Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Autobahn: Where "Speed Kills" Dies

The German autobahn is a traffic safety paradox. Countries like Australia, the US and the UK have made freeway speed control a major objective of their traffic safety code. Many high class roads in the US are limited to 55 mph and sometimes lower speeds. The top BBC television program Top Gear has scored big laughs with US speed limits.

Speed kills they say.  That can be true. In a case of loss of control or other accident conditions, a modest impact accident can become a severe or fatal accident if the speeds are high.  But speed itself does not kill. In a recent (June 2016) presentation at the German federal department of transportation that I witnessed in Berlin, the statistics clearly showed that the Autobahn is the safest German road.  Germany in general has better traffic safety than the US.  But the speeds on the Autobahn are insane.

Recently I drove about 1,000 km on several German autobahns connecting Berlin and Frankfurt.  When the road was not wet, I was typically using the middle lane and cruised at 150-160 km/hr for long stretches where no limits were in effect. That's 93-100 mph in a loaded car with a family of four!

But on occasion like the one below I'd move up to 176 km/hr or 109 mph and get passed quickly by a Hyundai SUV as in the instance below. The speeding of Hollywood car chases is common place with common cars on the German autobahn.

Note in the picture that the dashboard indicates to me the speed limit in the sign with the red circle and three dashes.  The dashes mean that no speed limit is in effect on that segment of the road. The dashes are replaced with applicable limits, most commonly 120 or 90 km/hr in sections with curves or other difficulties.  The Germans were very cognizant of these limits and adhered to them. On occasion I'd drive a little faster on those restricted stretches to pass the Porsches so I can enjoy the whoosh of being passed by them minutes later... Even when I did 194 km/hr (120 mph) they zipped by me at, I'd guess, 155 mph which is a common governed speed limit (based on the tire type fitted).

And nobody died; not even close.  It was fun to see that the next city was 50 miles away and arrive there in about half an hour!

The Autobahn: Where "Speed Kills" Dies

The German autobahn is a traffic safety paradox. Countries like Australia, the US and the UK have made freeway speed control a major objective of their traffic safety code. Many high class roads in the US are limited to 55 mph and sometimes lower speeds. The top BBC television program Top Gear has scored big laughs with US speed limits.

Speed kills they say.  That can be true. In a case of loss of control or other accident conditions, a modest impact accident can become a severe or fatal accident if the speeds are high.  But speed itself does not kill. In a recent (June 2016) presentation at the German federal department of transportation that I witnessed in Berlin, the statistics clearly showed that the Autobahn is the safest German road.  Germany in general has better traffic safety that the US.  But the speeds on the Autobahn are insane.

Recently I drove about 1,000 km on several German autobahns connecting Berlin and Frankfurt.  When the road was not wet, I was typically using the middle lane and cruised at 150-160 km/hr for long stretches where no limits were in effect. That's 93-100 mph in a loaded car with a family of four!

But on occasion like the one below I'd move up to 176 km/hr or 109 mph and get passed quickly by a Hyundai SUV as in the instance below. The speeding of Hollywood car chases is common place with common cars on the German autobahn.

Note in the picture that the dashboard indicates to me the speed limit in the sign with the red circle and three dashes.  The dashes mean that no speed limit is in effect on that segment of the road. The dashes are replaced with applicable limits, most commonly 120 or 90 km/hr in sections with curves or other difficulties.  The Germans were very cognizant of these limits and adhered to them. On occasion I'd drive a little faster on those restricted stretches to pass the Porsches so I can enjoy the whoosh of being passed by them minutes later... Even when did 194 km/hr (120 mph) they zipped by me at , I'd guess, 155 mph which is a common governed speed limit (based on the tire type fitted).

And nobody died; not even close.  It was fun to see that the next city was 50 miles away and arrive there in about half an hour!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

$10 Billion Is the Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu's Rail Boondoggle

Back in January 2016 the Honolulu Civil Beat published my opinion with the title: $10 Billion: The Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu Rail?

On Friday, May 13, 2016 the cost or rail was pegged by HART at $6.9 Billion.

