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The Invention of Jaywalking and the Rise of Car Culture
January 26, 2014 2:30 PM   Subscribe

In the history of roads, pedestrians have long been the dominant user class. In the early 20th century, the use of automobiles was increasing, and with it, the conflicts between cars and people on foot. This conflict came to a head in 1923 in Cincinnati, when people were outraged about the number of children killed by autos, and a there was a petition that "would have required all vehicles in the city to be fitted with speed governors limiting them to 25 miles per hour." In response, the young automotive companies organized and started a move to give dominance to cars in the streets. The petition failed, and pedestrians had lost. This was a key moment, marked with the invention of jaywalking.

Before cars, pedestrians and bicyclists had to compete with horse-drawn carts and horsebusses that were increasing in number to move more people and goods. This brought up two issues: the sheer volume of manure produced by horses, and the danger from horse-drawn vehicles colliding with people (PDF; source).

Cities didn't have to deal with a rising tide of horse poop, thanks to automobiles. But as the number of drivers increased, the conflict between pedestrians and vehicles increased. At first, drivers were considered at fault in auto versus pedestrian crashes, in part because driving was seen as a privileged sport. The City Club of New York published municipal murder maps for the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, identifying where children under the age of 15 were killed in traffic accidents. Children struck and killed by cars were treated as a public loss, similar to the death of a soldier, complete with public mourning.

Part of the shift from roads being the domain of pedestrians to being land of cars where people should fear to tread was the "social reconstruction" of the space, and this came in wide-spread public shaming campaigns. In San Francisco, jay-walkers were pulled into mock courtrooms and lectured about the perils of crossing the street. Boy Scouts handed people little cards that explained it was safe to cut corners when the traffic was horse-drawn, but "conditions have changed" with cars. Even the term "jaywalking" includes shaming, as "jay" is a simpleton, rube, or country bumpkin.

Automobile drivers were actually riding upon the successes of early bicycle advocates and the Good Roads Movement, who pushed for better roads and unlimited access to roads. But the automobile makers had more money invested, and with that, they brought more clout to their movement.
posted by filthy light thief (125 comments total) 136 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, there is a week's reading assignments for my Material Culture class next quarter! Thanks, I look forward to diving into this stuff.

A good book that is partly about early auto culture is Joseph J. Corn's _User Unfriendly: Consumer Struggles with Personal Technologies, from Clocks and Sewing Machines to Cars and Computers_. He has a lot of stuff from the point of view of the first generation of automobile owners, trying to figure out how to operate and navigate a new technology.
posted by LarryC at 2:40 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


Sometimes when I'm walking around in New Orleans, especially in some of the more historic and picturesque parts of town, I try to picture how the neighborhoods would look and sound without all the cars. What it would be like if we instead built a handful of giant parking garages in strategic locations around town and then limited transport within the neighborhoods to feet, bikes, and public transit.

It's pretty eye-opening to envision that, for me. We city-dwellers manage to tune it out almost all the time, but having parked cars lining both sides of every street is a hideous eyesore, and the amount of background noise (and background danger) that they add to the neighborhood is a constant low-grade source of stress. The domination of cars in the urban landscape has probably done more to degrade the social fabric of cities than anything else I can think of.

We've paid a high price for the dubious convenience of creeping around in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 20 minutes, hunting for a space where we can have the privilege of paying $5 an hour to park. I'm really not at all sure it was worth it.
posted by Scientist at 2:50 PM on January 26 [87 favorites]


I meant to include this in my comment but forgot; regarding degradation of the social fabric, what I mean is that people travelling in cars (who are the vast majority of travelers in any US city) basically cease to be people in the minds of everyone around them. When we see a car on the road we don't think of it as a person in a car, we just think of it as a car. Furthermore, when we are driving, we are not mentally a part of the space we are driving through; we are inside and the neighborhood is outside. It's not like that when we're on foot or on a bike. That constant dehumanization and isolation, which has become so routine that almost nobody even notices that it's happening, just has to have an incredibly destructive effect on social cohesion.
posted by Scientist at 2:56 PM on January 26 [57 favorites]


Highly relevant self-link.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:57 PM on January 26 [8 favorites]


Even the term "jaywalking" includes shaming, as "jay" is a simpleton, rube, or country bumpkin.

I was pleased to learn that jaywalking moved from a simple insult to a legal term in short order because of the automobile lobby. It is much as if you could bring someone to court explicitly on charges of Being A Prick or perhaps Assholery in the First Degree.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:03 PM on January 26 [12 favorites]


Much of this post comes indirectly from Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Amazon; Google books preview; MIT Press), by Peter D. Norton, who previously published Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street (Project MUSE access required). Various articles have pulled from Norton's book, and possibly from interviews with Norton.

We've paid a high price for the dubious convenience of creeping around in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 20 minutes, hunting for a space where we can have the privilege of paying $5 an hour to park. I'm really not at all sure it was worth it.

I agree. "The freedom of the road" is a false freedom, only truly experienced in rural, remote areas or in the middle of the night. And roads are most "efficient" when they're heavily used, which doesn't make anyone happy.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:04 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


ricochet biscuit except that in those days the transport mode being criminalized was the default, and automobile owners were by definition a rich/upper-middle-class elite.

It's as if you could bring someone to court explicitly on charges of wearing baggy trousers and a back-to-front baseball cap in public. No, wait ...

(Disclaimer: yr. hmbl. crspndnt. lives in a city founded in prehistoric times, where the "new town" was gridded out in the 1750s, in an apartment built circa 1820, and where a parking garage big enough for a single car and situated within 250 yards of your residence can cost as much as a new Porsche 911. (Secondary disclaimer: I do not own a garage. And my car frequently sits by the roadside, un-driven, for up to a month at a time because of the difficulty in parking—which rivals midtown Manhattan.) We still walk, hereabouts: and I find that in a properly designed city, cars are a nuisance, not an asset.)
posted by cstross at 3:05 PM on January 26 [13 favorites]


From Joe's spleen's link: "… the person who has the first right to the road is the pedestrian, after him comes the equestrian, then the drivers of horsed vehicles, then the cyclist, and lastly the motorist. The right of the pedestrian and equestrian and the driver of a horsed vehicle are as old as the common law of England, the bicycle and the motor are innovations; they are unknown to the common law, and, other things being equal, their rights must be subordinated to the earlier rights. "

This reminds me of the right-of-way laws in the water; the slowest moving thing (I would say vehicle, but I imagine a swimmer has the right-of-way ahead of any boat) has the right of way... The faster you can move/maneuver, the more it is your responsibility to yield to the slower moving thing. Well that just makes *sense*. Can we go back to that please?
posted by el io at 3:10 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


Can we go back to that please?

I'm a transportation planner by trade, and at work we were talking about a proposal somewhere in the US to require bicyclists and pedestrians to wear bright color clothing to improve safety for those less-protected modes of transportation. We were astounded to think that we have gone so far from that earlier era in that people forget that everyone is a pedestrian at some point in their day, even if it's walking across a parking lot to get from your car to the grocery store.

Yes, let's get back to that.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:20 PM on January 26 [12 favorites]


I find that in a properly designed city, cars are a nuisance, not an asset.

In an improperly designed city, cars are a nuisance, not an asset too.
My entire city is designed for the car, and pretty much always has been, and generations of city planners have either made a hash of it, or have attempted to make the best of a bad situation but done a terrible job at it.

And, we've managed to completely fuck up public transport as well.
posted by Mezentian at 3:28 PM on January 26


There is a lovely '99% Invisible' episode about this precise topic: 'The Modern Moloch'. It's 24 minutes long and pairs perfectly with the links above.
posted by crysflame at 3:43 PM on January 26 [12 favorites]


Every time I walk anywhere I wish pedestrians had priority. I'd be happy with it as a driver as well, for that matter -- slower and more civilized roads benefit all users.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:01 PM on January 26


I've long held that it is not sufficient that a car should stop when a pedestrian crosses in front of it, but its occupants should have to get out and kowtow on the asphalt until the pedestrian has passed by.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:13 PM on January 26 [8 favorites]


When I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was surprised at the audacity and confidence of pedestrians. They would walk right into the street at crosswalks and expect the cars to stop for them! Sometimes they would even do it in the middle of the street. One time during my early days, I drove past a pedestrian as he was in the middle of the crosswalk, and even though he had already crossed my lane, he YELLED at me for not stopping. Everyone else I had lived, cars were dominant on the streets. You watched out for them if you were crossing.

Eventually, I learned to stop for pedestrians, and to stop for people patiently waiting at corners. Once I got over my culture shock, it turned out to be really wonderful. Being able to cross the street easily was so nice. Somehow, Portlanders learned to actually obey the rule that pedestrians come first.

Now I'm living in Texas, and I find I really miss the car culture of Portland. Sure, sometimes drivers were dopey and slow, but they were considerate and respectful, unlike everywhere else I have lived. I'm not sure exactly why the culture here is so different, but I think infrastructure has a lot to do with it. The way the highways and roads are set up here, it's almost impossible to NOT drive like an idiot. Coming off a exit ramp and having to cross four lanes of traffic to make a right turn, with only a hundred feet to make those lane changes, you're going to have to drive a little crazy.
posted by mokin at 4:18 PM on January 26 [10 favorites]


The slowest mover having priority is true for skiing as well (unfortunately, like cars, it's often ignored by those who think their fun is more important than other's safety).
posted by arcticseal at 4:18 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


I don't have a car, so maybe it's a little too easy for me to be irritated at the way the rules seem to privilege cars (people in cars, I suppose, but it often feels like it's really the things -- the expensive, profit-making things produced by accordingly powerful companies -- that are really getting the deference here) above people walking around on their own two feet.
I understand, of course, that if I weren't waiting so long for the light to change, then traffic might back up and other people on their way home (in those cars) would be inconvenienced. Seems like better public transportation might help, but raising taxes to pay for that would make Baby Jesus the Job Creator cry.
So, sure, it's 38 degrees and raining out, but I'll gladly stand here a while longer breathing the exhaust produced by fossil fuels that require us to "protect our interests" in the middle east, so that people sitting in air-conditioned comfort, listening to their favorite jams in surround sound, occasionally pressing a lever with their foot or turning a wheel with their hands, won't have to be inconvenienced. They're in a hurry to get somewhere. :P
posted by uosuaq at 4:21 PM on January 26 [8 favorites]


Sometimes they would even do it in the middle of the street.

You can lay the blame at Paul McCartney's door for that one.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:22 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I've had the opportunity to research the introduction of cars in a turn of the century small city, and there was considerable friction between cars and carriages. The primary problem were the speeders, those automobiles whizzing around at anywhere from 15 to 30 miles per hour. After a local political boss' son hit a carriage, injuring and killing the women inside it, the city reacted forcibly by hiring a motorcycle police officer and setting speed limits around 5mph or so.

Prior to the rise of cars, you did find pedestrians getting hit by horses and, surprisingly, bicycles which were becoming a menace on their own.

Pretty much, once people started traveling by means other than walking, walkers began finding themselves in trouble.

When I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was surprised at the audacity and confidence of pedestrians. They would walk right into the street at crosswalks and expect the cars to stop for them!

