Welcome to the week. Hope you are staying warm out there!
Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers have come across in the past seven days…
E-bike safety: California coastal cities are struggling to find the balance between encouraging e-bike use and making sure they don’t lead to safety problems for users and people around them. (L.A. Times)
Shot…: It’s almost as if cars themselves are the problem, not what powers them. This new research should give local, state, and national leaders reason to make their EV policies and statements more inclusive of other (non-car) vehicles. (The Guardian)
…Chaser: The U.S. government has a golden opportunity to think beyond cars when it embarks on the EV era — and it’s clear the right thing to do is promote a wider mixture of vehicles because their current car-centric focus is “an environmental disaster.” (Curbed)
Trans athletes: A survey of existing studies found that trans women don’t have a biomedical advantage when competing against other women. (Cycling Weekly)
Free bikes: A bill in the Hawaii legislature would establish a bicycle grant program and give students a $2,000 subsidy to buy a new bike. (Cycling Industry News)
Good car tech: Turns out we have the technology to limit the speed of cars and an important pilot in New York City worked very well. We can’t wait for this to spread far and wide! (Smart Cities Drive)
Cycle-logy: It’s important to understand how bias and psychology work when it comes to why so many business owners oppose bike lanes. (Wired)
Legislative action: Lawmakers in Olympia and Salem hope this session results in more legal tools to improve road safety. (OPB)
Be careful what you wish for: Author Angie Schmitt wants transportation reformers to keep in mind who their low-car policy goals might leave behind. (Planetizen)
Thanks to everyone who shared links this week.
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I’d love to see GPS based speed governors required by the feds, although I’m not holding my breath. The car industry has a long history of resisting that kind of thing, and I would anticipate it to be unpopular. I mean considering that it’s completely normalized to drive up to 10 MPH over the speed limit at pretty much all times (which is ridiculous on its face), there is a lot of work in the social sphere to do before regulations like speed governors would have any modicum of popularity.
I’d like to see politicians and transportation experts push back much more aggressively on speeding. Considering that drag scales roughly with the square of velocity, it takes about double the energy to maintain a vehicle traveling at 55 MPH than it does at 75 MPH (there are some fixed non-drag related energy expenditures, so this does not mean that your fuel economy will be twice as bad at 75 MPH vs. 55 MPH though). There are serious cost/environmental issues that speeding causes (noise pollution, increased tire wear, etc.) that I think are not talked about enough.
All true, blumdrew, but if you were around during the 1970s energy crisis, when Jimmy Carter mandated a 55 mph speed limit in the US to save gas, you’d have thought he poked every citizen in the eye with a red-hot poker – so vociferous was the blowback from drivers about “their rights” being taken away. Many of Carter’s sensible restrictions on energy use led directly to Reagan’s election in 1980, and we’ve all witnessed the impact of free-dumbs’ restoration ever since.
The problem is the database GPS units use to display the speed limit is not complete. I drive with a GPS unit all the the time and have found several streets where the unit does not display the speed limit. I have also found many streets in Portland where the speed limit was changed but the unit displays the old limit. Yes my maps are up to date. The worse issue is in School Zones. My unit shows the speed limit at 20 mph all the time. The problem is the zone is only active on school days from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. And on HW30 the zone is only active when the lights are flashing. I have not looked into how manufactures are making there autos to comply with the rules set forth by the EU. If I had to guess it probably uses both GPS and cameras to read the speed limit signs. The bottom line is any system will need to be very complex (i.e. expensive) to work properly in the real world.
From the OPB article:
To suggest there is a responsible way to drink and drive is appalling.
Slippery slope to concluding that any amount of drinking and cycling would also be socially irresponsible (although significantly less impactful).
It is socially irresponsible.
Time to cancel a good chunk of the Pedalpalooza events, I guess.
Perhaps they should. I certainly was surprised the first time I heard of Pedalpalooza rides that center around bars/drinking.
I would even like to see bike riders getting DUI’s for riding under the influence, so long as it doesn’t result in a disproportionate amount of bicycle traffic stops to others (which I’m pretty sure would be the case). Of course, we don’t have to worry about any of that right now.
Would you please point out all the drunk riding bicycle deaths for me?
Is there any reason for this other than you apparently want prohibition to return?
No, I can’t because I don’t know where to find statistics for how many dead bicycle riders were under the influence.
Seriously…is everything a binary with you?
Me: Drinking while riding a bicycle is irresponsible and should be punished.
You: If nobody dies, all is good.