On Sunday, May 15, 2016 the cost or rail was pegged by FTA at $8.1 Billion.

On March 20, 2016, the New York Times published an article that included my opinions with the title: Hawaii Struggles to Keep Rail Project from Becoming A Boondoggle.

Given these cost updates (while less that one third of the project has been built), clearly the question mark is no longer necessary, and the project is a verifiable boondoggle.  Thus:

$10 Billion Is the Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu's Rail Boondoggle

I am sorry that Honolulu voters did not pick me in 2008 or 2010, or past Gov. Ben Cayetano in 2012 for mayor. Honolulu's punishment in now too severe, and we haven't seen the half of it yet. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Engineering experts raise quality concerns over Honolulu’s rail construction

With Gina Mangieri of KHON Channel 2 News Always Investigating...
“One of the cracks in this area was pretty alarming and it was along the line of the segment,” he pointed out.

Other concerns have to do with the amount of rust, starting with tracks that the city bought early to hedge on steel price.
“Basic rust is not a problem. It’s actually a protective coating that, when the rail starts running, it will clear a lot of it,” Prevedouros explained.
But when it gets installed, more problems can arise. “One of the issues is that it creates problems with the labor that tries to install them. They may need extra protection because when you’re bolting them, there may be excessive dust of rust,” Prevedouros warns, which can be dangerous when inhaled.
Other rust hot-spots lie in the rebar forms that start each pillar.
“Here we see the rebar for the support columns,” Prevedouros pointed out, “and I am a little worried that it’s quite rusty, because when you pour the rebar around it, it creates problems with adhesion of the concrete to the rebar itself. In the long term, it may cause spalling problems, delamination problems.”
That’s not the only worry about the pillars, especially in certain parts of the route.
“The problem in general with Waipahu is it was famous for springs and underneath water caves,” Prevedouros said, “and this is a very heavy, very long bridge. Some of these pylons may have settlement issues. There have been reports that at least a couple of them have issues of settling. They’re going into the ground. Beyond a few inches, it becomes tremendously stressful for the structure and we probably need to add more to support the bridge.
“It could be sudden, but it could take several years,” Prevedouros added. “First, we’ll hopefully see cracks, but then we’ll have to react to it before we have a collapse.”
Quick reactions have to be at the ready on other key jobs along the building process, like when crews go to snug the segments together with cables in something called “post-tensioning” — something that brought a near disaster near the Banana Patch — which was memorialized in HART’s report as Span 258, NCR 509.
“They had a failure with a segment they were trying to post-tension it, which is the process this thing is getting built,” Prevedouros said, “but the tendons failed. There was essentially a minor collapse. Now they’re shoring it up to try to connect it with the two pieces to the left and the right. The whole segment seems to be supported from the bottom and they’re trying to fix the situation.”
“Does it run a future safety risk?” Always Investigating asked.
“The problem is now, by having this failure, it is costing a lot of time and resources to fix it,” Prevedouros said. “But they will fix it in a way that will probably be quite durable.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Liang Shi: Will Driverless Cars Improve Traffic Congestion?

Many colleges and universities have a quick but tough competition among their graduate students called the 3MT or the Three Minute Thesis. Students stand up and deliver, in three minutes or less, a coherent and interesting summary of their research leading to their Masters or Doctorate degree.

I am very pleased that my PhD student Liang Shi competed among ~60 University of Hawaii at Manoa graduate students and got 2nd place.  Congratulations!

"You may have seen the news that Google is testing their Driverless cars in California. The car was designed to drive itself without any human intervention. It uses a rotating roof top light radar system (aka LIDAR) that maps critical components of the road environment, including curves, signals, traffic lanes, vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles. It also maps cones and construction zones for avoidance. It has no driver controls, such as steering wheel or pedals. It is believed that driverless cars can reduce traffic accidents and congestion. But last November, a Google car was pulled over by the police for driving too slowly, which generated my research question ”will driverless cars improve traffic congestion?” My research is to estimate how driverless cars affect the traffic flow of freeways and city streets.

