October 31, 2017

Designing Cities for Automation

It’s the hot topic at the National Association of City Transportation Officials conference in Chicago at the moment, which has produced a special guide 
Wired has a feature:

Urban planners talk about two visions of the future city: heaven and hell. Hell, in case it’s not clear, is bad—cities built for technologies, big companies, and vehicles instead of the humans who actually live in them. And hell, in some ways, is here. Today’s US cities are dominated by highways there were built by razing residential neighborhoods. Few sidewalks and fewer bike lanes. It’s all managed by public policies that incentivize commuting in your car. Alone. Trapped in traffic.
This special hell we’ve created for ourselves has tech companies and visionaries proposing heavenly ideals for our earthly woes. Uber and Alphabet want to unleash fleets of unmanned flying cars and drones upon the world. Elon Musk wants to tunnel beneath cities and build fast-moving hyperloops. And then there’s the dizzying spiderweb of companies racing to build autonomous vehicles to unshackle our ankles from the gas pedal.

But if humans no longer have to spend time piloting vehicles through traffic, what happens to cities? And what if autonomous vehicles actually make things worse? Yes, traveling will be easier, but that means everyone—even those without drivers licenses—will be able to do it. Maybe Americans will live farther apart, extending their commutes—no harm done when you can catch up with your shows instead of drive, right? The result could be a lot more trips and a lot more traffic. It would seem the old adage is true: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Which means cities need to start thinking now about how to incorporate AVs into future planning. To that end, on Monday, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an international, 60-city organization of very serious transportation planners and engineers, published its own vision of the Promised Land, a 50-page blueprint outlining how to account for our autonomous future and build in flexible options that could result in less traffic for everyone, not just those riding on four wheels.
“We don’t just need new software running on our streets—we need to update the hardware of the streets themselves,” says Janette Sadik-Khan, a former transportation head in New York City during the Bloomberg administration who now serves on the board for NACTO. “That’s why we need a new roadmap that puts humans first.”
Full article here.
Urbanists must be engaging and debating issues related to automated vehicles and the impact they will have on cities now.  No one knows for sure what the impacts will be or how to best respond, but if voices for priorizing a humane city are not heard, the decisions will be made by and for those who will profit most from maximizing technology over community.    Read more »

Excerpts from CNU Public Square

Ten rules for cities about automated vehicles The adoption of AVs should not be allowed to replace time-tested places with something that would probably make our lives worse.  . . 1) Be afraid
New technologies that increase convenience are unstoppable, whatever their impact on our long-term quality of life.
It happened with cars. Enthusiastic adoption followed by some dubious outcomes.
2) Be realistic (or, What to expect, when you are expecting AVs)
… major change is unlikely to happen for several decades … because most of the benefits of AVs really only kick in when we have full autonomy—a swarming fleet of shared vehicles that operates as a public good.
Heaven is fleets of shared electric driverless cars powered by renewable energy, and a more socialist—my word—wealth distribution system to help all of the drivers put out of work by driverless cars. Hell, on the other hand, is privately owned AVs, that, since they have nowhere to park, spend much of the day circling, doubling the traffic load.

3) Decide how much traffic you want
This is probably the key rule …
If (AVs) cut the cost of driving by 80 percent as anticipated, that’s supposed to add 60 percent of the traffic to city streets that are already at capacity. … But it’s actually worse …
If you ignore induced demand, 60 percent more trips are not a problem, as long as we have swarming. Elon Musk tells us that a driving lane full of swarming AVs can handle 3 times as many cars as it does today. So, problem solved, until you realize that, these days, traffic congestion is the principal constraint to driving. Source: Walter Kulash

This becomes especially alarming when we realize that AVs will make driving cheaper in two ways: money and time. You will pay less per mile, and won’t mind sitting in gridlock as you work or watch cat videos.
The only answer, I believe, is to regulate it, not with laws, but with lanes. Without a commitment to limiting capacity, all our parking lanes, soon empty, will not become bike lanes and greenways as promised, but more driving lanes. And sidewalks will feel miserable.
The right solution, is to make the streets what you want them to be.
4) Plan for more sprawl pressure
Here was a Lyft ad, ostensibly for last-mile service complementing our rail network, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t an exact map of suburban sprawl.