Also you: If I can’t drink while riding a bike or driving, all alcohol should be banned.
Apparently, you have no idea who I am.
Its binary to me when people like you think that imposing your moral views should require cops to police and pull over bicycle riders which is about the dumbest idea anyone could ever come with.
Perhaps that is the root of our disagreement, I don’t feel public safety is a moral issue. Similar to seat belt laws.
Again, please show me the statistics about “drunk” bike riding… Show me anything where there is a public safety issue.
I’m leaving this discussion.
If DUIs for cycling under the influence exist, punishment for it should dramatically differ from those who drive autos under the influence for a couple reasons:
1) If punishment were consistent between both, those who regularly drink and drive would have little compelling reason to adopt a less lethal mode.
2) The likelihood of the one drinking to fatally or severely harm others between the two modes is disproportionate.
I certainly agree with that.
And to this day employers think that having meetings at a bar is a great and wonderful way to “team build”. I think it’s just manager’s way to get boozed up on the company dime.
The articles on EVs are interesting in that they give details on what reductions, (based on current demand) in EV demand and vehicle size/battery size would mean for reducing future lithium needs, as well as providing safety improvements. I like the part about limiting battery size, as it would limit vehicle size. The solution is obviously more battery-powered small cars and micromobility devices, and less giant EV Hummers/SUVs/pickups. According to the curbed EV article, an F-150 EV is 33% heavier than the gas version, and the Hummer battery weighs as much as a Honda Civic!!!
“But results show that even if Americans can’t wean themselves off cars with big lithium batteries, increasing the density of metropolitan areas and investing in mass transit would cut cumulative demand for lithium between 18% and 66%. Limiting the size of EV batteries alone can cut lithium demand by up to 42% by 2050.”
“One thing that was striking is that the kind of population density that is required to start dramatically decreasing the number of car trips, or the proportion of trips that are being taken by cars, is not as high as I had expected,” she says, noting that most Americans already live in such places. (The general consensus is that the rate of passenger-car use in rural areas will largely remain the same.)
So if the “city folk” (and suburban folk) get better transit, then the “country folk” can have their big EVs, provided they’re actually using them for “work.”
As long as transit continues to follow the fixed-route fixed-schedule model of systems developed in the 1800s, it’s going to have a hard time attracting a large proportion of the potential ridership in almost any modern US city*.
Until they do get a critical mass of riders, systems like TriMet will remain very intense consumers of money, energy, and passenger’s time.
*NYC being a possible exception, though even there, a lot of people continue to get around by driving.
Fixed route transit works just fine in just about every other country. What makes the US different? What are you alternative mass transit solutions?
Also it’s just not correct to suggest that somehow transit “doesn’t work” in the US because of something other than politics and funding. TriMet’s issues are largely self inflicted – Portland is a good transit market, they just aren’t a very competent transit provider. Doing functionally nothing about safety, having very bad spans of service, not pursuing simple cheap infrastructure (bus lanes!), not maintaining their rail rights of way very well. There’s a lot! And none of it has to do with the fact that they primarily provide “fixed route transit”
The US IS different. Infrastructure was created differently. Density is different than Europe. Suburban sprawl is different. Location of services is different. If you have to have a car anyway, you are going to use it to save time, particularly if you have to work multiple jobs, want to actually spend time with kids, etc. It is not just politics and funding or Seattle, Portland, and many other progressive cities would actually have a working model.
I mean there are more places than just Europe where fixed transit is the back bone of city mobility. Canada has very similar land use/sprawl patterns as much of the US but does way better in the public transit sphere – largely as a result of investment in good bus service. Land use, sprawl, and transportation are all deeply political.
I would also challenge that you have to have a car in most US metros. Sure, you might save time on a commute in a vacuum but it also heavily influences how you make choices – primarily in where you choose to live.
The alternative that I see is on-demand point-to-point transportation, essentially a taxi or vanpool service. I believe this is coming, regardless of what TriMet does, and when we have it, buses will largely disappear except possibly on some very high volume routes.
Meanwhile, TriMet is muddling along with half the passengers it had 4 years ago (and even then was not widely used) and no realistic prospect to rebuild.
If taxis were on the verge of replacing public transport, they probably would have already. They are way more expensive in both vehicle maintenance and labor costs. And even with Uber et. all “disrupting” the taxi service, the cost is still wildly prohibitive to get around in any practical way.
