” campus…

          Sometimes I get the feeling politicians here make decisions based on what will get them invited to conferences where they can show how cool and progressive we are here.

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      • Kittens April 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm

        “We’re all going to have to adjust”

        LOL you made my point perfectly: glib responses like this do nothing to solve the problem, they bush it aside.

        Think they are not coming for YOUR job? Think again, supposedly 40% of ALL jobs will be displaced by automation. My guess is law is next and last will be healthcare. No one can afford these luxuries anymore but as the world becomes more complex, they become necessities.

        When no one works, no one will be able to afford anything. We’re already halfway there.

        🙁

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 1:28 pm

          >>> glib responses like this do nothing to solve the problem, they bush it aside. <<<

          I see it a different way — it is too early to start planning for a future that we know will be different, but we can't yet see what shape it will take. We can (and are) talking about ideas, but proposing a basic income now (which is the only solution I see, but raises a ton of questions of its own), in this political environment, would not be productive.

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          • 9watts April 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

            If not now, when?

            your logic eludes me.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 1:32 pm

              When we elect President Sanders?

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    • Chris I April 20, 2017 at 5:49 am

      So you are okay with 40,000 road deaths every year, as long as it saves 6 million permanent jobs? These are the stakes. Autonomous driving is the only thing that will eliminate road deaths in the US.

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      • 9watts April 20, 2017 at 6:13 am

        Oh, please!

        That is the most ridiculous, hyperbolic, foolish thing I’ve read here in a long time. None of us have a clue whether autonomous cars will even work in the real world and you’re already associating zero deaths on the road with this?! I can guarantee that if we GOT RID OF automobiles we’d be more likely to achieve the goal you are ascribing to something that doesn’t even exist yet.

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    • soren April 20, 2017 at 9:21 am

      Please stop blaming technology for the evils of capitalism.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 9:25 am

        For that you need to blame human nature.

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        • resopmok April 21, 2017 at 8:56 am

          I’m confused, do we ascribe evil, technology, or capitalism to human nature? This argument seems nebulous and unprovable.. I think we know there are all types out there, and even that one person doesn’t act the same way throughout their whole life. We all have good days and bad days, so whose fault is it really that things are the way they are? Step right up, let’s play the blame game and pretend the only perfect human being is.. me!

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 12:12 pm

            I ascribe evil to human nature, or at least the nature of a subset of the population. Capitalism has not worked to tame the human condition, nor has any other economic system that I am aware of. Therefore, I conclude that capitalism is not the cause.

            Any economic system has to be compatible with human nature in order to work, and, as far as I know, capitalism is the best we’ve been able to do, however imperfect it may be. That naked capitalism needs to be tempered with regulation and that society needs a safety net do not contradict my assertion.

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    • GlowBoy April 20, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      Despite popular belief that our manufacturing jobs went overseas, the GDP of US-based manufacturing has actually gone up since the early 90s when production started moving offshore. But those factories are automated now. The job base of rural America has been decimated, but not by trade. I agree that “people need to adjust”, but we’re not doing a good job of helping them. Our recent election is a good example of how poorly we’re doing on that.

      Driving a truck, for all of the downsides that it brings, is currently one of the last reliable tickets to the Middle Class for blue collar Americans, especially for people living rural areas where the farms and factories are automated, and metro areas aren’t close by. And that career path is about to go away, whether we like it or not. You think people are angry now? Just wait.

      Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed to AVs. I wholeheartedly welcome the safety benefits of having fewer humans behind the wheel. But we need to be talking a lot more – yesterday – about how we’re going to help people whose jobs are going away or have already gone away, and are not coming back. Yes yes, “retraining” will help some, but is certain to fall far short of what’s needed. And not everyone will be “retrainable,” and you’ll still have a lot of people living far from job centers.

      20th century futurists always predicted a time when machines would do all the work and people could be idle most of the time. So far they’ve mostly been proven wrong, as automation produced a lot of high-paying jobs to (partly) replace the ones that were lost (for those with the ability to get retrained and locate themselves in metropolitan areas, at least). But with truck driving – as well as physicians, attorneys, engineers, accountants and all sorts of knowledge-based jobs that used to be safe – set to be replaced by machines within the next decade or two, I’m not sure it will prove true anymore. I know it’s possible the arc will continue, and we just can’t yet foresee the new kinds of jobs that all this automation will enable. But we’d better be prepared for the alternative.

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      • 9watts April 20, 2017 at 12:45 pm

        “The job base of rural America has been decimated, but not by trade. ”

        Hardly.

