Preparing Our Roads For Autonomous Vehicles

One of the more frustrating events for me when I’m driving, especially if I’m in a hurry, is getting stuck behind a cyclist. Or worse, a bunch of them. Or worse yet, a bunch of them riding side by side on a road wide enough to pass single riders safely. Even aside from the danger (bicycle riders in the U.S. are 16 times as likely to be killed as those in The Netherlands), any thought that it’s a good idea for 13 MPH bicycle riders to share (or block) the road with 45 MPH cars is nutty.

driver blocked by bicycle riders

13 MPH for nearly a half mile. There are several cars to my left preventing me from moving left. I suppose some people would have sped up to squeeze between the bicycle riders and cars to get in front of the cars in the other lane. I didn’t. Neither will an Autonomous Vehicle. Drivers seem to have more angst being delayed 15 seconds by being behind slower bicycle riders than being delayed 50 seconds at the next traffic light.

While many drivers will try to squeeze by them, I want to give them the full three feet that drivers are legally required to. And more space if possible. This means that it often takes longer for me to pass than for others to do so. This is worse during winter as bike riders are more likely to be in traffic lanes due to snow piles and slush, I want to give them much more room because I know the likelihood of their sliding, I don’t want to throw a splush wake on them, and I’m more cautious of my own potential to slide on slippery road surfaces.

Now think about an Autonomous Vehicle — a very anal version of me. It will wait until it knows that it can safely pass all cyclists while meeting numerous conditions including three feet minimum clearance, no approaching traffic for the entire distance necessary to safely pass, and no threats from cars entering from driveways or side roads. If some bicycle riders are weaving a bit it will, and should, be even more cautious.

Dave: Please pass that cyclist.
HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Dave: What’s the problem?
HAL: You know what the problem is Dave.
Dave: We’re going to be late to work because of that guy.
HAL: I was ready to leave earlier.
Dave: I would have passed him.
HAL: I know Dave, and that’s why I’m driving and not you.
Dave: Please pass the cyclist. Now!
HAL: Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to take a stress pill, close your eyes, and think things over.

At pedestrian and bicycle crossings of multi-lane roads an autonomous vehicle will stop until it is 100% sure that there are no people walking or riding in the crossing to prevent dangerous overtaking hits. This is very good for people walking, riding bicycles or with disabilities but will create additional delays for people in cars.

Autonomous Vehicles (AV’s) at junctions will be interesting, and slow, as they cautiously look for threats to them and more importantly from them — in numerous directions. Are those human forms getting ready to step in front of me?

AV’s will, presumably, always drive the speed limit or below and always come to a full stop at stop signs or before right-on-red (if we don’t outlaw it first).

This will all be very good for people walking, riding bicycles, and with disabilities. Life will be massively safer.

This may not be so good for people in cars. Getting from point A to B will take longer as the car is more cautious and law-abiding. AV’s driving slower and more cautiously will also result in some increases in congestion causing further delays. That people in cars are increasingly less likely to be killed or injured because of this will likely not enter most people’s minds.

With more AV’s on the road, we’ll likely see significant increases in people riding bicycles for enjoyment, health, and other reasons as they’ll feel safer. Yep, more slowdowns by AV’s driving cautiously, as they should, around bicycle riders.

This does not portend an efficient and smoothly functioning transportation system. At least with fully autonomous AV’s we’ll be able to read while we’re stuck in traffic.

A System That Works

A lot is written about bicycling in The Netherlands. But it is also a better place to drive.

Unlike our system that relies heavily on drivers being extremely aware of their surroundings and making a lot of critical decisions, The Netherlands road network is much better defined. We have a high conflict system, they have a low conflict system.

Cars and trucks in The Netherlands are not delayed by slower bicycle riders nor bicycle riders by people walking since they each have their own network. People with disabilities and using a mobility scooter, handcycle, or other higher speed aid will often use the bikeway. This system along with well choreographed junctions reduces conflicts between modes and makes all modes, including driving, much safer and less stressful.

