Allstate Insurance released its annual “America’s Best Drivers” report today, and as usual, everyone’s eyes went straight to the bottom of the list to see which drivers are the worst.
Out of 194 cities ranked, Seattle placed in the 160th spot. We’re not quite the worst in the nation (bragging rights go to Washington, D.C.), but we edged out Portland as the worst in the Northwest.
Seattle ranked 154th last year, so we’ve actually gotten worse
Nissan is promising to bring self-driving cars to market by 2020. I am very excited for self-driving cars; I think if Nissan and Google do them right, laws will soon be in place to make self-driving cars the norm, the way seat belt laws proliferated once statistics proved their value.
But I think there's something more to self-driving cars than just safety and easing congestion; I think self-driving cars will make the ownership of cars less of a necessity in cities. Why would you need your own car if there was a fleet of self-driving taxis waiting to take you safely to your destination? For better or for worse, efficient and reliable robot taxis will probably put human taxi drivers out of business at some point in the next few decades, the way the internet has sheared off jobs in countless industries over the last few years.
I think an entire network of automobiles communicating with each other will depersonalize the ownership of cars and could make them feel more like a public trust. Will Americans love their cars as much as they do now when they just get in, say an address, and sit there until they arrive at their destination? I think some of the character of automobiles, the way that Americans feel cars are extensions of their own personalities, will fade. I think maybe that's for the best.
It's that simple:
2 Great Ideas! Cleverly branded bus routes and forming an #EcoPassCulture! Loving this book! @JeffSpeckAICP pic.twitter.com/eSHTpc08XX
— Jon Wieler (@Wieler4RD) August 25, 2013
Sure, when it comes to guns and sin taxes, Texans are all like "we want machine guns available in vending machines" and "if you put a tax on my soda, I'll blow up your state house with these grenades we just bought out of a vending machine a couple minutes ago." But where's the outrage when a seller with a new product wants to create his own market and the state government won't let him do it?
...if the [Tesla] Model S really is the car of the future, then why has Texas banned its sales in the state and why are lawmakers in several other states trying to do the same?
To answer that, first you need to meet Tesla CEO Elon Musk. He plans on opening 50 new Tesla stores in the next year. And taking a page from the Apple playbook, Musk is selling his product directly to consumers. No hard sell. No commission for employees. And uniform prices at every store...So Musk is declaring war on car dealers, but car dealers are also declaring war on Musk. They have already successfully booted him out of Texas and there is anti-Tesla legislation pending in North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia.
The Model S is a very safe product. Its inventor is an American success story who's trying to make it easier for consumers to buy his product. This is the sort of thing that Texas should be celebrating, but instead they're banning its sale in their state because of a corrupt government system. Where's the outrage from conservatives over this?
Science has the evidence...
People driving luxury cars are more likely to fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk and to engage in other unethical, antisocial behavior, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Grist has the whole unsurprising story...
When Japanese carmaker Honda launched a boxy SUV called the Element in 2002, it hoped to draw outdoorsy twenty-something buyers. The vehicle sported a sunroof in the backseat — room for your surfboard. The trunk was plenty spacious, big enough to haul your mountain bike.
However Honda (HMC) may have tried to hook in young drivers, the company learned it wasn't working; the Element quickly became a hit with baby boomers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. This wasn't exactly bad news for Honda. A sale is a sale, after all, but the outcome highlights a bigger — and growing — dilemma for the broader U.S. auto industry: How to sell to millennials?
Why this trend?
It's not just that cars have become less affordable for cash-strapped young adults, it's also that, well, driving simply doesn't seem as cool as it once was.
The emerging and current technological utopian visions just don't involve cars...
Werner Herzog's documentary about the dangers of texting while driving is right on one level and wrong on another...
