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Posts from the "Cars" Category

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Toyota Official: Driverless Cars Could Encourage Sprawl

For all the hype surrounding driverless cars, no one knows exactly what their broader implications may be. This week one car designer suggested automated vehicles could deal a setback to trends in the U.S. toward less driving and more sustainable modes.

Will driverless cars promote further urban sprawl? Photo: Wikipedia

Will driverless cars promote more sprawl? Photo: Wikipedia

At the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, Ken Laberteaux, senior principal scientist for Toyota’s North American team studying future transportation, spoke with a Bloomberg reporter about the potential for unwelcome outcomes, including more sprawl.

“U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things,” Laberteaux said. “The pattern we’ve seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying ‘I’m going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.’”

He said tolling could be a potential solution, but then went on to question the political practicality of that approach. “We’ve created an entire culture and economy based on the notion that transportation is cheap,” he said.

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Courtland Milloy’s Bike Hate Gets the Smackdown It Deserves

Bicyclists, pacificists, and reasonable people everywhere are up in arms today about Courtland Milloy’s outrageous column, published last night on Washington Post’s website, in which he suggests drivers should go ahead and intentionally hit cyclists if they feel like it. By somehow casting people on bicycles as “bullies” and “terrorists” — for reasons that never become clear — Milloy sees fit to justify bullying and terrorizing the cyclists themselves.

Apologize, Courtland Milloy. Photo: ##http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/courtland-milloy##Washington Post##

Apologize, Courtland Milloy. Photo: Washington Post

“It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District,” Milloy wrote, “but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

As the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) wrote in its response, “The ‘egregious’ behavior Milloy cites is simply slowing his car’s progress between stoplights.”

Not only does Milloy cackle about an all-too-real epidemic of violence on our cities’ streets, he reveals a shockingly myopic (to use his word) view of the streets as places where only cars belong.

Wash Cycle did the dirty work of correcting each and every one of Milloy’s erroneous statements, like:

They fight to have bike lanes routed throughout the city, some in front of churches where elderly parishioners used to park their cars. 

Just one. And in that case, elderly parishioners still park their cars there.

And:

Now, some of them are pushing to have a “bicycle escalator” installed on 15th Street NW.

Actually no one is doing anything of the sort. One person on GGW wrote a post about how one place has such a thing and asked if it would be useful on 15th, and most of the comments on it were negative about the idea.

And:
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The “Worst Cities for Driving” Include a Lot of America’s Best Cities

Don’t you just hate going to a really lively city with a pulsing street life? Where there’s a lot going on and people can walk from one place to the next? You might if you’re trying to drive there. And once again, NerdWallet has delivered the windshield perspective on America’s cities.

Isn't Seattle such a horrible place? I mean, where would you park here? Photo: ##http://www.city-data.com/forum/city-vs-city/1409519-city-most-downtown-foot-traffic-20.html##City-Data##

Isn’t Seattle such a horrible place? I mean, where would you park here? Photo: City-Data

The pop-finance website’s new ranking of the worst cities to drive in includes, predictably, some of the country’s best cities to walk, bike, take transit, or otherwise be in.

So, your worst cities? The real hellholes for drivers? They are:

  1. New York
  2. Detroit
  3. San Francisco
  4. Chicago
  5. Washington, DC
  6. Seattle
  7. Boston
  8. Miami
  9. Honolulu
  10. Oakland

Population density counted heavily against a city in the ranking, because it makes car ownership expensive and the streets more congested — not to mention more chaotic to drive in because you’re “weaving though trolleys, cab drivers, pedestrians and cyclists,” as NerdWallet puts it.

Also factored in to a city’s rank are the cost of gas and insurance (high insurance costs landed Detroit near the top) and hours of motorist delay, measured exactly the same way the Texas Transportation Institute measures it. Oh, and NerdWallet also holds it against a city if it has seasons, with precipitation.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Let Them Drive Cars

South Korea's Cheonggyecheon stream and park used to be a highway. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/25869929@N03/2468502996##Michael Sotnikov/flickr##

South Korea’s Cheonggyecheon stream and park used to be a highway. Photo: Michael Sotnikov/flickr

Quick quiz: What city is the world leader in highway teardowns? San Francisco? Portland? Madrid?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s Seoul, South Korea, which has removed 15 urban highways — and is about to remove another. In this week’s Talking Headways episode, Jeff and I talk about what can take the place of a freeway in a city and why it’s worth it.