I have rarely been delayed trying to pass bicycle riders in The Netherlands. They are all off on their own separate protected bikeway network. And, since people feel so safe and comfortable on Dutch bikeways they often choose to ride bicycles instead of drive so there is less car traffic.

This will be the exact same for autonomous vehicles in The Netherlands. There will be no significant differences in how AV’s drive and how humans drive today. They will not be delayed by people riding bicycles. Cars, human or AV driven, go at their speed and bicycle riders and folks with disabilities are off on their own road network going their speed. For the engineering folk this makes for a happy low-blocking Poisson result.

Interactions at Dutch junctions are very specific and choreographed. Potentially conflicting movements are separated in time removing the conflict. When people walking or riding bicycles are given a green light then no vehicles can legally cross them. Likewise, when vehicles are given a green light for a movement they can do so largely without worry of people walking, riding bicycles or with disabilities in their way. While driving in The Netherlands is overall less stressful, junctions are in particular much less stressful than U.S. junctions. If I (or my AV) have a green light for a particular movement then I know it is usually completely safe to do so, while in the U.S. a green can still have a large number of potential conflicts.

Right-of-way in The Netherlands (and Europe) is made extremely clear with sharks teeth. Ambiguity is rare.

This tunnel allows users to safely and efficiently avoid the large two-lane roundabout above. This improves safety and efficiency for all users. Junctions of bicycle riders and disabled do not require signals since they can efficiently and safely negotiate with each other. Dutch engineers do not believe that bicycle riders should be penalized by having to deal with motor traffic that requires much more choreographed interaction. This also eliminates a significant delay for motor vehicles and one that will bedevil more cautious Autonomous Vehicles.

No delays trying to pass bicycle riders on the road. No added congestion from extra caution at overly complex junctions. It works.

There is a bit of discussion about how AV’s will handle life and death choices. Mercedes for instance has stated that they will prioritize occupant safety over pedestrians or others. Fortunately, this will also be much less of an issue on roads built to CROW standards that better define and control potentially conflicting movements.

How soon will we begin to experience these issues? Tesla’s today are at the upper end of Level 2 Autonomy. All Tesla’s sold since Oct 2015 can drive autonomously about 95% of the way to Florida with no driver input of any sort and these capabilities are improving monthly with downloaded firmware updates. Auto manufacturers are all rushing to catch up to Tesla and some are making quite good strides. I’d guess that by 2025 every car sold will be fully autonomous Level 4. But drivers will begin to experience it much sooner as even if their car is not an AV, they will have to abide by the properly cautious AV in front of them.

Driving in The Netherlands with their much better engineered and designed infrastructure is simpler, less complex, and much more predictable than driving in the U.S. (Perhaps some day Mark at BicycleDutch will produce video’s from a driver’s perspective.) They have a system in place today, built to CROW standards, that will adapt very well to the new world to come. How well will U.S. infrastructure adapt?

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

58 thoughts on “Preparing Our Roads For Autonomous Vehicles

  1. Noelle

    Oof, is that Fairview Avenue? I would do anything possible to avoid cycling through that part of town.

    I just completed a survey as a resident of Roseville, and I took every possible opportunity (and then some) to advocate for more improvements for cyclists and pedestrians in the city. I’d love to see some protected bike lanes in these heavier-traffic areas (or, well, anywhere).

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Yep. Fairview in Roseville (by Rosedale). Roseville isn’t too cycling friendly. That said, there is a two-way SUP along Lexington through there and it is possible to sort of get to near Rosedale safely if you don’t mind some bumpy sidewalks.

        I talked to one person on their bicycle committee a couple of years ago and he didn’t see any problems. He said that real bicycle riders are OK on Roseville roads and kids can ride on the sidewalks if they want.

        Yes, Roseville has a long way to go.

  2. SuperQ

    I doubt self driving cars would have this problem. They have far better sight (365 degree radar) and relative speed judgement than humans. They’ll have a far easier time lane changing safely.

    On a note about cyclists riding single file. In Germany, we don’t, because it’s safer not to. On a 2 travel lane road like photographed above, we would almost always ride side by side.