For example, take an intersection controlled by a traffic light , when the traffic light turns from red to green, it takes 1 second to 3 seconds for human drivers to perceive the change of the signal and react accordingly by switching pedals. For a driverless car, it only takes 0.3 seconds to do so. Driverless cars use sensors and cameras to detect the traffic lights.  They can communicate with the local controller that operates the traffic light. For advanced driverless cars, called connected vehicles, they can talk to each other exchanging information of location, speed and other parameters. Imagine if all the cars at the signalized intersection were driverless cars: They would all start at the same time without the human response delays. So the road can serve a larger amount of traffic in the same amount of time. In addition, driverless cars are equipped with collision avoidance technology, so if a regular motorist violated the red light, the driverless car would not enter the intersection and it would avoid the collision.

Based on my analyses, if all vehicles are driverless cars, capacity of the road will be doubled. This means that every city intersection would have twice as many lanes at no cost to the city.  But if in the future we only have 1% of driverless cars in traffic, traffic flow will not improve. If we have 5% driverless cars, congestion will improve by about 5% if they are regular driverless cars, or by 12% if they are connected driverless cars. So with 5% driverless cars, traffic flow will begin to improve in a noticeable way. However, if the cars are designed to drive conservatively, they will cause more delays than humans do.

To answer my research question, which is “will driverless cars improve traffic congestion?” the answer is that if driverless cars become dominant in the market and if they are designed to drive very closely to each other, then they will reduce traffic congestion, possibly by a lot. "

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rail critics offer ideas on how they would do it better

Quoted in Richard Borreca's editorial in the April 12 issue of the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

The question is not whether the city’s over-budget, $6.57 billion rail project is good or bad; the question is what are you going to do with this turkey?

Already bailing from the project, estimated to be at least a year behind schedule, is Don Horner, the retired First Hawaiian Bank chairman, who resigned Monday as chairman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

Council Chairman Ernie Martin last week called for both Horner and HART CEO Daniel Grabauskas to be removed from their positions.

Earlier I asked four of Honolulu’s most perceptive rail critics what they would do if they were running the train instead of Grabauskas and Horner.

The question went to Ben Cayetano, former governor who ran for mayor unsuccessfully on a platform of stopping rail; Scott Wilson, former AIA Honolulu president; Panos Prevedouros, University of Hawaii civil engineer professor and unsuccessful mayoral candidate; and finally Cliff Slater, businessman and longtime rail critic.

First, Slater said, “Grabauskas and Horner should go; they have not been honest with the public about the purported benefits of the project nor have they been forthcoming about the projected costs.”

The problem, Slater said, is that the route should be shortened, but that won’t happen unless “a mayor is elected this fall who is willing to take on the ‘Rail Establishment.’”

Wilson noted that “AIA Honolulu has advocated against elevated rail in central Honolulu since the 1990s when Mayor (Frank) Fasi first raised the idea.”

Honolulu architects aren’t against rail, Wilson argued, but the hope is that an “at-grade, light rail system” would cost less and not devastate the landscape, which will happen with the 20-mile parade of concrete columns and 21 elevated train stations.

Wilson said stopping the heavy rail system at Aloha Stadium or Middle Street and switching the rest of it to light rail, “will save approximately $2 billion over the final 10 miles of the route.”

The UH’s Prevedouros expanded the thinking about the rail system. He said if he were running the rail line, he also would stop the rail line at Middle Street. Then he would “negotiate with FTA (Federal Transit Administration) and instead of the four miles downtown I’d propose adding about 5 miles in the other direction to fully serve Kapolei, Honokai Hale and Ko Olina, including a 4,000-stall park and ride structure for the Waianae Coast commuters. Half of this rail extension could be done at ground level for a much lower cost per mile.”

Monday’s news of Horner’s resignation takes care of half of Cayetano’s first suggestion. Like Slater, he also said he would ask for Grabauskas to resign.

“Both have been less than honest with the public,” Cayetano said.