Beyond the land of Oregon, I do this as much as safety allows. I don't trust that drivers stop, but I will stare them down into a stop if they're paying attention at the crosswalk.
posted by Atreides at 4:23 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


When I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was surprised at the audacity and confidence of pedestrians.

Yes, but they also wait obediently for traffic signals, which blows my Bostonian mind.
posted by nev at 4:25 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


I was in DC this summer with my sister-in-law who lives there and I kept having to stop short when walking across crosswalks because people there apparently pay attention to the WALK/DONT WALK signs. I'm not used to that. People around here just look both ways and walk across the street when it's clear, sometimes in a crosswalk or sometimes not, but not usually paying any attention to the lights.
posted by octothorpe at 4:34 PM on January 26


Carlton Reid's long awaited book Roads Were Not Built For Cars has lots of analysis on just when this change happened. He's an amusing and thoughtful writer.
posted by scruss at 4:34 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


I was born in 1989 just west of Wayne County, otherwise considered the Greater Metro Detroit area. Car culture was a big deal here, as it not only was fully running when I was born, it was the fuel for communities in the area that would within 2 decades be reduced to pieces as the auto industry retreated to the larger suburbs, AKA closed about 3 facilities within 10-15 miles of each other.

So there's this momentum millions of people and I were born into, and along with it the cultural ideas (for the audience keeping score at home: white cis-gendered born into an OK family fellow here): people 'should' walk on the sidewalks or at least the side of the road, not in the road, cross roads at the crosswalks, etc., and we had the unique privilege in my neighborhood to look with disdain at both black and white teenagers and young adults as they walked in the middle of the street, blocking oncoming neighborhood traffic, and especially if one of their friends came driving up - car stops no lanes open... Complaints fly in the house upon making it back home. I am glad I have grown out of that vile POV of complaining about people just trying to live and get by.

Fast forward almost 25 years, and I have moved out a little closer to Ann Arbor, into East Pittsfield Township near a very healthy center of residences and basic shopping. Carpenter Road is where you can get all your groceries, home goods, and what not, it is also a main road on the way to work for a lot of people. Speed limit 45mph, and shopping is couched between two other main roads: Packard and Ellsworth with limits varying between 25 and 45.

I'm a seasonal cyclist, so I have some understanding of the difficulty getting around in something other than a car. Pedestrians are all over, and over the past year they've installed small pedestrian islands at Carpenter and Packard, along with one in the middle of the stretch of Carpenter between Packard and Ellsworth. Carpenter also has about 3 different crosswalks by traffic lights. They're spaced out. Spaced out well? I am not in a position to opine.

But my guess is no: there are still people crossing the roads in odd places with oncoming traffic, and yes, I want pedestrians to be able to get around however they please. I have this knee jerk reaction whenever I see this happen, probably due to my upbringing, and I'm managing it. On the one hand, I want pedestrians to have the freedom to move about, on the other I don't find it wise to walk out in front of anything that weighs a thousand pounds or two like cars or trees and branches that may fall into trails in the woods.

Most of the time though, pedestrians are good about crossing either at the walks or elsewhere: they time their walking, most drivers and I time their driving and in many cases my biking too. It's working out, it's just slow, and we have a lot of kinks to work out.

It must be said that articles like the FPP will be nothing but aspirations until the discussion about our relations with automobiles gets reframed. Right now it's all about the auto industry coming back with the same basic run of cars and trucks they were selling in the late 90s, just with new names, a bit more tech, new bodies, but same mpg basically (better with luck, and only luck). It's all about the energy industry booming in the Dakotas, when that boom might be over in about 5-10 years when the sources are tapped out.

There be your leverage points to slowly (and it will be slow) returning the roads to pedestrians: energy supplies are thinning and thus energy cost in terms of money is surely but slowly rising, only falling under certain geopolitical winds. We can't depend on high consumption vehicles forever, nor on the current economy which is shackled to the autos that move around our goods and services at the moment.

In transition: vehicles with higher fuel efficiency should be deployed. I'm pretty happy that the Elio car is looking to become available next year. I hate the fact we've made walk/bike/bus to work months a thing - they should be seasons (but of course that fails the go big or go home thing). Simultaneously we need to put pressure on urbanization rates: aim for zero, as more efficient cars threaten to increase those rates.

Safe pedestrian areas need to grow, and consistent evolving public advisories on navigating the roads by foot, bike, and car should be happening by paper, radio, internet, and cell phone (preferably SMS, not everyone has or wants a smart phone with 34g/LTE/etc).

Beyond this, radical shake ups may do more harm than good, those should most certainly be suggested and executed with great discretion. Aggressive implementation and supporting of pro-pedestrian and sustainability policies should be happening however.

I don't know what else, I'm all out of ideas. We have to do something and none of it is going to go smoothly - that's the only guarantee.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:43 PM on January 26


I was just in Taipei for 2 weeks. Traffic there is wonderful. Pedestrians pay attention to traffic signals when there are any and, when there aren't, pedestrians have right of way! Bicycles come next, then scooters, with cars nearly-last and small trucks a very distant last place.

You can confidently walk out across a small street that has traffic on it and, so long as you don't vary your speed, vehicles will either slow down to let you cross in front of them, or will gently swish past you in an organic flow of movement. It's quite nice and a big change from Australian "I'm bigger than you so you have to watch out for me" mentality.

Getting Australian kids used to this is problematic, as they want to dash across suddenly, or stop or speed up suddenly when they see a vehicle coming. Teaching them that you have to be predictable is the hardest part.

I'd be really happy if we could somehow transplant some of that right-of-way culture back home.
posted by nonspecialist at 4:49 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


One thing I neglected to mention is that a lot of smaller Taipei streets just don't even have sidewalks -- pedestrians (and there are a *lot* of pedestrians) walk on the street next to parked cars, in amongst the daily traffic.

Driver awareness of bicycles, scooters and pedestrians is just phenomenal there.
posted by nonspecialist at 4:50 PM on January 26


Related: This episode from a design and architechture podcast called %99 Invisible.
posted by lalunamel at 4:51 PM on January 26


Prior to the rise of cars, you did find pedestrians getting hit by horses and, surprisingly, bicycles which were becoming a menace on their own.

Not to derail, but I am not sure why people getting hit by bicycles would be surprising.
I am sure, even back then, cyclists whizzing about the place (as much as cyclists could in the olde streets) decided they were so much more important than the plodding pedestrians.
posted by Mezentian at 4:54 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I've long held that it is not sufficient that a car should stop when a pedestrian crosses in front of it, but its occupants should have to get out and kowtow on the asphalt until the pedestrian has passed by.

If I didn't know better, I'd say that was sarcasm.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:58 PM on January 26


We've paid a high price for the dubious convenience of creeping around in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 20 minutes, hunting for a space where we can have the privilege of paying $5 an hour to park. I'm really not at all sure it was worth it.
Absolutely. I don't live in a city, but I do work in the CBD and have the luxury of no longer having to drive there, but catch a train. When I come in to work on a weekend, though, it's amazing how much different the city feels without the constant jam of both parked and not-yet-parked cars. I sometimes imagine what a nice place the city would be to work (and, perhaps, to live) if they shut all cars out of the CBD and turned the streets over to people, with the only access being either by train or bus, with enough of the roads allocated to extend the busway network to totally separate vehicles from pedestrians.
posted by dg at 4:59 PM on January 26


I am sure, even back then, cyclists whizzing about the place (as much as cyclists could in the olde streets) decided they were so much more important than the plodding pedestrians.

Take a walk on any mixed-use path and you'll find this still happening. There's so many crazy speedster cyclists weaving in and around traffic on the Minuteman Bikeway that I don't even feel safe cycling on it, and I really pity the pedestrians who have to deal with those jerks.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:00 PM on January 26


If I didn't know better, I'd say that was sarcasm.

Not in the least. I think right of way should be inversely proportionate to the amount of resources and public amenities you're using to accomplish the same task. The disproportion between a driver and a pedestrian is so extreme that it seems quite reasonable to require that the amount of "yielding" they have to do should be equally extreme.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:03 PM on January 26


1906 film of San Francisco street - kids, bikes, pedestrians, horses, buggies, trolleys, and cars.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:04 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


I am convinced that in any populated area (urban, suburban) 25mph is the max motor vehicles should go.

I spent some time in Cambodia and Thailand, where the conditions made 20-25 mph pretty much essential , and I came back home wishing it could work the same way.

Pedestrians, bicycles, tuk-tuks, motorcycle cargo trucks and cars could all manage to maneuver safely at those speeds. Merging, turning left, crossing traffic were all much safer.

I see it at home in school zones (the one near my house that I drive through daily is enforced by a very visible police presence).

It'll never happen, so I can only hope we are moving daily toward automated driverless cars.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:07 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


I sometimes imagine what a nice place the city would be to work (and, perhaps, to live) if they shut all cars out of the CBD and turned the streets over to people,

I'm sure they have been doing that in those damn commie European and Scandanavian countries for decades.

The Ten Myths of Automobile Dependence (PDF) is interesting if anyone wants to read it. Peter Newman has been banging on about just this sort of thing forever.

I am, of course, part of the problem. I live close enough to public transport to use it, but the cost in money and time mean I just drive my damn car.
posted by Mezentian at 5:08 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


I spent some time in Cambodia

And you think Cambodian traffic patterns are superior to American in what way? The lack of traffic lights? The way motos ignore which side of the street they should be on so you have like six alternating directions of traffic per two lane street? Come on.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:23 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


I live in the centre of a tourist city, on a road 100 metres from its main historical attractions. The square at the end has 20,000 pedestrian movements across it per day, and Saturday was a busy day. The pavements/sidewalks along my street are about one metre wide, and there's parking along one side of the street plus a one way traffic lane which doesn't go anywhere particular.

Needless to say, it was very crowded on Saturday since there was a rugby match on. People were walking on the tarmac as well as on the paths. Someone drives into the street and starts seeing all the people in front of his car, and rather than tending his car along at 5-10mph for a couple of hundred metres, he tries to drive it at 20mph tapping on his horn as he drove along and braking as people didn't jump to the side quickly enough for his tastes. Funny thing is, I'm sure he wouldn't barge his way through hundreds of people in that manner if everyone was using the same means of transport. But it's that combined feeling of superiority and vulnerability that makes people in city centres drive like that. Some people on bikes do it too. I remonstrate with anyone I can get close enough to talk to about it.
posted by ambrosen at 5:29 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


I'm a transportation planner by trade, and at work we were talking about a proposal somewhere in the US to require bicyclists and pedestrians to wear bright color clothing to improve safety for those less-protected modes of transportation.

Hi-viz clothing doesn't make cyclists safer. Same with helmets, wearing a helmet doesn't prevent you from getting hit, of course. These laws requiring helmets/licenses/insurance*/registration/whatever have no actual basis in reality, they are about upholding the current dominant car culture by discouraging cycling (and walking!). It's either a way to attempt to criminalize riding a bike, or to absolve the people who kill people with their vehicles in 'accidents'. Look at how much reporting of street safety is usually a one paragraph 'so and so died, driver cooperated and let go, cyclist was not wearing a helmet / pedestrian was in road'.