We also debunk the argument, made in Atlantic Cities and the Washington Post last week, that promoting car access will benefit people with low incomes. The whole concept is based on a study that basically said that in the 90s you needed a car to get around the suburbs. Not exactly a persuasive justification for automobile subsidies in today’s cities.

We wander down Saffron Avenue and Nutmeg Lane to investigate whether it’s true that cities are losing their smell — and whether that’s really such a bad thing. Then we accidentally trip into a conversation about pheromones and good-smelling men.

What’s your favorite smell in your city? Let us know in the comments.

We’re working on getting the podcast available on Stitcher, which apparently is a thing that exists, but for now you can subscribe on iTunes or follow the RSS feed.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Knight Rider Rides Again

It was a dark and stormy day in San Francisco and Jeff Wood stayed dry in Woonerf studios, recording the Talking Headways podcast with co-host Tanya Snyder, who was bitter that days after the spring equinox, Washington, DC, was getting hit with another snowstorm.

But more importantly — what does the future hold after a tumultuous news cycle for New York’s Citi Bike? What can Chicago (and, oh, every other American city) do to create more affordable housing in the neighborhoods everyone wants to live in? And is the self-driving car seriously going to become a reality by the end of this decade? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jeff and Tanya take on all that and more. Or really, pretty much just that.

Enjoy our sweet 16th episode of the Talking Headways podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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How the Self-Driving Car Could Spell the End of Parking Craters

Look, ma, no hands! A legally blind man tested out Google's self-driving car in 2012. Photo: ##http://byteandchew.com/best-of-2012-8-rise-of-the-self-driven-car/##Byte and Chew##

A legally blind man tested out Google’s self-driving car in 2012. Photo: Byte and Chew

Here’s the rosy scenario of a future where cars drive themselves: Instead of owning cars, people will summon autonomous vehicles, hop in, and head to their destination. With fewer cars to be stored, parking lots and garages will give way to development, eventually bringing down the cost of housing in tight markets through increased supply. Pressure to expand roads will ease, as vehicle-to-vehicle technology allows more cars to use the same road space. Traffic violence will become a thing of the past as vehicles communicate instantly with each other and the world around them.

Then there’s the other scenario: People who can afford it will pay an exorbitant amount for gee-whiz driverless technology, but the new systems will have imperfections and won’t integrate seamlessly with older vehicles. Most cars will still be piloted by humans, so the new tech won’t have much effect on traffic hazards and congestion. The driverless car utopia will remain a Magic Highway fantasy.

Driverless vehicle technology has progressed far enough that we need to start anticipating its potential effects. Google’s autonomous vehicle fleet has driven half a million miles without a crash. But the future is extremely uncertain.

At a Congressional briefing this week, the RAND Corporation’s James Anderson, author of a recent report on the prospects for autonomous vehicles, said he is convinced that while there are advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars, “the societal benefits exceed the costs.”

The best possible scenario involves a fleet of shared driverless cars and the elimination of private vehicle ownership. Cars would be in constant use, so the amount of land reserved for parking could be greatly reduced. Even if driverless car technology comes on the market soon, however, that version of the future may never arrive.

Here’s how RAND and others are gaming out some of the potential effects:

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The Fuzzy Math in the Road Lobby’s Memo to Congress

ARTBA would prefer that you not look too closely at this graph. Thank you for your cooperation. Image: Doug Short/##http://www.investing.com/analysis/vehicle-miles-driven:-another-population-adjusted-low-206969##Investing##

ARTBA would prefer that you not look too closely at this graph. Thank you for your cooperation. Graph: Doug Short/Investing

Don’t know what to make of the news that U.S. driving rates have dropped for the ninth year in a row? Looking for guidance about whether your state or city should be wantonly expanding roads or investing in transit, biking, and walking? The road lobby thinks you should turn to them for independent, unbiased analysis of these trends. Never fear, the road lobby says: Americans are driving more than ever. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. More lanes for everybody!

That’s the word from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, which issued a memo Friday [PDF] to Congressional aides clarifying some “false claims” about transportation trends.

In virtually every recent congressional hearing and many media reports about federal transportation policy, the false claim that “Americans are driving less” emerges in some capacity. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data show U.S. vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 0.3 percent in 2012 and 0.6 percent in 2013. The upward trend is anticipated to continue well into the future as the nation’s economy and population continues to grow. This factual disconnect confuses discussions about the relative viability of various means to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund and support future federal highway and public transportation investments. The reality is that American driving trends are driven largely by macro-economic forces, not agenda-seizing assertions about shifts in societal behavior.