TriMet does have plans to recoup ridership, I mean they are rolling out changes now. The jury is out on if it will be good, but there are plenty of cities (even in the US!!) that have had great post-pandemic ridership numbers. You’re simply wrong to suggest that somehow public transit will be replaced by vanpools – there is literally no place in the world that this is happening.
Literally one of many places in the world where this has already happened:
“To this day, a fleet of approximately 28,000 peseros … carry an important part of Mexico City’s public transport passengers, surpassing by far the capacity of the Mexico City Metro, STE trolleybuses, buses and taxis; peseros, (including VW Microbus, micros proper and full-length diesel buses) carry up to 60% of the city’s passengers.”
The Pesero system operates on fixed routes, they just are privately owned and allow for passengers to get on and off at any point on the route. It’s also a pretty insane system that I don’t think any US city could emulate even if they wanted to
Combi drivers will deviate from the route to a nearby location upon request (depending on how busy it is).
A person who lives in one of the most violent and dysfunctional nations in the world describes a wildly successful latin american mass transit system as … insane.
Sure, there are no comprehensive maps available to the general public. It’s a chaotic system made up of private operators – it certainly looks insane relative to a bus network in a US city at least. That’s not to say it’s bad, just difficult for an outsider to understand!
Maybe “insane” wasn’t the most tactful word to choose there. I’m not here to moralize about Latin America being “dangerous” or whatever – I don’t think that it is.
I wanted to let this go, but just couldn’t. We are not one of the most violent and dysfunctional nations in the world by any stretch unless you’re comparing us solely with wealthy nordic countries.
Taxis do use far too much labor currently (which is why they remain a small transportation player, except in cities like NYC, where, even with great transit, they play an important role), but automation will change that, and the maintenance profile of electric vehicles is vastly different than gasoline powered ones. We are on the cusp of a transportation revolution as significant as the adoption of cars.
TriMet’s nibbling around the edges of its service are not going to change the fundamental dynamic that many Portlanders have largely given up on transit.
In places where labor is cheap (i.e. third world cities), vanpools are common.
Right, NYC where 1.6% of commutes were made by taxi (vs. 57.4% by transit) taxis really play a huge role (2020 numbers – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_in_New_York_City). 5x more people walk to work in NYC than take a cab.
Automated cars are vaporware, and will likely never have mass adoption in cities. They will be relegated to freeway driving – and even that is almost certainly looking more like as “driver assist” rather than a fully autonomous situation. The only places where autonomous vehicles actually function are on exclusive rights of way with tight control. Like say, a railroad. Vancouver has an automated light metro, as do most big US Airports (and of course 3 dozen Chinese cities). If you are looking for an “autonomous vehicle revolution”, public transit is a good place to start.
Not vaporware, just a very hard problem to solve that is going more slowly than it’s most breathless boosters predicted several years ago (we’re in the “trough of disillusionment” phase of the hype cycle*). Nothing surprising there — that always happens. A lot of people were skeptical that horseless carriages would ever work well enough to replace those horseful carriages, and we know how that ended up.
You can ride in one of these vaporware vehicles today if you go to Phoenix or San Francisco.
Robot taxis are not (yet) ready for prime time, but they’re coming, and they have the potential to change everything about urban transportation, mostly for the better. When they arrive, they will completely undermine conventional transit. They don’t need to be cheaper, just cheap enough to bleed off a critical mass of passengers (assuming TriMet has a critical mass of passengers by then).
[Automated cars aren’t on this, but this shows how the hype-cycle generally works.]
Nah, they’re thoroughly vaporware.
That graph is not representative of any actual reality. “Expectations” are an incredible nebulous thing to try and measure. There is no guarantee that any technology is successful, and saying “oh well cars took off” ignores an entire social and political apparatus that had to be created in order for that to even happen. Maybe that curve is representative of what successful technologies go through, but what about unsuccessful ones? Where is the 3D TV on this?
Right, I can take an “autonomous” Waymo ride in Phoenix (but only two parts of the greater metro area), and in San Francisco (but not downtown, and also not autonomously since they still have safety drivers on board). Which like… sure is kind of cool, but decidedly not revolutionary. Waymo has been operating in Phoenix for 5+ years now, but hasn’t really expanded at all. Turns out the economics of offering a taxi service is marginal in the places where autonomous vehicles are most applicable (sprawly, suburban sunbelt metros) – since everyone already has a car. In properly urban areas, they are incredibly unpopular and cause massive traffic problems even in their limited scope.
And we haven’t even gotten into winter, or rain, or other inclement weather. There are extremely difficult problems on the table still (both computational and political), and just because one hard problem has been solved doesn’t mean another one will follow.