I live in the bay area and ride my bike to the ferry a lot. There was one woman who was a full on christmas tree, she had a jacket with 20 blinkies, lights in the spokes, LED strip lights on the frame, fluorescent mohawk attached to her helmet. It was her thing and she went all out with it, the same way other people go full spandex for their office commute, or the way I endlessly tune and polish my touring bike between trips. I knew instantly who the paper was talking about when I read that a brightly lit cyclist had been run over and dragged for 2 blocks by a big rig near the ferry terminal recently. This was a few blocks from my house, on an official city signed bike route with a bike lane.

.


The most frustrating thing is how any discussion of doing absolutely anything to improve the urban environment is that it's 100% dominated by the issue of parking. Entire neighborhoods of car owners will rise up and fight to the death over the loss of a single parking spot no matter what improvement is being made, whether it is for better safety, parks, sidewalks, cycling, transit, anything. My partner was doing field work for an urban planning study in SF, they wanted to improve a neglected park at the terminal of a major lightrail line that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Literally one of the most scenic places in a city that is surrounded by good views, except the weird design of this place meant it mostly attracted trash and late night drug deals, no one hung out there. All the neighbors came out to the meeting and wanted to know one thing: would the new park include more parking?


* Funny note, I actually did attempt to buy insurance in case I ever get hit by a car. I was turned down, because to buy a policy that protected me as a cyclist, I had to own a car.
posted by bradbane at 5:29 PM on January 26 [17 favorites]


A little more seriously, driving is heavily subsidized by non-drivers. Taxes and fees for fuel and vehicles mostly pay for highways. Municipal traffic infrastructure is paid for in equal measure by everyone, and not just in the public sector. The prices I pay at the store subsidize the parking amenities even if I walk or ride a bike. We really need to shift the tax burden and foster a culture of point-of-use payment for things like that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:30 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


Take a walk on any mixed-use path and you'll find this still happening. There's so many crazy speedster cyclists weaving in and around traffic on the Minuteman Bikeway that I don't even feel safe cycling on it, and I really pity the pedestrians who have to deal with those jerks.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:00 PM on January 26 [+] [!]


You know, it goes both ways. I narrowly missed hitting a pedestrian the other day that didn't bother to check if the cycling lane was clear before wandering across the road. And this was in a Copenhagen style bike lane so I couldn't just pull over into the main part of the road. Got to pull a fun braking skid though, so that was enjoying at least.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:31 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


One of the pleasures of where I live is a citywide speed limit of 25 mph. The town predates the automobile, but keeping the speed limit at 25mph is what kept a "walking culture." Kids walk to school and to the parks, people walk to church and bars and dinner and the shops, joggers and strollers and dog walkers all feel confident walking into crosswalks even during the busiest times of day, and old people especially are so much more mobile not requiring a car to get around.

I grew up when cars ruled entirely--no bike lanes, often no sidewalks--and am still paranoid about them running me down. It is weird teaching my kids to use crosswalks with confidence, because I've been dodging cars all my life.
posted by kenlayne at 5:58 PM on January 26


Wow, it looks universal. Americans just hate cars.
posted by codswallop at 6:09 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


In the UK speed limit for a built-up area is 30mph tho perhaps under half of drivers drive at that speed. When I was driving I was well aware of other drivers tailgating me when I was doing 30 in a residential street.

Last year in Florida I'd been looking forward to taking the grandchild for walks in her pushchair. After seeing a disabled woman on crutches trying to get across a four-lane highway at a 'pedestrian crossing' I knew I wouldn't be taking the kid anywhere that entailed crossing the road. On the other hand crossing the road by the house I grew up in in Nigeria is pretty hair-raising now as traffic has exponentially increased there. Nothing safe about it. But, to pre-emptively make pedestrians take all responsibility for their vulnerability in motor traffic seems a miracle of astute lawmaking.
posted by glasseyes at 6:10 PM on January 26


One of the pleasures of where I live is a citywide speed limit of 25 mph.

That's great if the police actually enforce that. As far as I can tell, no one has ever gotten a speeding ticket in my city. Or at least no one I've talked to. People routinely drive 2x the speed limit on city streets and no one stops them.
posted by octothorpe at 6:32 PM on January 26


Hi-viz clothing doesn't make cyclists safer.

I love your stories and . for that poor woman. This article doesn't say what you say it does though. "Our study suggests that, no matter what you wear, it will do nothing to prevent a small minority of people from getting dangerously close when they overtake you." And that was 1 cyclist (the study author whose quote that is) riding a bike on his commuting route in London. The paper was interesting though.

I love walking and running and I'd love it if we could all have lifestyles that eliminate the need for cars. All I want is for there to be some effort to get everyone on the same page. I've seen pedestrians do some awful things. Just crossing wherever, whenever. Just walking in the street when there is a perfectly good sidewalk right there. I saw a parent take two kids that were about 4 and 6, across the street. It is an industrial area, and the block isn't long. Instead of going to the light at either end, the parent takes the kids across in the middle of the block, as cars are coming. The kids were smart, and ran without being told. The parent slowly lollygagged across, where the 3 of them promptly walked down to the light where they should have crossed.

Then you have those crosswalk ares in the middle of busy thoroughfares. I remember about 15 years ago I saw a pedestrian walking out, and I stopped. Well I almost got rear ended, and I got screamed at and it was not a great scene.

If pedestrians are going to be doing whatever they feel like it in roadways, fine - but there needs to be some agreement and understanding. But often the signage is the opposite. Pick a culture and go with it.
posted by cashman at 6:38 PM on January 26


People talk about self driving cars reducing car-on-car accidents, but life on the street as a pedestrian or cyclist completely changes if all of the cars are programmed to not run over you. I really hope those things become ubiquitous.
posted by Defenestrator at 6:41 PM on January 26 [12 favorites]


People talk about self driving cars reducing car-on-car accidents, but life on the street as a pedestrian or cyclist completely changes if all of the cars are programmed to not run over you. I really hope those things become ubiquitous.

Even if the self driving cars aren't super pedestrian friendly, at least they will be predictable. The worst is never knowing if someone is going to accelerate or swerve or stop. It would be lovely to have streets full of predictable robo cars, with smooth driving and controlled traffic patterns.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 PM on January 26 [8 favorites]


Yeah, predictable.
posted by cashman at 6:50 PM on January 26


Wow, it looks universal. Americans just hate cars.

Of course we do. We depend on them. Addicts always have a perverse love-hate relationship with the things they depend on. The only reason most people drive daily is because they have to, because we designed our entire way of life around the use of automobiles. Sure, there's likely still a good portion of the population that actively enjoys driving, but these days, it's a rare bird that doesn't occasionally fantasize about never having to drive again. At least, that's been the impression I've gotten discussing the subject with lots of different people from different backgrounds over the years.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:56 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Reading the first article brought up a question that's been nagging at me ever since I can remember. Here in the U.S., we don't have any roads without speed limits, do we?

Other than emergency vehicles, why DO we allow vehicles on the road that are capable of significantly exceeding speed limits for prolonged periods? What's the justification?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:06 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


...Meant to say "actively enjoys driving sometimes"
posted by saulgoodman at 7:06 PM on January 26


Every manufacturer of self-driving car will have different programming. Every car will be maintained slightly differently, and have different sensor failures. Some cars will be offered in self-driving and not self-driving. Cars will sometimes be driven in 'manual' mode.

Self driving cars will, if anything, make car traffic *less* predictable.
posted by anthill at 7:07 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Every manufacturer of self-driving car will have different programming.

Well, right now every human driver has different and wildly unpredictable programming. I'd rather trust computers than the idiots on the road now.
posted by octothorpe at 7:17 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Eventually, I learned to stop for pedestrians, and to stop for people patiently waiting at corners. Once I got over my culture shock, it turned out to be really wonderful. Being able to cross the street easily was so nice. Somehow, Portlanders learned to actually obey the rule that pedestrians come first.

When I moved to Boston, I learned that neither car nor pedestrian respects the rules of the road (as illogical as those rules may be) and disregard from both parties makes it 4X worse. As a pedestrian, I expect to be honked at for merely encroaching upon the road, to walk with fear, always. I have literally seen a pedestrian mowed down in front of me. As a driver (who has a SPOTLESS driving record), I exist in a constant state of paranoia. Wondering not if, but when, the next college student or texting mother pushing a baby carriage will pop out from behind a bus and commence their lawsuit as soon as I finish responsibly braking while the cars behind me continue to honk, even as I get out to inspect the body, for going three miles under the speed limit. Worse still are the nightmares that haunt me of the insurance fraudster. I have been the victim of car on car pranks, but so far have avoided pedestrian on car. But my dashcam is always on!

I cast my vote for the more utopian suggestions here of banning cars from pedestrian streets altogether. I just don't see how, in Boston at least, cars and people can be made to coexist.
posted by Halogenhat at 7:18 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Every manufacturer of self-driving car will have different programming. Every car will be maintained slightly differently, and have different sensor failures. Some cars will be offered in self-driving and not self-driving. Cars will sometimes be driven in 'manual' mode.

Self driving cars will, if anything, make car traffic *less* predictable.


At first, maybe; it seems to me like one of the most difficult things will be legislative mandates being properly written to govern the behavior of the cars (specifying necessary edge cases, etc.) and some technical standards getting developed for the cars so that they can adapt to driving in different jurisdictions. But if societies put the effort into working out the kinks, the benefits that devolve will be legion.

Have computer-controlled trains and aircraft, which we've had for some time now, made those sorts of traffic more or less predictable?
posted by XMLicious at 7:27 PM on January 26


LarryC: He has a lot of stuff from the point of view of the first generation of automobile owners, trying to figure out how to operate and navigate a new technology.

There's a story from somewhere in my family history, of the young daughter of some relative generations ago who was killed by one of the first cars in town. Except she wasn't just hit once - the drive backed over her to see what he (?) had hit. The learning curve for society at large with the introduction of such lethal machines is astounding, and with that general context, I'm really happy we don't have flying cars.


Scientist: Furthermore, when we are driving, we are not mentally a part of the space we are driving through; we are inside and the neighborhood is outside.

The often-seen "density of transportation options" image, is still useful for such conversations, displaying not only the sheer amount of space required for single occupancy vehicles, but also how much more people can interact.


Mezentian: And, we've managed to completely fuck up public transport as well.

Mezentian: I am, of course, part of the problem. I live close enough to public transport to use it, but the cost in money and time mean I just drive my damn car.

Public transportation in the US is facing a really hard battle -- how do you move people around largely suburban developments that were specifically designed for cars, with low user densities. Transit needs high density populations to work, but that's only found in big cities or around college campuses, and options like subways and other rail are widely used when there is the density to support them. I don't know of any bus system that is used nearly so much, beyond college routes. Until bus riders get some benefit over drivers, buses will keep on losing.