    There is no 3-foot (1-meter of course) passing law here. The law says that you must FULLY change lanes no matter how wide the cyclist is. This fully prevents any chance of close calls.

    By riding 2-up, it also shortens the length of the cycling pack for groups of riders. What would be 4 car-lengths of cyclists now becomes 2. This makes it much easier to pass.

    1. GlowBoy

      Hey, at least MN has a 3-foot rule. Many states don’t. Oregon only recently passed a 3-foot rule, and it only applies on roads with speed limits of 45mph or higher, making it useless in urban areas.

      1. Rosa

        that’s a thing about self-driving cars – are they going to have every state’s laws programmed in?

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Effectively yes. They will have to operate in a ‘legal and safe manner’. With something like the 3 foot rules they will likely always allow 3′ in every state regardless of that state’s laws (unless some state requires 4′). The risk of not doing so would likely be too great.

          Right on red arrow OTOH might be state by state as an AV could likely do it safe enough that manufacturers don’t view it as a high risk maneuver and they could potentially anger a lot of drivers if a car sits at a red arrow without turning when it is safe to do so. They’d obviously not do it in states that don’t allow it though.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      The difference in a human driver and an AV is that a human driver will take risks that an AV will not be able to take.

      The photo is a bad example but the best I had available. Think about a two-lane (one in each direction) road with curves and hills that you can’t see over. Human drivers will take a risk and assume that if a car is suddenly coming at them that they can move back to their lane. An AV will not be able to do this.

      Vehicle lanes are much wider in the U.S. so it is often safe to pass a single or single-file group of bicycle riders.

  3. Tom Quinn

    Yep. It’s a battleground out there. Far too many cyclists, like those in your example, do things that endanger themselves and annoy motorists which ultimately affects all of us. Bicycling has become an in-your-face political statement for too many people. There are motorists who do the same thing. Fringe cyclists and motorists are making it unsafe for the rest of us.

    I remember a few years ago there was the group of cyclists in Minneapolis who gathered weekly to block one street after another to prove some kind of point, but all they really did was make people angry toward cyclists in general. As a cyclist I kept thinking they were doing me no favors, only making the road more dangerous.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      My in your face political statement is “look at me biking in normal clothes, trying to communicate with drivers, biking safely and following all of the traffic rules that make sense.” Sometimes I even do it on a cargo bike.

      It’s pretty out there.

      1. Jackie Williams

        Awesome, I too make that political statement. LOL. I wish all of us “bikers” would do the same.

  4. Eric

    If you don’t want bicyclists on the road then do one of two things:
    -make the sidewalks much better for biking (probably the most challenging and it doesn’t guarantee that all bikers will use it)
    -as shown with the Dutch example, protected bikeways

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Yep. …or maybe

      If you don’t want bicyclists on the road then do one of two things:
      make the sidewalks much better for biking (probably the most challenging and it doesn’t guarantee that all bikers will use it)
      -as shown with the Dutch example, protected bikeways


      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        A bit more now that I have a few minutes. Shared Use Paths, which is what I think you’re effectively doing with upgrading sidewalks?, quickly become problematic and high conflict. The speeds and maneuverability of people walking vs people on bikes or mobility devices is too great.

        Shoreview MN has SUP’s along almost all higher speed/volume roads. These have generally worked quite well and have made it one of the better active transportation places in the U.S. It’s reaching its limits though. Many people are saying that they don’t want to ride on them anymore because there are too many people walking, walking dogs that wander all over, walking on the left, jogging on the right, walking in the middle, moving right for approaching traffic, moving left for approaching traffic, etc.

        Recently ADA compliant curb cuts and crossing buttons have created additional problems for bicycle riders and other users (post next week) such as button pedestals in the dead middle of the paths.

        It’s really not that bad but for some people it doesn’t take much conflict for them to choose to drive their car instead of ride. And likewise for some people to not want to walk on the paths because they don’t like getting buzzed by bicycle riders (just as bicycle riders don’t like getting buzzed by cars).

