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On bicycles vs. self driving cars
You’ve probably seen this graphic, the top part of which is attributed to the Cycling Promotion Fund. The last image is reproduced in the lower part of the image but labeled to emphasize what space is required to transport 48 people on electric cars and autonomous or self-driving cars.
It is quite obvious that even if the current fleets of cars are replaced by electric and self-driving models, they will practically be the same problem in terms of road space occupied and the resulting congestion. So perhaps e-cars or autonomous cars are not really the solution we are looking for.
There is this nice article where the author articulates the how bikes (and active transport in general) should be the a more essential part of future transport and society than the automobile:
Collignon, N. (September 9, 2022) “Bikes, not self driving cars, are the technological gateway to urban progress,” Next City, https://nextcity.org/urbanist-news/bikes-not-self-driving-cars-are-the-technological-gateway-to-progress [Last accessed: 9/16/2022]
There are two quotable quotes from the article that I want to highlight here:
“Today the potential benefits from cycling on health, congestion, pollution and CO2 emissions are crystal clear and increasingly quantifiable, but the benefits of self-driving vehicles remain hazy. When ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft promised lower congestion and reduced car ownership, they instead increased congestion and led to a decline in transit ridership.”
“The concept of “jaywalking,” for example, is integral to the “car technology” of today. The crime of crossing a street without respecting the dominance of cars was invented by the car industry in the 1920s, who pushed hard to define streets as a place for cars, not people. Our car technology today is also defined by the restriction of movement it imposes on people.
When we begin to see technology through the lens of systems, it becomes clear that genuine technology-led progress will focus on dealing with the accelerating complexity of today’s world, not increasing the complexity of our tools.”
On electric vehicles and informal transport
I’ve been involved in studies on electric vehicles and their applications in the past. I continue to take part in studies about informal transport including continuing research on motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal” as they are called in the Philippines. The combination of the two is an interesting research area and there are many topics that can be developed as we determine the most appropriate applications for electric vehicles. Here is an interesting article on electrifying informal transport that sets the context for research:
Ribet, L. (August 30, 2022) “The role of data in electrifying informal transport,” Slocat partnership, https://slocat.net/the-role-of-data-in-electrifying-informal-transport/ [Last accessed: 9/9/2022]
To quote from the article:
“However, electric two-and-three wheeler startups, informal transport retrofitting pilots and e-bus initiatives cannot be the only answer to the mobility challenges facing developing cities. Phasing out oil-reliant public transportation is needed and investing in electric mobility solutions may well improve the overall picture quite substantially, but there is a far larger challenge that is omitted from these ambitions: addressing the complex operations of informal transport systems that characterise lower-income countries’ urban mobility. Electrifying minibus taxis is not synonymous with more reliable, affordable and convenient public transport, and we need to prioritise the understanding and improvement of overall informal transport systems data first.”
On using advanced tools for infrastructure assessments
I came upon this article on how transportation departments in the US are using tools such as drones to assess critical infrastructure including roads and bridges. This is very relevant to us especially as many similar infra are aging and would need to be assessed to determine how to reinforce, retrofit or even rehabilitate certain infrastructure vs. naturally occurring phenomena like earthquakes and typhoons.
Reed, J. (August 2, 2022) “How Transportation Departments Are Using Advanced Drone Technology for Infrastructure Assessments,” Aviation Today, https://www.aviationtoday.com/2022/08/02/transportation-departments-using-advanced-drone-technology-infrastructure-inspections/ [Last accessed: 8/4/2022]
To quote from the article:
“The WVDOT may expand its drone programs to perform road safety assessments and to assist in designing new road routes by providing topographical maps.”
I recall that there have been road-based surveys involving Lidar to map the road and adjacent land surfaces about a decade ago (maybe less). This was a nationwide project funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and implemented by the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Department of Geodetic Engineering. I’m not sure where that data is stored or hosted but the DGE should have a back-up somewhere that can be used or further processed for road safety assessment applications. This could be an interesting and fruitful research area that can involve people from various disciplines.
On ‘electric cars’ still being ‘cars’
With the current climate talks in the background, there is also a parallel discussion on the impacts of electric vehicles and self-driving cars. Will they help solve our transport or traffic problems? Perhaps e-cars will contribute to the reduction of emissions and greenhouse gases. Perhaps they can also help in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. But can they alleviate congestion? Or will they just promote more car-dependence? Here’s a nice article from early this year that discusses the “big problem” with electric cars:
I also read another article about the issues concerning the batteries (e.g., lithium batteries) used by these e-vehicles. We are only beginning to see how difficult it is to deal with the waste of used batteries not just from e-vehicles but from other sources as well. Renewables like solar, for example, requires batteries for storage. These are issues that need to be addressed ASAP. Otherwise, it will be a losing proposition for people in general as they end up with modes of transport that are not sustainable for the future. Perhaps we can just walk or bike?
We need to do more to reduce transport emissions
I did some work on long term action plans on low carbon transport for the ASEAN region before. We were able identify many of interventions that were being implemented as well as those that can be done to reduce transport emissions. Such reductions for the region would ultimately contribute to alleviating global warming. Unfortunately, while ASEAN is a significant contributor to emissions, it pales in comparison to emissions by individual countries like China and the US. If these two and others in the industrialized world do not commit to reducing their emissions, all work will come to naught. Here is an article that serves as a pre-event write-up for COP26, a major climate summit that will be held in Glasgow in the coming days.