You’re right — there’s no guarantee that automated cars will continue to improve. But there’s every reason to think they will, and if they do, the technology will be utterly transformative and the societal benefits will be huge (unlike, say, 3D TV).
What are you specific reasons for thinking they will succeed? I’ll admit to not following autonomous vehicles too much, but I have not seen any crazy progress in the last 5 years. Things have slowed down a lot, and most of what I see is a Tesla autopilot causing a 10 car pile up on the Bay Bridge, or something to that effect. It’s naive to think “there’s every reason to think they will”.
And while they would certainly be transformative, I don’t agree that the societal benefits will necessarily even be positive (and certainly not huge). Autonomous taxi services will operate more like a cartel/monopoly than a public good – since private companies are developing the technologies and will want to recoup their huge losses they are incurring right now (Cruise lost $5 million per day last quarter – with a total of $5 billion spent since 2018).
There is good reason to think that they will operate in the “run at a loss, undercut public transport, then raise prices once public transport enters a funding death spiral”. And you need to consider who gets left behind here – the people who can’t really afford a fancy taxi service (that will almost certainly not have transparent pricing policies). Unless there is some level of public ownership/control of the services (which seems like a big lift in today’s political environment), the net societal good will be negligible/bad. Just another service for rich people to get around more easily – no thanks.
Ignore Tesla. They are a distraction.
I think automated vehicles will succeed because I keep reading about steady incremental progress, and progress in related fields, and those are the sort of things that tend to compound over time. No guarantee, of course, but it continues to be promising. It wasn’t so long ago that solar panels were exotic and only useful if budget was no problem. But it is now cheaper to close a coal power plant and build a solar farm on top of it than to keep the coal plant running (this is now true for all but one coal plant in the US).
As for the transformative power, the need for parking would be greatly reduced or disappear, freeing up lots of urban area. I think vehicles will shrink and safety will greatly improve, leading to better environmental and health outcomes. Transportation will generally be easier and cheaper (if it’s not, the entire enterprise won’t work), and will become more useful and accessible to everyone.
It may be that TriMet invests in their own fleet of vehicles, or maybe they’ll subsidize rides, or maybe they won’t have to. Or maybe they’ll focus on high-volume trunk routes like Max that can truly real efficiencies of scale.
I could be wrong on all of this, of course, but it’s the only solution I see to the transportation-related issues we discuss endlessly.
I mean Tesla is the most prominent example of autonomous vehicle tech, and the one people think of first for better or worse (most likely worse). I don’t doubt incremental progress is happening, but it’s certainly not happening at a very promising rate.
This is all speculative, but there is just no guarantee that any of the things you are describing happen. Transformative technologies are just as often making the world worse as they are better. Has social media been a net positive for society? I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who truly believes it has been. If there are not sufficient methods for public oversight and/or ownership, transformative technologies often end up doing tons of harm
Were the railroads of the late 1800s a positive for society? If you were a white US banker, yes. If you were a poor, European immigrant? yes, but it wasn’t all good. If you were a Chinese immigrant who actually laid the tracks? No, not really. If you were an Indian whose lands were stolen by the army to allow the private railroad company to lay the tracks? Definitely not.
The solution to our transportation related issues already exist, the thing that is missing is social and political impetus to change them.
Tesla may be first in the popular zeitgeist, but that doesn’t tell you much about the true state of the technology.
You are right that there is no guarantee of any outcome (though thinking through the economics suggests certain scenarios are more likely than others), so it would be wise to prepare to ensure that if/when the tech emerges, we can guide it towards the most favorable outcomes, rather than just hoping they’ll happen on their own.
Of course, that means acknowledging there is a real possibility automated vehicles will arrive, rather than writing them off as vaporware.
You are right, in a sense, that there are solutions to some transportation problems available today, and it is also true that, even after more than a century of development, most Americans find them unpalatable. Sure, maybe TriMet will be able to change that. Nothing is impossible.
“Fixed-route fixed-schedule model…” That’s called reliability. It’s generally good to know where transit is going to take you and when. Sometimes using what already works is good, actually (the safety bicycle was invented in 1885). Most NYC residents do not own a car.
I would love to see lighter vehicles, but that just isn’t the direction our society is heading. A $10,000 4-person light vehicle that could get you 200mi on a charge sounds fantastic, until you get hit by Braxton in his 9,000lb Chevy Marauder electric truck and your entire family dies. Barring major Federal regulations, average vehicles sizes are going to continue to increase, with weights to match.