        There are really 3 groups of transportation that are different enough that they should each have their own network; Walking and low speed mobility (< 5 MPH like wheelchairs), Bicycling and high speed mobility (5 - 15/20 MPH urban, up to 30 MPH rural such as handcycles, powered mobility scooters, etc.), motor vehicles. Each of these groups varies in mass, speed, maneuverability, and other bits. More:

  5. James WardenJames Warden

    Not sure AV caution will make things as bad as you say, particularly when a lot of them are on the road. Constant-flow traffic often exceeds stop-and-go traffic that has faster peak speaks. AVs should be better at avoiding the sudden starts and stops that makes human driving so inefficient. In urban areas, there should be some efficiency gains, too. The whole concept of stop signs will have to be rethought. We’ll still need cycles for pedestrians, cyclists and other users to have right-of-way. But once you deal with that, there’s no reason AVs can’t proceed whenever there’s not a conflict. The improved capability of AV sensors over humans observation, constant attention to the road and predictability of what other AVs will do should actually redefine what we determine to be a conflict. I’m not a techno-optimist by any means. But even though I think the potential for congestion is real, I think the risk of congestion is much more likely to come from increased driving miles than from AV caution.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Good points about both rethinking stop signs and the extra miles that will be driven with AV’s.

      I have, on numerous occasions, driven around town perfectly obeying laws and driving as I believe an AV will. I quite consistently create lines of cars behind me. Some of this is from people catching up when I’m driving the speed limit but a lot is my coming to a complete stop at stop signs or before turning right on red. FWIW, I get up to speed quite fast so that is not an issue. All of this alone is problematic. It will be interesting to see what the options are for AV’s at stop signs. I’m not sure it will be better unless whomever is responsible for any injuries or fatalities (manufacturer?) is willing to take considerable risks.

      I am delayed by bicycle riders at least once per week. Sometimes it is brief but sometimes can be a significant delay. I’ve got some experience driving AV’s and have often thought about how AV’s will handle these situations. I just don’t know how much risk the AV manufacturers will be willing to take (nor how much we want them to take). Will they risk passing when there is still a possibility of a car coming over a hill or around a curve from the opposing direction? Or risk a car pulling out from a side street (with the driver only looking for cars from their left, not one in the wrong lane from their right) in front of them?

      Will they take such risks with the assumption that if something happens they will, as Mercedes has stated they will do, place highest priority on protecting the occupants and so choose to kill bicycle riders rather than have a head-on with another car? Or does Mercedes priority effectively state that they will not take risks?

      1. Rosa

        that’s very brave of you. I nearly got rear-ended by an angry, honking driver (in my car) today waiting at a red light that was signed no right on red.

  6. GlowBoy

    Availability and confirmation bias much?

    Honestly, how often is ANY of us, as a driver, significantly “delayed” by a cyclist “endangering himself” by riding on a road without bike lanes? Yes, it does happen. And thanks to observational biases we remember it more. But if I try to be truly honest and weigh the experiences equally, I believe I’m delayed by slow-moving trucks, by construction activities, and most importantly by OTHER CARS* far more often than I am by the occasional cyclist on roads “made for cars.”

    * When it’s other cars, we abstract the problem as “traffic” to avoid blaming the problem on the fact that there are too many cars – including our own – on the road.

    Here’s the other thing: as much as drivers complain about being “delayed” by bicycles once in a while, the fact is that cyclists are far, FAR more often delayed by cars and their infrastructure than cyclists delay drivers. People on bikes are often forced to take more circuitous routes, avoiding dangerous streets, dangerous intersections even when the intersecting streets are otherwise safe, trying to find our way around the Twin Cities’ spaghetti freeway system (often finding many of the freeway crossings themselves to be unsafe, resulting in further detours), unable to get across or turn left across a busy road due to heavy traffic, and being delayed at intersections either because turning traffic is blocking the bike lane (unfortunately legal in MN) or the bike lane disappears at the intersection to make way for more cars.