I have a big, old minivan to drive to work, so driving is really expensive for me. Sure, I could afford a more efficient car, or I could take transit to work. I used to walk a mile to a bus stop, then ride the bus for 45 minutes, which was significantly slower than if I just drove from work, but I really valued not driving myself. I saved a ton of money, and I could read, listen to music, enjoy the scenery, or sleep. I even made a good friend on that route. Now I'm even luckier, where I can take a train to work. I pay a third of the cost of gas to ride the train, and it's only 15-30 minutes longer than if I drove myself. A co-worker found that extra time too valuable, but I really, really like not driving.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:27 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Dip Flash: slower and more civilized roads benefit all users.

Shared space is a really interesting idea (RIP Hans Monderman), where the road design is what leads the road users to their speeds and actions, not a proliferation of signs. This is a topic I'd like to research more, as it's been in use for quite a while in some places.


mokin: When I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was surprised at the audacity and confidence of pedestrians. They would walk right into the street at crosswalks and expect the cars to stop for them! Sometimes they would even do it in the middle of the street.

octothorpe: People around here just look both ways and walk across the street when it's clear, sometimes in a crosswalk or sometimes not, but not usually paying any attention to the lights.

I get twitchy when I see people start walking at unmarked locations when there is traffic, if they're not looking for oncoming vehicles. I will cut across streets at unmarked locations, but I recognize that cars are large, fast moving, and most drivers don't look beyond the road ahead of the, when they're not distracted by cell phones or changing the radio station.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 PM on January 26


I am, of course, part of the problem. I live close enough to public transport to use it, but the cost in money and time mean I just drive my damn car.
Yeah, this. It costs me $110 a week to catch the train to and from work. The cost of driving is only marginally more, so it's no wonder people choose convenience and comfort. If you can share the car trip with one other person, it becomes substantially cheaper to drive. I like driving, but a couple of years of having to drive because of having a work car convinced me that the 2 hours of 'me time' a day I get on the train is far more valuable.

One of the pleasures of where I live is a citywide speed limit of 25 mph.
That's great if the police actually enforce that. As far as I can tell, no one has ever gotten a speeding ticket in my city.

The speed limit in the city I work is 40 kph (near enough to 25 mph). Boy, is it enforced! Vehicle-mounted stationary speed cameras are a regular sight and drivers bitching about getting fines in the mail are a regular sound. I think they should just keep reducing the speed limit until people decide it's not worth driving in the city at all.

I like cars and I like driving them, but cars in densely packed roads shared with all sorts of other vehicles are nothing but a disaster and always will be.
posted by dg at 7:37 PM on January 26


I'd love to take public transportation more but it's just so slow. I'm looking at a new job that's about 5.5 miles from home; both home and office are in the city. If I drive during rush hour, it takes about 20 minutes but taking the subway -> bus would take 45 minutes to an hour and involve a lot of standing in the freezing cold. My car gets around 30 MPG so the round trip would cost me around $1.25 in gas versus a $5.00 round trip on the bus. Yeah with wear and tear on the car, it's probably about the same cost for either but it's just hard to justify the extra time and hassle to take the bus.
posted by octothorpe at 7:41 PM on January 26


The speed limit in the city I work is 40 kph (near enough to 25 mph). Boy, is it enforced! Vehicle-mounted stationary speed cameras are a regular sight and drivers bitching about getting fines in the mail are a regular sound.

The local police in Pennsylvania are banned by law from using radar guns so enforcing speed limits is difficult.
posted by octothorpe at 7:48 PM on January 26


I can see the concern where the police are able to retain revenue from fines. Speed cameras, both fixed and mobile (using radar to measure speed and sometimes combined with red light cameras so you can be fined and receive demerit points twice in one move) are a way of life here, as well as the particularly nasty point-to-point cameras that calculate average speed over long distances. The police, however, don't receive any of the revenue directly and it is earmarked for programs and work specifically aimed at improving road safety which often includes development of bike lanes :-)
posted by dg at 8:17 PM on January 26


For my fellow Americans who haven't traveled abroad: in the downtown areas of most major European cities commuter traffic is illegal. The streets in these areas are blocked off by large steel posts that retract into the ground when an authorized vehicle uses a coded remote.
posted by clarknova at 8:34 PM on January 26


I like NYC rules: pedestrians and cyclists treat traffic signals and written law as advisory. Automobiles more or less obey and generally break what rules they do responsibly. Many drivers are taxis and generally highly skilled at NYC driving, if often slightly aggressive. Everyone most always follows the unwritten rules. Eyes up, head on a swivel, pay attention. Decent cycling infrastructure.

NYPD does need to more strongly go after vehicles crashing into people, but unfortunately de Blasio seems hell bent on insulting his city by any means possible and has gone off in the other direction, and while he's moderated on this out of necessity + Bloomberg getting a good parting shot in w/ Citibike he was seeming rather eager to tear up bike lanes, possibly as one of the many money powers behind him is taxi medallions.

I think Bloomberg wanted to do congestion fees or even no personal vehicles in Manhattan but even he couldn't swing it.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:43 PM on January 26


Trains and aircraft operate in spaces specifically designed to be predictable and shielded from disturbances. Airports have barbed wire fences. Subways are grade-separated and some have passenger control gates at stations. This is a typical technical solution for most automated systems.

My concern with automated cars is that they will promote a similar solution for city streets.
posted by anthill at 9:07 PM on January 26


Congestion fees are being looked at in a number of Australian cities too.

In his book Walkable City, Mr Speck said London was a good example of how effective congestion charges could be.
Its introduction in the early 2000s led to a 30 per cent reduction in congestion and a 14 per cent decline in journey times. Cycling among Londoners jumped 20 per cent and air pollution fell about 12 per cent.
Most of the money raised by the toll, more than $1 billion, had been spent on public transport.

"London now has hundreds of new buses, providing almost 30,000 more daily trips than before the charge," he wrote.
"Bus reliability has jumped by 30 per cent and bus delays have dropped by 60 per cent.
"London is not alone in its embrace of congestion pricing. Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm and Sydney have all introduced similar measures with varying, but generally positive results."


Incidentally, if anyone has a need for speed, there's six-month trial on a 200 kilometre stretch of the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory, and you can pretty much drive as fast as you want to as long as you are driving to your ability.
posted by Mezentian at 9:07 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


save alive nothing that breatheth: "I like NYC rules: pedestrians and cyclists treat traffic signals and written law as advisory. Automobiles more or less obey and generally break what rules they do responsibly. Many drivers are taxis and generally highly skilled at NYC driving, if often slightly aggressive"

I so disagree. The traffic situation in NYC is appalling. Just this week, there were 6 fatal crashes ("17 This Year; No Drivers Charged") and many other incidents including "Hell’s Kitchen: Cabbie Drives on Sidewalk to Avoid Traffic" and "UES: Woman Loses Leg After Cement Truck Driver Strikes, Drags Her 20 Feet" and "UES: Driver “Loses Control” of Car, Slamming Into Storefront; No Charges". Enforcement and prosecution are a joke. Crashes aren't even investigated by the Accident Investigation Squad unless someone has either died or is deemed likely to die. I do hope that DeBlasio is able to do something, anything towards fixing some of this. I really want to raise children in this city but reading about a 9 year old killed while holding his father's hand in a crosswalk with the light makes me wonder if that's something I'll be mentally able to do.
posted by coupdefoudre at 9:11 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


The 25mph speed limits are pretty strictly enforced in my town of 75,000— enough that when I do see someone speeding, I'm surprised. (And if they're within earshot, they get a Stern Lecture.) The school crossing guards are part of the local police department, so people tend to behave a lot better at crosswalks. Those mobile radar/speed display things also get moved from one spot to another every few days, and they usually come with a patrol car and a cop waving people over for a speeding ticket.

I would prefer no cars at all, like a lot of you here, but even in the bike-friendly & trails-a-plenty area I live in, with two ferry terminals and frequent express buses (the fancy Euro kind with wifi) to the big city where lots of people here work, a traffic study I read said that 80% of people who commute still use their private automobile for commuting.
posted by kenlayne at 9:13 PM on January 26


I agree the enforcement's fucked, I think for the most part the citizens are alright. Read the news, though, de Blasio is indeed trying to do something, anything, to make the streets safer - for automobiles.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:15 PM on January 26


Counter-anecdotal evidence: In my 10 years as a Boston-area pedestrian, I have never seen anyone mown down. I've seen plenty of idiot college students nearly get mown down (and doubtless been one myself) but I've never seen anyone hit. FWIW, I have seen fender benders. And I fear for bikers, both as a driver and a pedestrian.

For some weird reason I can't explain, after living in Boston a whlie (and other cities, I suspect), you develop a sense for which intersections can be crossed against a light and which can't. I mean, I suppose that "sense" is mostly observing traffic, making sure you have a good line of sight.
posted by maryr at 9:39 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief: I get twitchy when I see people start walking at unmarked locations when there is traffic...

As a driver, it's really important to remember that in most states, there are crosswalk in many places that don't have markings. In some places, every 4-way intersection has four whether there's paint on the ground or not.

As a pedestrian, it's even more important to remember that not one driver in ten remembers this, and not even one in twenty will yield.
posted by CHoldredge at 10:30 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


My employer subsidizes (already pretty affordable) bus passes, but not (already pretty pricey) parking. For anyone living near the bus line, it's kind of a no-brainer for the daily commute..
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:32 PM on January 26


I've never seen anyone mown down, either. Just watched one dog get mowed down, heard many anecdotes, and seen countless roadkill. I have seen the numbers, and something like 40,000 people in the U.S. every year are killed in car crashes. Just as a counter-counter anecdote.
posted by aniola at 10:33 PM on January 26


Yes, but they also wait obediently for traffic signals, which blows my Bostonian mind.
posted by nev at 4:25 PM on January 26 [2 favorites +] [!]

I was in DC this summer with my sister-in-law who lives there and I kept having to stop short when walking across crosswalks because people there apparently pay attention to the WALK/DONT WALK signs. I'm not used to that.
posted by octothorpe at 4:34 PM on January 26 [+] [!]


I live in London, where pedestrians tend to take their own view on whether prevailing traffic conditions make any particular Walk/Don't Walk sign worth obeying or not. When visiting several US cities, I've been amazed at how much more seriously their residents take the signs' commands.

In Seattle, for example, I once blithely ignored a central street's Don't Walk sign because the only car in sight was merely a dot on the horizon. I was half-way across the street, still with no traffic anywhere near me, when a guy working construction nearby yelled at me for jay-walking. Bizarre.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:34 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


"...the sheer volume of manure produced by horses

My grandmother told me that when she was growing up in horse-powered London, the manure meant that there were huge numbers of flies. When you went into a bakery and asked for a cake, the baker would wave his hand over the cakes and a huge black mass of flies would rise into the air before he picked it.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:48 AM on January 27


I was half-way across the street, still with no traffic anywhere near me, when a guy working construction nearby yelled at me for jay-walking. Bizarre.

My mother, who spent much of her early life in Canada, is still rather allergic to jay-walking, and gets quite antsy when we don't go to a crossing when one is available. It is genuinely bizzare to me that one can actually be fined for not crossing at an appointed point.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:43 AM on January 27


It's funny because London, like many metropolitan centres across Europe, has not developed the same full on car culture that many large American cities have.

Even so, in the UK it is incredible how many drivers don't understand three very basic rules of the road:

1) A flashing amber light at a pedestrian cross IS STILL THE PEDESTRIAN'S RIGHT OF WAY.

