Author Archive | Chris Smith

KBOO Bike Show: Biking Past 50

 Listen to the show (mp3, 26.9MB)

Alon and Christopher talk with Ann Morrow, Jerry Smith and S. Brian Willson about the joys and challenges of riding past age fifty. Ann is the president of the Portland Wheelman Touring Club and is host of the cable TV show Cycology Today (viewed on NWbicyclesafetycouncil.org.) Jerry is also an active member of the touring club and for the past twenty years has joined them on many rides in the Pacific NW, as well as riding solo, and sometimes with his daughter, in Ireland Cuba, Puerto Rico, Greece, the Czech Republic, France and New Zealand. Vietnam veteran, author and peace activist S. Brian Willson has journeyed over 70,000 miles using a handcycle, including during his book tour along the West Coast. (http://www.brianwillson.com/)

The Dark Side of Autonomous Vehicles?

Readers of this blog will know that I have a generally optimistic view of driverless cars, believing that a computer is likely to avoid many human frailties and generally reduce the number of crashes.

My viewpoint got a jolt this week. The technologist half of my brain has been enjoying the New Relic Future Talk series. While I didn’t catch it in person, this week I watched the video of Andrew Wilson (Intel’s open source compliance officer) discussing the potential role for open source software in autonomous vehicles.

Some of the potential problems he points out with software-driven vehicles:

  • Software updating – cars remain in service for many years. How do you install updates? Imagine if the car  you’re driving today was still running on Windows 95!
  • Security – Can the NSA (or even more malevolent actors) bug or sabotage your car by inserting code?

Andrew suggests that open source, with more transparent code, can address at least some of these issues. He also posits that manufacturers will have a strong incentive to collaborate since most of the software stack will not be competitive features.

Will your next car run Windows or Linux?

What the Streetcar Haters Skeptics are Missing

There have been several critiques recently, dismissing streetcars as slow transit.

I think that misses the point of streetcar, at least as we have deployed it here in Portland. Streetcar is transit that emphasizes short trips.

That’s very much in line with the ‘Healthy Connected City’ plank of the Portland Plan, which envisions Portland as a city of corridors and centers that provide most of the daily needs of citizens within an easy walking or biking distance. The development pattern that streetcar incentivizes, and then serves, very much supports this vision.

The other point that’s missed is that streetcar exists in the context of a larger transit system. Certainly you could not and should not build a transit system entirely of mixed-operation streetcars.

In Portland, the regional transit system has a hierarchy of three levels of service:

1) Local Bus Service

2) Frequent Service Lines (bus)

3) High Capacity Transit (LRT, Commuter Rail, future BRT)

Streetcar wouldn’t make any sense if there were not the other options to move from the streetcar districts to other places (there are lots of intersections between streetcar and the HCT and frequent service lines).

And I would note that from my home, I have the option of either streetcar or a frequent service bus to get downtown (roughly covering opposite right angles of a rectangle) and they take about the same time. Streetcar is really not slower than a bus in a dense urban environment.

There’s also been some debate about where streetcar falls in this service hierarchy. Some of our planning documents lump it in the Frequent Service category, and there’s some logic to that as the operating costs and other characteristics are similar. But I think mixed-operating streetcar is really in a category by itself that I’d be inclined to label as “High Capacity Local Service“.

Some of the criticism of the DC streetcar has been focused on replacing bus service. We have largely not done that with streetcar in Portland, it’s been complimentary to the existing bus lines (some of which have been reconfigured slightly to take advantage of this). Replacing a purely local bus might work with streetcar, but probably not if the bus operated over a much longer route. Replacing higher classifications of transit service with mixed-operation streetcars would likely be problematic. Portland will probably be faced with this temptation as we expand the streetcar network. I hope we will choose carefully and wisely.

The question has also been raised about how “future-proof” these streetcar investments are? I would suggest that the future opportunity is to convert these lines to dedicated right-of-way by removing auto use from the alignments. The VMT goals in Portland’s Climate Action Plan would hint in that direction.

So I rise today not in support of slow transit, but in support of short-trip transit!