If you’ve ever visited a water park, you’ve probably seen a “Lazy River” ride like Castaway Creek at Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon or Rambling Bayou at Adventure Island in Tampa, Florida. They are shallow channels of water with a strong current. You can sit in an inner tube and just ride the current, or you can swim with the current, and get a boost that makes you feel like an Olympic swimmer. Some parks are completely encircled by a Lazy River that serves as a kind of transit system. The river is the guideway, and the stations are steps or ramps that lead into the water. In a Lazy River, traffic jams can actually be fun!
Sometimes it seems like the growth of a city is accompanied by even more growth in traffic congestion. At least that’s the impression I got living in Los Angeles during the years when most of its freeways were built. But was my subjective impression really true? The traffic patterns of real cities are so complicated that it can be difficult to discern the basic underlying principals. There are countless factors, not all of which are knowable, that influence the behavior of a transit system. So we have chosen to analyze a simple idealized traffic network to see how it works. If you’re curious, you can find the technical note How Transportation Network Size Effects Congestion on our Publications page.
In a recent presentation at the Podcar City 8 conference in Arlandal, Sweden, a new Chinese company called Tubenet Transit described their new PRT system, and how it could be used to accelerate eco-restoration and urban reforestation. As the name suggests, the pods run inside of a tube with guide rails above the pod, and a support surface below. The top of the tube is covered in solar panels. The bubble-shaped pod is only two meters long, with an empty weigh of 150 kg (330 pounds), and a carrying capacity of 250 kg (550 pounds), seating two adults and one child. (Remember China’s “One Child Policy”?) They described three tiers of guideways, supporting speeds of 40, 60, and 80 km/h (25, 37, and 50 mph).
Performance rating systems for buildings, such as LEED, have become popular in recent years. New rating systems have been proposed for other types of infrastructure, but most are specific to a particular industry or region. The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the American Public Works Association (APWA), and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) each saw a need for a more comprehensive system, not to supplant existing rating systems, but to extend them to a broader range of infrastructure projects including Energy, Waste, Water, Transport, Landscape, and Information. They decided to join forces to form the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) to develop and maintain a civil infrastructure rating system. In collaboration with federal agencies, universities, consultants, professional societies, and municipalities, over 900 rating systems were evaluated to identify gaps, develop goals, and refine approaches. In 2011, ISI and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard Graduate School of Design merged their two systems to create the Envision rating system for sustainable infrastructure.
Many people are understandingly reluctant to turn over control of their vehicle to an automated system. After all, machines do break down. But are our fears justified? To find out, we took a look at the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT HS 811 059, dated July 2008). In 5,096 of the 5,471 crashes studied, the “Critical Reason for Critical Pre-Crash Event” was “driver error”. In other words, more than 93% of the crashes were attributed to driver error. Only 130 of the crashes, or about 2%, were attributed to vehicle failure. And it is likely that most, if not all, of those failures were due to inadequate or improper maintenance. In an Automated Transit Network (ATN), system-wide maintenance can be performed on a regular schedule, keeping in-service failures to a minimum. ATN vehicles, known as pods, are actually simpler than cars – so there’s just less to go wrong. And guideway-based transit is inherently safer than free-roaming road vehicles. For these and other reasons we feel confident in predicting that Automated Transit Networks will be at least ten times safer than cars.
Public concerns about automation can be traced back to the 19th century when a steam engine could continue mindlessly chugging away long after things had gone terribly wrong. But modern automation systems have sensors and computers that continuously monitor performance, and can take corrective action faster than a human can. No one is claiming that technical malfunctions will ever be completely eliminated, but by embracing Automated Transit, we can easily prevent 9 out of 10 crashes, while simultaneously upgrading the quality of life in our cities. And all this can be done today. What are we waiting for?
The seventh in the series of Podcar City conferences was held October 23-25, 2013 in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia. I previously attended the first conference in Uppsala in 2007 and the fourth in San José, California in 2010. The name for these meetings is a play on the “Car City Conference” held in Sweden in the 1950s to assess how Swedish cities would have to change to accommodate the shift from public transit to the automobile. The International Institute for Sustainable Transportation decided it was time for us to start thinking about how cities will adapt to the new Automated Transit Networks, known as Podcars in Sweden. Continue reading
On November 23rd, I had the opportunity to attend a student design workshop for a new Automated Transit Network (ATN) system. This interdisciplinary project of San José State University involves the departments of structural, mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science, industrial design, urban planning, business, and public administration. The students and their faculty advisors have actively sought out the advise and counsel of ATN experts from around the world. The Mineta Transportation Institute (also at SJSU) and the City of San José Department of Transportation are also in communication with the student team.
With recent well-publicized developments like Siri, Watson (the computer that can win at Jeopardy!), and the Google Car, many people may have gotten the impression that there has been some sort of breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence (AI). We still have much to learn about how people are able to do what they do, but we know enough to know that computers don’t work the same way we do.
The dream of the self-driving car now seems within reach. But the implications of this new development go beyond simply being able to take your eyes off the road. Once you have a car that can drive itself, what will that mean? Continue reading
The bi-annual Conference on Automated People Movers and Automated Transit Systems was held this year in Phoenix, Arizona. While this conference has traditionally been targeted at builders and operators of large Automated People Movers, there seems to be a growing realization within this community that the next step in the evolution of automated transit is to smaller vehicles that provide point-to-point, on-demand service. With that in mind, here is a recap of some of the conference highlights.