If the former governor were in charge, the new rail system would be changed into a combination rail and bus system.

“I’d ask the HART board to commit to stopping rail at the Middle Street bus hub and begin planning for a bus rapid transit system running on a dedicated existing lane on King Street to downtown, Ala Moana Center and, if feasible Waikiki,” Cayetano said.

Also, Cayetano would work on a plan to satisfy the federal requirements for spending the transit money without a penalty for changing the plan.

“I would recommend that whatever federal funds have not been used for rail be returned to the FTA ASAP,” Cayetano said.

The existing plan and its execution, Cayetano said, “is a disaster,” but he thinks there is still a way out.

“A bus rapid transit system running on an existing, dedicated lane will avoid the enormous costs of an elevated, heavy-rail system running through downtown; no condemnation of real property will be needed, the huge costs of relocating HECO’s underground utility lines will be avoided and the city’s environment and beauty preserved.”

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hawaii Struggles to Keep Rail Project From Becoming a Boondoggle

Major article about Honolulu's rail project in the Sunday New Your Times: Hawaii Struggles to Keep Rail Project From Becoming a Boondoggle.  In it I'm quoted as follows.

“It’s a disaster. In my view, we are worse than how we expected,” said Panos D. Prevedouros, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Hawaii, who has twice run for mayor opposing the project. “We were saying at the beginning we would be lucky if it could be done for $6.4 billion, and people thought we were close to lunacy. We are sitting here today, and we are now computing about $7.1 billion cost.”

“We have become numb to these numbers,” Mr. Prevedouros said. “But it’s very dear for a small place like us, with only like 400,000 taxpayers.”

I loved this part: As construction jams traffic and upends neighborhoods, a poll conducted in February by Civil Beat, a Hawaii news site, found an overwhelming number of respondents who said they either considered the rail plan a bad idea or were troubled by its progress. Just 15 percent of those polled called it a good idea.

Although the NYT did not take a position, it is imperative that Honolulu cuts its losses, terminates the project at the Middle Street Transit Center and, in the future, consider expansion west to Honokai Hale and the Ko'Olina resorts, including a large park and ride lot for the Waianae coast commuters.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Distracted Drivers? A $20,000 Honda to the Resque

Interesting excerpts from [a] $20,000 Self-Driving Vehicle Hits the Road:

  • There is a growing availability of advanced-driver assistance systems, or ADAS, such as lane-keeping assist, automatic braking or adaptive cruise control in the market. As auto makers offer the components needed to power these functions in option packages as low as $1,800, they are being snapped up at a far higher rate than electrified vehicles.
  • Reckless behavior is standard on America’s highways as people spend more time with their thumbs and eyes on a smartphone rather than on the road. Data indicates drivers are aware of their need for help.
  • NHTSA estimates 10% of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted—the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the accidents.
  • Auto makers are scrambling to accelerate autonomous technology. Tesla Motors Inc. has led the way with self-piloted features; Daimler AG ’s Mercedes-Benz is proliferating ADAS across its lineup; and General Motors, planning to introduce a “Super Cruise” semiautonomous system on pricey Cadillacs next year, is sinking $1.5 billion into two Silicon Valley startups that could help its cause.
  • Honda’s new Civic, much of the drive can be completed with hands off the wheel and foot off the accelerator as long as lane markings remain visible and another vehicle is in front of the car. A camera mounted at the rearview mirror watches the road, and the car’s central nervous system tells components when to slow down, swerve or slam the brakes.
  • People will pay more than the $20,440 that Honda is asking. Executives at Nissan Motor Co. ’s Infiniti brand estimate 15% of buyers for the Q50’s $3,200 “technology package”—a suite of features that lets the $55,000 car drive on its own. That’s three times as many people who pay extra to buy a hybrid-electric version.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Kapolei should have never happened

In her article titled Kapolei Hale turns 15 and the accompanying video Kapolei: Oahu's Second City?, reporter Jayna Omaye and videographer Kimberly Yuen present the story of Kapolei which, starting in 1990, took pure agricultural or unimproved land and began changing it into a "second city."

