Peaking over the hedges

This is an open thread.

51 Replies to “News Roundup: Obsolete”

  1. You know, South Park was one of the largest cul de sacs in the city of Seattle. What makes me happy is being able to shave off 9 minutes off of my trips on the 60 to the medical district. So there you have it: Another satisfied customer.

    1. I’m with ya, Global!

      I live in the Highland Park/S.Delridge area, and generally make one trip a week, sometimes two or three, up to Harborview for pharmacy pick-up and/or appointments.

      Being near the West Seattle Terminal of the 60, it would take pretty close to an hour each way, during the re-route over the 1st S Bridge.

      When I went up the other day for a quick prescription pick-up, I checked my ORCA history the next day, and it was like an hour and two or three minutes between taps on the Reader.

      Very much loving the S.Park Bridge being open!

      Mike

      1. Actually given the alternatives, I think the extension to Roy is better. The Roy terminus leaves a lot more options for extending either the streetcar or the cycle track. The cycle track extension is a lot more likely.

    1. The longer extension was always a diminishing return. Lots of people go to the Broadway Market and environs, while fewer people go to Volunteer Park or the apartments/houses around it. At some point the benefit/cost ratio does’t pan out. That’s why the line isn’t extended to the U-District, because north Capitol Hill is even lower density. It could be the case that if they had a few thousand dollars more they would approve the Volunteer Park extension, but it would still be less productive than the Roy Street extension.

      1. I don’t think that was ever in dispute. But it’s easy to conceive a Roy St-45th/50th St extension as the streetcar programme becomes more robust.

    2. hopefully, Seattle will see that are much better ways to spend $24 million in capital and the necessary service subsidy to extend the streetcar north. SDOT is clever enough to add cycle tracks without a streetcar. the extension would be redundant to Route 49, a clean quiet electric trolleybus route about to get low floor buses and that attracts more rides per hour than any other on Capitol Hill. examples of better ways to spend the capital: Route 48 overhead, Yesler Way overhead, South Henderson Street overhead, and the Madison BRT. examples of better ways to spend the service hours: improved service frequency on routes 3 or 49. the extension is only one-half mile and is redundant and duplicative of Route 49.

  2. “Right now, cars sit 94.8 percent of the time on average,” Klein said.

    “The projection for autonomous vehicles is they will be active 95 percent of the time.”

    Seems a bit disingenuous.

    Practically, I would imagine that to be able to service people on demand there would have to be some depots where an inventory of self-drive cars sits ready, near high use areas.

    1. The idea that autonomous vehicles would be active 95% of the time is ludicrous when a large majority of people in any particular time zone have sleep schedules that overlap for several hours.

      But automated cars could still be parked for the night in a distributed manner (as private cars are today) much easier than buses or trains can be. The idea that downtown parking would become totally obsolete is hyperbole, but we could need much less in the future.

    2. The 95% active figure does seem absurd. More people want to travel places during the day than during the middle of the night. If these self-driving vehicles are going to dramatically reduce the need for parking in downtown areas, there will need to be enough of them to handle demand at peak commute times. If that’s the case, there will obviously be a bunch of them sitting idle at 4 AM. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but a vehicle that is usually idle from 3-5 AM is not being used 95% of the time.

      Maybe they meant that the vehicles would be in use 95% of the time during some time period when most people are awake? That would be more believable. Even then, queuing theory tells us that as utilization approaches 100%, average wait times increase dramatically. The “sweet spot” that ensures reasonable waiting times is probably much lower than 95%.

      1. Suppose I go to the mall.

        My auto-car leaves me off, and then picks up the person just leaving.

        If we were to have near 0% reserve cars, that means when I leave, I would have to wait for another person to come to the mall near the same time, or else I’m waiting a long time, or stuck!

      2. That’s basically what I said. If the cars are only idle 5% of the time, the odds that one will be available when and where you need it are slim.

    3. Daytime usage might be 75%. Taxi drivers wait for calls too, and you need spare capacity to avoid a crunch. That’s why Metro’s target capacity is around 80%, because demand often spikes and anything above that leads to frequent 125% overcrowding. Still, with 75% daytime usage and 20% nighttime usage, it may make sense to go to an out-of-the-way garage a few times a day while waiting for a call.

      1. Just like Uber encourages drivers to reposition according to a “heat map”, autonomous cars are going to be intelligent enough to know where their customers are and what they’ll likely do (e.g. when they would likely call for a car). In the case of the GoogleCar, it would have all of the signals that your phone and use of computers provides as to your typical schedule, your planned activities and where you are.