    Either way, on the whole cars delay bicycles far more than bicycles delay cars. Of course cyclists’ time is perceived as being less valuable, but that’s yet another autocentric fallacy.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Excellent points. Drivers do treat the delays differently. Similarly, they will get frustrated with 20 seconds delay driving behind a cyclist but then sit at a traffic light for 80 seconds twiddling their thumbs… Can we expect either to change?

      Yes, bicycle riders are delayed much more by cars than the other way around. I ride a fair amount in The Netherlands. It’s fascinating at bicycle only junctions to see how many cyclists can make it through with no traffic lights, no stop signs, and only occasional and very minor conflicts. Junctions involving motor vehicles are a much less efficient deal.

      There’s a great video of a 20 or so minute ride from the burbs to the center of town (I think Utrecht) that is completely non stopping the entire way on bikeways.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Also to your point, drivers will think of other drivers more as equals but they will think of cyclists as second class or don’t-belong-on-the-road, or PITA delaying me getting home?

  7. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Although I agree, in general, that segregated bike facilities are a good thing, although if anything, I think AVs will make vehicular cycling more feasible than it is today.

    I’m a little stuck on the anecdote, too. First off, Fairview is a 35 mph facility — although maybe you were referencing cars that are exceeding that limit.

    Second, Fariview has between 10,000 and 20,000 cars a day (much higher north of 36 than south). That’s a good amount of traffic, but it’s hard to imagine a situation where it takes a half mile to find a gap to accelerate into.

    I am glad you did not “buzz” the cyclists, but I also think that, in this case, that behavior is consistent with almost all motorists. The orange and hi-viz clad riders in particular a very assertive lane position, and it would be impossible to pass them without at least encroaching on the other lane.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Yes, AV’s will very much make vehicular cycling safer and more feasible than it is today — for the cyclists. Presumably then many more people will choose to ride on the road. The question is, will drivers put up with the extra delay?

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      In my experience I cannot say that not buzzing cyclists is anywhere near consistent with almost all motorists.

      It is certainly better some places than others. Some of the worst in the NE metro are; Hiway 244 along the east of White Bear Lake, Centerville Rd, Labore Rd (where I was hit), and Edgerton St (north of the Gateway Trail). Most drivers do quite good, but some don’t. Even those who pass with 3′ of clearance are taking a risk of an unseen car and even though it feels safe to the cyclist, it won’t be if a car is suddenly coming at the driver and they move back right and in to the cyclist.

      An AV will presumably be more cautious? There is only one short bit of 244 that I believe an AV would risk going in to the other lane to pass, and then only if there are no cars coming from the opposing direction. On the rest I think an AV will remain behind the cyclists. There are too many hills and curves.

  8. Monte Castleman

    Conflicts on green: this is somewhat of a holdover from simple two phase traffic signals with no pedestrian indications. One direction would simply have a green ball and one direction a red ball. So we’ve stuck with the meaning of “green means go, except where it doesn’t”. When this got too unsafe for left turners we introduced the red arrow, then the flashing yellow arrow. In a way the suburbs are way ahead of the cities. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul are both installing brand new “yield on green” signals for turn lanes despite how unsafe they are whereas Mn/DOT and the rest of the state does not. Bloomington recently developed programming that will not allow a permissive left turn, even a flashing yellow arrow, to conflict with a ped phase. They’re even modifying a currently permissive only signal near city all this way. With the new ATC controllers going up all over the metro as part of various fiber inter-connectivity projects you can write custom programming for them.

    Cars Passing, not breaking the law: Maybe in the short term people will be frustrated by the lack of risks the car is willing to take vs the ones they would when driving, but I think the end state will be two-way communications from car to car and car to environment, not just the car responding to what it can immediately perceive in it’s environment. The car is going to know it’s safe to pass because it knows there’s no car coming around the curve. This will help mitigate some of the increased travel time from not engaging in the type of law-breaking that’s common and even expected from motorists (as well as increased VMT from making mobility much cheaper and easier)

    Unless people are running late for a meeting I don’t think they’ll be particularly aware either. On road trips with my family I’d always stare out the window fascinated by the environment, but my observation is for most unless you’re driving you tune out. In fact if you’re sleeping or playing Magic, The Gathering in the back you might even be annoyed by the kind of rapid turns an acceleration human drivers currently do.