“Kapolei is a planning disaster,” said Panos Prevedouros, a civil engineer who has taught at UH for 25 years and specializes in transportation engineering and infrastructure sustainability. “It’s a bedroom community. It didn’t develop into a Second City. It developed as pure mainland-style suburbia.”

Prevedouros said traffic congestion and the lack of infrastructure and jobs point to Kapolei continuing on the path to become “Anywhere, USA.”

George Atta, DPP director, said Kapolei should have been developed with higher densities and in clusters, adding that building heights are 150 feet. Kapolei should grow in nodes, with each having its own characteristics and that should eventually connect — similar to downtown Honolulu and its Ala Moana, Kakaako and Waikiki neighborhoods, he said.

Kapolei should have never happened.  Honolulu should have developed into a dense urban strip from Salt Lake to Waikiki, a 10 mile corridor. In it mass transit would have succeeded with a compact high capacity, partially underground rail line.  But the powers that be and the planners who serve them opted for a double disaster. Kapolei's suburban sprawl 20 miles away from the city and an expensive, elevated rail system to permanently tether the second city to the first.  Bad plans lead to bad solutions and high costs.  And that's all we are reaping.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why Could Driverless Cars Fizzle Out?

I have been collecting materials to compose a "contrarian article" to the hype about driverless vehicles.  I should be clear that I support driverless technologies but I am skeptical of fully autonomous, driverless vehicles.

I believe that many more components to automate driving will be added to the existing adaptive cruise control available to several mid-range and most luxury vehicles. These technologies improve both comfort and safety and they are quite readily accepted by the vehicle owners and users. For example the loaded version of the new Toyota Prius will have automated lane keeping and car following. (See Toyota's extensive list of automated driver support systems.)

Fully automated pods, cars, trucks and buses is another story, as explained in Why Driverless Cars Will Screech to a Halt.

The article may be off putting with remarks like .... "It’s clear that Uber and some of the other companies are professional carnival barkers engaged in an amazingly brash self-driving con."

However, it is spot on for huge issues like this... "But here is where we have to stop for a moment and think a bit more deeply about the unfolding plot of this science-fiction movie. Approximately 1.6 million Americans are truck drivers, and their jobs are on the hockey-mask-wearing villain’s chopping block. Is it really all that “efficient” to unleash a technology that will wipe out all these jobs? Isn’t it also efficient for people to have gainful employment?"

Remember, when it comes to politics... "it's the economy, stupid"... is the bottom line.  Killing off millions of bus, truck and taxi driver jobs is a vastly unattractive proposition.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hawaii's Coastal Highways

Sea level rise and extreme weather events can wash out portions of coastal highways.  This has happened several times on Oahu and many other locations.  With increasing population and traffic volume, the temporary loss of lanes or entire roadway cross sections becomes a major threat to public health and safety, let alone a threat to daily life and long term economy. Coastal roadway segments must be made more resilient to weather effects and reliable for operations regardless of storm surges.

As I outlined in a report that was the top story on Hawaii News Now (on Feb. 17, 2016--also see note 1) "Long-term solution for erosion along Kamehameha Highway won't come cheap", in general terms, the solution may come in three options, each one more suitable to various coastal highway segments (i.e., not one size fits all.)

1. Maintain the location of the current highway and elevated it by, say, 10 ft. This is a land protection option similar to those in low lying countries such as The Netherlands.
2. Relocate the highway several hundred feet inland and at a higher elevation.
3. Keep the highway largely as is and add jetties, lagoons and breakwaters to widen the coastline and isolate the highway from the forces of the ocean.

The first option requires no transportation work, but it has tremendous impacts by separating the community from the coast and a host of drainage issues. However, this "walling" option may be necessary for the effective protection of property and lives along specific sections, and at locations were current and other ocean forces make the deployment of option 3 impractical.