Only with the car did the entire landscape take on wasteful, unwalkable, disconnected forms that now, more than anything else, characterize American life.
But there is recent good news, which is that cities and towns have begun to figure out that sprawl does not pay for itself.
5) Understand transit geometry

There is no getting around the fact that low-occupancy vehicles are a tremendous waste of street space.  … Autonomous cars are a great supplement to transit, but, in congested places, they are not a solution to transit.
6) Don’t rob transit
This may be the greatest risk. In congested cities, replacing trains and buses with autonomous cars will cripple mobility. …
Unfortunately, just the prospect of future AVs is already threatening transit investment in certain American cities.
Meanwhile, Uber has set its sights on transit, and is offering UberPool monthly memberships at lower cost than a transit pass, some say to put the conventional transit out of business.
City leaders have the responsibility to teach their citizens about geometry—to teach them what even Elon Musk doesn’t seem to know—that a shift from transit to AV cars would reduce mobility.
7) Own the streets and own the data
It sounds implausible, but there is a very real worry that AV providers will ask to buy certain city streets, or certain segments of city streets, and cities will take the money.
Adam Gopnik: “Cities are their streets. Streets are not a city’s veins, but its neurology, its accumulated intelligence.” Never sell that.
Like Uber, AVs will represent a viable business model only by running on public streets.

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From Car and Driver:

If the driverless economy is imminent, and the endgame is fleets of fully utilized robot vehicles that create radical reductions in personal vehicle ownership, why would a car company be complicit in undermining its own market? The answer is that it wouldn’t.
No car company actually expects the futuristic, crash-free utopia of streets packed with Level 5 driverless vehicles to trans­pire anytime soon, nor for decades. But they do want to be taken seriously by Wall Street as well as stir up the imaginations of a public increasingly disinterested in driving. And in the meantime, they hope to sell lots of vehicles with the latest sophisticated driver-assistance technology.

So it’s really about the “latest sophisticated driver-assistance technology” – particularly for collision avoidance.  If built-in technology can prevent everything from fender benders to fatalities, that’s most of the problem solved, at least as far as insurers are concerned.

And it may be the cost of insurance that drives the real change.  If, say, you have a car that prevents almost all accidents with respect to your personal liability, presumably you’ll see massive savings on insurance.  Which means, in turn, that those without the technology will see massive increases.  And may not even be able to afford it.
But there will also be a responsibility for those with driver-assistance technology to continually upgrade and maintain it to fail-safe standards.  Or again, the liability will be crushing if it can be shown that the owner was negligent in doing so.
So here’s the question: why take personal responsibility?  Why, rather than owning a car, instead rent, lease, share or contract with the provider of vehicles – effectively service providers rather than car sellers.  The service provider takes on the responsibility for the technology, and the liability, while also providing the latest versions in a very fast-changing market.
Rather like car-sharing already, you won’t actually have to own a car to get the benefits of a car.  And that will have two further radical consequences.
It will break the psychological bond an individual has with the personal vehicle they purchased – a bond cultivated with a century of advertising and cultural expectation.  By contrast, no one really falls in love with the particular smart phone they have at the moment, knowing the technology and model will change so fast.  It’s the service, not the hardware, that creates the dependence.
Then, once the personal bond with the vehicle is broken, it changes how government can approach taxation.  At the moment, it’s almost a third rail in politics to directly tax a driver by, say, increasing the price of gas or imposing a toll – anything that’s visible to and resented by the driver.  But what if government instead was taxing the service provider?
How much, for instance, is the tax on any individual cell-phone call?  You don’t know and you don’t care.  The tax is invisible, incorporated into your service contract, which is paid for once a month in a way you hardly notice.  What if the same was true for transportation services?  Rather than the car driver paying the tax, it was paid by the transportation service provider, who was also responsible for collecting it.
The Mobility Pricing Commission, currently looking at options for road pricing in Metro, should be thinking about a future scenario where taxation is separate from infrastructure and instead is incorporated into the price of a service which almost everyone will need.  Rather like your phone.



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From the Washington Post:

“Where you have cars driving with no steering wheel, no pedals, I think first what you’re going to see is designated areas of cities that are going to be cordoned off,” said Jack Weast, Intel’s chief architect for self-driving solutions
“Think about 40 city blocks — let’s say the entire downtown [of Washington], D.C. — off-limits to human-driven cars, only automated robo-taxis cruising around.”

Potentially a huge step for auto dominance: the designated use of streets only for automated vehicles.  Everything ‘irrational’ will be prohibited or tightly controlled: non-automated vehicles, bicycles, even pedestrians.

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Had a discussion with an economist the other day, who held to the conventional wisdom, justified by history, that the ‘creative destruction’ of whole sectors of jobs due to industrialization and technology (agriculture is a favourite example) will result in the creation of many more jobs in new sectors never previously imagined or possible.  It just takes a little time, and pain, to adjust.

There is much anticipation that the next wave of automation will encroach on white-collar sectors previously thought to be unaffected, but now a target thanks to artificial intelligence. (Will that include economists?)  And whether new service sectors will emerge to provide new jobs that are sufficiently well paying to maintain a healthy economy and a stable society.  

Or rather, will automation accelerate the concentration of wealth even as it increases productivity but lowers wages?  Does it matter that people would have less income if goods and services provided by automation were commensurately cheaper?  Do we finally achieve a leisurely nirvana or will the loss of purpose and social status provided by work create a dysfunctional, unstable polity?