Back in 2007, Tim Keck, this paper's publisher, handed me this NYT article, "From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm," by Carl Zimmer, a popular science writer. The subject of the piece was a kind of social behavior, swarming, that ants and certain birds seem to do better than humans. Here is the nut:
Americans spend a 3.7 billion hours a year in congested traffic. But you will never see ants stuck in gridlock.There was something that bugged me about this article, something that just did not seem right, something that went/bent a little like this: Is "Instinct to Swarm" saying that traffic jams are just natural? If so, is it then really saying (at a deeper and darker level) that traffic jams are not political? And if so, we had to see the core politics of this line of thinking: Traffic jams have nothing to do with the fact that there are too many cars on the road but with the fact that humans lack the necessary instinct to master the form of social behavior that's proper to traffic harmony...
Army ants, which Dr. Couzin has spent much time observing in Panama, are particularly good at moving in swarms. If they have to travel over a depression in the ground, they erect bridges so that they can proceed as quickly as possible.
“They build the bridges with their living bodies,” said Dr. Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University and the University of Oxford. “They build them up if they’re required, and they dissolve if they’re not being used.”
The reason may be that the ants have had a lot more time to adapt to living in big groups. “We haven’t evolved in the societies we currently live in,” Dr. Couzin said.
Put 400 chimpanzees in economy class on a seven-hour flight, and they would stumble off the plane with bitten ears, missing fur and bleeding limbs. Yet millions of us tolerate being crammed together in this way so we can roam about the planet.What first surprised me about this chimps on a plane business is that it was identical to what the sociobiologist Sarah Hrdy famously wrote in the opening chapter of her 2009 book Mothers and Others, and yet there's no such attribution in SuperCooperators. But that is another matter for another time. And besides, SuperCooperators is a good read (it provided me with a theory for forgiveness), and Nowak, who is a mathematician, has done great and very controversial work with the biologist E.O. Wilson on group selection theory.
But here is my point. On my way to work a few days a go, I saw the Link train orderly enter the Columbia Street Station, open its doors quickly, release and accept passengers neatly, and depart smoothly. At that moment I recalled the chimps on the plane thing I had just read in SuperCooperators, and also saw the traffic on MLK, and finally there was the answer to Zimmer's swarming: Humans may not be great with traffic, but we are good at sharing small and crammed spaces. Because each of us can easily tolerate others, strangers, crying babies, we can sit peacefully in a container and move together in a mode that's even more efficient than swarming. Swarming is expensive. Each participant in a swarm is burning its own energy. When humans share a space, we can move without each participant burning so much energy. Cars are then doubly inefficient: they are run by an animal that's not really made for swarming, and they burn a lot of energy in the process.
True, RapidRide is not rapid, but nor is driving a car. But RapidRide does have this huge advantage over the automobile....
Inside the bus
Top opening windows
Automated 'Next Stop' display and audio announcements
New interior design makes it easier for passengers to move to seats and exits
Interior LED lighting
Here is my thing: One way public transportation might be able to make a formidable dent on the powerful and deep American car culture is to promote this advantage: Passengers can easily tweet, update, post, and surf while on the bus or train. And the more our lives become dependent on cyberspace (meaning, the more time we need in a day to sort out basic things online), then the more useless cars become. Why would you want to sit in something that leaves you doing nothing while waiting for lights or in traffic? Automakers have yet to find a satisfying way to integrate cars with cyberspace. This hole needs to be exploited soon and aggressively by the advocates of the only future there is, public transportation.
Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan has a really simple solution to Seattle's smoldering taxi industry dispute. Emphasis on the simple:
But Seattle has no business maintaining a monopoly for the taxi industry. The county does not limit the number of restaurants that can open. Washington does not cap how many doctors can work in the state. The taxi monopoly represents the type of autocratic, meritocracy-killing regimes many immigrants fled when they moved to the U.S.
Deregulation! That's the ticket. Except, if she had bothered to look up the history of the taxi industry (perhaps in her paper's own archives?), Pian Chan would realize that Seattle already tried that. And failed. As a 2001 report summarizes:
The taxicab industry was deregulated in 1979 because it was believed that competition would provide the public with improved service and lower rates. In fact, service quality declined and rates were often higher. Subsequently, the taxicab industry was reregulated starting in 1984. ... Seattle, like nearly all of the other cities that experimented with deregulation, eventually returned to regulation of entry and rates.