2) PEDESTRIANS ALREADY CROSSING THE ROAD YOU ARE TURNING INTO HAVE RIGHT OF WAY.

and finally: The rules in The Highway Code do not give you the right of way in any circumstance. THE CORRECT PROCEDURE WHEN A PEDESTRIAN IS IN THE ROAD IS TO SLOW DOWN OR STOP, NOT EXPECT THEM TO JUMP OUT OF THE WAY WHILE YOU MAINTAIN YOUR SPEED.

So we're lucky in the UK that we don't have ridiculous jaywalking laws. But while not enshrined formally in law, the prevailing view is that cyclists should somehow make way for motorists.

The "I pay my road tax" idiots have been covered several times over in cycling threads but the central point remains: motorists - we motorists - do not acknowledge enough that roads were not and are not the sole preserve of car drivers. Furthermore, as per George_Spiggott's point upthread: driving is subsidized by all of us.*

* A point still missing from the debate, especially in heavily fuel-taxed Britain. The Surrey hills southwest of London are a popular weekend cycling spot. Roads are closed about twice a year for weekend cycling events but nearly every weekend brings organised or informal groups of cyclists to ride on open roads. To give an idea of the inaccuracy of the roads_for_motorists lobby and their degree of entitlement: the man running the popular petition against cycling believed Surrey closed its roads 250 times last year. The actual number was twice. The year before that Surrey had exceptionally hosted Olympics cycling events. The argument, whether against pedestrians or cyclists is an unwillingness to share based on a misplaced sense of entitlement. You can listen to the debate here.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:14 AM on January 27


I see more and more pedestrians wear those hi-viz vests that are meant to be worn when you are on the highway and your car breaks down. People over here wear them while walking their dog in the evening. I see that as a pretty bad idea for these reasons:

- They are using something that's meant to inform others of an emergency, or in any case problematic and not-normal, situation. This dilutes the value of the signal.
- Drivers will get used to the idea that anything they need to pay attention to is brightly lit, reflective or fluorecent orange. They will eventually stop noticing anything that isn't.

Personally, if I felt unsafe walking in the dark, I'd start wearing a reflective arm band or something like that. If I had a dog, I would get a reflective leash. There is nothing wrong with a bit of passive safety. But emergency signals should keep their meaning. Walking your dog is not a 'watch out, something special is going on!' situation.

Don't even get me started on motorcyclists wearing them...
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:14 AM on January 27


They are using something that's meant to inform others of an emergency, or in any case problematic and not-normal, situation

No, they're not. They have been used by people who need to be seen. There are lots of examples where they are standard practice (e.g. ground staff at airports). It is far safer for pedestrians to be seen than a hypothetical problem in which drivers decided that hi-viz wearing does/does not mean something is happening.

Drivers will get used to the idea that anything they need to pay attention to is brightly lit

This is true, but overlooks the fact that drivers are already conditioned for selective attention - one reason why drivers pulling out in front of motorcyclists and cyclists often claim they didn't see them: they're only looking for motor cars and trucks.

Drivers are already poor at scanning the road for non-obvious risk. Improving their chances of seeing risk or vulnerable road users in selected cases is unlikely to be outweighed by any loss of attention on other road users.

Don't even get me started on motorcyclists wearing them...

I'll get you started: I'm utterly perplexed by why you think hi viz clothing is the preserve of emergency responders and/or people whose car has not broken down and not a sensible measure for vulnerable road users.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:43 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


I'm not talking about hi-viz in general. I'm talking about those specific vests. The ones that are meant to be used when your car breaks down on the highway. Not sure those are a Thing where you live, but they're a Thing here.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:45 AM on January 27


Perhaps this would be a good place to point out that that phrases like "over here" and "around here" have limited utility in the comments unless you actually specify where "here" is.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:36 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Oh I have high vis clothing, and flashing lights. Drivers still don't 'see' me though. They tend to be surprised when I end up a metre or so but being killed by them. Sorry, didn't see you, somehow.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:44 AM on January 27


Paul, that's a good point. While my location is in my profile, it would have made sense to mention that my 'here' is in the Netherlands.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:44 AM on January 27


When I was exploring Los Angeles with the seed of a possibility that I might be living there with my then it's-complicated at some point, the bizarre deference of Angelenos to pedestrians was one of the most alarming signs of alienness there. I'm a child of the Baltimore/DC corridor, and this does not happen here, even in the clearly marked crossings with huge signs that say STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS.

I'd be on the sidelines of some broad street in Venice or West Adams or elsewhere, poised to scurry, and when I found an opening, I'd step off the curb…and everyone would stop. It was embarrassing, really.

"What the hell?" I'd ask my then it's-complicated. "Why can't I just jaywalk like a normal person?"

"I didn't know you did anything like a normal person."

"My finely honed scurrying ability is wasted in this city. I try to scurry across the street and everyone just stops and I look like a doof."

I am a great scurrier. You should see me in Baltimore, Chicago, and New York—I can scurry with the best of 'em, and only rarely have to quote Dustin Hoffman's famous improvised line. Out west, though, everyone just stops. It's frightening and incomprehensible, given the relationship people in LA have to their cars.
posted by sonascope at 4:35 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


anthill: Every manufacturer of self-driving car will have different programming. Every car will be maintained slightly differently, and have different sensor failures. Some cars will be offered in self-driving and not self-driving. Cars will sometimes be driven in 'manual' mode.

Self driving cars will, if anything, make car traffic *less* predictable.


No, no they wont. First of all, it will definitely be required that they are built to a standard like this. When it becomes legal, it's going to be like airbags. There's going to be a certification body, and required very very high specs on stuff with the entire system meeting very stringent and rigid requirements. I can't find what i was looking for on software where failure is unacceptable, but as it is airbags and ABS are run by computers. That software cannot have errors, and it doesn't. And it's not 10 lines of code. Same with autopilot systems, and flight computers in aerospace in general. This isn't an insurmountable hump. Spend the ridiculous amount of time/money to develop and verify a super redundant self verifying system with code as error free as possible, then just replicate it millions of times and sell it like crazy. This is the kind of stuff boeing is doing, but with hundreds of low thousands of systems, not millions.

On points 2 and 3, i would imagine the system will simply refuse to engage if it doesn't pass the onboard self test or detects an error during operation. Whether this results in the car switching in to manual mode, or simply remaining parked(or pulling over, or stopping in place depending on the seriousness of the error while in motion). I would imagine that insurance for non self driving cars, or to legally drive your car in manual mode will quickly become VERY expensive. Like, insuring a Ferrari when 17 years old with a DUI expensive.

On the final two points, 1 will not be true for very long unless you're talking about performance, image, or generally luxury cars that aren't of the BMW 7 series/mercedes S class variety meant to transport you in luxury rather than be a sporty machine. As soon as there is a reliable system for this, and the legal guidelines are established, it will catch on as fast as airbags. There will be no "manual version" nor a manual mode honda civic or toyota corolla. Yea, it'll just be a few models at first, but pretty quickly for insurance and other reasons there will be no economy to midrange cars that aren't self driving. Yea, people will still buy subaru STIs and stuff, but they'll pay out the ass to drive them around and have to meet tons of requirements to the point that it will be like various european countries where it basically costs another 80-100% of the cost of the car to actually get it on the road and drive it around.

The only NON self driving cars you'll see 5 or so years after they've become the norm will be damaged self driving models being driven at a fixed low speed with flashing lights on, sending out a signal to all the automatic cars(and cyclists, and pedestrians, etc with beepers and lights) to give them a wide berth. Very quickly, even operating a car in self driving mode in non-emergency conditions will require serious training on the level of say, Germany or Japan. Or at the very least, beyond stuff like the MSF courses for getting a motorcycle license. In addition, it wouldn't surprise me if a high level of insurance SR-22 style is also required.

I can also imagine some sort of "cash for clunkers" type of massive national push for general road safety, in which all non collectible/otherwise high value non self driving cars are pushed off the roads. You will see tons of self driving equivalents of whatever the current version of something like the kia soul is everywhere.

Because seriously, as soon as self driving cars are a reasonable affordable thing, no sane government or organization is going to want human operated cars on the road. That shit will be kicked out like 2 stroke engines in california. Seeing someone driving a car will become about as frequent as seeing someone driving say, a 60s muscle car. And those will also be pretty much the only cars you see people actually operating.

Obviously, i'm talking completely out of my ass here. But i've thought about this a lot, for years, and read pretty much everything that gets published about it.

Mezentian: In an improperly designed city, cars are a nuisance, not an asset too.
My entire city is designed for the car, and pretty much always has been, and generations of city planners have either made a hash of it, or have attempted to make the best of a bad situation but done a terrible job at it.

And, we've managed to completely fuck up public transport as well.


You know, i live in what i think is one of the more fucked up cities in america for this, Seattle. We regularly get ranked as having some of the worst traffic right up there with LA, and have awesome intersections like this wonderful jobbie, which at EVERY light change from direction to direction has multiple people chasing the yellow or running the red, and is one of the most treacherous things i've ever encountered anywhere i've traveled to cross through as a pedestrian or even worse, a cyclist.

I can also easily bullshit up off the top of my head 5 journeys that would take greater than an hour by bus, and could be accomplished in 15 to 20 minutes in a car, or less if traffic was good(which is to say, 3am on a tuesday).

I hate owning a car, it's a hole in the ground you shovel money into. The problem is that as i job hunt, i realize that i'm going to be caught in a shit situation no matter what i do. As it is now, me and my partner moved very close to my work. It takes me under 10 minutes to walk or cycle there. It's also a 15-20 minute drive to her work(but over and hour on the bus)... but a 1-1.5 hour drive home in rush hour traffic most of the time. The problem is that if we move close to her work in any reasonable way, we would be at a minimum an hour on public transit from the vast majority of places i would work, and especially my current office. There would also be a strong possibility that i would be an hour drive in rush hour traffic away.

Something is fundamentally broken here. I should be able to easily take public transit or cycle from most of town to most of the places i would work. There will always be edge cases, but this is crap.

On top of that, i have quite a nice bike, and i love riding it. Throughout highschool other than the bus it was my only mode of transportation. Ditto in college. And yet, despite the fact that seattle constantly gets rated highly as "super bikeable city!" this place honestly sucks. I've been cycling in the street since i was in grade school. I feel like i'm allowed to say that. Some study grading it is not boots on the ground experience, nor the experience of many of my friends.

Lots of streets here are DANGEROUS. Some have bike lanes that are utterly useless and constantly intersect with dangerous blind side street corners(in a cruel joke of the universe, one of the most repeatedly dangerous corners i've seen to approach in any way but like... an MRAP, is right next to... the bike polo courts). There's constant stuff like the bike lane shifting suddenly in an area with lots of merging and lane changing to being BETWEEN lanes. Narrow streets with not enough room, useless bike lanes that are a foot wide and put you right up against parked cars to get doors opened on you or pulled out into with no clearance or room for either party to really look around, just everything bad you can think of. And the roads are absolutely 3rd world bad and full of gigantic endo-inducing craters. Like, control arm on a 4 wheeler snapping craters. The kind of stuff that would break a downhill mountain bike or motocross trials bike. I hear cars bottom out on potholes fairly often. Oh, and there's bonus level dumb shit like streets that are 2 or 3 lanes a lot of the time, but become 4 lanes during certain hours... but always have random cars that failed to move randomly in that 4th lane and people swerving aggressively around them and aggressively cutting out from getting stuck behind them, etc. Every single dumb, wrong thing of american city planning with relation to cycling is here.