The second option attempts to develop a new highway in mostly agricultural, Hawaiian homestead or pristine nature areas, all of which are likely to generate insurmountable community and environmental impacts. However, there may be short segments where this option is economical and the impacts are small or moderate. For example a re-alignment of Kam. Hwy. away from Turtle Bay has been outlined in Hawaii DOT plans. Also for this option, the highway may be elevated which minimizes the disruption to lands underneath but it increases costs and reduces accessibility. Low height elevated segments may be necessary for wetland protection.

The third option, jetties and artificial ponds, is the most attractive because it protects the highway and communities, substantially reduces beach erosion and at some places adds beach or ocean recreation space. Its downside is some destruction of marine environment but some of this may be offset by the creation of traditional Hawaiian fishponds. This option also has the potential to be combined with wave action or high/low tide power generation by devices at key locations of the ponds (i.e., tidal power plants). An approximation of the proposed ponds is the lagoons at Ko'olina pictured below.

1: Two weeks later, on February 29, 2016, another segment of the same road failed due to waves, as covered in: Contraflow to last another week as crews shore up second stretch of crumbling highway.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Experts split on rail’s options

Experts split on rail’s options was the title of an article by Kathleen Gallagher in the Pacific Business News on November 20, 2015.

The experts are I, Paul Migliorato, research analyst at the Pacific Resource Partnership, and Mayor Caldwell.

My take was as follows: “The pain of having the project go through town is insufferable,” said Panos Prevedouros, department chairman and professor of transportation engineering at the University of Hawaii. “It’s only going to get worse, the council should do their best to shrink the project. It’s not just about financials, it will kill our reputation and quality. We will become the laughingstock of the tourist industry.”

Paul Migliorato made excuses: the issue with the budget is that the original estimate was “unrealistic”. “The problem is when creating the budget they didn’t make it project specific so it wasn’t realistic.”

Paul's statement directly points to the failure of the Federal Transit Administration to insist on a reasonable instead of a rosy budget, as I exposed in $10 Billion: The Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu Rail.

And the mayor is wrong, as always: "Stopping the project now also sets Honolulu at risk of[to] become a “laughingstock” of the federal government, according to Caldwell."

Honolulu, HART and its contractors are the laughingstock of the not only the federal government but the nation as a whole for achieving expenditures similar to the Big Dig for their "light rail."

Mayor Caldwell, nobody is stopping your rail.  We are asking you to use good sense and make lemonade with the lemons that you bought instead of railroading our town for the sake of wasting ten billion dollars.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is HART's train factory a joke?

I received this commentary for the picture of train assembly that HART put in their newsletter. It raises a lot of questions...
"I am a senior electrical engineer, so I have no problems with the engineering aspects. But this picture does not make sense. You gotta look at this picture full size to get the full impact.
This is the latest picture of the first four rail cars that are “expected to arrive this Spring”. These four cars will make up one train. This picture is from the Hitachi Rail factory in Pittsburg. No, not Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pittsburg, California. It sits nestled between Bay Point and Antioch. End to end Pittsburg is about 4.2 miles long, with just one main road running through it. It is conveniently close to the Delta de Anza Regional Trail dirt road.
The cabs of the four trains are propped up on horses. There is one small forklift in the foreground. I can only spot three or four workers in the picture. They are working with drop lights.
There is a lot of heavy machinery that goes into a train. The motors themselves are of impressive size. The wheels and suspension weigh many tons. You need tracks so that you can roll it out when finished."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Honolulu Rail Project Cost Approaching One Half of Boston’s Big Dig!

Thanks to Honolulu's Civil Beat for publishing my article with the title $10 Billion: The Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu Rail?

Below is the same article but this version includes three graphs that clearly illustrate why the FTA is partly responsible for HART's cost overruns and deserves to be sued.

Many people can recall Boston’s Big Dig, the nation’s largest infrastructure fiasco with a final price tag of about $15 billion. Surprisingly, Honolulu is building a rail system that’s expected to cost at least one-half the cost of the Big Dig! On a per-capita basis, this will be the nation’s largest infrastructure fiasco.