I mean, I know an unregulated free market sounds great in theory, but in actually experience, sometimes not so much.
(Also, Pian Chan gets a bunch of other stuff wrong, such as suggesting that taxi drivers were protesting UberX. They were not. They were protesting the lack of enforcement of existing laws that prohibit for-hire and limo drivers from illegally picking up hailing passengers off the street. Look for a more informative—and less ideological—explanation of this complicated issue in tomorrow's issue of The Stranger.)
As I said last week, inventor Elon Musk revealed his plans for the Hyperloop rapid transit system today. Businessweek had the scoop:
In Musk’s vision, the Hyperloop would transport people via aluminum pods enclosed inside of steel tubes. He describes the design as looking like a shotgun with the tubes running side by side for most of the journey and closing the loop at either end. These tubes would be mounted on columns 50 to 100 yards apart, and the pods inside would travel up to 800 miles per hour. Some of this Musk has hinted at before; he now adds that pods could ferry cars as well as people. “You just drive on, and the pod departs,” Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek in his first interview about the Hyperloop...The Hyperloop was designed to link cities less than 1,000 miles apart that have high amounts of traffic between them, Musk says. Under 1,000 miles, the Hyperloop could have a nice edge over planes, which need a lot of time to take off and land. “It makes sense for things like L.A. to San Francisco, New York to D.C., New York to Boston,” Musk says. “Over 1,000 miles, the tube cost starts to become prohibitive, and you don’t want tubes every which way. You don’t want to live in Tube Land.”
Oh, man. Is anyone else dreaming of a Hyperloop-linked Cascadia right now? Anyway, find more information on Tesla Motors' blog.
If are to look at the current situation globally, which means totally, we have to say this: Cities that heavily depend on cars are primitive, and those that are dominated by pedestrians are by far the most rational and advanced cities in the world:
If you’ve ever been in an East African city during rush hour, then you’ll know that African cities are walking cities. In the rapidly urbanising capitals of Africa, walking is by far and away the most popular form of transport. For instance over 60% of trips in Addis Ababa are made on foot, while just 9% of trips are made in a car and in Nairobi over 45% of people walk. These are the kind of walking statistics that developed cities can only dream of: London struggles to get 20% of people to walk and in New York its between 10-20%.
I know this is probably the public transportation version of the Segway, but I am so excited about any new transportation idea that I desperately want it to be true. Next week, inventor Elon Musk will unveil his new travel technology, which he calls the Hyperloop. He's being very mysterious about the technology, but he's revealed a few specifics: He says it will be solar-powered, cheap, easier to build than high-speed rail, able to move people between San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than thirty minutes, and that it's a "cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table."
Yesterday a man named John Gardi, who Musk said on Twitter had the closest guess as to what the Hyperloop really was, published his theory on the technology. It's the stuff of science fiction, and I mean that in the nicest way possible: It takes an existing, even outdated, technology and reimagines it for a totally different purpose:
I believe that Hyperloop is merely a modern day version of the pneumatic tubes used in banks, stores, and industry to move money and small items over long distances or to other floors of a building. They’ve been around for over a century, though not so much these days. There is only one in my town that I know of, and it has fallen into disuse. One reason I think Hyperloop is simpler than folks think is that Elon Musk has resurrected another technology from the depths of time, one that was a contender once, too: the electric car!
The main focus of this document will be to show how we might accomplish Elon Musk’s claim that his Hyperloop concept could be built for a 10th of the cost of California’s proposed high speed rail. Using technology no more complicated than warehouse building, I'll discuss how the Hyperloop's main line between Los Angeles and San Francisco might be constructed well within Musk's estimates.
People have been tearing Gardi's theory apart in the day since he published it on Motherboard, but I'm going to take this week to fantasize about the project before reality steps in to muddy things up.
And they present it in an enumerated list! What's their number one piece of advice?
