Atlanta Suburbs Will Try Again to Expand Public Transit

October 4, 2023

After a string of tough defeats going back decades, voters in Gwinnett County, Ga., a growing suburban area bordering on Atlanta, could soon be asked again to approve new funding for public transit.

Last month, the Gwinnett County commissioners approved a Transit Development Plan that would cost an estimated $17 billion to implement. While the financing has yet to be determined, county leaders say it’s likely they’ll ask voters to approve a one-cent sales tax to pay for the improvements, with a referendum coming as soon as next November…

In addition to microtransit, the plan recommends building out a 26-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) line, with “features such as offboard fare payment, bus-only lanes, limited stops, queue jumps and transit signal priority.” It also calls for expanding traditional bus service and providing new “quick ride” or “bus rapid transit lite” service, with some BRT features.

New York’s traffic congestion pricing plan: What we know so far

October 4, 2023

Dive Brief:
Details of how New York’s congestion pricing plan will affect taxi and ride-hailing vehicles, commuter buses and other drivers entering Manhattan were laid out Monday afternoon in a meeting of the Traffic Mobility Review Board. The six-member panel will issue recommendations on the program’s tolling structure this month, according to news reports.

Fees for most vehicles in Manhattan entering or driving south of 61st Street could begin in May 2024, according to news reports. There would be no charges upon exiting the congestion zone or driving within it.

However, the newly laid-out details failed to assuage the concerns of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, whose spokesperson told WABC, “This proposed tolling program remains a fundamentally flawed and unjust scheme to balance the MTA’s budget at the expense of hardworking New Jerseyans.”

Uber launches new shipping and returns feature

October 4, 2023

Uber has launched a new way to return unwanted purchases just as the holiday shopping season is getting started.

Driving the news: With the new service, consumers can use the Uber or Uber Eats app to skip the trip to UPS, FedEx or the post office to drop off returns themselves.

The “Return a Package” feature is available in nearly 5,000 cities nationwide, Uber announced Wednesday.
It can also be used to drop off prepaid packages other than returns, including holiday gifts.
The big picture: Returns can cost consumers big money if they forget to send products back or miss return deadlines.

Returns also accounted for $816 billion in lost sales, or 18% of total sales in 2022, up from 11% in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation…

What’s next: “Consumers should be prepared for retailers to continue to impose fees for returns or change their policies,” Sender Shamiss, CEO of return logistics company goTRG, told Axios.

Pennsylvania receives $11.3M federal rail grant

October 4, 2023

The Federal Railroad Association recently awarded the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) a $11.3 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant.

The agency will use the funding for the approximately $25 million Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad’s (BPRR) Rebuilding Western Pennsylvania project.

The project will improve safety, freight reliability, and supply chain efficiency by making infrastructure improvements to the Main Line Subdivision and P&W Subdivision of the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad in Armstrong, Butler, Jefferson and Lawrence counties.

The rail line supports the transportation of multiple commodities and interchanges with Canadian National Railway, CSX, and Allegheny Valley Railroad.

The CRISI grant provides 45 percent of the needed funding, PennDOT will provide $4 million and BPRR will provide $9.75 million.

USDOT – FHWA Opens $10B in Bridge Funding

October 4, 2023

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration opened applications for nearly $10 billion in funding for fiscal years 2023-2026 through the competitive Bridge Investment Program’s “Large Bridge Project” category, which funds projects larger than $100 million. The Bridge Investment Program was established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which makes the single largest dedicated investment in bridges since the construction of the Interstate highway system: a total of $40 billion over five years to help ensure that some of the nation’s most important bridges remain safe and operational, meet current and future traveler needs, support local economies, strengthen our supply chains, and create good-paying jobs across the country…

The FHWA plans to conduct extensive community outreach and public engagement throughout the application process that will include a Zoom Webinar. Technical assistance is also available to recipients who receive Bridge Investment Program grants.

Self-driving vehicle testing in Pittsburgh area shifting gears to focus on trucking industry

October 3, 2023

Not long ago, cars topped with a futuristic apparatus could regularly be seen cruising along Pittsburgh’s streets, testing technology that allowed the vehicles to get around without a person steering the wheel.

But such car sightings have become rare as the autonomous vehicle sector has refocused from the hype of the 2010s…

Karen Lightman, executive director of the Metro21 Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, called it “tech-lash.”