Despite the preponderance of evidence that Honolulu’s rail will do little to mitigate chronic traffic congestion on the island of Oahu, the project garnered marginal (50.6%) public support on a 2008 referendum. Despite a couple major lawsuits, it completed the Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement process in 2012.  A summary of the highlights of Honolulu rail’s development can be found in my blog.

What are the major causes of this project failure in progress? First is the local political preference for a “gravy train” e.g., why build a $1 Billion taxpayer project such as Bus Rapid Transit when you can build a $5 B rail project? Second is local decision making incompetence in terms of having a clue about the constructability, cost and payoff of heavy rail, e.g., decision makers paid client-focused consultants to tell them what they wanted to hear. And third is FTA’s project-approval-by-politics and vested interest in transit empire expansion.

A major infrastructure project is considered a failure if it exhibits at least two out of three bad outcomes: 1) Large cost overruns, 2) Long project delivery delays, and 3) Much lower usage than forecast.  Tren Urbano in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a peer project that HART rail will likely match in failure-to-meet-targets. Tren Urbano’s actual construction cost was 80% over the planned estimate, and its ridership has been only one quarter of what was projected! HART rail and Tren Urbano were planned by the same consultant (PB) and had the same oversight (FTA.)

At the end of 2015, five miles of the HART guideway, and the rail yard appear to be complete. HART, the voter approved “independent authority” that runs the project with many of its budget strings controlled by the city council, claimed a 25% project completion in December 2015, although 15% is a more realistic estimate given what can be seen on the ground. Several segments and columns have suffered large cracks, concrete delamination and segment misalignment, and in less than two years, the guideway construction company (Kiewit) submitted 40 work change orders and recently demanded a $20 million price adjustment. Then on January 5, 2016 HART discovered an (unbelievable) annual cost escalation of 10% and increased the cost of current contracts by another $240 M. Yet these increases are minor compared to the total escalation of cost figures.

The world authority the analysis of big infrastructure projects is Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg whose “Over Budget, Over Time, Over and Over Again: Managing Major Projects” and “Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition” have detailed the consistent flaws in big project development and have identified rail projects as particularly susceptible to these flaws. One of the flaws is strategic misrepresentation, or cleverly worded lying to the public and decision makers such as the HART board members and the Honolulu city council members, none of whom have any expertise in rail.

For decades we know that costs tend to escalate as projects go from planning to design, to initial construction and finally to completion.  It’s the rule, as shown in Figure 1 by Dr. Flyvbjerg (2009); the red line is mine.

Figure 1. Generic project cost escalation.

However, project advocates including the FTA turned a blind eye to facts and in 2009 they presented to the people of Hawaii Figure 2, a gem of strategic misrepresentation, which simply fit the political line that the proposed 20-mile rail will cost $4.6 billion, as applicable during the 2008 rail referendum.  Notice that the FTA cost development in Figure 2, line labeled MEAN, goes against decades of real world evidence shown in Figure 1. This FTA-sponsored report contains one point of truth: There is a 10% chance that HART rail will cost about $10 B. This is where HART construction costs are headed.

Figure 2. HART expected cost over time.
Source: FTA, Project Management Oversight Program, Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project, July 2009, Final.

One would think that only three years into construction, with only about 15% of the project completed and only about half of the project gone to bid, HART would be sitting comfortably on a pile of money generated by a general excise tax surcharge being collected since 2007 (about $140 M per year) plus $1.55 B from the full funding grant agreement. Not so. In late 2014 HART announced a $910 M expected shortfall and lobbied the Hawaii legislature to extend the 0.5% surcharge from end of 2022 to end of 2027.

In another move of strategic misrepresentation, rail planners pretended that the rail is like an electric car that one buys and then goes homes and plugs it in. Likewise, HART builds rail, which “just” plugs into the city grid.  However, rail’s 30 MW to 50 MW power draw is a major requirement. The utility’s reaction was unpleasant for HART which is now negotiating another expensive arrangement. 

The combined cost of substations, power generation agreement, and the (still in limbo) airport utility relocation tasks are likely to cost about $500 M plus the construction cost escalation charge of $240 M brings the known total to $6.9 B with none of the 21 stations constructed and the second half of the project not gone to bid.