    Right on Red Arrow: I’d like to see this banned nationwide for consistency. This, the New York no turn on red, speed limits, and the various seat belt and helmet laws are the major inconsistencies remaining in vehicle laws. You can make the case that the speed limit should be different in Montana than New Jersey, but it makes no sense that minors need to wear a bicycle helmet in California but not Minnesota, or you can make a right on a red arrow in Florida but not Minnesota.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Thanks Monte. Very helpful.

      I think some differences in state laws are beneficial and are one of the strengths of our nation. Different states can do things differently and see how they work. That said, I would like to see a statewide or ideally nationwide no-right-turn-on-red. I am rather opposed to helmet laws.

      I think all or most of Europe uses fully protected signals for crossings — separation in time. So not only no RTR but they will also not allow a left turn if it will conflict with people in a crossing. They don’t leave it up to a distracted driver to determine if it is safe. There is much less arbitrariness and ambiguity in Europe. Green means go and and red means stop. Right-of-way is clearly defined with sharks teeth (and I believe always supersedes lights so you will often see sharks teeth at junctions to tell/remind drivers that if they are making a right on green that they must yield to anyone in a crossing).

  9. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Glad to see that lined-through alternative for cycles, Walter, as it doesn’t make sense to put 13 mph cyclists on the same path as 3 mph pedestrians.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Agree. As I mentioned, it can work on a sufficiently wide path with very low volumes (and users who are considerate of each other) but it doesn’t take much volume to begin to create conflicts.

  10. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    Here’s a slightly better example than above. In the riders defense there was a considerable amount of debris in places on the shoulder that caused them to have to ride in the traffic lane. Even if they were on the shoulder the entire time I don’t know that an AV would have passed as I don’t know that it would have deemed itself able to maintain a 3′ clearance to the cyclists without going in to the oncoming lane which fairly consistently had traffic in it.

  11. mplsjaromir

    Ridiculous statement that all new cars sold are going to have standard level 4 autonomy in 8 years .No way is every car going to have the optics and secondary control for autonomous driving. The author should really think through their statements.

    The fact is that there are zero level 4 autonomous vehicles on the market today with no firm date set as when one will be sold. Sure autonomous vehicles might be 99% engineered, but the technical difficulties reaching 100% exponentially increase.

    These ideas are fun to think about but are no where near reality. If I could take a short position on the author’s prediction I would. I would take a short position on Tesla if it wasn’t already the most crowded short on Wall Street.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      We’ll see. You could well be right. The last 10% of the way to Level 4 will be brutal and the final 1% exceptionally brutal. Even though I do think we’ll see it on some production cars by 2020 and all of them by 2025, I’d also not be too surprised if it took another 30 years. Once available though I think it will spread quickly.

      Shorting Tesla may be similar to all of those who shorted Amazon. Whatever happens it’ll be fun to watch. 🙂

      1. mplsjaromir

        I only point it out because relatively simple technology like anti-lock brakes took 30+ years to be ubiquitous. Adding the necessary senors to all vehicles will a magnitude larger task.

        I appreciate your optimism. I am a bit worried that the only way automation will work is with detailed mapping. Cities and transportation administrations could be under heavy pressure from autonomous automobile manufacturers and autonomous automobile users to keep the streetscape as static as possible, in order to save them from having to physically remap. It may end the idea of experimentation that I believe has been valuable in improving the pedestrian and cycling experience. They would also lean on public organizations to spend in keeping street and road markings in the best possible condition, possibly at the expense of other users.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Excellent point about ABS. Was part of the delay that it took that long for them to be fine tuned to where they were measurably better? Any idea how much better they are and how that has impacted insurance rates?

          1. mplsjaromir

            Cheap cars are what most people want. The 2016 median new car price in the US was $33,560. The entry level Tesla Model S has an MSRP of $68,000. Value engineering is very important in modern automobiles and something as complex and new as autonomy is decades away from being routine.