So yea, riding a bike is like mad max. And it's like mad max in that scene with the fuel truck.

Oh, and don't even get me started on how much of a joke the speed limits are 30? you'll get tailgated doing less than 40, and probably get passed if there's more than one lane doing that speed. big arterials/state routes have a 40mph limit and then everyone goes 50+. Not to mention that the default speed limit on nearly all streets in town IS 25... but everyone drives a dead minimum of 30 and often more like 40. That nightmare intersection i linked regularly has traffic going 40 every direction through it, and there's a cop shop one block away!(ok, not on 12th, but sometimes).

I'm still mad the original trolley system is gone. That should be around, and should have been upgraded and added to and refined over the years since the 20s. Shit should be like jetsons by now. There should be the aformentioned 25mph speed limit. There should be tolls to drive into the core of town. There should be dedicated greenways fucking everywhere like portland sorta has. I could go on for ages.

Seriously, if you think you've seen bad city planning and a good example of why we should be actively working to get people out of single occupant vehicles, come to seattle and try and move east to west either way at 5pm. even on a sunday. It's like a human centipede of cars from the university of washington to puget sound.
posted by emptythought at 4:47 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I'm a child of the Baltimore/DC corridor, and this does not happen here, even in the clearly marked crossings with huge signs that say STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS.

Ahh, yes, the Great Illinois Experiment.

It is now law -- has been for a couple of years, actually -- that motorists on a city street are required to stop for pedestrians on a "clearly marked crosswalk," unless that crosswalk is signal controlled, in which case, the pedestrians are required to follow the signals, just as the motorists are.

The rub -- What do you mean by clearly marked? There are at least four different marking systems in Chicago, from the two thin parallel lines, the London style black-and-white zebra bars, those with sings saying "Pedestrian Crossing", and then a center pylon saying "STOP when pedestrians crossing."

Many of them, esp. the oldest two line versions, are rather faded.

So, the question becomes "which of these counts?" The latter one is dead obvious, but as the law is written, all do. Even the ones you can't see until you're right on top of them.

Me? I don't even try to cross into traffic without proof that traffic is stopping for me. Old rule in the USCG is "Be right, but don't be dead right." Yeah, you have right of way over that tanker, but right of way is not magical protection. When driving, I'll stop if you're trying to cross, however, I consider staring into a cellphone, not moving, as an indication that you are not crossing the street. So, if you're crossing the street in Chicago, please look up.

Actually, that's a good rule anywhere. Except Rome. It's vitally important never to catch a driver's eye when crossing the street in Rome. If you haven't, they think you haven't seen them, thus, they have to avoid you. If you do, they know you have seen them, thus, it's your job not to be hit by them. It took me a couple of days to figure this out, then walking in Rome was easy.
posted by eriko at 4:48 AM on January 27


Actually, that's a good rule anywhere. Except Rome.

Anecdote: I was visiting NYC for the first time, was picked up by a good friend from the Internet at LGA. We walked out the terminal, and were about to cross the street to get to the parking deck. I looked over at the cabs and strode out. She gasped….

… then said "Oh, right, you're from Chicago, you know how to do this." She was used to people from much smaller towns that didn't understand the careful negotiation between cars and people, in particular, that the famous statement "I'm WALKING here" is actually telegraphically uttered at taxicabs, with the sotto-voice addendum of "You ain't making any money with my ass implanted in your hood, are you?"
posted by eriko at 4:52 AM on January 27


Me? I don't even try to cross into traffic without proof that traffic is stopping for me.

That was the thing that was most disconcerting to me. Sure, everyone stopped, but can I trust them? If I just look for my rat run in the gaps between traffic and dart, I'm reliant on my perception, my abilities, and my understanding of traffic flow, but if people stop, I have to trust that they're not idiots or sociopaths.

When I was working in Baltimore, and used a bicycle to move between my facilities, they'd just marked and put up signs downtown for shared bus/bike-only lanes and heavily advertised that anyone driving in those lanes would be ticketed…and so I ended up in those lanes, a bear on a tiny folding bicycle, pedaling wildly with a bus bumper squeaking on my back wheel and that thundering bus horn a-blarin', despite that I was traveling at the prevailing speed. The law was great and all, but I gave up and went back to navigating on the sidewalks. Being in the right is okay, but being alive is better.
posted by sonascope at 4:57 AM on January 27


el io
The faster you can move/maneuver, the more it is your responsibility to yield to the slower moving thing. Well that just makes *sense*. Can we go back to that please?

Speed and maneuverability don't go together on the road. Pedestrians can stop and turn faster bikes, who can stop and turn faster than cars.
posted by yeolcoatl at 5:44 AM on January 27


As soon as self-driving is legislated in, the only thing that will keep human driving cars on the road is the cost of switching.

Manufacturers will have no choice but to be all over self-driving cars. But. BUT. It will come at a cost. Once cars self drive we will need fewer of them. Most weeks my car sits outside my house most weeks for 164 hours a week. The same is true for half my neighbours.

Self driving cars destroys the ownership model of cars and means we'll need fewer cars overall. The current model reallly is nonsense - this expensive, sophisticated asset sitting there doing nothing. In theory trading ownership of an expensive, depreciating asset for a rental makes things cheaper. In practice, it makes the whole business a licensing/renting model and there are no guarantees it will be radically cheaper: travelling at 11am on a Tuesday will be cheap. But peak times will be expensive.

Human-driven cars will still exist. Initially on the roads. But allowing for a five year cycle of uptake from introduction, it'll take 5-10 years after that to fully remove them from the roads. At that point human driving will become a hobby, and probably a thriving hobby. And it's an open question as to how African or Chinese mass markets will develop - they'll be offered hundreds of thousands of second hand cars, and I suspect will take them up short term.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:31 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Regarding pedestrians in Portland crossing whenever they feel like it...

Years ago when I got my driver's license in Portland, there was a law that defined "unmarked crosswalks." I don't remember the particulars of how it was written, but I remember finding it confusing and ultimately adopted a liberal interpretation that if there was a wheelchair ramp from one side walk to the one across the street, it counted.

No one reads the driver's ed manual thoroughly, and those who primarily commute by car are not going to study the intricacies of pedestrian law. No doubt it appears like folks arejaywalking willy-nilly when they actually have the right of way.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:37 AM on January 27


Self driving cars will, if anything, make car traffic *less* predictable.

Less predictable than drunks, teenagers with new licenses driving carloads of other teenagers around, parents arguing with backseat schoolchildren, smokers dropping cigarettes in their laps, hamburger munchers trying not to drip sauce on their shirts, boy racers trying to prove that they're men because they drive faster than the guys in the other cars, etc? Not bloody likely.

Remove all of those problems by removing manually driven cars and replacing them with autonomous cars that cruise along at evenly spaced intervals at sensible speeds and that actually stop at crosswalks 100 percent of the time. For every possible problem autonomous cars might cause, they would solve ten.

One of the biggest problems they would solve would be the practice of driving for pleasure, the keystone of car culture. No more petty racing and maneuvering for position. Your car would get you there at the appropriate speed for that route. It wouldn't tailgate and pass the car ahead because the car ahead, unless it was mechanically incapable, would also be traveling at that appropriate speed for your trip. Not that you would necessarily have to crawl along. You might all zip down the highway at 100 mph, with all of the cars automatically negotiating the correct speed for that time and route based on shared information about traffic load, weather, lighting, road conditions, etc. But it wouldn't be a race. The cars would be spaced appropriately for their speed and the stopping conditions. And everyone in the car would just be a passenger.
posted by pracowity at 6:57 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


anthill: My concern with automated cars is that they will promote a similar solution [to designated, barricaded travel regions for trains and airplanes] for city streets.

In the US, there is a renewed focus on alternative transportation improvements (though funding has been decreased for this and many roads projects, the program is specifically about Transportation Alternatives), in terms of receiving federal reimbursement for projects. Also, single-use corridors is the exact opposite of complete streets, which are designed to be used safely by all members of the traveling public. In short, I don't think this is a real concern.


anthill: Self driving cars will, if anything, make car traffic *less* predictable.

One thing I've learned about in my transportation planning job is "smart infrastructure," which has been in the works for years, and is now being discussed as "V2I," or vehicle to infrastructure technology. In the long run, self-driving cars aren't intended to be stand-alone devices, but rather part of a network of vehicles, all communicating with each other (V2V) and the infrastructure around them. And this isn't just tech companies talking about self-driving cars, but active investigation from the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

I'm sure there will be issues, even fatal errors, but I can imagine that the number of vehicle-related fatalities will significantly decrease, because so many crashes are because of driver error. There has been a continuous push to make roads safer, and the easiest thing is to make the design of the road and the items around the road safe, because those can be engineered and constructed just right. Getting people to stop texting and driving, or to take a taxi instead of driving after drinking, is a matter of changing what individuals do.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:24 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


The Automobile Fiend, c. 1900
Motorist: "Hello. Killed anything?"
Sportsman: "No, have you?"
posted by obscurator at 10:16 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


About crossing cultures: It's the law everywhere in the United States that vehicles must yield to (or stop for, depending on the state) pedestrians in crosswalks, and that crosswalks exist on every leg of an intersection, whether striped or not, unless signed to the contrary, but that pedestrians must obey signals if they are present. Not that that affects how different cities actually work.

This is completely different from the UK, where vehicles legally have priority over pedestrians except at formal crossings, but pedestrian signals are only advisory.

I am deeply skeptical of claims that driverless cars will usher in a new pedestrian paradise, because the time and distance it takes for vehicles to stop will still be nonzero, and none of the grand schemes for increasing intersection throughput can work in the presence of any pedestrians or bicyclists at all. I hope I will be proven wrong, but I think pedestrian priority will last only until motorists discover that driverless cars can't move at all through city centers if people don't fear them.
posted by enf at 10:24 AM on January 27


Traffic lights and rules of the road? No thanks, we'll manage...

(Watch for the pedestrians in particular as they dart across.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:38 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


The folks in this thread who believe it's a given that Americans will happily give up driving their own cars should get on the problem of getting them to give up their guns first. Good luck, that will be easier.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:50 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


save alive nothing that breatheth: "I agree the enforcement's fucked, I think for the most part the citizens are alright. Read the news, though, de Blasio is indeed trying to do something, anything, to make the streets safer - for automobiles."

How do you consider the citizens 'mostly alright'? These incidents happen due to drivers speeding, failing to yield to peds in the crosswalk, jumping curbs, etc. These are not 'responsible' ways to break the laws.

