Driver Assisted Cars – On the brink of a transport revolution?

Post by Gondola Project

The Volvo v40 offers an innovative "City Safety" system which includes features such as automated braking, pedestrian airbags and much more. Image from Autoworld.

Ever increasing urban populations are leading cities to focus more heavily on improving public transit infrastructure through the construction of rail, bus, and even cable lines. With such an extensive road network in North America, many cities and states find it difficult to further invest in additional infrastructure. Still, car congestion ensues — an issue that is further compounded by human error and “phantom traffic jams“.

So is there a way to make driving safer, less infuriating, and most importantly, more efficient during peak hours? We’ve heard of the Google Driverless Cars but these vehicles are not scheduled to hit the roads anytime soon. When they do, the transition surely cannot be immediate. Most likely there will be an in between phase — some sort of half-automated car.

Take for example, the Volvo V40 and Ford B-Max minivan. These cars offer driver assist features such as automatic braking. According to the Economist, the Volvo V40 essentially drives itself in busy traffic with the ability to maintain a safe distance between itself and surrounding vehicles.

Vehicles that can automatically adjust their speeds may significantly improve traffic flow in gridlock. Imagine a gradual movement instead of the lurching stop-and-go traffic we are all accustomed to.

But what, (if any) impact does this technology have on public transit? If travelling in personal vehicles is easier and more comfortable in the future, all while utilizing existing road infrastructure, will the role of public transit become less significant?

Or maybe more importantly, will this technology change more than just car culture? Can we somehow integrate “driver assists” with motorized mass transit vehicles to improve operational efficiency?

This type of technological innovation could have huge implications on transit planning and transportation in the not-so-distant future, ultimately altering the way we think about transit and urban mobility.