Will leader (or rulers) then create employment (and purpose) by recruiting vast numbers of otherwise lower-skilled men (in particular) into military and security forces whose primary job is to ensure control over otherwise disruptive and displaced workers?

Or is the economist right?  Similar worries of the past proved unfounded as the limitless demands of human beings and technology created new opportunities.  On the other hand, Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane has argued that the Luddites (the English textile workers who smashed industrial machinery early in the 19th century) “had a point after all.”  The transition can be ugly. (More here.) 

Anyway … here’s another piece in the New York Times that looks at recent data to explore whether this next phase of automation in manufacturing is qualitatively different, the consequences of which may mean more disruption in our disruptive times.

Who is winning the race for jobs between robots and humans? Last year, two leading economists described a future in which humans come out ahead. But now they’ve declared a different winner: the robots.

The industry most affected by automation is manufacturing. For every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent, according to a new paper by the economists, Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University. It appears to be the first study to quantify large, direct, negative effects of robots.

The paper is all the more significant because the researchers, whose work is highly regarded in their field, had been more sanguine about the effect of technology on jobs. In a paper last year, they said it was likely that increased automation would create new, better jobs, so employment and wages would eventually return to their previous levels. Just as cranes replaced dockworkers but created related jobs for engineers and financiers, the theory goes, new technology has created new jobs for software developers and data analysts.

But that paper was a conceptual exercise. The new one uses real-world data — and suggests a more pessimistic future. The researchers said they were surprised to see very little employment increase in other occupations to offset the job losses in manufacturing. That increase could still happen, they said, but for now there are large numbers of people out of work, with no clear path forward — especially blue-collar men without college degreed.

The conclusion is that even if overall employment and wages recover, there will be losers in the process, and it’s going to take a very long time for these communities to recover,” Mr. Acemoglu said. …

The paper also helps explain a mystery that has been puzzling economists: why, if machines are replacing human workers, productivity hasn’t been increasing. In manufacturing, productivity has been increasing more than elsewhere — and now we see evidence of it in the employment data, too.

The study analyzed the effect of industrial robots in local labor markets in the United States. Robots are to blame for up to 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007,

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From the New York Times:

… there is one problem autonomous driving is unlikely to solve: the columns of rush-hour gridlock that clog city streets and freeways. If decades of urban planning and economic research are any guide, the solution is unlikely to come from technology but from something similar to Uber’s surge pricing: charging people more to use driverless cars at rush hour.

Not that technology companies aren’t trying to find other solutions to congestion. Traffic is one of the few problems that fabulously wealthy people can’t buy their way out of. …

These various technologies share a common theme. One way or another, they promise to expand the nation’s roads ….

Decades’ worth of studies show that whenever cities add roads, new drivers simply fill them up. This isn’t because of new development or population growth — although that’s part of the story — but because of a vicious cycle in which new roads bring new demand that no amount of further roads can satisfy.

This has been studied at rush hour, studied on individual freeway projects and studied with large data sets that encompass nearly every road in the United States. With remarkable consistency, the research finds the same thing: Whenever a road is built or an older road is widened, more people decide to drive more. Build more or widen further, and even more people decide to drive. Repeat to infinity.

Economists call this latent demand, which is a fancy way of saying there are always more people who want to drive somewhere than there is space for them to do it. So far anyway, nothing cities have done to increase capacity has ever sped things up.

The extent of this failure was chronicled in a 2011 paper called “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion,” by the economists Gilles Duranton, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Matthew Turner, from Brown University. …

That’s where charging people during busy times comes in. “Maybe autonomous cars will be different from other capacity expansions,” Mr. Turner said. “But of the things we have observed so far, the only thing that really drives down travel times is pricing.” …

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Picked up from Modacity: Vancouver Prepares For a Driverless Future That Includes Extra Space for Walking, Cycling, and Transit
Taking its reputation as a North American leader seriously, the City of Vancouver’s Transportation Division has now started to consider the various ways that driverless cars will impact their important work. “In April 2016, Council asked us – as staff – to report back on the current affairs around automated, connected vehicles, and to suggest ways we can be more proactive as the technology evolves,” recalls Dale Bracewell, the City’s Manager of Transportation Planning.
Bracewell and his team spent the next few months researching the challenges and opportunities presented by autonomous vehicles, including the commission of a comprehensive, 93-page report authored by UBC SCARP (School of Community and Regional Planning) grad student Cail Smith, and funded by the Greenest City Scholars program.
The resulting 27-slide summary – created by Senior Transportation Planner Paul Krueger – entitled “Automated and Connected Vehicles: Implications and Next Steps”, was presented to Council during their final session of 2016.