Also, I do read the news. One of the reasons I voted for BDB was his stated belief in Vision Zero. We'll see what ends up happening but at least they are still talking about doing better instead of the old stance, which was apparently "shit happens."
At the news conference, new police commissioner Bill Bratton talked about how he'll make streets safer. He said he'll grow the number of officers in the highway division to 270 – a 50 percent increase from the level under predecessor Ray Kelly. Late last year, Kelly dismissed a question about the police role in preventing traffic deaths by saying, "you're going to have a lot of traffic and you’re going to have accidents." Bratton also said his officers will investigate not only crashes in which victims die, but also ones that result in critical injuries.
posted by coupdefoudre at 11:07 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Space Coyote: The folks in this thread who believe it's a given that Americans will happily give up driving their own cars should get on the problem of getting them to give up their guns first.

That's actually an interesting issue - assuming there is some broad desire to shift from "manually piloted" cars to "self-driving" cars, how will the hold-outs be coaxed into giving up control? I imagine discounts on insurance will come first, which will sway a number of people. There'll also be ads to promote the "relaxed" lifestyle of letting cars drive for you, the chance to get back to spending time with family and friends instead of focusing on the road. But there will be people who refuse to "give up control," and the system will have to account for them. Interesting times ahead.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:27 AM on January 27


About crossing cultures: It's the law everywhere in the United States that vehicles must yield to (or stop for, depending on the state) pedestrians in crosswalks, and that crosswalks exist on every leg of an intersection, whether striped or not, unless signed to the contrary, but that pedestrians must obey signals if they are present. Not that that affects how different cities actually work.

EXACTLY. We had weekly bike/traffic safety presentations in school from the fourth to seventh grade, and one of the most basic things they stressed was that the pedestrian always has the right of way at any intersection.* I can remember chanting "Thepe-DES-trian-HAS-the-RIGHT-of-WAY to the same cadence as, "Co-LUM-bus-SAILED-the-O-cean-BLUE." It was also one of the first things my Driver's Ed teacher mentioned in the lecture section of our course. Of course, out on De Facto Street, it's obvious not many people were paying attention in school.

*Unless the traffic going in the opposite direction has the signal, etc. Basically, a pedestrian and a car both have to yield to oncoming traffic when they both have a stop sign or a red light, but when they both get to go, the pedestrian has the trump card to go first.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:31 AM on January 27


enf: ...I think pedestrian priority will last only until motorists discover that driverless cars can't move at all through city centers if people don't fear them.

That would seem to be contradicted by nonspecialist's description of Taipei, which already exists now without needing driverless cars.

Space Coyote: The folks in this thread who believe it's a given that Americans will happily give up driving their own cars should get on the problem of getting them to give up their guns first. Good luck, that will be easier.

For my part, I'm unconcerned about whether Americans adopt them; it would be totally unsurprising if this went the same way our healthcare and public transportation systems have relative to the rest of the world. I would be just fine with it if only the rest of the human race got to benefit from it.

I would expect that middle-class and non-chauffeured-upper-class senior citizens will be an unstoppable wedge, though. Once you can't get to your doctor's appointment or to go out and get food to eat because society has structured everything so that you have to travel by car, but you know you've lost the ability to drive safely, any respect for gun-nut-like opposition to driverless cars will go right out the window. It's the desire for driverless cars that will be supported by fear, like with the desire for guns.
posted by XMLicious at 12:48 PM on January 27


It's vitally important never to catch a driver's eye when crossing the street in Rome. If you haven't, they think you haven't seen them, thus, they have to avoid you. If you do, they know you have seen them, thus, it's your job not to be hit by them. It took me a couple of days to figure this out, then walking in Rome was easy.

This is fascinating, since in my part of the world, catching a driver's eye means "If you hit me, I will fucking haunt you, slow the fuck down."
posted by maryr at 1:11 PM on January 27


It's the law everywhere in the United States that vehicles must yield to (or stop for, depending on the state) pedestrians in crosswalks, and that crosswalks exist on every leg of an intersection, whether striped or not, unless signed to the contrary, but that pedestrians must obey signals if they are present.

Can I just say that jurisdictions that don't maintain their pedestrian walk signals as well as they do their car counterparts have my undying disdain? If you have to walk across four or five lanes of traffic, you need enough time to do so. If you have to walk across any streets with pedestrian signals, those signals need to actually turn on and change (or my preference, have them be automatic, because it's really hard to have a system where you have to wait an entire light cycle to walk because the button only works if pressed beforehand...and if it doesn't trip the walk sign half the time anyway.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:59 PM on January 27


Space Coyote: The folks in this thread who believe it's a given that Americans will happily give up driving their own cars should get on the problem of getting them to give up their guns first. Good luck, that will be easier.

It'll take some time. I don't have any cites on this other than discussions with my coworker(who is around 73) and my dad, but when seatbelts were first introduced in the 60s no one wanted to wear them. Dealers realize this and salesmen would make a point of showing how they could easily be hidden within the seats, how you didn't have to wear them because it wasn't illegal not to, etc.

By the mid 70s or so, everyone just wore them. By the 80s and 90s you were weird if you didn't, and even children knew you were supposed to wear them and would self enforce on other kids.

Another point is that advertising can really send this home. What about a car that can drop you off at work, go refuel or recharge itself, pick your kids up from school, then loop back around to collect you from work? (this is ignoring the fact that energy usage wise a driverless empty vehicle traveling around using up carbon based fuels or energy derived from them is even fucking dumber than a single occupant vehicle... but that's not my point here).

The real trick is deft advertising that paints the holdouts as "GET OFF MY LAWN! THEY TOOK ER JERBS!" grandpas that no one wants to be associated with. You know how people who not just don't have, but specifically refuse to get smartphones at this point basically come off as "OK grandpa" to quite a lot of people? Same type of public perception needs to be created.

It needs to be as uncool as not recyling to resist this

XMLicious: Once you can't get to your doctor's appointment or to go out and get food to eat because society has structured everything so that you have to travel by car, but you know you've lost the ability to drive safely, any respect for gun-nut-like opposition to driverless cars will go right out the window. It's the desire for driverless cars that will be supported by fear, like with the desire for guns.

This is smart. And this is exactly the kind of thing i'm talking about. The AARP is one of the largest voter driving organizations in the country. Google, Honda, Ford, or some SV startup we haven't heard of yet needs smart marketers selling it to them this way. Preserving senior independence is the type of jackhammer that will make this take off.

enf: I am deeply skeptical of claims that driverless cars will usher in a new pedestrian paradise, because the time and distance it takes for vehicles to stop will still be nonzero, and none of the grand schemes for increasing intersection throughput can work in the presence of any pedestrians or bicyclists at all. I hope I will be proven wrong, but I think pedestrian priority will last only until motorists discover that driverless cars can't move at all through city centers if people don't fear them.

I don't buy this. Count the time it takes your car to stop from say, 25mph to a dead stop. Not for you to react and press the pedal, but once it's fully pressed in. A computer-controller car could activate the brakes as fast as it could activate the airbags. In addition to this it would be capable of judging road conditions, and know all the parameters and capabilities of the car and be able to apply the exact proper amount of force(probably every different forces to different wheels, varying on the millisecond or less level). Systems like this are the original blackberry of this sort of tech. We'll have the iphone/galaxy version in a couple years.

The distance wouldn't be zero, but i would wager that a proper driverless car would already be reducing speed or giving more distance to a pedestrian or cyclist. A scenario to imagine would be that car A realizing it's getting within it's threshold limit of a cyclist. It signals car B to move closer to the median/dividing line and then moves extremely close to car B to give say, a couple feet more space to the cyclist and smoothly accelerates a bit to move away from them.

Neither the cyclist, or passengers in either vehicle would ever notice this happened. It's also easy to imagine someone wandering in to the street and every car on the road simply forming around them like fish around an obstacle, like the taipei example above but more efficient.

As for the last bit, heh, you should come to the area of town my office is in seattle. Everyone wanders in to the street like lost puppies. Cyclists are blasting around through everything totally bonkers. Traffic still moves just fine. Everyone here is like the aforementioned portland pedestrians that will just walk into traffic. Most people still use crosswalks, and most people still wait for crosswalks unless there is absolutely zero traffic in the road. Cars would still flow along just fine.
posted by emptythought at 3:44 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I'm very skeptical that driverless cars are practical in the foreseeable future. There are just too many variables when you consider the whole road network. I could see them working within certain areas that had been evaluated as meeting certain criteria, for example within a heavily built-up area, but the further away from such areas you go, the more the variables increase and the the higher both the cost and risk become. I'm a big fan of driver assist technologies such as those in the link from empty thought linked above (particularly adaptive cruise control), but there is so much input across such a wide area when driving a car, particularly in more rural areas that I can't see driverless cars working broadly for a long, long time. I think it's likely we'll see an evolution not dissimilar to that of all-electric cars, with decades separating the first cars that will be more gimmicky than practical and a very long curve between that and any sort of roll-out that will allow wide take-up.

My first thought when watching that Subaru commercial? Yeah, about 30 minutes of driving on any rural road in Australia and one or both of those cameras is going to be covered by bug entrails, rendering it worse than useless (because the driver will be relying on it and it won't work). Gotta love it as a cool gadget, though :-).
posted by dg at 4:10 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


That Subaru system is a cut-rate version of systems that have been in high-end cars for years, though; if you read articles about it, the same features are usually implemented with ultrasonic sensors and radar as well which could work in fog or dust conditions where a human could not see at all. A computer can account for many more variables and react faster than a human can and it can see in all directions at once, in 3D.

If you want to talk navigating in out-of-the-way places, a computer landed a spacecraft on the moon. In 1969. And that was under conditions where it actually couldn't be tested out beforehand.

Even if it's rocket science, we've already had rocket scientists working on this a long, long time.
posted by XMLicious at 6:49 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I'm very skeptical that driverless cars are practical in the foreseeable future.

They're already here, just not in commercial production. Google has been working with driverless cars for quite a while and the wiki article states that of last year they've logged 500,000 km without a single accident, driving through regular public roads, heavy traffic and other challenging driving conditions.

That's a much better record than human drivers can boast, just from a random sample of people around me.

I've talked to a senior engineer who works with driverless vehicles and the impression I get is the main barriers right now are social and legal in nature. With a combination of laser sensors, RADAR, ultrasonic sensors at road level and GPS for positioning, and reaction time measured in microseconds, cars are a lot better at judging and reacting to road conditions than humans could ever be.
posted by xdvesper at 6:56 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


BTW as far as operating in rural areas, see here a trailer for one of the Top Gear UK guys racing a military driverless truck across rough terrain. In that case the vehicle is equipped with a lidar system, which is the laser-based equivalent of radar.
posted by XMLicious at 7:25 PM on January 27


Well, I'm happy that progress is further ahead than I might have thought. I'm certainly not against the concept, but hadn't really taken note of the current state of play. I have seen that Top Gear show, although assumed that there was no need of the sort of accuracy or moving-obstacle avoidance in that application that there would be in a vehicle doing high speeds at close proximity to other vehicles. I remain somewhat sceptical, but look forward to a reduction in the number of idiots on the road.
posted by dg at 8:25 PM on January 27


Yeah, you're right, that's definitely a different application from road traffic. It was pretty conspicuous in the Top Gear bit that they only had it negotiating stationary obstacles. If it's of the same basic TerraMax design entered into the DARPA Grand Challenge, though, it's also technology that's at least a decade old.

