Category Archives: transportation

California to Launch Fleet of Autonomous Vehicles

Currently, all autonomous vehicles in California must have a human in the passenger seat, but not for long. Autonomous vehicles will be truly autonomous starting April 2, when a human safety-net will no longer be required by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition, in January, Waymo, a Google-affiliated company, debuted one of the first autonomous ride-sharing services in Arizona.  

Some question the ethical implications for a world with autonomous vehicles. For example, if a driverless car detects a tree branch, it could stop abruptly to avoid swerving outside of the lines, but hitting the breaks could cause a pile-up behind the driverless car. Others wonder whether the cars will truly be able to adapt to traffic in real-time conditions.

To the relief of some citizens, California’s new regulation requires a person to be operating the autonomous vehicles remotely, and companies are required to report how many times a human has to take over for the car. Waymo’s track record is pretty good; the company’s robot cars have traveled over 300,000 miles and remote drivers only intervened 63 times.

While a couple of accidents involving autonomous cars have been reported, the fault did not belong to the driverless vehicle, and the vehicles did not belong to Waymo. Accidents will happen, though, and when they do, who will take the responsibility? One suggested solution is an “ethical knob,” or a button that passengers can switch from complete self-preservation to self-sacrifice, or to an impartial setting. However, if everyone chooses to be impartial, the ethics knob is pointless.

It’s too early to know how autonomous vehicle issues will play out legally or even ethically, but cities in Arizona, California, and possibly even the City of Austin are emerging as leaders in the ride-sharing field. To check out the autonomous vehicle craze yourself, be on the lookout for prototype-driverless shuttles picking up passengers in Austin during South by Southwest.

Sources: New Scientist, The Atlantic, BBC, The Texas Standard, The Verge, Waymo


Bicycle Super Highways

Image credit: BMW Group

As Austin cyclists know, bike commuting has its hazards, and the Texas heat is only one of them. Cycling is also an inexpensive and green way to get around a city that is struggling with traffic congestion—as is the case with Austin.

In China, BMW and Tongji University have unveiled a plan to construct a bicycle superhighway that addresses exactly that problem. In order to address a rapidly growing urban population and a need to reduce emissions, the team proposes to construct a massive system of climate controlled roadways specifically for two-wheeled transportation.

The Vision E3 Way—the three Es standing for elevated, electric and efficient—would connect commuters to transit centers, shopping hubs, and underground stations. Solar panels and water collection systems would help keep the highways cool and clean. If the climate control, ease, and convenience aren’t incentive enough, BMW also proposed a number of bike-share stations throughout the loop.

BMW has invested heavily in e-bike and electric scooters, and they clearly see smaller, emissions-free vehicles as providing the path forward in modern urban transportation. Berlin, BMW’s home country, approved a system of 13 bike “highways” in February of 2017.

Source: BMW Group

What to do with Parking Garages in the 2030 City

Image Credit: LMN Architects

Designers and planners now stand on a perplexing edge. While the modern understanding of transportation is changing, and more and more people move towards ride-sharing and public transportation, most city planning codes still call for new construction to include a certain amount of parking. Competitive car manufacturers intend to have autonomous vehicles on the road by 2025. By 2030, parking needs will be vastly different.

Cities like Seattle are already planning for this future. Seattle has begun to waive some parking requirements, allowing developers to build with no allotted parking spots in neighborhoods convenient to public transit. Other projects, like the 4/C by LMN architects, are being designed specifically to allow parking to be retrofitted for new uses.

By building parking with level floor plates, higher ceilings and space for utilities, LMN architects hopes to create an adaptable building that will continue to function into the next century. It may also be the tallest building on the American West Coast.

Source: Wired 

Sidewalk Ballet

Photo Credit: David Reed

Although some might imagine that leaving a dense urban core for clean air and a green backyard is associated with better health, research shows people are healthier and happier in densely populated urban cities. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong and Oxford University studied the impact of density on 400,000 people in 22 British cities. The study found that the main reason residents in dense urban cores tend to be happier and healthier is that they have the opportunity to walk. In areas where suburban sprawl dominates, it is often the best solution to drive, leading to lower rates of exercise and higher rates of obesity. A more compact city is more walkable. The study supports Jane Jacob’s idea of a “sidewalk ballet” with safe streets and socially engaged citizens.