Another look at the ‘avoid, shift and improve’ framework
The transport and traffic situation during this pandemic has revealed a lot about what can be done and what needs to be done about transportation. Discussions about what and how people visualize their ideal or acceptable transportation system reminded me of the backcasting concepts and the tools. The following diagram is sourced from the SLoCaT homepage: https://tcc-gsr.com/global-overview/global-transport-and-climate-change/
Note the overlaps among the three? Do you think its possible to have a measure that’s avoid, shift and improve at the same time?
Note, too, that if we contextualize this according to the Covid-19 pandemic, these measures even make more sense rather than appear like typical, ordinary measures we have about transportation. The pandemic revealed many weaknesses or vulnerabilities of our transportation system. We are presented with the opportunity to address these and implement certain measures that would have met with a lot of opposition before but can probably be rolled out now such as public transport priority schemes and protected bike lanes. “Work from home” is not really new since the concept has been proposed and implemented before but not as widely as was required by the pandemic situation. So perhaps we should take advantage of this forced reboot of sorts for our transportation system to be able to implement this A-S-I framework.
Article on the new mobilities
Here’s a quick share of an article on what is described as the new mobilities:
Litman, T. [June 30, 2021] “Planning for New Mobilities: Preparing for Innovative Transportation Technologies and Services,” Planetizen.com, https://bit.ly/2U99Hlw [Last accessed: 7/3/2021]
What exactly are these new mobilities? To quote from the article:
- Active Travel and Micromobilities. Walking, bicycling, and variations, including small, lower-speed motorized vehicles such as electric scooters, bikes, and cargo bikes.
- Vehicle Sharing. Convenient and affordable bicycle, scooter, and automobile rental services.
- Ridehailing and Microtransit. Mobility services that transport individuals and small groups.
- Electric Vehicles. Battery-powered scooters, bikes, cars, trucks, and buses.
- Autonomous Vehicles. Vehicles that can operate without a human driver.
- Public Transport Innovations. Innovations that improve transit travel convenience, comfort, safety, and speed.
- Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Navigation and transport payment apps that integrate multiple modes.
- Telework. Telecommunications that substitutes for physical travel.
- Tunnel Roads and Pneumatic Tube Transport. New high-speed transport networks.
- Aviation Innovation. Air taxis, drones, and supersonic jets.
- Mobility Prioritization. Pricing systems and incentives that favor higher-value trips and more efficient modes.
- Logistics Management. Integrated freight delivery services.”
On ‘high-tech’ bike tires
Here’s another recent article about tires developed by NASA for their rovers. Obviously, the objective was to eliminate flat tires when you send them out to explore other planets or moons. The applications here, however, will have a big impact on vehicles including bicycles that have increased popularity in the last year partly due to the pandemic. These might definitely become game-changers particularly for those who bike commute.
Golson, J. (March 23, 2021) “These NASA-developed bike tires could be the last you ever buy,” Inverse, https://www.inverse.com/innovation/these-nasa-developed-bike-tires-could-be-the-last-you-ever-buy [Last accessed: 3/25/2021]
I had posted about the tires on my father-in-law’s newly acquired pedal assist electric bike. Here is what it looks like. Of course, rubber is still the basic material here so perhaps this will be replaced by more durable (indestructible?) material stated in the article above.
On hover chairs
Here’s a quick share of an article presenting Segway’s attempt to become relevant:
So, A. (January 3, 2020) “Segway Is Bringing the Hoverchairs From WALL-E to Life,” Wired.
I still have to check though if this was the correct year for the article, which appeared in my recent Wired subscription considering it is already 2021. We now know that people have taken to active transport, particularly cycling or biking, during the pandemic. I place emphasis here on ‘active’ because anyone who’s watched Wall-e surely knows what humans there looked like. Active transport and not such hover chairs will likely be the mode of the future. Of course, there are suitable applications for these including perhaps a replacement for wheelchairs or enhanced transport for seniors and whoever may require such. But in general, perhaps we shouldn’t be dependent on these to move about.
On the need to increase NMT and public transport use
A recent report reinforces what many of us already probably know or are aware of – that we need to shift away from dependence on car use to more sustainable modes of transport in the form of non-motorised transport (NMT) and public transportation. Here is the article from the AASHTO Journal:
Global Climate Report Calls For Expansion Of ‘Non-Motorized’ Transport And Public Transit (2018)
There is a link to the report in the journal article. The report is conveniently available in PDF form and is very readable (i.e., not overly technical).
Incidentally, I was involved some time ago in a project led by the group Clean Air Asia (CAA), which involved several experts from across ASEAN as well as Japan that attempted to determine the necessary transport programs and projects in the region to stave off the projected increase in global temperatures. In all the scenarios evaluated, non-motorised transport (NMT) and a rationalised public transportation system By the term ‘rationalised’ I am referring to the use of higher capacity vehicles as against the taxis and tricycles that typically carry few if not one passenger. Here is a link to the final symposium for that study that has links to the materials presented:
The Final Symposium on the “Study on Long Term Transport Action Plan for ASEAN”
Here’s a slightly updated slide on the future image for a large city in the Philippines: