Author Archive | Chris Smith

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!

Vaporettos for Portland?

One of my fondest memories of childhood was a much-planned, much-saved-for family vacation to Europe in my early teen years. One of the seven-countries-in-21-days destinations was Venice and I can’t forget the Vaporettos (water taxi/buses) that plied the canal system. Correspondent Bill Badrick fills us in on a vision for Vaporettos in Portland. – Chris

Portland ‘VAP’ Water Taxi Vaporetto Service

Broad Scope Objectives:

  • To provide a regularly-scheduled affordable Water Taxi local trip service in the central Portland and Willamette River areas linking North/South and East/West communities.
  • To provide a significant enhancement for entertainment, convention and tourismbusiness and cultural activities by providing a venue for positively experiencing the City of Portland.
  • To provide revitalization to existing waterfront communities and locales, and to spur redevelopment of properties and facilities along the Willamette river-front.
  • To link Parks and Recreation Areas all along the river-front to local and regional communities by accessible water craft service, running from Sellwood / Oaks Park to Kelly Point Park / Sauvie Island.
  • To provide an alternative economic form of daily travel and commuting to alleviate congestion, parking and local environmental impacts on the central city.
  • To enhance the bicycle and pedestrian networks by developing multi-modal overlapping travel and recreation functionalities.
  • To create opportunities to build connections to other regional centers from Lake Oswego and Oregon City to Vancouver, Washington.

Hist Park Dock fin pg

 

water taxi fin pg

 

 

About the History Collection Park ‘Working Center’:

We are a 501c3 Corp. that is working to create a new ‘Community Model’ facility. We have a 77,000sf. historic dock building on the Willamette River in downtown Portland that is being donated to our cause. Our Vision is to develop a Working History Park.

It will be a place for community groups to come, free of charge, and showcase the  craft, skill, and work they do and did. We see this as a model for people across the country and the world. We picture Native Americans weaving baskets and carving totems, culinary experts cooking up historic recipes for events, boat builders rigging up small sailing ships, weavers spinning yarn and making garments, and on and on. Each of our groups will display their history, but also live it right there day in day out.

The roof of the building will be turned into a huge grassy park right up above the river. Our dock will become a public way-stop for canoe, kayak, and the dragon boats.

We will host the 154 foot LCI 713 as it is being restored and offered for tours daily.

We have a design ready for a water taxi that can serve the whole city waterfront.

http://www.historycollection.org/