“People react out of fear of technology,” Lightman said.

Although there are challenges for passenger vehicles, Lightman said, the technology is poised to improve people’s lives.

“People who are disabled or don’t have access to reliable, safe transportation can be cut off from the rest of the world. They can’t work, get groceries, go to worship, can’t see friends and family,” Lightman said. “There’s a whole chunk of our country that’s disconnected because we don’t have public transportation that serves them.”

“I’m hoping that we’ll see public transportation also become more automated and autonomous, and shared mobility will be a critical part of it,” she added. “If we end up having more single-occupancy vehicles that happen to be autonomous, we’re not improving quality of life. And if it’s just for the rich elite, that’s not sustainable, either. We have to make sure there’s equity in this.”

China moves to strengthen innovation in smart driving

October 3, 2023

China will back firms in the smart vehicle supply chain to form groups dedicated to spreading innovation, state media said on Monday, as it races to hammer out standards for assisted and autonomous driving functions by 2025.

The world’s largest auto market, which set the target for such standards in July, has made so-called intelligent connected vehicles (ICVs) a long-term strategic focus in a drive to become the leading global player in the still nascent industry.

China will support firms in forming “innovation consortia”, that enable them to learn from each other’s strengths in order to achieve technological breakthroughs, the official Xinhua news agency said…

While level 1 is the least intelligent or automated of China’s five categories of autonomous driving, official data shows that in the first half of 2023, just over 42% of the country’s new passenger vehicles had already attained Level 2.

FTA focuses on rail transit collisions with cars, pedestrians at street level

October 3, 2023

The Federal Transit Administration is working to raise awareness about transit rail safety in street-crossing and street-running environments. The agency held a webinar on Sept. 21 to discuss recent research and promote its transit safety resources webpage.

Every three hours in the U.S., a person or vehicle is hit by a train, often resulting in deaths and injuries. According to University of South Florida research highlighted at the FTA webinar, trespassers account for 15% of fatalities along transit rail lines, and suicides make up 40% of deaths.

The FTA found that incidents at street crossings were 10 times greater than at conventional railroad grade crossings and that transit agencies have more street intersections than conventional railroads, which are difficult to protect.

Denver pedestrians give a collective shrug to CDOT’s ‘neon navigators’ safety campaign

October 2, 2023

Ciera Trowell only had a minute to talk. The Denver resident was pushing a stroller and was about to catch her bus at the busy intersection of 14th Avenue and Federal Boulevard.

It’s an intersection she prefers to avoid…

CDOT this week recognized this and other dangerous intersections in the Denver metro as part of a safety campaign meant to raise awareness among drivers and pedestrians about rising pedestrian deaths. Four were killed over the weekend, and the state is on pace to break last year’s record high of 115 pedestrian deaths.

As part of that campaign, CDOT placed short, plastic “neon navigators” at those intersections on Thursday…

Research shows that many information-only safety programs do little to change road users’ behaviors for the safer…

Big, structural changes are coming, Cole said, referring to CDOT safety programs aimed at lowering speed limits and rebuilding dangerous urban roads. They just take time to take effect, and can be less noticeable than a colorful safety campaign.

Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot: The Self-Driving Car Has (Sort Of) Arrived

October 2, 2023

People have been joking about, “Where’s my flying car?” ever since The Jetsons hit TV screens over 60 years ago. But in more recent years people have been asking, “Where’s my self-driving car?”—and not as a joke. That’s because we’ve been hearing the rumblings of “cars will soon drive themselves” for at least 10 years…

Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot is the first system that crosses the boundary between “assisted” driving and “automated” driving. In Drive Pilot mode, if some specific circumstances are met, the car completely takes over, allowing the driver to take their hands off the wheel, feet off the pedals, and eyes off the road for an extended period. This means they can, for example, watch TV, read a book, or play a game with their passengers. Drivers must remain in the driver’s seat and cannot dramatically recline it, and they must be capable of retaking control of the car in 10 seconds or less.

Scoop: Driverless Cruise cars are already on Houston streets

October 2, 2023

Cruise is testing autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in Houston ahead of a planned expansion into commercial nighttime service by the end of the year.