Take that, agenda seizers! See, VMT is increasing — albeit slower than the population, and slower than transit ridership. Drivers have already made up a third of the miles “lost” since the recession (and surely they’ll make up the rest any day now). The last 70 months of stagnant driving is nothing but a blip. Right?

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Making Transit Better Isn’t Enough. Driving Needs to Be Worse.

So transit ridership is up. Everybody knows that. It’s at its highest point since 1956. Right?

That's more like it. Photo: ##http://www.showingsuite.com/high-gas-prices-still-sell-more-homes##Showing Suite##

That’s more like it. Photo: Showing Suite

Well, ridership per capita is still less than half its 1956 point. And by 1956, transit ridership was already at a 40-year low. But with transit growing faster than car travel, at a rate that outpaces population growth, there is still cause for optimism.

But even that cautious optimism took a bit of a beating in the Washington Post’s opinion section this morning, as three prominent urban planning professors declared the transit bump fictitious. “In fact, use of mass transportation has remained remarkably steady, and low, since about 1970,” they go on. “There is nothing exceptional about last year’s numbers; they represent a depressing norm.” They even hint that federal funding for transit is too high.

Way too far down in the column, the professors – David King of Columbia University, Michael Manville of Cornell University, and Michael Smart of Rutgers — shift focus from the problem with transit to the problem with driving.

The nut of their argument is as follows: “Resting our hopes on a transit comeback distracts from our real transportation problem, which can be summarized in four words: Driving is too cheap.”

Emily Badger made this point in Atlantic Cities two weeks ago (and Jeff Wood and I made it on the Talking Headways podcast last week). It’s not enough to spruce up sustainable modes if we as a nation are still giving enormous amounts of subsidies and space to the private automobile.

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Talking Headways Podcast: From the Free Market to the Flea Market

You think the conflict between Uber and regular taxi drivers — and cities like Seattle — is bad? Check out how new taxi apps in China are upending the transportation system and central economic planning. Meanwhile, in Houston, a flea market has brought revitalization without gentrification to a depressed area near the airport, and now an urban design firm is bringing in pop-up infrastructure like mobile libraries and grocery stores, along with sidewalks and bikeways. And Californians are proving that the culture shift away from the automobile and toward other modes of transportation is happening — maybe even faster than we’d thought.

And for a real downer, check out U.S. DOT’s big idea about how to hold states accountable for better safety outcomes — by not holding them accountable at all.

Enjoy this week’s podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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Does It Take a Crime This Egregious to Hold Drivers Accountable?

A driver trying to avoid a police check for drunk driving killed at least two people last night in Austin's SXSW festival. Photo: ##http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/13/us/texas-sxsw-crash/##CNN##

A driver trying to avoid a police check for drunk driving killed at least two people last night in Austin’s SXSW festival. Photo: CNN

A lively night out at one of the year’s most popular festivals turned to carnage last night as a driver rammed through barricades into a pedestrian-only zone at the South By Southwest music-and-film festival in Austin.

In an attempt to avoid a drunk-driving check by a police officer, the driver — allegedly driving a stolen car — killed two people and injured 23 others. Two are in critical condition and three are in serious condition. The driver — identified by the Austin American-Statesman as 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens of Killeen, Texas — tried to get away on foot after the car crashed.

It’s a grim reminder of how dangerous automobiles can be. People tend not to think of their cars  — mundane tools of everyday life — as deadly weapons when they’re driving. But motorists kill 92 people a day in the United States. Fifteen of them are struck while walking or riding a bicycle.

Owens faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle for the mayhem he caused last night. Unfortunately, it takes an event this over-the-top to get law enforcement to prosecute drivers who kill. Last fall, a cabbie who drove up onto a sidewalk in Midtown Manhattan, severing a tourist’s leg, got off without even a citation. The driver — a repeat offender — only lost his taxi license for six weeks and now he’s free to drive the streets again.

Of the two people killed last night in Austin, one was a Dutch man riding a bicycle. In his home country, drivers are far more likely to face consequences for injuries and deaths they cause with their cars.

The Netherlands applies a concept called “strict liability” to motorists who hurt pedestrians or cyclists. In their civil courts, the operator of the larger vehicle is presumed to be liable.

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