        Given this it is very likely that cars would more or less keep moving and be available within seconds or short minutes of your request or pre-arranged time. If the cars are electric battery powered, then there would be a need for charging time where a portion of the fleet would be off line thereby creating a natural fleet management opportunity.

      2. The most profitable place to park waiting for passengers should not be just a static calculation, but a dynamic algorithm that is constantly producing the optimal position for drivers, given the latest real-time information. For instance, if all the other drivers are hanging out in downtown Seattle, but nobody else is in Redmond, it could actually be more profitable to wait for a call in Redmond, since any customer within several miles of you is probably going to be yours.

        Similarly, special events have the power to turn an area that would ordinarily have a negligible source of demand into a potential huge source of demand. For instance, ordinarily, waiting in Marymoor park for a customer at 10 PM would be a very poor choice, but if there’s a big concert in the park that is about to end, it becomes a very good choice.

      3. They still have to wait somewhere, because there won’t always be somebody ready to get in immediately when somebody gets out. The place they wait should not be pedestrian-oriented storefronts in the center of the commercial district. They can wait in an underused edge of downtown, currently the Denny Triangle and the block east of the waterfront, and SODO.

      4. Will robotaxis be charged a toll to cross 520 when they’re repositioning themselves for a potential ride that may or may not happen? If the answer is presumably yes, then the companies won’t be so eager to preposition as many as might be needed, but only as many as will definitely be needed. That means on high usage days some people will have to wait significantly longer than usual.

        The worst thing would be if all unoccupied robotaxis take I-90 to avoid the toll. Hello congestion.

  3. Fearing renters?

    Here’s the guy I think of as the ultimate apartment dweller, Melvin Frank, the “Prisoner of Second Avenue”:

    1. I like the look of the center platform but that would have caused more backups than it solved. No way to pass is a killer.

    2. Wow! There are down escalators! They actually proposed down escalators! …and how is a center platform less efficient than a split platform? A center platform allows transfers to take place more effectively. At the current time, Westlake and University are big transfer points for folks as it is the connection from the DSTT routes from the 2nd/3rd/4th/5th Avenue Routes. The Convention Place is a horrible transfer point to anything beside the few buses going up Pike.

      Why do I complain about down escalators?! There is nothing worse than coming from Pike Place Market and having to slog behind people crawling down the stairs because Metro/Seattle/ST (The Powers that Be) decided not to construct down escalators to the platforms! …and then having to make the run across the entire platform to catch the 41 to Northgate.

      So what happened between 1984 and 2007 (after refurbishment for Link)? Must be the same people behind making the design decisions like the eminent domain plan to seize the strip mall off 1st Ave NE by Northgate a year after the detour/lane reduction ruined the business for those proprietors (I apologize for the cynicism).

    3. That was clearly an early conceptual sketch, probably not even a proposal, just a mishmash of ideas from other cities (larger cities, replacing their subways with buses). Where are platforms 5 and 6? The platforms are larger than our “bus bays”, so each one could hold two or more bays. The routes are odd too. Naturally it was drawn before the routes were chosen, but it was also drawn before the kinds of routes were chosen. What it shows is a lot of Seattle routes and trolleybus routes, and only a few suburban routes. Of course there could be more suburban routes on the unreadable 5 and 6 signs, but the proportion was probably intended to be the same.

      What we got was (1) representative suburban routes going north, east, and south (no quarter left behind!); (2) the U-District which was too high-volume to exclude; (3) Northgate where they were promoting a new transit center/P&R; (4) routes that use the I-5 express lanes; (5) no large detour (that was the reason given to me for why no northwest (Aurora, Ballard, Fremont) routes are in the tunnel; (6) no trolleybus routes (sorry Columbia City on platform 2 and Queen Anne on platform 4). West Seatlte might also be peeved that this sketch seems to give it a lot of service whereas actually it got zilch.

  4. Curious about headline and picture. What there is obsolete? Except maybe years of budget cuts and deferred maintenance that finally make impossible to cleat shrubbery out of the way of a bus- those are really getting old and stale.

    Same for serious claims that a technology dubious in its own right can solve a political problem that a change of policy can solve simpler and safer.

    Even if the technology itself works as described, street parking will mainly just change lanes: from curb lanes to traffic ones. And before we trust an untried mechanism in circumstances where a single misdriven car can commit murder- let’s first make a single elevator at any station on LINK work reliably for a single year.

