56 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Will Autonomous Flying Vehicles Make Roads Obsolete?”

  1. Favor, Brent. See if you can find a single technician, mechanic, or anyone else who’d be responsible for keeping a fleet of these things in the air, let alone out of each others’ way.

    Concentrate on people with some experience running anything like this, or any other machinery, in the conditions the man is talking about. Computers and the machinery they run don’t like heat, dirt, rough handling, or surprises.

    A lot of the world also has real problems with weather- which according to the scientists the next President is making lists to fire will increasingly be same situation here.

    Aircraft designers’ outlook often “doesn’t get it” with streetcars, AKA the real world. In other words, let’s have next presentation on this technology be delivered by head of a field team in Haiti. Not the head of the company sales department.

    Attitude on display here infuriated a lot of voters to where they put somebody I didn’t vote for in a position to fire all those scientists. And to install this presenter as chief of air traffic control.

    Many thanks.

    Mark Dublin

    1. They are doing this. They’re testing the physical infrastructure, not just the idea. If they build a larger test to run over time, they’ll run into exactly the problems you describe: how to keep it functioning over time. We don’t know who’s on his team; maybe they do have somebody with a machinist or a machine maintenance background. Their first problem is the short distance limitation; that’s incompatible with traversing impassable roads longer than a 2-mile walk. If they succeed, I assume they’ll roll it out in one African village or maybe more. I don’t see it appearing in American cities anytime soon; that’s more of a hypothetical. Amazon is already testing its drone delivery service here and is ahead of them, as I’m sure others are.

      One thing I like about their system is landing stations. That make it more like PRT or an on-demand bus that a taxi network. The SeaTac airport subway ruins automatically during the day and evening, but at night there’s a button to activate it like an elevator to save energy. Placing a drone delivery order would be like pressing that button. And going to a station to pick up your goods would make the network safer and easier to maintain and optimize. I don’t understand exactly how Amazon’s deliveries are supposed to work. Their drone is supposed to drop the package off right in front ot my apartment building door? And people walking by are supposed to be content with it swooshing right in front of them? What if it hits somebody? But if they’re all higher up going to aerial stations that people can see from afar, then that will be less interfering than if they’re just go anywhere.

      Last Fourth of July I went down to Eastlake to watch the fireworks. There was a big crowd somewhere around Fairview & Roanoke. Somebody had a drone flying up there part of the time and it just hung motionless in the air right in front of our view obscuring it. A lot of people were pissed at that. The good of the one or the good of the many?

      1. Had the same experience with a drone someone was using to take video at a waterfall in Iceland. They go an unobstructed video of the falls. We got a view of their drone. There were a lot more of us.

      2. From what I’ve seen know of the present generation of young African entrepreneurs, I’m sure somebody in Tanzania is probably right now working the bugs out of a system that will work in Africa.

        Fully aware of the difference between delivering phone messages and delivering cargo that isn’t virtual. In wind, dust, and thorn bushes that’ll go through a truck tire.

        But this particular presenter couldn’t have done a better caricature of the arrogant and determined denial of reality I’ve come to associate with the word “start-up.”

        Where “Disruptive” is a good thing. Doesn’t aircraft design require some “Concentration?” Was this really a skit from “Almost Live?”

        But my real problem with the drone-industrial-complex is the “It’s coming whether you like it or not so just suck it up and live with it” approach.

        Best example for me is a couple decades’ proliferation of websites that gives every stalker in the world your name, address, life history, criminal records, and people you “may know.”

        Another profit making intrusion into all of our lives that we didn’t ask for or have any chance to reject, read make illegal.

        Like with the machine design, since I’ve seen East African kids shoot down their supper with a home-made slingshot, I imagine that the people who actually put this fleet in the air will make sure it’s not considered a nuisance by the locals.


  2. If we are adding a lid to I-5, it could have a middle layer that could act as a “Freeway Waiting Room.” During evening rush hour, cars would enter the waiting room, with lanes like a ferry loading, before entering the freeway. Could possibly reverse it for the morning rush. This would get cars off the downtown streets, reduce gridlock, and let buses run on time.

    1. Even better, Brad, idea of being stuck in a garage while waiting for the freeway to clear will probably convince enough people to switch to transit that we can use the freeway for a permanent marathon.