I’m really interested in low-powered EVs, which would do just fine in flat areas or on streets like Barbur and SW Multnomah that were engineered for trains. Most streets nowadays, with their steep grades, were designed for ICE-powered vehicles. If we could have a revolution in street design, we wouldn’t need such powerful batteries and motors to get us places. And certainly a limitation in vehicle weight would be crucial also.
Yeah, I don’t like where the huge vehicle arms race is currently, and where it may head. It’s time to lock down on the 8500lb+ “Heavy Duty” vehicle loopholes and mandate those to be used for work only, and not let Braxton have a Brodozer to speed around town in. My neighbors just bought two (TWO!!!) Ford F150 Tremors. Because you need a twin-turbo lifted crew-cab pickup to commute around Portland… Huge vehicles need to not be normalized, and “personal freedoms” and such won’t go changing very easily without federal regulations. Maybe this is the time to kick in battery size regulations that will keep vehicle weights down.
Here’s an interesting report from 2005 on fuel economy fraud and the “8500lb loophole.” It sets the stage for why we are where we are today with huge vehicles all over the roads.
Microsoft Word – Report body full 3.doc (ucsusa.org)
Angie’s article was my personal highlight of the week. glad to see it made the cut. Mobility should be the goal as others have said but she did a great job framing the debate
I liked that article too, Allan.
Keep in mind, though, that Portland is Portland. TriMet has prioritized service to lower income communities of color on the boundaries of its service area since at least the HB2017 service increases. Their Forward Together proposal also prioritizes equity.
My wealthy close-in neighborhood, Portland Heights, has three bus runs in the morning, (it stops at about 8:30 AM) followed by a five-hour service gap, and then it starts up again for 3 or 4 runs in the late afternoon. No weekend or evening service.
TriMet has repeatedly cut service since 2007, despite the fact the line had average rider stats.
If you are unable to drive for whatever reason (disability, age), you are stranded at home and dependent on someone else to drive you where you need to go. This despite being about a mile from downtown Portland.
I can’t walk the mile anymore, and despite loving buses and public transportation, I have to drive everywhere I go in Portland because I can’t access Portland’s network. Put me in NYC or Paris … I’m a public transportation monster!
I felt guilty about having to drive for a while, but my city isn’t giving me an option. So, no more guilty feelings from me. (Luckily I work from home, lol.)
Lisa, is an ebike feasible for you?
No, I can’t mount a bike, which is sad. If I go electric it will be a scooter.
The problem is your wealthy neighborhood (and yes, it’s lovely up there). Since everyone can afford to drive a fancy car, no one has any incentive to take the bus – hence you don’t have bus service (your #65 bus, or whatever the number, is really a school bus).
If you moved down the hill to Hillsdale, you’d have a bus every five minutes – sometimes several. But I’m sure you love living up there with the nice views, so you get what you pay for.
Wealthy people deserve public services as well. But if there are limited funds, then clearly we should start with the areas it will help the most. I just wished we funded public transportation more to not have to reduce service coverage in one area to improve another.
You sure the pot isn’t calling the kettle black, Fred?
That’s pretty harsh.
1) Not everyone in that area “can afford to drive a fancy car” (and remember lots of people traveling to and from there don’t even live there)
2) Not everyone in that area can even drive–for instance, old people, young people, people people in households needing to travel when their car or cars are being used by others
3) Just because someone “can afford to drive a fancy car” doesn’t mean they have no incentive to take a bus–reasons can range from wanting to be responsible, to not wanting to pay for expensive parking
4) “You get what you pay for” makes no sense. People in Portland Heights pay as much as anyone in Portland for access to bus service.
While I was reading the story about how bike lanes HELPED businesses in Queens, I couldn’t help thinking about the Hawthorne project and how PBOT caved to business owners there.
Yeah me too. I’ve been thinking about how messed up it is to hear that “Business owners don’t support the bike lanes” when we often do everything we can to make it hard for bike riders to access the businesses.
That’s not what happened — PBOT caved to those who claimed that bike lanes would be inequitable and would exacerbate climate change.
And we all know that when one mentions “equity” and/or “diversity” in a conversation your views are much more important than anyone else’s.
The shot and chaser contradict each other:
Shot: “No matter what path it chooses, the US will achieve zero emission transportation by 2050, according to the research.”
Chaser: “…California’s …. goal of carbon neutrality by 2045…cannot be achieved by electrification alone”