Source: Next City

The Design of Transport Maps

Photo Credit: vinnivinnivinni

Transport Maps in major cities often represent a simplified diagram of train routes in order to enhance readability. These maps distort the actual geometries of the cities’ geography, compressing the area the trains cover, and simplifying the curves of the paths to improve the aesthetics and comprehensibility. Although the map is geographically inaccurate it seeks to more accurately match the readers perspective of the city’s geography. In the map of Berlin, the center of the city is enlarged for clarity, and the more distant routes are shortened.

Source: The Guardian 

Foster’s Droneport

Image Credit: The B1M

During this year’s Venice Biennale, Sir Norman Foster presented about a port that his firm has designed for drones. Designed for Rwanda, the “droneport” is meant “to service difficult to reach hospitals with medical supplies across inaccessible and rural” areas. The design is composed of rammed earth arches that are built from local soil to reduce the cost of construction. This article by Failed Architecture elaborates upon the conditions in Rwanda and is critical about the potential effects (or lack thereof) of Foster’s project upon the socio-political milieu.

Source: Failed Architecture

A High-Speed Train between Major Texas Cities

Image Credit: Next City

Talks of a Fort Worth-to-Dallas high-speed train line have been confirmed. The line would be about 30 miles long and would be traveled “at speeds between 70 and 125 mph.” An environmental impact study is currently in progress to be completed in one year, but the train line would most likely not materialize until the year 2023. This is seen as the first step to connecting Texas’ major cities to one another by high-speed train.

Source: Next City

Snøhetta’s Ship Tunnel

Image Credit: Archdaily

Image Credit: Archdaily

The Norwegian Coastal Administration asked Snøhetta to produce renderings for the conceptual design of a long tunnel underneath the Stad peninsula to connect between two fjords. It is estimated that “between 70 and 120 ships” would pass through this mile-long tunnel daily. This construction has been considered for many, many years. “Historians have even discovered that Vikings often preferred to portage their ships” over this distance than to endure the ship ride all the way around the peninsula.

Source: Archdaily

Food Waste Fuels British Supermarket Chain’s Newest Trucks

Image credit: Inhabitat

Image credit: Inhabitat

Upscale British supermarket chain Waitrose is taking sustainability one step further by powering the newest trucks in its fleet with food waste. Ten of the chain’s trucks will be fueled by biomethane, a fuel produced by harvesting the gas generated by rotting food. Biomethane emits 70 percent less carbon dioxide than diesel and costs 40 percent less to produce. CNG Fuels claims that the upgrades will pay for themselves in two to three years.

Source: Inhabitat

Trick Roundabout Designed to Confuse Drivers

Image Credit: Al Storer

Image Credit: Al Storer

Designers have implemented a “ghost roundabout” in Cambridge, United Kingdom to intentionally confuse speedy drivers. The new road feature consists of a circular pattern of cobbled bricks that resembles a traffic roundabout. The bricks are merely decorative; however, behavioral science dictates that the familiar circular shape will cause drivers to take notice and slow down. The formation has been criticized by those who believe it looks too much like a crosswalk or that the confusion it will cause drivers will be dangerous. By replacing vertical speed bumps, the “ghost roundabouts” could provide a slowing mechanism that no longer relies on giving the driver a physical jolt.


Source: 99 Percent Invisible

A Not-So-Relaxing Float on the Seine

Image Credit: Design Boom

Image Credit: Design Boom

Design firm Carlo Ratti Associati has designed a floating gym that is propelled by the human power generated through exercise. This vessel could serve as a way to help people experience Paris while working out in a conditioned space. It also brings about an awareness of how much power is generated through human movement. The boat’s energy is also supplemented by solar panels that sit atop the roof.

Source: Design Boom

Germany Rolls Out First Zero-Emissions Trains

Image Credit: Dezeen

Image Credit: Dezeen

If current testing is successful, zero-emissions trains could soon replace traditional diesel-fueled trains on one German train line. The Coradia iLint, a train developed by French company Alston, is powered by a hydrogen fuel tank. The tank converts hydrogen and oxygen from the air into electric power, emitting only water vapor instead of CO2. The trains have backup lithium ion batteries onboard to store excess power produced by the engine. These trains arrive as Germany pushes toward zero emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels, with the German legislature moving to ban internal combustion engines by 2030.

Source: Dezeen