"1. Take a shower," say Ron and Don. They explain that drivers of Uber "all bathe." But, apparently, cab drivers totally don't. So their sage wisdom: "What you should do, instead of honking your horns, is go take a shower and make your service better, right? Clean out your car every once in a while. It seems like some of the guys sleep in there."
Look, I also have problems with Seattle cab service. Like I've said before, some cabbies balk when you pay with a card, they often don't show up, the dispatchers can get truculent if you complain that they no-showed, and lots of drivers get lost. Ron and Don made some of those points, too. But really? Their number-one complaint is that taxi drivers are dirty people?
Here's my enumerated list "tips" for Ron and Don:
1. Go fuck yourself. Taxi drivers do bathe. Maybe you had a driver who smelled before—that can happen to humans working a 13-hour shift—but I'm certain the overwhelming majority of drivers have sterling hygiene. You're making up a fake complaint. Having a problem with cab services doesn't require treating those drivers like shit.
2. Classifying an entire industry of working-class people as unclean is just classist humiliation. Cab drivers have grueling, dangerous, financially precarious jobs. Stop treating them like your filthy servants.
3. Understand that reasonable people—including cabbies—know your "tips" are worthless. Your primary piece of advice is actually an insult. These aren't tips on staying competitive, they're tips on which two people cab drivers should never pick up.
Dozens of taxis encircled City Hall this afternoon, blocking traffic on surrounding streets, to protest the city's continued failure enforce current laws and crack down on illegal competition. As The Stranger has previously reported, Seattle's regulated taxi industry—the only vehicles legally allowed to pick up hailing fares—has long complained about illegal competition from for-hire drives, limousines, and out-of-town taxis.
"Seattle's become chaos and lawless like Mogadishu city where I came from," one Seattle cabbie lamented during public comment at an April 4 Seattle City Council hearing. "It's like Somali pirates."
"Our very industry is at stake!" Taxi driver Joe Blondo said in a July 25 email to fellow drivers, urging their participation in today's protest. "We must stop the City & County from pushing us around!"
A preliminary draft of a "demand study" is expected to be presented to a council committee at public hearing on August 8, and the general expectation is that the study will recommend increasing the size of the fleet. How this might be split between taxis and for-hires is anybody's guess, but with only three inspectors on staff to police violations, the larger issue will remain enforcement. "Our enforcement capabilities have not kept up," admits Mayor Mike McGinn: "It's time for the city to take a new look on how we regulate all of them, and also be prepared to enforce the regulations."
That's exactly what the council is doing. But all involved admit that it's a very complicated issue whose resolution likely won't leave anybody happy, especially once you add in the challenges of dealing with unregulated "ride share" services like Sidecar and Lyft.
Yesterday, Metro announced that the beta version of their Trip Planner was open for business. It features a clickable map, routes that feature more than one mode of transit, and more. You can check it out here.
I haven't used King County's Trip Planner in years, because I found it to be slow, stupid, and unable to recognize a whole bunch of addresses. The beta Trip Planner fixes most of my complaints. The interface seems pretty zippy, although it's not as clean or as simple as Google Maps. But, just for fun, I looked up a trip from The Stranger's offices to the Lynnwood Municipal Golf Course on both the Beta Trip Planner and Google Maps. Google's directions involved a taxi ride from the Lynnwood Transit Center to the golf course, whereas the Trip Planner suggested Edmonds bus route C116 to finish the trip. Which, as far as I'm concerned, means the Trip Planner beat out Google. This is the first time in years that King County's site has bested Google in one-on-one trip-planning combat.
Of course, I'd prefer it if King County had an app with all this information. The times when I plan a trip are actually pretty low; what I need is real-time transit information. I've basically got all the information I need, between One Bus Away and Transit App, but there's always room for one more good transportation app, especially if it would play well with other regional transit options.
This point is made in the book...
A bicyclist was struck by an SUV and critically injured late Thursday afternoon in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood.The accident occurred almost exactly where another human, Michael Wang, was killed almost exactly 2 years ago by another SUV. The city is for bikes, pedestrians, and public forms of transportation. If one feels the full power of this truth, one will see cars an army occupation of the city.