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  1. I live less than a 10 minute walk from a subway station. Unless my destination is right on said subway line, I nearly always drive. I value my time more than the marginal cost of driving less the cost of public transit. If my family is with me, it's a no brainer: we drive. Even when visiting Paris, we found the metro slower and costlier than what we valued our time. (We wound up taking 3 metro rides and 3 taxi rides in one day!) While I really like the idea of gondolas and public transit, the reality is that the car is the most efficient and flexible transportation tool in most circumstances. We decry suburbia but I believe by driving more people can get to more places at an acceptable cost in a given amount of time than people can on even the most efficient public transit in the city. Asphalt and cars are cheap. To formalize it: for $X and Y minutes, how many people can I visit in a car vs public transit? The car wins in nearly all city configurations and price/time points.
  2. Good insight Sam. It is difficult to combat the convenience of a private car in low density North American settings. Although that is somewhat changing in many places (especially with changing land use planning initiatives and growing social and environmental awareness). Nonetheless, if we were able to automate motorized vehicles, there'd be huge implications in terms of private and public transport. Under the right circumstances, automation can decrease operational costs in motorized street and dedicated transit lines (no more drivers, instead attendants?). If we think on an even larger scale, a PRT type of system could be configured where automated public vehicles can pick up and drop off people almost anywhere, thus giving them that point to point to point etc etc. connection that people currently enjoy with cars.
  3. I understand using existing road infrastructure, but what happens when roads reach a saturation point? At some point, no matter how efficient the cars are moving, there just won't be anymore space.
  4. @ julia I don't know about you, but while I love transit at times, being stuck in a overcrowded subway is often much worse than being stuck in gridlock in your personal climate controlled vehicle playing your fav tunes. Remember that roads and transit can both reach saturation points.
  5. Matt the Engineer
    Name one city that's run out of room to build more transit. I can name hundreds that have run out of room to build more roads.
  6. Roads and "transit" are both forms of infrastructure. More specifically transport infrastructure. If you can build one, you can technically build the other.
  7. Same goes for transit. It's just that the saturation point is much much higher. (Ever tried waiting for an elevator in a busy office building in the mornings?) And there's nothing wrong with building more roads and spreading out the buildings more. I'm simply asserting that for the current price of land, gas and cars, the market has determined the must efficient allocation of resources to satisfy consumer demand for urban mobility is by building suburban configurations. Yes, rising gas or land costs will force more compact development but that's a long time coming. More germane to this website: is the cost and speed of gondolas competitive with cars & asphalt? I think gondolas are a game changer in that for certain specific applications, its cost and speed are competitive with cars & asphalt and it certainly is cheaper than most other mass transit forms.
  8. Well, construction costs are a function of various factors (land acquisition, material costs, man-hours required, size, length, etc etc.). Based on a (very) cursory look at road construction costs (http://www.worldbank.org/transport/roads/con&main.htm) it seems like 4 lanes of highway costs ~$20million/km. But I'm sure there's probably a much larger variation, especially if a road is at-grade, above-grade or below grade. So it depends, but in certain applications yes it's more cost-effective. Are there any particular applications you're thinking about?
  9. Matt the Engineer
    That's not true. A single subway train (or gondola line) can move the same number of people as 50 lanes of cars.
  10. A subway only makes sense if its cheaper than the 50 lanes of cars. And it's not just the subway cost, it's the cost of surrounding buildings and land. I'm arguing that current markets are efficient and the land usage pattern we have with asphalt and cars in suburbia gives them the ability to travel to more destinations for a given cost in a given time than even a dense subway network. Given the current cost of land, cars and gas, sprawl makes sense and is "efficient". Until we acknowledge that fundamental fact, we're just transit zealots.
  11. I'm saying a road network is the most cost effective solution for most situations. Only under unique conditions of high density do subway makes sense. It is under unique conditions of topographic challenges (natural or artificial) that gondolas are the clear winner.
  12. I've not been following this conversation much, but I think maybe what we should be looking at here is how can something like gondolas expand the reach of a single subway station. Let's face it: Subways are great, but they quickly lose any speed advantage when they're stopping every 2 minutes. Is there a way to use gondolas to expand the reach of a single station so that instead of spacing stations every 500m - 1000m, maybe we can space them out every 2000 - 3000 m? Think about it: People have no problem waiting at a train station for a few minutes to catch a subway because they know the level of service will be worth the trade-off. The real problem is how we get people TO those stations and FROM those stations. If we had a technology (like gondolas) that you could walk to within 5 minutes be virtually guaranteed a vehicle upon arrival and be at your subway station within 5 minutes, that changes things. The reverse would also apply. Meanwhile, you're subway trip would be significantly faster as well because you wouldn't have as many stops as in a previous arrangement.
  13. Matt the Engineer
    That should be a whole post on its own. My question would be what is the point of the subway in your scenario? In a dense city the 2-minute stops are the whole point - you're trying to move a large number of people a fairly short distance. It's only at suburban distances that speed becomes a real issue.