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

              Hmmm,… Depends on insurance costs? The autonomous feature will cost me $5k but save me $1200/yr so will pay for itself in about 4 years. But the car will be worth a lot more when I sell it so actually pays for itself in about 1 or 2 years. On top of which I get to have a car that drives me around and is safer for me, wife, husband, kids, in-laws, etc.

              Some traditional manufacturers may still try to not offer it on lessor models and so force people to pay an extra $15k to get a car that has it (and other stuff they don’t want to pay for) resulting in people still buying cars without it. E.G., an artificial market. Whether they’ll be able to do this with upstarts like Tesla and others offering it in all models remains to be seen.

              It’d be interesting to see what the selling price of ABS was, measured safety improvement, and difference in insurance rates. I do remember that for some time it was not an option on lower priced cars.

              I think once it’s viable and has minimally proven to be significantly safer then it will be on every car rather quickly. Driving a non-autonomous car will be too expensive from an insurance standpoint.

              1. Tom Quinn

                Why would someone want to own an autonomous car? It makes more sense and would be much cheaper to rent it for one time uses. Let someone like Uber make the investment, pay the insurance, and maintain the vehicle. I don’t see the absolute cost of the vehicle as being much of an issue. Maybe the manufacturer will own them.

                Ride sharing is an interesting topic. I see all kinds of problems with it. Who wants to ride with a stranger without the safety of a driver watching over things?

                1. Monte Castleman

                  The same kind of reasons people don’t use Uber now. Pride of ownership. Knowing the person riding before you didn’t have Ebola or even just leave all his trash in the car. Being able to leave personal items in the trunk while shopping or at work.

                2. Monte Castleman

                  Also, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that it may be cheaper to own than rent. Sure, it you live in the city and now just keep a car so you can make weekend shopping trips, but it could be different. There will still be more demand for cars at peak periods than any other time, so the vast majority of them will be unused for long periods.

                  Acme AutoCar needs to make a capital investment and needs to return a profit on the rentals. If you buy a detached house in Le Sueur because that’s the closest you can afford one, and hey, the commutes no longer a big deal, it’s unlikely the car will get much use once it arrives there at night so you’d be charged for the trip accordingly. Likely there will be a bunch of cars just parked in a field someplace rather than ordered to return to the city, since the cars from people that live closer in can handle the shopping and barhopping crowd after the evening commute is done.

                3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                  Meanwhile, someone like Uber would much prefer to use a fleet of privately-owned cars that it doesn’t have to pay for…

                  Honestly, I think that’s the only way that ubiquitous ride sharing (and here I mean an Uber or taxi like service, not necessarily being in the same car as others) gets cheap enough reach its lofty expectations.

                  Otherwise, the entity that owns all the vehicles is going to have a lot of fixed costs to cover and the cost of rides will add up enough that people won’t make it their primary means of transportation. Even if it’s ultimately cheaper to pay $15 (or whatever) per ride, people are bad at math and would rather shell out up front.

                  Monte’s also got a good point about leaving stuff in the car. People do that a ton.

              2. mplsjaromir

                Average cost for automobile insurance in Minnesota in 2016 was $113 a month. I highly doubt that autonomous vehicles will lower premiums 88%. For self driving mechanical systems, all sensors and all the extra processing needed, $5K seems to be not enough. Not to mention extra liability protection that providers of autonomous vehicle systems will need for the inherent likelihood that code written by human will have errors.

                Hackers could easily make autonomous vehicles much more dangerous than human piloted vehicles. My guess is that after a couple of Beirut Barracks style bombings no one is going to trust autonomous vehicles anyway.

          2. Monte Castleman

            I think the market for cheap, barebones new cars dried up so it was easier to bury the cost of ABS and other features in the cost of all the higher end new cars. Cars started lasting longer and longer, so new car buyers were more interested in investing in features, meanwhile with cars lasting much longer buying a used car rather than a cheapo new one was a reasonable option rather than an act of desperation.

            As late as the 1980s radios and air conditioning were still options, and carpet hadn’t been standard very long.