Driving the news: A spokesperson for the autonomous vehicle company confirmed to Axios Tuesday it is offering driverless ride-hailing service to employees and their friends and family, one of the final steps in its testing process before full commercial service…

A 2017 Texas law preempts local regulation of autonomous vehicles, which has made the state fertile ground for companies’ expansion.

State law requires companies to follow registration requirements, equip the vehicles with a video recording system and immediately notify authorities of a crash.

Carnegie Mellon associate professor Phil Koopman, an expert in AV safety, told Axios’ Joann Muller that “cities need to have a plan for enforcing traffic laws when there is no driver.”

Detroit to spend $5M in federal funds on 100 license plate readers at 25 intersections

October 2, 2023

Detroit City Council on Tuesday approved a $5 million expansion of the use of license plate readers across the city, using federal pandemic relief funds.

It’s the latest City Council vote on surveillance technology that has ignited debate in the community. Other surveillance tools Detroit police utilize include ShotSpotter — City Council last year OK’d spending $8.5 million on the gunshot detection technology amid fierce support and opposition — Project Green Light video surveillance and facial recognition technology…

With the city’s new contract with Motorola Solutions, an additional 100 cameras will be set up at 25 intersections, according to Detroit police. There are currently 83 cameras set up at intersections, in addition to over 100 mobile cameras.

The vast majority of community members who tuned in to Tuesday’s council vote urged their city leaders to approve the $5 million dollar contract in hopes that it could address speeding on Detroit’s roads — but using license plate readers for traffic and civil infractions goes against Detroit police policy.

Union urges US regulators to deny GM’s self-driving Cruise a safety exemption

October 2, 2023

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union on Wednesday asked U.S. auto safety regulators to deny a petition by General Motors (GM.N) to exempt its autonomous vehicle unit Cruise Origin from vehicle safety standards.

In July, acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief Ann Carlson said it would decide “in the coming weeks” on the Cruise petition seeking permission to deploy up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without human controls like steering wheels.

The Cruise petition, filed in February 2022, seeks government approval to deploy vehicles annually without steering wheels, mirrors, turn signals or windshield wipers.

“It is dangerous for other motorists, for pedestrians, and for middle-class jobs for Cruise to make a request like this from NHTSA,” said Sean O’Brien, president of the 1.2-million member union citing a series of “deeply concerning” recent incidents in San Francisco…

In December, NHTSA opened a formal safety probe into the autonomous driving system in vehicles produced by Cruise after reports of two injuries in rear-end crashes. NHTSA said Cruise vehicles “may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized.”

Transportation Department seeks GPS alternatives to fortify US’s position, navigation and timing system

September 27, 2023

The Department of Transportation is on the hunt for alternatives to GPS to better complement and support the nation’s transportation system with reliable position, navigation and timing (PNT) services.

The department’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center issued a request for information to identify capable vendors to participate in field tests of “very high technical readiness level” complementary PNT systems.

Specifically, the RFI seeks “technology capable of providing critical infrastructure users and operators positioning and/or timing information that is derived independently from Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)…”

DOT’s Volpe Center in 2020 held field demonstrations of GPS alternatives, which resulted in a report on those systems. However, that event did not ” test the technology performance against stringent CI requirements and needs including resiliency to cybersecurity threats (e.g. jamming and spoofing of PNT signals).” It also allowed the participation of technologies of lesser maturity, according to the RFI.

Biden administration announces $1.4 billion to improve rail safety and boost capacity in 35 states

September 27, 2023

The Biden administration announced Monday that it has awarded more than $1.4 billion to projects that improve railway safety and boost capacity, with much of the money coming from the 2021 infrastructure law.

“These projects will make American rail safer, more reliable, and more resilient, delivering tangible benefits to dozens of communities where railroads are located, and strengthening supply chains for the entire country,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

The money is funding 70 projects in 35 states and Washington, D.C. Railroad safety has become a key concern nationwide ever since a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed and caught fire in East Palestine, Ohio, in February. President Joe Biden has ordered federal agencies to hold the train’s operator Norfolk Southern accountable for the crash, but a package of proposed rail safety reforms has stalled in the Senate where the bill is still awaiting a vote. The White House is also saying that a possible government shutdown because of House Republicans would undermine railway safety.

