Friday, February 17, 2012

Driverless Cars, or Why I'm Moving to Nevada

Maybe I've mentioned my ongoing bet with husband: he's convinced we won't see mainstream adoption of driverless cars in our lifetime, and I'm certain we will. This week I'm just a little closer to winning that bet, as Nevada finalizes rules allowing driving permits for robotic cars.

In a state known for gambling, this isn't as big of a risk as you might think. As one of folks involved in Google's driverless car experiment pointed out recently, “Our computers drive our cars better than you do when you’re drunk. That’s our starting point.”

They also don't text, or fall asleep at the wheel, or participate in many of the other behaviors that are so dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers. But these vehicles don't just drive better than a human on their best day--they driver better than a human. That's because they can "see" things that a person simply can't:

"We were driving behind an 18-wheeler and we saw the vehicles in front of the 18-wheeler — vehicles we could not see with our eye — because the signal bounced off the pavement ... at a glancing angle underneath the 18-wheeler. And so no human will ever have the amount of information that these cars have when they are driving."

Of course, we're still years away (note to husband: experts are talking about mainstream adoption in terms of "years," not "decades") from being able to purchase our own driving robot. In the meantime, there are other technologies out there that promise increased roadway safety while we wait. For example, Volvo is working on vehicles that can connect to "platoons" on highways led by professional drivers. While the "engine" of these road-trains would be driven by a human, once wirelessly connected to the train, the rest of the drivers would just site back and enjoy the ride. Volvo suggests that their trains may be on the road in Europe as soon as 2020.

Excuse me, while I go collect my $50.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

This Week on Foot

This week the top news continues to be that the proposed federal Transportation bill jeopardizes fate of bike, pedestrian programs. It's frustrating that our national government doesn't appear to understand the importance of pedestrian and bike funding, given that the public does: Survey says ... most Americans like smart growth! And also, Most Americans Want a Walkable Neighborhood, Not a Big House. But unless things change quickly on Capitol Hill, Pedestrians must step cautiously in Nebraska...and everywhere else in the country.

Like in Colorado, where they're not Treading safely: Pedestrian crashes more than double between 2007-2010, Kansas where Pedestrian, motorists struggle for right-of-way on local streets, or Chicago where Pedestrian dangers on trial 6 years after child's hit-and-run death.

And as if crashes aren't enough of a problem, U.S. Cities Are Losing 4 Million Trees a Year as our cities are developed with more and more impervious surfaces. Of course, sometimes trees are the problem, as in LA where this week we're shown Proof that ficus trees are bad for the sidewalks.

But it's snow on the sidewalks that's causing problems in Denver, where Homeowners And City Face Off Over Snowy Sidewalk. Meanwhile in Lawrence city sidewalk ordinance ruled unconstitutional, and across the world Jakarta’s sidewalks offer more than just pedestrians. You can see why sidewalks might become an area of interested for UCLA professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris: In Athens, Greece, the Traffic is Worse!, but the sidewalks get a lot more use than they do in LA.

Elsewhere in the country, Quincy starts new pedestrian safety program, a Woman who killed pedestrian sentenced to four years in prison, and Floridians are wondering Is an elevated roadway on Pensacola Beach worth $25M?

Finally, a few words on Active-adult living: Walkability in Manassas’ Gatherings is a key focus, but For Healthy Cities, Government and Business Need to Reverse Roles according to one blogger. What do you think? 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Feeling the HEAT

For those of you who looking for a way to quantify the health benefits of walking or cycling (probably many of you, given the growing push for "measurable" results from new programs or projects), the WHO's online tool HEAT (the Health Economic Assessment Tool) can help you "conduct an economic assessment of the health benefits of walking or cycling by estimating the value of reduced mortality that results from specified amounts of walking or cycling."

HEAT is available here. To use it you'll need to provide:
  • An estimate of how many people are walking or cycling. 
  • An estimate of the average duration spent walking or cycling in the study population
  • Mortality rate
  • Value of a statistical life
  • Time period over which you wish average benefits to be calculated
  • A discount rate, if desired
While HEAT was primarily developed for European use, you can take a look at how some researchers in the US modified it for their use in this study.

Friday, February 3, 2012

This Week on Foot

This week has been all about sidewalks--funding them, that is. Or more exactly, NOT funding them. At the federal level, the Funding mandate for bike, pedestrian projects defeated in the House, and in LA everyone is buzzing about a Sidewalk study: How will L.A. pay for estimated $1.5B in improvements.

No matter how they do it, we Need to enhance facilities for pedestrians, say experts.Some cities are doing that, like Columbus, Dublin Working To Make Crosswalks Safer, and London where they're showing the rest of the world how to Walk this way. It's nice to see that folks in some places understand The importance of hitting the pavement.

Unfortunately, in Arizona it's the pedestrians getting hit--but at least they're getting restitution as
Prescott pays $45K to pedestrian hit by police car. It's not as easy in the Chicago area, where a  Joliet man fighting for rights of pedestrians amid local obstacles.

But they're removing obstacles to walkability in Silver Lake, where Pedestrians and bikes to rule the road on this Silver Lake street, and in Charlotte they're hoping to make things easier on pedestrians as the City brings bicycle/pedestrian coordinator onboard.

It's likely the new coordinator will want to work on street design like there are in Oklahoma, where 'Complete Streets' aims at creating a pedestrian-friendly Tulsa. They're thinking about the same thing in Washington, but wonder Will Spokane’s Streets Become More Vibrant? They could if the city follows Toronto's lead, where Kensington Market’s Pedestrian Sundays to be More Frequent.

Finally this week, check out this set of pedestrian eye candy in A gallery of walkability.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ped/Bike funding, Safe Routes to School in Jeopardy

It wasn't unexpected, but it's still discouraging to see the House version of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act squelch so many ped and bike programs. Of particular concern is the total elimination of the important Safe Routes to School program. Apparently the federal government's concern for k-12 education only extends to the perimeters of the school property; if kids never make it to school because they get hit by a bus on the way there, well that's a problem for someone else to solve.

Our friends at the Safe Routes to School Partnership have made it easy for you to contact your representative and complain. Please take a few minutes to urge Congress to restore pedestrian and bicycle funding to the bill. Thanks!