Seattle firefighters took the cyclist, a man in his 30s, to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition.
Firefighters say the bicyclist was wearing a helmet, but his head went through the passenger window of the Subaru Forester.
Almost an hour after reading this, which is in Wikipedia's entry for the great Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini:
The late 1960s and early 1970s were the era of the so-called "student movement". Pasolini, though acknowledging the students' ideological motivations, thought them "anthropologically middle-class" and therefore destined to fail in their attempts at revolutionary change. Regarding the Battle of Valle Giulia, which took place in Rome in March 1968, he said that he sympathized with the police, as they were "children of the poor", while the young militants were exponents of what he called "left-wing fascism"....I was walking toward the crowded platform for Link's Columbia City Station and overheard three cops, who, with a police dog, were also walking toward the platform, having this conversation:
The police dog said nothing.
Cop 1: There sure are a lot of people here.
Cop 2: Yeah, lots of people.
Cop 3: And they all work for Amazon.
Cop 2: And Starbucks.
Cop 1: We should do a survey and find out.
Cop 3 [After Laughing]: Don't need a survey to tell you these people work for Amazon.
The thing that must be done urgently in our times is to reverse the systematic coding of bike lanes, health food, density, urban agriculture, pedestrian culture as white and upper/educated class. If this is not done, the old and unsustainable order of cars, homes, and motored lawn mowers will continue to retreat deeper and deeper into a cave that provides democratic safety and legitimacy in the image of the common American. The danger of us becoming an upside down society that registers individual car ownership as more democratic than public forms of transportation is very real.
The internet is atwitter today over Happy Ride, the vibrating bike seat cover that wants to give you orgasms while while you exercise on your bike, in traffic. Next to cars. Just because.
As a spokeswoman for Happy Ride's retailer explains to the Daily Mail:
Claire Bowden of SexShop365, the store behind the Happy Ride, says the demand for exercise related adult toys such as kegel balls has also grown dramatically over recent months—put down in large part to the Fifty Shades phenomenon.
And a growing passion for cycling—10 per cent of us now cycle to work—pointed at the creation of a vibrating bicycle seat being a natural progression.
I am wary of this product, as I am wary of all products that encourage my genitals to multi-task. But enough about me.
As you may have noticed, the city began using automated cameras to enforce speed limits near four schools in December of 2012, and they're going to expand the program to install cameras near five more schools next year. By June, the city had issued 30,400 tickets at $189 a pop. While initially estimated to bring in some $800,000 in revenue for the year, they're now expecting closer to $5 million.
The mayor and council strenuously agree that these truckloads of money should only be spent to improve traffic and pedestrian safety around school zones, not be incorporated into the city's budget, tempting as that may be. But how they want to make sure that happens may be quite different.
This morning, the council's government performance and finance committee approved a bill that would create a separate fund for those traffic-camera dollars, so that how, when, and on what the money is spent would be more carefully restricted. There's been talk of simply making sure whatever amount is raised from traffic-camera tickets would then be budgeted toward school-zone safety improvements over the year—it's a bureaucratic headache to deal with specialized separate funds—but this committee, at least, wants to take the extra step and segregate the money, starting in January 2014. The full council will likely vote Monday.
Back in my old home town, SEPTA (Philadelphia's Metro/Sound Transit) is exploring options to expand the Norristown High Speed Line to the burgeoning malls and business parks of Valley Forge and King of Prussia, leaving some of the residents along proposed routes a little upset:
Several residents expressed concern about a rail line bringing more "city people" into Upper Merion Township.
"This corporate business park - they're not going to use it," said John Baessler, who said he was grateful to see that SEPTA had eliminated a possible route near his home along the Norfolk Southern rail line.
Another woman, who would not give her name, put it more explicitly: "If somebody can't get to King of Prussia by car, they shouldn't be coming at all."