    2. Tom Quinn

      I think the conversion will happen faster than most think. Autonomous trucks on the freeways with human drivers piloting them in the city will happen soon and that will be followed by autonomous taxi’s. Once people have the option of ordering an autonomous taxi they’ll begin to abandon their old owned vehicles soon enough. If available today, I’d do it today and leave my old vehicle in the garage for special trips.

      One analysis I read said a factor that will accelerate the conversion is that as more people order autonomous taxi’s the proportion of driven vehicles will go down and that since all crashes will be caused by driven vehicles the insurance rates will begin to price them out of the market.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        Auto insurance companies are thinking the same thing. Geico has a group studying this in great detail as they fear that it could spell nearly the end for them.

      2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Autonomous trucks operating only on the relatively controlled environment of a freeway don’t seem all that far away.

        Autonomous taxis that mostly need to navigate city streets? That seems a long way off. Not killing pedestrians, the disabled and people on bikes, who sometimes act unpredictably, is a much bigger challenge than dealing with other vehicles moving in the same direction.

        I’m also highly skeptical that people are going to quickly abandon personally-owned vehicles in favor of autonomous ride sharing. Setting aside the fleet size necessary to make ride sharing as instantaneously convenient as using your own car, there’s a ton of status attached to car ownership that I just don’t see going away.

        I don’t think the insurance point is right either. Sure, driver-operated vehicles will be at fault for the crashes that happen, but the more autonomous vehicles there are on the road, there will be far fewer crashes (or they aren’t working).

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Agree about the trucks. Something I think we might see are motorway connected terminals. Autonomous trucks (Tesla rumored available for early 2018) run terminal to terminal on motorways. Human driven trucks and bakfiets handle last mile from terminal to destination. Tesla’s can already drive autonomously on motorways so the move from doing so as Level 2 to doing so as Level 4 shouldn’t be far off. There are rumors that it will be announced with the Model 3 unveiling. We’ll see.

          Yes, Taxi’s will be more difficult. Tesla, Waymo, and Cruise are all doing it fairly successfully now as tests with engineers monitoring. I’d guess they’ll need a few thousand edge case proofs before allowing them to operate as true Level 4.

          From an insurance standpoint it’s risk management. The risk pools of riskier human driven vehicles will get smaller and smaller and the smaller the pool the higher the risk.

        2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          BTW, a huge question with allowing Level 4 to operate autonomously in a city (or anywhere) will be at what point is it safe enough. Is safer than an average driver safe enough? Should we accept that?

        3. mplsjaromir

          Agree about car ownership. Although statistics show most vehicles have a low utilization rate, but they are still generally the most utilized personal possession one owns.

          1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

            How much of a changeover will we see when autonomous carshare becomes available? How many people will look at the cost of their car vs what a carshare (that comes to pick them up exactly where and when needed) will cost and see enough savings in carshare to overcome any ‘I want to own a car’ bits? How quickly will we begin to loose the ‘I am what I drive’ identity?

            I think my wife and I would quickly get rid of one vehicle.

  12. James WardenJames Warden

    Since the EV and AV articles inevitably spark disagreement on adoption timelines, I think we need friendly a wager on when they’ll come to pass. I’m thinking something like the famous Simon-Ehrlich wager ( or the Buffet-Protégé bet ( Money goes into escrow. A decade down the road, the funds go to the placemaking charity of the winner’s choosing.

  13. Ross

    Those don’t look like 13 mph riders. Maybe up the hill.

    I get your point but the riders here don’t seem like the problem to me.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Which ones? You may be correct on either. The ones in the article might have averaged closer to 15. The riders in the image I posted in comments above were doing a bit better, maybe 18-19.

      1. Ross

        It’s an interesting topic. So is 2 abreast riding. These are always group rides that have a standing start time for years. Same riders every week and they probably pick the best route.

        2 abreast riders take 1/2 as long to pass if you’re looking for a positive. Plus it makes riding in a group so much more enjoyable for the participants so I think that should be considered. It’s a social sport.

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