  14. Matt the Engineer
    "I’m simply asserting that for the current price of land, gas and cars, the market has determined the must efficient allocation of resources to satisfy consumer demand for urban mobility is by building suburban configurations." This is a very safe claim, which makes it mostly useless. Holding the price of land constant ignores the possibility of reduced height and density restrictions dropping urban housing prices. Holding the price of fuel constant ignores the real energy and emissions problems we need to solve. We shouldn't be designing systems for today, but for 50 years from now. What will gas prices look like then? Looking at efficiency only in terms of economic costs and ignoring externalities is starts with the wrong assumptions. We should be considering anything from government subsidy to what makes a city most profitable and effective.
  15. Matt the Engineer
    What evidence do you have to support this claim? Just because it exists it must be efficient? One measure of an efficient social system would be gross product. What's the gross product of a dense city compared to a sprawled city? Dense cities are powerhouses of production, and their productivity increases in relation to their density. Wasting valuable space on roads and parking lots isn't efficient - it's short sighted.
  16. Matt the Engineer
    "A subway only makes sense if its cheaper than the 50 lanes of cars." No. Looking only at first cost is a sure way to make bad decisions. Even though a subway is much, much cheaper than 50 lanes of cars, the construction cost is miniscule compared to the effect on the local economy.
  17. @ Matt the Engineer I sense a lot of frustration coming from you. Did a car run over your cat when you were a child? You should understand that there's nothing innately wrong with cars. It's simply another form of transportation. Just like rail, bus and gondolas are another form of transport. One is not intrinsically superior than the other. It's just that understand different scenarios, it makes more sense to build one or the other. Rapid transit is not a panacea for all urban problems nor is building more and more roads. We need a more balanced approach.
  18. Example 1: Silicon Valley is low rise. Example 2: My employer had to move. They explicitly chose low-rise because they didn't like small floorplates as multiple floors isolates people whereas a few large floors allows people to mingle. (And now I'm stuck doing a reverse commute from my house on the subway.)
  19. Matt the Engineer
    Not frustrated in the slightest. I own two cars - they're great. But a society built upon them kind of sucks. You end up with sprawl and isolation. This is bad for our economy and our lives.
  20. The cost of a private car and public transit cannot be compared easily. A car has fixed cost (financing,insurance) and variable cost (petrol,tires , parking fee)how do you calculate the fixed cost into a comparison with public transit. For me the fixed cost of owning a car would be the biggest cost. And with cars the more kilometers you drive the cheaper each kilometer is. Insurance for example is independent of the distance driven and a car will depreciate even it is not driven very often. So i do not own a car and the time of my commute by train or car are comparable train is faster on peak times while a car would be faster off peak. Another thing is urban areas are parking fees here the parking fee is more expensive than a transit ticket and road pricing schemes will further make cars more expensive.
  21. Correct, pure automobile dependency is bad. But society built entirely on high/mid densities and increased dependency on rapid transit is not necessarily an improvement over suburbia. Depending on your perspective, overcrowding, stress, heightened air pollution etc etc may just be as bad (or worse) as problems seen in low density environments. Ironic you say that the car is bad for the economy and people's living... seeing that the car was a symbol often associated with the height of American civilization and prosperity, it seems to have contributed far more to the US economy and culture than you've otherwise suggested.
  22. Matt the Engineer
    You're simply incorrect. "Put two workers with similar skill levels in cities of different densities and the one in the denser place will be more productive, according to two decades’ worth of research from economists." Yes, some people prefer the suburbs, or even the country to city life. I'm fine with that - there's room in this world for many lifestyles. But dense, car-free living is demonstrably better in terms of at least economics, health, and resource efficiency.
  23. "Dense, car-free living is demonstrably better". What's better about it and why? I think the answer is that with current technologies, dense car-free living allows the most connectivity to other people for trips of $X and time Y. With different technologies (like automated cars or congestion tolls), other configurations may allow more trips for the same $X and time Y. If "better" means more energy efficient, eco-friendly, etc, then that's a whole different discussion. My observation is that the micro-economics have to make sense first. I'm extremely reluctant to take transit just because it is more eco-friendly if it costs more or takes longer. If we as a society don't like cars and the CO2 it generates, we should tax gas appropriately. People will respond to price incentives. Shaming us to taking transit isn't going to work.
  24. Mercedes S Class and the BMW 5, 7 Series already has radar and laser guidance systems that can actually bring a car to a stop - Mercedes is called the Distronic system. Top Gear has featured this technology. I always find itfacsinating that airliner technology pops into vehicles 10 - 15 years after airline implementation, such as GPS, and fly by wire. There is also a trend that what technology that is put in the S - Class does appear in conventional mass produced vehicles 15 - 20 years later as base model technology.
  25. I can see cars of the future using GPS, VOR's and ILS type systems on free ways on the ground, in the future - as airliners currently use plying the air lanes on autopilot and their various nav systems.

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