    Mark

    1. Driverless cars are likely to make existing parking rules and enforcement obsolete. Relying on cops to issue tickets will be a complete joke when an autonomous car can simply park illegally until a cop shows up, then circle around the block, then park again in a slightly different location, until the cop shows up again, etc. Even if software restricts the car to parking legally (assuming the owner doesn’t hack it), a car could simply hang out at the nearest legal parking spot, even if it’s a couple miles away. The result would be residential streets all over Queen Anne and Capitol Hill clogged every weekday with the cars of downtown commuters. Even in 2-hour-except-by-permit zones, the 2-hour limit would be useless, as an autonomous car could easily and automatically switch to another space each time the 2-hour limit expires. And, even if that were blocked, some owners might do the math and conclude that, for short trips (e.g. 1-2 hours), having the car circle repeatedly around the block is cheaper than paying for parking.

      We’ll have to see how the regulations come out, but if the owners of driverless cars were charged a fee for each minute or hour they occupied a public street, whether moving or parked, these shenanigans would quickly stop. The fee for the inner part of the city would need to be steep – perhaps $10/hour (or $0.17/minute) so that drivers have a financial incentive to park their cars in a private garage (or go back the owner’s driveway), rather than circle around the block and clog up the streets. Furthermore, they would also raise the price of driving downtown in general to the point where mass transit remains the preferable option for ordinary commuting, while still keeping driving somewhat affordable for the occasional trip with special needs.

  5. Fear of renters, LOL.

    What happens when you make an inflammatory remark and support it by taking the stupidest quotes from your detractors and cite an obscure study done in one tiny neighborhood in Grand Rapids, MI as some sort of proof?

    Nothing, because your argument has no merit and is solely an attempt to rationalize the utter contempt you have for people you disagree with on microhousing. And a rather bad attempt at that, taking quotes of stupid and extreme things from one or two individuals and inferring they speak for the whole group is more than a little intellectually dishonest. And that’s next to citing a study done on people living in a single neighborhood that is 1800 miles away as if it is some sort of ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison. Yeah, right.

    No, it may make great fuel for your microhousing fire, but a rational argument it ain’t.

    1. While I agree with your assessment of the strength of his argument, I disagree with your tone of wonder, as if a political article written like a political article is somehow unusual. Application of the scientific method to answer political questions has not ever, that I can think of, had a direct appreciable effect on public opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong; the actual aspect of the article you found offensive is its derision of you as a member of the anti micro housing group.

      Personally, I’m thinking about upgrading from my unheated detached garage to something like an apodment. I obviously have no opposition to further construction for my own market, a market I believe currently under served.

      1. And people like our commenter here think they know what is good for you, better than you do yourself. They are trying to protect you, for your own good, and the good of the city. We should give them a medal or something.

  6. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has released its report on the 2013 Lac-Megantic oil train accident that killed 47 people, destroyed millions of dollars of property and created an environmental disaster in a Quebec vacation town. Basically, the accident was caused by a malfunctioning locomotive that was left overnight on a hill outside of town with its engine running. The engine then caught fire, local fire crews put out the fire and then turned the locomotive off, which depleted the air brakes. Because not enough mechanical hand brakes had been set to secure the train consist at the top of the hill, after the air escaped from the brake line, the train began to roll downhill into the town of Megantic, reaching a speed of 65 mph. When the train reached a railroad switch in the town, the speeding cars began to derail, spilling oil out of ruptured tank cars which ignited and then burned.

    If the full report is too technical or tedious, spend a couple of minutes looking at an animation of the events that preceded the disaster.

    1. If the air brakes ran out of air, wouldn’t that cause the brakes to be applied, rather than be released?

      1. If that were the case, you wouldn’t be able to hump cars. You want the car to be able to roll when it’s not attached to a locomotive. If you don’t want it to roll, set the hand brake.

      2. I didn’t study the technical explanation of all the air brake systems, but I know that when a train goes into emergency stop, the first sound you hear is the air being released. The technical report does explain the various braking systems on a train consist.

      3. Okay, so I don’t know what I’m talking about. Let me try to correct that by quoting from the report.

        “A train’s automatic braking system is supplied with air from compressors located on each operating locomotive. The air is stored in the locomotive’s main reservoir. This reservoir supplies approximately 90 pounds per square inch (psi) of air to a brake pipe that runs along the length of the entire train, connecting to each locomotive and individual car. Air pressure changes within this brake pipe activate the brakes on the entire train.