The Promise and Problems of Self-Driving Cars for the Disabled Community

September 27, 2023

Self-driving cars—cars that drive without a human operator—are supposed to change that. For people with disabilities, autonomous vehicles (AVs) have long been a promise of greater freedom and opportunities. With no human driver, there’s no one to deny service based on prejudice. Self-driving cars could allow the disabled community greater access to employment, services, and simply leaving the house.

As of 2023, about half of the requests placed by wheelchair users to rideshare apps go unanswered…

With approximately 57 million disabled people in the United States, carmakers stand to profit from the disability community should they prioritize disability considerations in their self-driving cars. AVs could also help open job opportunities for people with disabilities, a group that faces an unemployment rate twice that of people who are non-disabled. A study from the Ruderman Family Foundation found that disabled people could gain two million employment opportunities with the transportation provided by AVs.

Florida’s Brightline kicks off passenger rail service to Orlando

September 26, 2023

Brightline began service to Orlando, Florida, on Sept. 22 with the opening of the privately owned intercity passenger rail line’s recently completed extension from West Palm Beach. Over 500 stakeholders, including elected officials and business leaders, viewed the first train’s 11:05 a.m. arrival.

Passengers can now travel the 235-mile line between Miami and the new station at Orlando International Airport, with intermediate stops in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach. The train completes the total route in 3.5 hours or less, depending on the number of stops.

According to Brightline, the $6 billion Miami-Orlando project created 10,000 jobs and brought approximately $6.4 billion in direct economic benefit to the region. The Florida project was funded by $5 billion in private investments.

Raspberry Pi Monitors Traffic with AI for Urban Planning and More

September 26, 2023

Traffic monitoring is a handy tool for a few industries, from urban planning to news stations or anyone interested in the various metrics used to monitor traffic flow. Today, we’ve got a Raspberry Pi project from a maker known over at Hackster as Naveen, who created a traffic monitoring system with some help from a Raspberry Pi CM4.

The Pi in this project is working with BrainChip’s Akida Dev Kit. It has everything Naveem needed to capture images from a video traffic feed for the AI system to evaluate. Data can be stored later or made available in real time. Naveem suggests this could be useful for businesses and government agencies that need to monitor traffic patterns.

The Akida Dev Kit has a custom PCB with a neuromorphic processor. If you haven’t heard of neuromorphic computing, it’s a design method for hardware and software that uses structures resembling what you’d find inside a brain. This additional PCB is responsible for taking some of the performance load off of the Pi.

Pedesting app aims to open Calgary to people with mobility challenges

September 26, 2023

For Calgarians who don’t have mobility challenges, exiting a downtown office tower, taking a CTrain to another destination, and then being able to access that place is simply a matter of picking a convenient time.

But for those Calgarians who do have challenges walking, or have to use wheelchairs, that ease of mobility becomes a real challenge.

Ensuring that they can find the exit or entrance with powered door openers, having to ensure that they are taking modern CTrain cars at level instead of older style ones that have limited wheelchair-accessible doors, to finding ramps that don’t require extreme effort to navigate—all of which is even more complicated if that same person wants to find and use an accessible bathroom that is more than just code compliant…

The goal of the app is to help users navigate the world, but with a pedestrian focus instead of a vehicle focus like competitor products like Google Maps—although Shilliday prefers the term pedesting instead of pedestrian because of how the later term fails to cover the challenges of users who rely on wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

Everbridge Launches New Dashboard for Emergency Responses

September 26, 2023

The battle of the dashboards — among the main features of government technology in 2023 — has gained a new entrant, this one from critical event management company Everbridge.

The Everbridge 360 has made its debut, joining a field increasingly crowded with dashboards not only designed for public safety and hazard management, but also civic planning and a variety of other tasks.

As the company put it in a statement, Everbridge 360 combines into a single platform the company’s risk intelligence, communication, collaboration and coordination tools. That provides what Everbridge calls a “comprehensive, unified view” of critical events to public officials and other users…

“With dashboards, data is easier to digest, so agencies can see patterns, spot problems before they happen, and identify successes that could have gone unnoticed,” according to an article from FUSE, which works with local governments on racial issues. “In turn, people can make smarter, faster, more effective decisions.”

Self-driving cars will be part of the future, but researchers fear we are leaving the disabled behind

September 25, 2023

Self-driving cars will be part of the future, but researchers fear people with disabilities are being left behind in the development of the technology.