      But if anybody is thinking about using this to prove we need to replace ground traffic with drones, just remember how many Congressmen the shopping mall camera store lobby owns free and clear.


      There’s an anthropology PhD available for research on how many similar evolutionary mistakes girl monkeys saved us from that were left unrecorded because look what happened to the cameras on them.

      Though I think that in Pompeii, a lot of those buried volcano victims were waiting in the new special-level reserved lanes for the Appian Way to clear.


    2. Not a bad idea… Metering into downtown.

      Every time I ride from Westlake to Capitol Hill on Link, I notice the spot of track by the Paramount where it levels out and has a small platform from Link layover days. What would it take to build simple side platforms here assuming westbound/inbound could be incorporated into this Convention Center expansion boondoogle?Eastbound/outbound entry built on that vacant land next to the Paramount? Really simple station, no mezzanine. Is it even remotely feasible?

      1. It may be, but Convention Place Station is not worth it. It never was well-used because it’s just as easy to walk to Westlake from the convention center, that’s where most hotels are, anf from Capitol Hill it’s a depressing walk across the freeway and only a tiny fraction of hill residents are within walking distance. And no, it’s not close to SLU either. I walk from Piki-Pine to Whole Foods sometimes via 9th, Tewrry, or Boren Avenues, and it’s not that much closer to get grom Whole Foods to Convention Place than it is to get to Westlake.

      2. There is so much new development around there now and the freeway crossing wont be so bad with the convention center expansion being built up to the corner of Boren/Pine. One possible public benefit (up for public input) is Pine/Boren Lid Park to extend the dog park so that would also help bridge the chasm. Eventually that entire area will be lidded and may have development atop.

        Vote for favorites for WSCC expansion public benefits:

        Ideally an infill station would have been at Pine-Pike around Bellevue but that ship has definitely sailed with curved sloping bored tunnel.

      3. Metering into downtown was mentioned here in another Sunday thread. Maybe two years ago there was one on the Zurich “War on Cars” and one of the things mentioned was the automatic light timing adjustments they do to keep fewer cars from entering downtown as the parking fills up. There’s no point in adding more cars to an area that has no more space for them.

      4. The problem with Convention Place is that the actual stop wasn’t far enough east. It’s too bad that the stop wasn’t closer to Boren or Bellevue.

        Personally, I think we will regret it when we realize that it is or was the most optimum vacant parcel for the second tunnel construction staging now funded by ST3.

      5. A Bellevue Avenue station would be excellent. Pouring money into Convention Place station because it’s an existing station doesn’t get you there. The reason they put the station there was for direct access to the express lanes, a reason that no longer applies.

    1. John Bailo has been missing from these pages for quite awhile so I did a Google search to see what he’s been up to. The Seattle P-I lists a notice that someone named John Bailo, age 55, from Kent passed away on Christmas Day 2015. All of Mr. Bailo’s social media pages have been silent since last Christmas, too.


      1. I’m very sorry to hear that. Thanks for looking, and for letting us know.

        May he rest in peace.

      2. R.I.P.

        Fun factoid – out of 7 x 10 to the 27th atoms in a human body, 2/3 are hydrogen. Making John a populist.

  3. Isn’t it a thing, headlines in the form of a yes or no question, the answer is no?
    The first line is the headline, the 2nd line is meta data, and the third line is the content.
    Yes, but there are exceptions. I doubt the main article is one of them.

    1. The headline alludes to another issue that has been widely discussed here. Driverless-car enthusiasts claim it can replace transit, and have used it as an argument to oppose ST3 or renewing bus fleets across the country. That’s a dangerous position that if we followed it could lead to a 2030s with driverless cars still not perfected, transit gone because it was not maintained or expanded with the population increase, and a country like Silicon Valley without buses. Autonomous taxis can potentially replace the outermost, least-used, most-subsidized bus routes, but they can’t possibly replace New York subways or even Seattle-Lynnwod buses: if all those people were in cars they’d fill the freeway and leave no room for anybody else, even if autonomous cars drive closer together. And if autonomous cars can be built, then autonomous buses can be too, and would be easier to maintain. Also there’s a case in Florida I think where the city replaced a bus route with subsidized Uber, and now only the well-off can use it and the poor have to walk.