        When an automatic brake application is required, the LE moves the automatic brake handle to the desired position. This action removes air from the brake pipe. As each car’s air brake valve senses a sufficient difference in pressure, air flows from a reservoir located on each car into that car’s brake cylinder, applying the brake shoes to the wheels.

        In order to release the brakes, the LE moves the automatic brake handle to the release position. This action causes air to flow from the main reservoir on the locomotive into the brake pipe, restoring pressure to 90 psi. Sensing this, each car’s brake valve allows air to be released from its brake cylinder, and the shoes are removed from the wheels.

        …When locomotives are shut down, the air compressors are also shut down and no longer supply air to the train. Given that the system has many connections, which are prone to air leaks, the main reservoir pressure will slowly begin to drop soon afterward.

        Because the main reservoir supplies air to the entire system, when its pressure falls to the level of that in the brake pipe, the pressure in both components will thereafter diminish at the same rate. This sequence also occurs when the main reservoir and brake pipe reach the same pressure as that in the brake cylinder, at which point all 3 will lose pressure at the same rate.

        As the air in the brake cylinder decreases, the amount of force being applied to the locomotive wheels by the independent brakes is reduced. If the system is not recharged with air, the brakes on the locomotives will eventually become completely ineffective.”

        Presumably, the reservoirs in the cars would also be depleted as the pressure in the brake pipe went down and the brakes would be released.

      4. I was confused by this too, but then figured it out. The automatic brake system, the one used for normal train operations, works by reducing the pressure in the main air feed. This trips a valve on each car when then fills the brake cylinders from the car reservoir. Because the system applies the brakes with a decrease in pressure, of the air feed pipe breaks, the brakes go on. To release the brakes, the pressure on the main air feed is increased which releases the brake cylinders and also recharges the car reservoirs. But this locomotive was stopped by a combination of hand brakes and the independent braking system. The independent system is just on the locomotives and that feeds air right from the train compressor into the locomotive brakes, keeping them on. When the locomotive is shut down, that system will leak and the brakes will come off. And obviously the number of handbrakes engaged was not enough.

        What I do not understand is why the automatic brake system also failed. If the automatic brakes were applied to bring the train to a halt, there would be pressure in all the brake cylinders keeping the brakes on. They would leak too, but they are each much smaller systems with fewer connections, so they ought to leak more slowly. I get the impression that once the train was stopped and the independent brakes engaged, the automatic system was released, but I don’t know why.

      5. from section 1.9.1. of the report: When an automatic brake application is required, the LE moves the automatic brake handle to the desired position. This action removes air from the brake pipe. As each car’s air brake valve senses a sufficient difference in pressure, air flows from a reservoir located on each car into that car’s brake cylinder, applying the brake shoes to the wheels. emphasis mine

        I’m presuming that the air reservoir on each car would be depleted with the brake application and that shutting down the locomotive would have prevented the reservoirs in each car from being replenished, which would have released the automatic brakes as the complete air system began to leak.

      6. Guy is correct. When the air pumps on the last locomotive ceased functioning, air pressure in the train line began to fall from what ever pressure remained after the last service application. That decreases the differential between the cylinder pressure and train line pressure, reducing the ability of the line to keep the cylinders at spec.

        At the same time, the pressure from the cylinders is slowly leaking out of the system as well. Yvrluytens is right that the on-car system leaks much less than the train line; but it does leak. It’s compressed air! Molecule-sized thingies can squeeze through very tiny crevices.

        Normally when that happens the brake line is charged enough so that the cylinders can be re-supplied and pressure on the brakes maintained. The triple valve is arranged so that an existing application can be “held” while the cylinders are applied. It all happens from the relative pressures on the three sides of the valve.

        Without the cycle of recharge, though, eventually the pressure holding the brake shoes against the wheel directly from the on-car cylinder or the “held” service reduction will leak away enough that the wheels can turn.

  7. Self-driving, self-parking cars will eliminate one of the significant disincentives to driving your own car into a city — the time penalty of having to find parking and then walk to your ultimate destination.

    Once cars can park themselves, you can get a ride to the front door (working while you ride), hop out, and let the computer find a place to park. Essentially, every private car becomes a chauffeured towncar.

    For purely utilitarian trips, a driverless taxi may be as efficient as a driverless private car, but how many of us keep nothing personal in the car? How much more would we personalize our cars if we weren’t the ones having to drive them?

    Give me a driverless car and within a week I’ll have installed a breakfast nook, cooler, clothing storage, bookcase, bike rack, and A/V system. (Give me a driverless van instead of a car and I’ll add a stove and shower.) And I don’t even commute by car!