In an odd way, it's kind of comforting to see such honesty. If the "city people"—you know, "the poors" (i.e. "the blacks")—can't afford cars, they've got no right coming to our suburban mall. Hmm. Sounds like somebody we all know in Bellevue whose name rhymes with Kemper Freeman.*
When it comes to debating transit expansion, I guess my native home and my adopted home aren't so different after all.
* And yes, I know that's not really a rhyme, it's technically an "identity." So leave your snotty comments to yourself, Mr. Sondheim.
We get these "Weekend Event Traffic Advisory" emails from the city of Seattle every Friday. I've never actually looked at one until now. Christ on a bicycle, are they always like this?! Don't drive anywhere! Ride your bike, walk, or stay home and drink gin-and-tonics.
Friday, July 12
West Seattle Summer Fest [it is fun!]: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
West Seattle Junction (Alaska and California)
Streets closed 6 p.m. Thursday – 11:59 p.m. Sunday: California Avenue SW between SW Edmunds Street and SW Genesee Street. Expect congestion in the area. http://wsjunction.org/summerfest/
Seattle Mariners vs. LA Angels [how are the Ms doing, anyway?]: 7:10 p.m.
Expect congestion on adjacent streets before and after the game.
Saturday, July 13
Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic [damn bikers!]: 4:45 a.m. (final wave riders leaves by 7:30 a.m.)
University of Washington E-1 parking lot Starting point
Seattle Police will provide escort riders until participants reach Lake Washington Boulevard.
Expect a rolling slowdown as riders move through. http://www.cascade.org/EandR/stp/index.cfm
Crown of Queen Anne Fun Run & Walk [running isn't fun unless something is chasing you]: Walk – 8 a.m. Run – 8:20
Top of Queen Anne Hill
Run/walk route: Starts at Fifth Avenue W and W Halladay Street; runs 3.3 miles along Queen Anne Boulevard; ends at Coe Elementary School at Seventh Avenue W and W McGraw Street. There may be a rolling slowdown as participants make their way along the course. http://www.queenannehelpline.org/funrun.php
Nobody was on the plane, but this doesn't look good for Boeing's jumbo jet of the future. The New York Times says:
Boeing said it was aware of the problem, but the airport, the airline and Boeing have not identified the cause of the fire.
The incident took place about two months after the innovative 787 Dreamliners returned to the skies after being grounded for four months because of hazards with a new type of battery. One of the lithium-ion batteries caught fire on a 787 parked at a Boston airport on Jan. 9, and another began smoking in midflight a week later, forcing the 787 to make an emergency landing in Japan. In the Boston incident, the fire took longer to extinguish.
The visible damage from the fire was nowhere near the part of the plane where the batteries would be, but still: A lot of Boeing employees are not going to sleep well this weekend.
The Tacoma News Tribune had a story that slipped by last week (hat tip to the SunBreak for catching it) about a concrete supplier firing staff and halting production of an essential tunnel part:
The company, FPS EnCon, told some 85 workers last Friday that it was issuing layoffs for an indefinite period and stopping production of the semi-circular concrete liners for the state Route 99 vehicular tunnel.
Those concrete liners are an integral part of the $3.14 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project... The $80-million tunnel-boring machine is scheduled to begin boring the 2-mile tunnel this month.
A parent company from Spain, Dragados, issued a prepared statement saying it expects to be back in production this week—which seems odd, considering the subsidiary laid off staff indefinitely and stopped production—but the company's underlying business arrangements sound tangled. One half of FPS EnCon reportedly wants to "extricate itself from the joint venture with FPS and work for the European company as a subcontractor." Who knows if this will delay the deep-bore tunnel, which has thread-bare margin for cost overruns, but it sounds like it could get messy.
Here's a surprising tidbit from the recent crash of Asiana Flight 214:
Among the things that the National Transportation Safety Board will be looking closely at is whether some coach-cabin seats came off their tracks or sustained unacceptable damage on impact, and why two of the inflatable emergency slides apparently opened inside the cabin, pinning several people before crew members found an ax to deflate the slides.
So, I'm not allowed to carry a bottle of water through security, but the airlines keep axes on board? Really? I'm not so sure that's a detail they should want the public to know.