      So the headline is ingenious. If people say autonomous cars will obsolete transit, why don’t we also let drones replace roads? Oh, but SOV drivers wouldn’t like that.

      Driverless Cars Won’t Make Transit Obsolete

      On Human Transit:
      no, autonomous cars will not “abolish transit” in dense cities
      Choosing our words: autonomous cars or autonomous vehicles?
      Autonomous Cars and Induced Demand: a Historical Perspective (Comment of the Month)
      Are Fully Driverless Vehicles Coming Soon? Doubts, and Smarter Hopes

      1. The myth that some sort of single occupant craft with new technology will save us from traffic has simply been proven time and again that it doesn’t replace the need in an urban center for transit. They stated flying cars would be the norm in 2000 and we are just getting into self driving vehicles. We can continue to wait or use something that has been proven time and again to work.

  4. We need some serious escalator etiquette here… do not stand on both sides of the escalator!!! Clearly some backwater mentality that escalators are for fun and lazy Sunday shopping at some mall on the way to the food court.

      1. And wider ones. Some are just one person wide (and if someone wants to stand on them, then the etiquette is you let them; you want to argue only able bodied people can use them? They can take the stairs.

    1. Please just give us stairs as an alternate. It’s beyond annoying at the airport or at Capitol Hill Station, when you have a train to catch, and there are oblivious morons who won’t get out of the way no matter how much you plead.

  5. Speaking of flying vehicles replacing roads, Branson MO just approved a MOU with the American Gondola company to build one of the world’s longest gondola lines (8.5 miles, 10-12 stations). I’d consider it mostly a *toy for tourists* type of gondola system as opposed to real urban transit (Branson only has 11k residents but 8M visitors each year), but it can still be compared to real transit systems.

    News: local news source, the Gondola Project

    1. Ironically, Branson became popular partly because Nashville was too ‘urban’ for small town folk.

      Meanwhile, when Nashville talks about high capacity transit like BRT or light rail, the Tennessee legislature wants to kill the idea.

    2. Speaking of gondola, whatever happened to that privately funded gondola for Downtown Seattle, at the time it was talked about like a sure thing?!?!?

  6. Just got off of a route 512 bus driven by a totally clueless driver who has no idea how ORCA works. The conversation went roughly like the following:

    ORCA reader: “XFER + $1.25” (exactly that)
    Driver: “You owe $1.25.”
    Alex: “Wha…, uh, no, the reader said I had a transfer, and I PAID $1.25 on top of that.”
    D: “There’s no transfer, this is Sound Transit. There’s no transfer on Sound Transit.”
    A: “Well you don’t know how ORCA works. There’s transfer credit on ORCA and if I owed $1.25, it would say the word ‘OWE'”
    D: “No, when it says $1.25, it means you owe $1.25. Where are you going?”
    A: “Lynnwood.” (I’m boarding in Seattle)
    D: “Ok, you’re good for Lynwood, but not for Everett.”
    A: “Is Everett more expensive than Lynnwood?”
    D: “Yes, Everett is $3.25.”
    A: “No, they’re both two-county fares, and the ORCA Lift price is cheaper.”
    D: “No it’s not, the fare to Everett is $3.25, that’s the fare sir. You’re fine sir, please get on the bus.”
    A: “But driver you’re wrong, ‘$1.25’ means you paid $1.25, and that you don’t owe anything.”
    D: “The fare is not $1.25 sir.”

    Then after getting on the freeway, this clueless dimwit announced on the loudspeaker that “if the machine says a certain dollar amount, it means you owe that amount,” to which I rebutted with the limited reach of my voice from the back of the bus.
    Then at NE 45th street, I heard a guy angrily yell and kick the tires of the bus as it left. I suspect he paid his fare and was denied entry to the bus because the driver is an idiot.
    Then the driver made another announcement which was probably fare related but I couldn’t hear it over the freeway that time.
    So the driver thinks at least the following:
    -All fare is the same regardless of ORCA Lift, Adult, probably youth, etc.
    -Lynnwood is in a different fare zone than Everett and the same zone as Seattle
    -There are no transfers on ORCA
    -“XFER + $” means you owe $
    This is what you get, Community Transit, when you contract out YOUR JOB to another company (First Transit) who doesn’t know anything about the local fare technology, and fail to train their drivers on how ORCA cards work.