        These days most of what is available for sale (excluding food) in this country is from China, from pencils to flashlights, shoes to plates. Thirty years ago this was decidedly not the case. I don’t know what your manufacturing data is about (cars?) but it certainly doesn’t reflect consumer products as encountered by me.
        If you have a kid and she/he has a birthday I invite you to turn over the presents she/he receives. I can pretty much guarantee that 70+% will be Made In China.

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        • GlowBoy April 21, 2017 at 8:40 am

          Not saying most consumer products aren’t made in China. Point is that domestic manufacturing is so heavily automated now that it employs very few workers. You could shift most production back to the US and it still wouldn’t bring back that many jobs.

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      • soren April 20, 2017 at 12:52 pm

        The inequality you lament is a feature of our capitalist system and has nothing to do with technology or science. Moreover solutions to increased productivity are obvious and an extension of labor reforms triggered by industrialization*: higher wages, shorter work weeks, longer vacations, earlier retirement, right to a basic income.

        *The weekend, vacations, social insurance, child labor laws etc.

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        • GlowBoy April 21, 2017 at 8:38 am

          I agree with you soren: the problem is only going to get worse, and right now our political climate is turning the biggest victims of recent trends into the biggest opponents of the needed solutions.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 12:15 pm

          Inequality is inherent in any functional economic system. Some people will be better able/willing to take actions that improve their situation than others.

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          • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm

            You manage to say the darnedest things here.

            “Inequality is inherent in any functional economic system.”

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm

              Do you have a counter-example?

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              • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 12:33 pm

                Inequality is measurable both over time and across different societies. We are currently at a low point here in the US on both counts. That difference should suggest something about your shrug.

                The first example that came to mind, which you will I suspect find amusing, were the Amish. Given my suspicion that you’ll dismiss it let me peremptorily ask you to tell me how you feel that their economics are *not* functioning.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 12:36 pm

                I would be quite surprised to learn that no Amish are either richer or poorer than their neighbors. I don’t know a lot about them, but what I do know suggests they are a very enterprising and capitalistic people.

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              • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 1:10 pm

                How are you making the jump from enterprising to unequal?
                Germans—to pick another country—who are by most accounts as enterprising (not to mention economically successful) as any people have organized their society in such a way as to yield dramatically less inequality than we have.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 1:18 pm

                Do you accept that even societies that have made more efforts towards reducing inequality than we have, such as Germany, still have vast differences between rich and poor?

                I’m arguing that all functional economic systems will have some level of inequality, not that modern-day America has the optimal amount, or that we can’t reduce our levels of inequality.

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              • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 1:43 pm

                Yet another (or is it the same fundamental?) philosophical difference between our outlooks: you focus on the common collective limitations to how we organize ourselves whereas I find the differences illuminating and inspirational to redouble our efforts. I don’t think it is useful (much less accurate) to suggest that the US and Germany (all countries?) inherently have vast inequality. Some sure but not vast. The poor in German in some ways have it better than the so-called Middle Class here.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 1:56 pm

                Don’t interpret my responses to absolutist positions expressed here as satisfaction with the status quo. We must do better with equality, and countries like Germany show that we can.

                You’ve said nothing to disabuse me of my statement that inequality is inherent in any functional economic system.

                That German levels of inequality are smaller than American ones does not in any way refute my statement.

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              • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 2:02 pm

                As I noted above I’m not clear on the utility of this kind of abstract statement, given all the possible statements we could make about inequality. It certainly doesn’t suggest an interest in redressing inequality which you stated in your last comment, but a shrug: since inequality is inherent let’s talk about something else.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm

                Soren wrote: “The inequality you lament is a feature of our capitalist system”, to which I responded “of course it is; inequality is unavoidable, and is present in every economic system”.

                When we’ve discussed what constitutes a healthy level of inequality, we’ve agreed that it’s something less than what we have. I don’t shrug that off, in fact I think it’s very important, as are a lot of other things we don’t discuss in depth here.

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              • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 2:34 pm

                So perhaps we would agree that Soren should have written Capitalism of the 21st Century US variety is uniquely capable of generating world class inequality. (?)

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 3:01 pm

                Sure, close enough. It has also elevated the floor for everyone pretty significantly.

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              • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 6:27 pm

                “It has also elevated the floor for everyone pretty significantly.”

                ?

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 6:49 pm

                I was just noting that the baseline material wealth of our society has increased greatly, even as inequality has gone up.