Over the past two decades, transportation has become more accessible, but people with disabilities still face significant barriers to accessing these services. While self-driving cars (also known as autonomous vehicles) have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of those with disabilities, helping them to travel independently, experts fear their views are being neglected in the development of the new technology.

To address this, researchers from Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at The University of Warwick and leading disability charities have considered the impact of self-driving taxis on people with disabilities, an area that has seen limited improvement over recent years…

They found that the absence of a driver was strongly correlated with feelings and perceptions of increased travel freedom, indicating that autonomous taxis could provide greater accessibility for those with disabilities—without the limitations or biases associated with their current experiences with traditional taxis and drivers.

Chris Urmson Is a Trailblazing Technologist of the Self-Driving Car

September 25, 2023

Chris Urmson, back when he was a grad student, found himself in Chile’s Atacama Desert testing a robot that traveled about as fast as a person using a walker. The young Canadian thought that was pretty cool. Later, as a robotics doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, Urmson was a key part of a team that participated in the inaugural DARPA Grand Challenge, a competition in which teams built specially outfitted vehicles and attempted to “drive” them remotely across 150 miles of California’s Mojave Desert. That was even cooler…

That triumph caught the eye of Google, and the tech giant later hired Urmson to help it shape its emerging autonomous vehicle program then loosely known as X (it would later be spun off as Waymo). He eventually became the project’s chief technical officer, and he and his team—many of whom also had DARPA Challenge experience—would write the code for what would become known internally as “self-driving” vehicles during his eight-year tenure there.

Waymo begins testing the waters for a robotaxi service in Los Angeles

September 22, 2023

Waymo announced a “tour across Los Angeles” that allows curious residents the opportunity to ride in fully autonomous vehicles as the Alphabet-owned company begins to lay the groundwork for the launch of a commercial robotaxi service.

Waymo says it will make six multi-week “tour stops” in LA neighborhoods where people can hail a self-driving car without anyone in the front seat. Interested Angelenos can snag early access tickets at several pop-up events throughout the city or sign up for a waitlist. Once they receive a ticket, riders can use Waymo’s fully driverless vehicles for free within the service area for one week during the allotted time…

This is the first time Waymo is deploying a “tour” model as a precursor to a commercial service. Waymo says it plans to “partner with local businesses and community organizers” at each stop as it seeks to make a good impression among the locals. Robotaxi companies in San Francisco have been facing pushback from city officials who oppose their expansion, citing blocked intersections and obstructed emergency vehicles.

America Is Just Now Entering the Age of Tesla

September 22, 2023

The Jeep Wrangler was built to drive out past where the power lines end. Watch any ad for the car, and you’ll surely see it surmounting boulders and conquering muck in places far from the beaten freeway. Electric-vehicle chargers may be scarce in the wilderness, but even a military-derived four-by-four must keep with the times. To the delight of Earth-loving off-roaders, Jeep has announced that the first all-electric Wrangler is in the works…

“Jobs at gasoline engine manufacturing plants will shift to jobs at electric motor and battery plants.” Jeremy Michalek, Vehicle Electrification Group, is quoted in this story looking at what the rise of electric vehicles means for autoworkers. He notes assembling an EV is a simpler task than building its gasoline counterpart. There’s still welding and painting to be done, but EVs don’t require the spark plugs, engine cylinders and hoses and belts that are part of the typical vehicle assembly process.

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Chris Urmson Is a Trailblazing Technologist of the Self-Driving Car

September 22, 2023

Chris Urmson, back when he was a grad student, found himself in Chile’s Atacama Desert testing a robot that traveled about as fast as a person using a walker. The young Canadian thought that was pretty cool. Later, as a robotics doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, Urmson was a key part of a team that participated in the inaugural DARPA Grand Challenge, a competition in which teams built specially outfitted vehicles and attempted to “drive” them remotely across 150 miles of California’s Mojave Desert. That was even cooler…

Today, Urmson is the co-founder and CEO of Aurora Innovation—Aurora for short—a startup dedicated to developing an integrated driverless software, data-processing, and hardware solution…

“We’re making transportation better. We’re making it safer. We’re making it more accessible. We’re making it economically better. That’s what we’re about. That’s what automated vehicles are going to do,” Urmson said.