    You think any generic taxi is going to beat that on raw efficiency? Maybe in poor neighborhoods where every penny counts…

    If you’re building a parking garage today, make the layout flexible to accommodate many *more* cars, parked more closely than any human could manage. You’ll want to be ready for an “automated only” section with narrower lanes and narrower stalls (nobody needs to open the doors while parked), maybe even double-stack sedans since you won’t need ceiling heights for people to walk.

    If you’re designing any *other* downtown building today, be sure to include a nice circular drive that fronts on the lobby, so all those automated cars will have a place to let out their passengers before going to park themselves.

    1. This is techno-utopian nonsense. All those autonomous vehicles you’re predicting will still fill up the streets, clog intersections, and get stuck in traffic jams. While it’s absolutely true that the travel experience for the rider(s) will be much better, the space required for the robocars to move will be only somewhat reduced by packing. Already most people egregiously violate the two second rule. So while the robocars will be able to follow more closely, they won’t be enormously more compact.

      1. Aren’t we talking about less space being required for robocars to park? If no one has to get out and the computer has perfect steering, you don’t have to leave so much space at the sides.

    2. Right, a car still has value to its owner when it’s parked: by holding dance shoes / workout gear, it enables the owner to go straight from activity to activity without stopping home. The opportunity cost of going home can be quite high, so the parked car gets its value that way.

      This is one form of freedom that not even a frequent transit network can deliver; the more extreme analogue is the inconvenience of being homeless, or, if that’s too hyperbolic, a frequent business traveler. “Living out of a suitcase” is generally agreed to be unpleasant, even if work puts you up in comfortable hotels.

      Maybe these driverless taxis can have private storage compartments. You indicate that you need a compartment, and a car arrives with a free compartment. Deposit your things in the morning and lock it. Before making its next pickup, if it predicts that it will run out of storage compartments, the taxi drops off your stuff in geographically evenly-distributed storage stations and picks up an empty compartment before making the next pickup. The next time you need a ride, you indicate whether you need a new compartment or to have your existing one retrieved, and the ‘nearest’ car is chosen based on travel time from current location to your pickup spot, via the storage station.

      But can you imagine the security risks this would pose? The augmentation to wealth-based imbalance this would represent if members of this driverless car group had access to lockers and no one else (exclusive transit users, homeless people) did?

      1. Have you heard of backpacks? I can’t think of anything that I keep in my car for daily use that can’t fit into a backpack. Granted, there are people that basically use their car as a garbage dump, but is that stuff really used daily? Personally, I don’t leave anything in my car that I wouldn’t miss, because it could be stolen at any moment.

      2. In fact, I have. Backpacks are great, but not appropriate for many social situations, and this is where car-as-locker would be handy.

        e.g. meeting friends at PNB after going to the gym. If you’re dressed for the ballet, the only acceptable bag has about the volume of a single pocket.

        It also lets you be more spontaneous: I can’t carry running shoes and dance shoes and yoga mat + corresponding clothes in my purse every day, but if that’s stashed in a car, then I can go to any of those activities without planning.

        I’d also love to hear about your theft-proof backpack.

    3. No circular drives in front of lobbies! They take up lots of space and are a pedestrian dead area. Just put more “3 minute loading” spaces on the street and/or in an off-street lot. And again, driverless taxis are for medium-demand situations. High-demand situations require trains or buses. If two thousand people are going into a highrise building at a certain hour, there’s no way they could all fit in taxis on the road or in a dropoff lot; you need 100-person buses or 200-person trains to fit them. The only reason it works at Boeing is the parking lots are vast and the buildings are dispersed horizontally.

    4. If the vast array of electronics necessary to allow a car to function driverless adds a non-trivial amount of money to the price of the car, it is hard to imagine budget conscious people buying one (although wealthy people will probably buy several and heavily personalize them). But, if driverless taxis do, one day, become cheap to ride and ubiquitous, they may eventually replace ownership of a manually-driven car for a significant number of people.

      1. I agree. A driverless car doesn’t really change anyone’s commute significantly. It is still expensive, and still annoying when you sit in traffic. To be fair, lots of people would put up with the drive if someone else is doing the driving, but to many, it would be a small change. On the other hand, a driverless taxi has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of a taxi by eliminating the highest cost. My guess is that driverless taxis would be the first use of the technology, just as businesses were the first users of computers (it is easy to spend a hundred grand on technology if it can save you two hundred over the life of the car).

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