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              • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 7:42 pm

                Except that that is decidedly not what has occurred.

                I’m starting to think you and I have a different understanding of what inequality means.
                All those millions of homeless or near homeless surely would take issue with your statement, not to mention those for whom, though they may be housed, their material predicament has fallen over the past few decades.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness_in_the_United_States

                “The bottom 50% went from capturing over 20% of national income for much of the 1970s to earning barely 12% today”
                http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/22/news/economy/us-inequality-worse/

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      • Kittens April 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Great points, GlowBoy.

        I would add that GDP, or more broadly, productivity, has shot through the roof over the last three decades. Unfortunately, as with tech this has NOT meant shared prosperity, indeed, quite the opposite: Massive wealth consolidation hastened by dysfunctional politics. And yet here we have Mayor Wheeler embracing more of the same.

        Gross.

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  • SD April 20, 2017 at 8:27 am

    When more than 50% of vehicles on the road are owned by Uber/Google/Amazon/Apple/Comcast, how will these corporations want the roads to be designed? What road features will increase their profits? How much will they contribute to road building/maintenance vs. lobbying for public money to subsidize their bottom line?

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    • soren April 20, 2017 at 9:19 am

      Take a look at our roads now and ponder on how Exxon-Mobile, Chevron, GM, Ford etc helped design out transportation system.

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      • SD April 20, 2017 at 9:40 am

        I have, and this is why I am concerned that further consolidation of private influence over a public space would ultimately increase the ill-effects of cars unless it is successfully regulated.

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        • soren April 20, 2017 at 11:47 am

          “further consolidation of private influence over a public space”

          hahahahahahaha. more like transfer of influence from one corp to another.

          having lived in pluralistic democracies that dare to regulate private enterprise my hope is that the usa will some day become one.

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          • SD April 20, 2017 at 2:32 pm

            It could easily turn out to be one corp that makes and controls AV subscriptions.

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            • SD April 20, 2017 at 2:33 pm

              *makes AVs and controls AV subscriptions.

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  • Peter W April 20, 2017 at 10:20 am

    2016 Election: won thanks in part to Kremlin’s hackers and internet trolls.

    2020 Election: won thanks in part to Kremlin’s hackers and “self driving” cars that got lost on the way to the polling places.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. April 20, 2017 at 10:45 am

    So the average citizen wanting to participate in local government will now be subjected to security checks and bag searches, but car companies get an open invitation to City Hall? Mayor Wheeler sure seems hell-bend on eroding Portland’s participatory democracy.

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  • stephanlindner April 20, 2017 at 11:54 am

    AVs may or may not help with Vision Zero; what they certainly will do is making driving even more convenient and pleasant (or, less annoying when it comes to commuting). The last thing we should be doing in this city is making driving more convenient (as Chris Smith stated to well in the context of highway widening).

    I’ve been OK with the city adopting Vision Zero because policies that help Vision Zero are often not only good in reducing traffic fatalities, they are also good in terms of making walking / biking / transit more attractive relative to driving a car. Put differently: it is really hard, from a political perspective, to sell the idea that we want to make driving less attractive in a city where most people use cars for every trip they make, even if there are numerous reasons why this would be a good idea. But it is much easier to say that we need to address safety issues that then also happen to make driving less attractive. With AVs, I worry that this sole focus on Vision Zero makes us ignore other, really important reasons why we should promote walking, biking or public transit instead of driving cars and that we will therefore further increase car dependency, with all the negative consequences.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      I absolutely want to make walking and biking better; I do not see it as a benefit to make driving worse, unless needed to achieve a better walk/bike environment.

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      • 9watts April 20, 2017 at 12:05 pm

        You can’t simultaneously maximize more than one variable. Which one is it going to be?

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 12:07 pm

          I thought my post made that clear. I was responding to stephanlindner’s post where he was arguing that degrading driving was a good unto itself. I disagree.

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          • 9watts April 20, 2017 at 12:13 pm

            Except that by equivocating you’re trying to hold onto the fantasy that we can have our automotive cake and all the benefits that it ruins too. It has never worked like this and it is to me implausible that *this* iteration of the auto is going to somehow live down more than a century of experience.

            Ivan Illich was very clear on this point. Automobility and the pursuit of greater speed that it is premised on is bad for all living things.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 1:37 pm

              I’m not equivocating. When there is a conflict between improving the bike/walk environment and the auto environment, give greater weight to the bike/walk side of the equation.