I had an interesting thought earlier: I wonder if, once they're commercially available and street-legal, a driverless car or access to one might be considered a necessary assistive device for disabled people. Maybe Tom Kruse will come out with a Knight-Rider-trailer type vehicle that someone can drive their power wheelchair into and zoom off in.
posted by XMLicious at 9:45 PM on January 27


Well, that would be an awesome application, even if it was only workable on limited areas. Imagine the difference it would make to a person confined to a wheelchair to travel independently?
posted by dg at 12:52 AM on January 28


The folks in this thread who believe it's a given that Americans will happily give up driving their own cars should get on the problem of getting them to give up their guns first. Good luck, that will be easier.

Well, when driverless cars are introduced, there would be a long period of coexistence while the ratio of automatic to manual gradually increases. But eventually a switchover point will occur when automatic driving becomes the norm, and manual driving becomes deviant. When that point is reached, legal and social pressure against the now deviant behaviour can escalate surprisingly fast. Ask a smoker for details.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:10 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


A right to drive is not fundamental to the founding of our country. I'm not saying people want to give up cars, but we accept a lot more restrictions on driving without protest than we do on guns.
posted by maryr at 8:10 AM on January 28


Maybe it's a bad sample, but I've never met anyone who, when the subject of driving came up, didn't reveal their vehemently-held belief that nobody else on the road drove as well or as safely as they did themselves. I can think of a handful people right off the top of my head, without even trying, who will not ride with anyone else, and at least as many more who will grudgingly do so, but automatically white-knuckle-clutch the dashboard, hold their breath, stomp on imaginary pedals, scream every known variation on "Are you going to stop?" known to man, and generally back-seat drive every trip no matter the skill of the driver, the distance, or the road conditions. I know people who refuse to have any cars ahead of them if they can possibly do anything about it, and people who refuse to have any cars behind them if they can possibly do anything about it. This tendency cuts across all barriers of age, sex, class, ethnic background and education level.


Nobody I know is getting a self-driving car, with the possible ironic exception of me if I can ever afford it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:15 AM on January 28


If ever it becomes custom or law to wear high-visibility clothing just to go out at night, I'm going to start wearing fluorescent yellow to black-tie events.
posted by alexei at 2:03 PM on January 28


Nobody I know is getting a self-driving car, with the possible ironic exception of me if I can ever afford it.

Everybody you know is getting a self-driving car if they have manually driven cars now, because they won't have a choice. It will be a matter of pricing. Insurance costs.

Imagine you have a self-driving car, something that probably will get into very few accidents, while your friends insist on owning manually driven cars, something that, as we all know, kills thousands of people every year. The insurance company is going to cut your insurance costs in half but double (or triple or quadruple or worse) your friends' costs. The reasoning is simple and logical: you will never drive drunk or high, never speed, never fall asleep at the wheel, never get distracted from the road while attending to children, never misjudge the time needed to pass the car ahead, never change your mind half way through an intersection, never race the car in the next lane, etc., whereas your friends... well, your friends, statistically, are going to do all of those things, and their insurance companies are going to make your friends pay through the nose for it.
posted by pracowity at 5:48 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


From the world of What If ... at work, we've been discussing the steps beyond self-driving cars. Will there come a point when people can hire "drone" taxis, text their address and time to leave to leave, and the required car size (single passenger, two passengers and a large package to deliver, family of four with two car seats)? Will this cut down on unplanned purchases, as people are less likely to pull over at a store they pass if they're distracted by talking with the other people in their car, or they're reading a book? Or will certain companies offer discounted trips by including user-specific in-car ads, or a slightly longer route where you can interrupt your trip with a stop at a coffee shop that has paid for traffic to be routed past it?

We don't think car culture will die, but it could change significantly. And maybe driverless cars can allow pedestrians to reclaim the streets, to a degree.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:51 AM on January 30


That's exactly something i've been thinking about, filthy light thief. I think the first adoption of self driving cars the instant they go on public sale will be a silicon valley startup like lyft or sidecar, or something like car2go. Which is to say, i thin your "drone taxi" idea will be the very first publicly visible usage.

Tie it into a smartphone app, and just have them park in the "nightlife" part of town. Put big LCD screens on the roof where the usual taxi ads would be all like "Let me give you a ride home!" Drunk people come out of bars, get in a self driving car, get home cheaper than a taxi. Bam. Have some smart car/toyota IQ type little ones, and some bigger models with 5 or 6 seats in a prius type form factor where you can chuck some stuff in the back.

That will definitely happen years before widespread adoption of them as personal vehicles, and also well before there's any insurance incentives or anything. At first it'll be like seeing a tesla or a nissan leaf or something now, where it's really only a common sight if you live in seattle or the bay area/valley or portland or something.

Pracowity has the right idea though. Very quickly this will not be a choice, you won't be getting a vote. Insurance pricing will make it so that only really obstinate people with money or people with vintage/collectible/high value cars will have non self driving cars. And i bet a lot of that insurance will work like Hagerty does right now, where they'll only insure you if you have a self-driving modern primary vehicle. I also already made my point about how it's going to require additional training and stricter licensing as well, since it will absolutely murder any arguments of "it's a necessity, you can't make it too hard or expensive or class warefare! racism!" that actually have some merit right now. It'll become a hobby. There will be clubs, and you won't see them very often. It's going to slot into the food-chain somewhere between motorcycles and that guy across the street who has an old mustang he restored in his garage.

You can bet your ass too, that there's going to be requirements like always-on dash cams and stuff to prove what happened in any kind of accident.

I'm willing to bet the only outlet for the average schmuck who can't afford the ridiculously jacked up insurance prices will be motorcycles actually, as i really doubt there will ever be a market for self driving ones of those... And more interestingly and importantly, roads filled with self driving cars will actually make motorcycling pretty safe.
posted by emptythought at 2:48 PM on January 30


One potential problem I've wondered about is, if you travel to some densely populated urban area where there's insufficient parking, if you've got the spare fuel you can just tell the car to circle the block continuously until you're ready to leave. Beyond that, I bet there'll be automatic fuelling stations at some point.

So there could be both an issue where insufficient parking "overflows" onto the street itself and everybody puts their car into a holding pattern, and sorcerer's-apprentice-type behavior where the car gets instructions that include refueling itself periodically.

Maybe there'll be two different parking meter rates, one for self-driving cars and one for manual cars that's cheaper... or maybe you'll surrender control of your car to the municipality's parking system and it will direct it to the nearest location where parking levels are below a certain density, and you'll be able to call it back when you're ready to leave. And consequently, there'll be a market for manual-drive cars with a concealed self-drive capability, so that you can get the parking spots and other privileges reserved for poor old luddite manual drivers.

The jaydrivers, if you will.
posted by XMLicious at 4:28 PM on January 30


It's going to slot into the food-chain somewhere between motorcycles and that guy across the street who has an old mustang he restored in his garage.

Do you really think local governments are going to let manual car and motorcycle hobbyists go hot dogging down streets intended for nice safe autonomous cars? What does that do to their legal liability if someone gets hurt by a guy out having fun in his manually driven car on Main Street?

Manual cars and motorcycles will be more like horses are to us now. They used to be everywhere, seen as a right and a normal necessity by all. Now most people can't afford the privilege, they're ridden mainly on enclosed tracks, and, if you're like most people, there's no way you're going to be able to ride one to work because they are not allowed on any of the routes between home and work. Cars may continue to be given some sort of manual driving option as a backup, but you won't be able to use it except in an emergency or when you take it to an enclosed tracks or to a place that permits unlicensed off-road recreational vehicles.
posted by pracowity at 7:39 PM on January 30


Here's some more near-future car technology being discussed: Connected vehicles, with presentations from the 2013 ITS World Congress in Tokyo.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:18 AM on February 3


That connected vehicles article is interesting. It's probably where all this will start from, with infrastructure gradually growing until a critical mass is reached wherein it becomes possible to use that infrastructure to drive a vehicle. I still think it's a long time coming - the prediction that the article made:
'80 percent of the cars operating on North American roads will be connected by 2015' (referring to in-built cellular communication capacity in cars)
literally made me laugh out loud.
posted by dg at 10:28 PM on February 7


When do people think this will happen? Maybe I'm just a grumpy curmudgeon but I feel like most of this is wildly optimistic if you expect there to be any significant amount (as in, more than 20 in a city) of self-driving cars anywhere in the next 15-20 years. In an ideal world, sure. But it should be plainly evident that a lot of people are hell bent on restricting societal advancement.
posted by cashman at 1:05 PM on February 9


cashman: "When do people think this will happen?"

Oakland is on an 89-year (and worsening) pothole repair cycle. We would have to quadruple our road repair budget just to hold things steady at their current (terrible) condition. To improve the streets? Excuse me while I laugh cynically. The idea of our streets being upgraded to the level of allowing smartcars seems about as realistic as "everybody gets personal hovercars and it looks like the Jetsons".
posted by Lexica at 3:17 PM on February 9


This whole thing started when a co-worker mentioned that a rural community, Fox Point, Wisconsin, recently passed an ordinance requiring pedestrians and bicyclists to wear reflective clothing.
"I think this has been a problem for a long time," said Village President Mike West, who suggested the ordinance be written and adopted. "I have seen people walking black dogs, attired in all black or navy blue. I think we need to do this."

West's proposal had the backing of Village Manager Melissa Bohse and Police Chief Tom Czaja. The new ordinance does give the Fox Point Police Department the authority to enforce the reflectivity requirement upon pedestrians.

While police likely would only issue a verbal warning on the first offense, pedestrians not complying with the ordinance could eventually be cited for chronic instances.

Because the village lacks street lighting and sidewalks, Czaja, in a memo, said he believed the ordinance would be good for the community.
Somehow, the whole town forgot that people must receive licenses for the privileged to drive on public roadways, while just about everyone is a pedestrian at some point every day. Anyway, I finally found the link and wanted to share it.

Also, I've started reading Peter D. Norton's book, and the introduction alone has been enlightening, saddening, and given me ideas for ways to address mobility.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


BBC News Magazine joins the discussion: Jaywalking: How the car industry outlawed crossing the road
The idea of being fined for crossing the road at the wrong place can bemuse foreign visitors to the US, where the origins of so-called jaywalking lie in a propaganda campaign by the motor industry in the 1920s.
The article also lists countries where jaywalkers are fined as: US, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Philippines, Singapore
posted by filthy light thief at 2:06 PM on February 20


For a taste of the educational literature of the day, I present to you Safety First for Little Folks (Archive.org scan with some missing images and distorted pages; a different version on Forgotten Books, with images).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:09 PM on February 21


The article also lists countries where jaywalkers are fined as: US, Australia, ...
Yep, been there, done that, got the ticket. It got so bad here at one point that regular bulletins were sent throughout our building advising of where the jaywalking patrol was operating that afternoon. I mean, I'm all for reducing pedestrian deaths, but how about doing something about the bloody car drivers that are running them over then, instead of blaming the victims?
posted by dg at 1:15 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


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