For Bracewell, this document marks the beginning of the process, rather than the end: “This is the first of what will likely be a few times we need to report back to Council,” he clarifies. “We need to ensure we are proactive in meeting our Transportation 2040 goals, and whether there are policies in the City’s toolkit to help minimize the risks and pressures automated vehicles might put on those goals.”

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From IEEE Spectrum (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers):

“Bicycles are probably the most difficult detection problem that autonomous vehicles face …
That’s why the detection rate for cars has outstripped that for bicycles in recent years. Most of the improvement has come from techniques whereby systems train themselves by studying thousands of images in which known objects are labeled. One reason for this is that most of the training has concentrated on images featuring cars, with far fewer bikes. …
Automated cyclist detection is seeing its first commercial applications in automated emergency braking systems (AEB) for conventional vehicles, which are expanding to respond to pedestrians and cyclists in addition to cars. …
AEB systems still suffer from a severe limitation that points to the next grand challenge that AV developers are struggling with: predicting where moving objects will go.
… cyclists movements are especially hard to predict.
That means it may be a while before cyclists escape the threat of human error, which contributes to 94 percent of traffic fatalities, according to U.S. regulators. “Everybody who bikes is excited about the promise of eliminating that,” says Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. But he says it is right to wait for automation technology to mature.


Another issue, too, that we need to start thinking about: Will pedestrians and cyclists be constrained from using streets without strict controls over where they can go? 

If it’s possible for a casual pedestrian or cyclist to go wherever they want, confidently knowing that vehicles will be programmed to stop or avoid them, will people start to “torment cars”?  And will there then be legal constraints to stop them by limiting the way the streets can be used – and who has priority?

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By Gord Price
The Sun has been running a series on the state of Motordom.  Today: driverless cars, or AVs – automated vehicles.
A quote from Clark Lim, adjunct prof at UBC:

Lim foresees a future with lightweight electric engines and smaller, perhaps thinner models that save space; gaps on the roads between vehicles will be a thing of the past because computers see the world at 1,000 times a second — instant reaction times, in effect — and are able to tailgate without colliding, he says. “An autonomous car can drive very closely behind because there are instantaneous reactions,” he says.

Which means that they have to be failsafe, since even a single accident could have catastrophic consequences.  And not just in lives and injuries.  The liability consequences to the owner or those determined to be negligent would be financially catastrophic too.
So (1) how likely is it that all AVs will work perfectly all the time?  And (2) in order to assure that AVs are as close to perfection as possible in design, construction and maintenance, how expensive will they have to be?
If only a minority of people and businesses can afford them (and especially to maintain them at liability-proof standards), how likely is it that they AVs will replace the far-less-than-perfect but affordable non-automated car in sufficient numbers for the above scenario to work?
And what happens to liability insurance for them?
Just asking.

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From Business in Vancouver:

A survey of more than 1,000 Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) customers found that half of them are unlikely to buy a self-driving car if autonomous vehicles go on sale in B.C., while 30% are not interested at all in a fully automated vehicle. …
The ICBC survey found 87% of respondents had heard a lot or some about the technology and a slim majority (53%) believe that self-driving cars would make B.C. roads safer.
“Few consumers trust self-driving cars completely when it comes to getting them safely to their destination,” said the report, indicating 12% of respondents said they trust the technology completely, while 16% do not trust it at all.
Half the respondents said drawbacks included safety consequences of equipment or system failure and 45% were concerned about legal liability if a self-driving car crashed.
Hacking (29%) and tracking of locations and destinations (14%) were other concerns.
The report does not indicate whether any of the respondents had ridden in a self-driving car, but it did include a section on “emotion felt when riding in a self-driving vehicle.” Anxious (28%) and powerless (15%) were the most popular emotions.
Full story here.
Gord Price: In addition to the emotional concerns, the respondents are rightfully concerned about system failure and liability – and those, more than consumer response, are the reasons why these advanced technologies will change our fundamental relationship with the car.
Why bother actually owning a car if you have to be responsible for maintaining it, particularly when any failure might result in your death or a staggering liability in the event you injure or kill someone else?  Why not, instead, leave the maintenance and liability up to a fleet manager like a car-sharing firm from which you purchase a mobility package?
The technology will initially be expensive – and quickly obsolete.  Another reason not to commit to personal ownership.
But what happens when people no longer have that same emotional connection to the car as we do now, where the vehicle is a reflection of our status and personality?  As with a cell-phone communications package, we will love the service a transportation package provides, but with no particular attachment to the always-changing hardware itself.
And once that emotional bond is broken, it also means government has a different relationship with the vehicle too – or more particularly to the citizen-driver.  When it comes to taxation and regulation, government will be dealing with service providers, not drivers.  The end-user may not even be aware of what the taxation component is, just as today with the cell phone.
That changing relationship may be a more significant change than the technology which makes it possible.

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