    1. In the height of irony, in this comment, I erroneously said that Everett adult fare is $3.25 when it is $3.75. $3.75 is what the driver (correctly) gave for the normal adult fare to Everett as well.

      1. Alex, contact Dave Earling, Mayor of Edmonds and Sound Transit board member. Who goes back many years as a positive force in regional transit.


        Ask for a talk with him, and he’ll probably give you time. I guarantee he’ll put your information to good use.

        Also, wonderful guy to talk transit with, and regional politics.


    2. Kind of bothers me how ST contracts out to CT who then contract out to First Transit. What a mess.

    3. The connection between one driver’s ignorance and outsourcing is lacking. Different Metro drivers have been saying different things forever.

    4. Drivers shouldn’t even be policing fares. I’ve heard from more than one driver about scofflaws who get on the bus every day without paying and the challenge of getting fare enforcement on the bus to catch them in the act. But, the driver has a more important job to do for the dozens of passengers who are paying and would like to get to their destination on time.

      Some years ago I had a driver doubt the validity of my transfer who actually stood up and walked clear to the back of the bus to eject me. It was embarrassing for me, but luckily I was in Seattle so I was able to get another bus in less than half an hour.

      1. That’s Metro that has a policy against drivers doing more than a simple “Please pay your fare” or “The fare is $X”; I’m not sure if other agencies have a similar policy. But actual driver practice varies significantly as I said above. It’s probably impossible to get thousands of people with varying levels of education all on the same page.

      2. I hope that isn’t the case, because it effectively makes fares optional. For non-RapidRide buses, drivers are the only fare enforcement. Perhaps this is why I see some people boarding buses without paying the fare expecting a free ride. It builds a culture of fare evasion.

      3. it’s to avoid fare disputes from escalation to assaults on drivers, The police and security guards are far away, drivers already has a large job to do, they’re not being paid a princely salary, and Metro already can’t recruit enough drivers for all the runs it has funded.

      4. “I hope that isn’t the case, because it effectively makes fares optional.”

        The driver’s job is not law enforcement, it is to drive the bus. If the driver needs to have laws enforced, s/he can call the transit police.

  7. Fighting against gravity by beating the air into submission does not make for an especially efficient or ecologically friendly mode of transportation either.

    Also, the Commutapult is a better idea.

    1. Yeah, it takes lots of horsepower to achieve lift, especially when the Feds set safety standards that will add hundreds if not thousands of pounds to a vehicle. Driverless technology won’t make flying vehicles any more practical than they are already.

    2. We already have air commuters, but they have names like Steve Jobs. It’s just very expensive to travel that way so you have to convince yourself your time is worth the cost and environmental impact of using such a wasteful vehicle.

      On the flip side, seeing the big container ships I’m always reminded how the magic of nearly frictionless sea travel has made our global economy possible. Looking forward to using some of the under utilized right of way between Seattle and Kitsap County once the fast ferries get going next year.

      1. I’m super optimistic about the Fast Ferries connecting new population centers to Seattle, but note the ferries are very fuel & carbon intensive. While it’s certainly better than running helicopters between Bremerton and Seattle, it’s not quite like a long-distance cargo ship.

  8. Driving up Stone Way yesterday, the 62 at the corner of 45th Street is taking up both lane to make its right turns. There was a lot of pedestrian traffic, meaning it couldn’t turn right for quite awhile, and as a result, those of us in the left lane did not make the light.

    Insofar as I know, whether it’s convenient for it take up both lane, it’s not legal and it had real world consequences here (that’s a long light cycle).

    Anyone know if there is some kind of “convenient for buses” exception?

    1. Probably too tight of a turn to make without using the adjacent lane? This is pretty common for all large vehicles.

      1. It’s called ‘cover your ass’ in driver speak.
        Running into a parked car door just opening is a preventable accident. Taking two lanes is not. Simple.

    2. If a bus can’t fit into one lane for a turn, then either it has to take two lanes or you eliminate buses. When Stone Way and trhe streets around it were laid out, there were streetcars instead of buses, they had the right of way, and 60′ articulated vehicles didn’t exist.