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    • soren April 20, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      i’m pro-AV from a vision zero perspective and also anti-any kind of automobile in urban centers.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 4:21 pm

        A solution that would potentially exclude the disabled.

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        • resopmok April 21, 2017 at 9:03 am

          I walked a blind man to his apartment from the Gateway Fred Meyer a few days ago. I can’t say I think a car-centered urban area like that was at all friendly to his ability to go the store and buy a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. Even as we crossed a busy street with the walk signal, an impatient left-turning driver couldn’t wait for us to clear the crosswalk before buzzing behind us. Do you really believe the only option disable people have/should have is to drive somewhere? You really don’t think we could find some other solution (depending on their disability) which could accommodate them in a car-less world?

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  • GlowBoy April 20, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Hello, Kitty
    Unfortunately, most of what the USPS does is being supplanted by fe-mail.
    Recommended 2

    Unfortunately?

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      If that’s how you get your kicks… Put a stamp on me, baby!

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty April 21, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    I understand what inequality means. I just think it’s worth remembering that while the gap between rich and poor is increasing, the absolute value of material wealth of the poor has also increased. That one is true does not negate the other.

    I understand that inequality is important.

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    • 9watts April 21, 2017 at 9:18 pm

      I get that you think that but I don’t think it is true.

      For the bottom half or bottom quarter I think things have gotten materially worse over my lifetime; no rising floor; no improved purchasing power parity. My hunch is that if you figure the costs of housing, healthcare, food, transportation, etc. the purchasing power of what the less well off make (or don’t make) today is lower than it was thirty or fifty years ago. Remember we now calculate GDP and unemployment differently than back then. We didn’t then but now have well over 2 million people incarcerated; they are not but likely would have otherwise been counted as unemployed since it is the poorest who typically get nabbed.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty April 22, 2017 at 10:46 am

        It’s from 2011, but it supports my assertion that, materially, poor Americans are better off today than they were in the past. Again, I am not arguing that inequality does not matter. It does.

        http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2011/09/how_rich_are_poor_people.html

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        • 9watts April 22, 2017 at 11:15 am

          I am familiar with this claim, but I think like with many topics the problem is that by focusing on an average figure we may miss important dimensions of the subject under discussion. By all accounts more people today are homeless than they were twenty or thirty years ago. I don’t suppose you’d consider them better off, Slate’s article notwithstanding, but rather a particularly stark manifestation of the growing inequality in this country. So saying that the poor are better off than they used to be (because there are statistical ways to show this) to me is unhelpful. Just because homeless people today may have cell phones (I suppose many do) doesn’t mean hunger isn’t a larger problem than it was in, say, 1980.

          http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html

          http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/child-hunger/child-hunger-fact-sheet.html

          In 2011, a report presented in the New York Times found that among 20 economies recognized as advanced by the International Monetary Fund and for which comparative rankings for food security were available, the U.S. was joint worst.
          http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/02/19/opinion/19blowcht.html

          Then there’s the minimum wage, which in most states is not indexed to inflation.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty April 22, 2017 at 12:03 pm

            I am not making the claim that every individual is better off than they were 20 years ago. When talking about a population of 300M, it is necessary to make some generalizations and use some aggregate measures. Measures of inequality, too, require on averages and general statements, that may well not apply to individual cases.

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            • 9watts April 22, 2017 at 12:11 pm

              “it is necessary to make some generalizations and use some aggregate measures”

              Perhaps but there is no requirement that one omit qualifications. It is important when relying on these averages to be wary of what they may obscure.

              “I am not making the claim that every individual is better off than they were 20 years ago.”

              Well you actually did just say: “materially, poor Americans are better off today than they were in the past.” and “the absolute value of material wealth of the poor has also increased.”

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

                “Poor Americans” is an aggregate group. The fact that it is a general statement, rather than a statement intended to encompass every qualifying individual should be obvious. You would accept the statement “smoking causes cancer” without qualification, even though, in the majority of cases, it does not.

                What would constitute a properly qualified statement in this case?

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              • 9watts April 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

                “What would constitute a properly qualified statement in this case?”
                To answer this I think we need to first come to terms with why we’re interested in this subject, what about it seems usefully highlighted. For me, I’m (always) interested in the outliers and what we might learn from them.

                Stab at qualified statement: While the level of inflation-adjusted income the poor receive may have increased on average, the spread within that portion of the population has increased to the extent that there are today more people who we may think of as destitute (homeless, hungry, kicked to the curb) than at any other time since WWII.

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