    3. The 62 does the same thing at 35th & Fremont too because of the tight right turn, and the drivers who can’t read the “No Stops” sign adjacent to the corner. The 62 also does the same thing at 40th & Stone, presumably because of the drivers who can’t read the “Yield to Buses” sign on the back. If cars drivers weren’t flouting traffic laws left and right, maybe I’d feel more sympathetic.

  9. Breadbaker, poncho, and Bruce, to get a bus around a right hand turn, to spare life, property, and punitive damages, it’s not only legal to take two lanes or more, but mandatory.

    With a 40′ bus, procedure is that about on coach length before the turn, the driver puts his rear wheel as tight alongside the curb as possible, and then angles the bus outward, while moving slowly forward into the intersection.

    It’s absolutely critical to be sure nothing, and nobody, gets caught between the bus and the curb. This is called “protecting the pocket” through a “button hook” turn.

    When the driver is looking straight down the lane he’s turning into, he also shifts his vision to the mirror where he can watch his right rear wheel roll around the curb. In this maneuver, the center of the rear axle is called the “pivot point”, because this is what the bus does.

    A sixty foot “artic” with the rear axle powered, as I think is the case with our whole fleet now, the driver also pivots around the rear wheel. With the bus taking a wider sweep of the intersection, while still making sure nothing gets into the pocket.

    Standard bus mirror lets the driver see the side of the bus from roof to road, and can actually watch the inside pivot wheel roll around the curb, making sure it stays on the street side and not the telephone pole or someone’s foot side.

    Our former artic fleets of MAN 2000-series diesel and 4000-series trolleybuses were powered by the center axle, with the rear axle “steerable”- meaning a mechanism to steer the rear end of the coach around a sharp turn.

    The center axle still served as pivot point, which both front and rear sections pivoted around. However, to make this work, the steering mechanism under the trailer had to steer the rear wheels so the rear of the trailer moved outward as the bus swung into the turn.

    So the driver had to position the coach so that not only was the inside pocket protected, but also so nothing was alongside the trailer as it swung.

    Major problem being that at most critical point of the turn, the most dangerous part of the bus was completely out of the driver’s sight. So the correct way to corner that bus was to “split” two lanes to discourage intrusion on both sides. And turn slowly and carefully, listening for horns.

    You’ve probably watched several hundred of these turns and not paid any attention.
    If a bus driver makes these turns carefully, smoothly, and correctly, neither the police nor anyone else argues or complains.

    It doesn’t take that long in the driver’s seat to learn how to steer and position a 60′ bus into traffic without a any screeching brakes, blasting horns, or raging roads. Ideal image is steering a boat into moving boat traffic on a flowing river.

    Metro is hiring.


  10. Car breaks down, you pull over to the side, get out of the car, and call for help. Drone aircraft breaks down, you fall several dozen feet and die or are seriously injured.

    1. Interesting point. Our current generation of drones can’t carry the weight of people, but if future ones do, are people going to pay millions of dollars for a massively redundant safety system like airliners have? Airlinerrs amortize the cost over dozens of passengers per flight, but a personal plane you’d have to pay all that. And presumably people would want Jetsoin’s-like enclosed vehicles with seats rather than being strapped to the bottom of a flying hat. (Or should we call it a flying saucer?) However, is the person really a pilot or a passenger? If he’s steering it from onboard then he’s a pilot and it’s not really a “drone”.

      1. Two drone pilots are flying and texting when they run into each other. Does the Baker Ejection harness automatically deploy, or does Darwin take care of any future problems?

  11. Interestng find the other day: a SoundTransit request for bids for Platform Barriers.

    This type of barrier is required to prevent people from walking between cars at platforms. See a policy letter from the FTA. This policy letter includes some example photographs of what these types of barriers will look like. Some types are mounted on the cars and others are mounted on the platforms. The type chosen by ST will look like those last two photos.

  12. I read an article that said self-flying drones carrying passengers could be technologically ready in five years. To which I said, what a complete sack of bull.

    To turn the drones we have into ones carrying passengers, two big upgrades are required. First, physical size, which is a harder engineering challenge than it sounds (like how the batteries in your phone still aren’t adequate for a car). Second, reliability. The drones on the market today have the reliability required for a toy, not for a machine that people need to trust with their life.

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