HART rail’s cost development is plotted in Figure 3. Not surprisingly it agrees with Figure 1 and is opposite to Figure 2. A smart mayor would sue the FTA for their negligent cost data representations which were used by city mayors to manipulate the public and City Council votes of approval.

Figure 3. Actual and expected cost plot.

Looking at the bigger picture for Honolulu which includes a $5 billion consent decree with the EPA for secondary sewer treatment, increasing dependency on imports, including 90% of food, with prices escalated by the Jones Act requirements, and the nation’s fifth worst unfunded pension liability, the future is worrisome: At best Honolulu will experience large increases in taxes and congestion, at worst those plus bankruptcy.

The second half of the project includes the complex construction through urban Honolulu. There are discussions to terminate the project at the Middle Street transit terminal which is approximately at the 16th mile of the rail route. This is a welcome possibility because Honolulu will be spared of the heavy construction and debilitating lane and road closures which will be deleterious to general economic activity and tourism. But local leadership appears to be too weak in taking on FTA and sparing Honolulu from crippling rail construction congestion and cost. I expect that the last four miles of rail from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center will cost $1 B each in combined construction costs and economic losses, so the option of a 16 mile route should be given a serious consideration.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Highlights of HART Rail Project (2004 to 2015)

2004: Newly elected mayor Hannemann asserts that 34 miles of rail will cost $2.7 Billion.

Mid-2006: Hannemann switches to the Minimum Operating Segment: 20 miles will cost about $3 B.

Late-2006: Alternatives Analysis sets the cost at $4.6 B (this figure and all following figures include contingency funds).

Spring 2008: Hawaii legislature approves a 0.5% tack-on to Hawaii’s GET tax that applies to every transaction. Against expectations, Republican Governor Linda Lingle opted to save her political career and let the rail tax stand without a veto. The rail is expected to generate about $2 B. The gravy train has thus been established.

Summer 2008: Mayor Hannemann up for reelection gives a helicopter ride to Senator Oberstar who then says that the Feds will give Honolulu $900 M. Hannemann declares that “the train has left the station.”

2008: The author runs against Hannemann in a three way ray, garners 17% of the vote, and forces Hannemann to the general election which he won. The public is deluged with city, union, Hannemann campaign and FTA-approved “Light Rail” commercials, emails and letters, and a 50.6% “yes to rail” is obtained. Hannemann’s was clearly an rail project financed campaign.

2009: Rail’s budget cannot pass scrutiny – President pro tempore Senator Inouye of Hawaii joins the rail party. FTA is strong-armed to pay $1.55 B.

2010: Four years after the Alternatives Analysis was completed, and three years after the start of tax collection, the project has no environmental clearance, no cultural resources clearance and no robust budget. During the elections, a referendum to create HART is approved. Hannemann quits, runs for governor and loses. A three way race for the remaining term for mayor among Carlyle, Caldwell and the author is won by city prosecutor Carlisle.

2010: The cost is up to $5.4 Billion not counting the expensive Airport Runway proximity error; $150 M realignment is necessary to avoid coming near a major runway. Nobody is punished for this error that HDOT had informed the city in advance. Costs were “absorbed” by contingencies.

2010: Outgoing Governor Linda Lingle releases an independent financial analysis of the project by IMG and Thomas Rubin which concluded that construction cost will likely be more than the $5.4 B projection, ridership projections were both very high and would require passenger loads significantly higher than that of any U.S. transit operator, future rail renewal and replacement costs were ignored, operating subsidies were significantly understated, and many projected revenues were significantly overstated.  Mayor Carlisle dismissed the report as “a product of rail opponents.”

2011: Mayor Carlisle performs a “ceremonial groundbreaking” but only utility relocation occurs afterwards. The project still aims for a 2019 completion.

2011: Mayor Carlisle claims a steel price reduction due to the slowing of the Chinese economy and the project’s budget drops to $5.17 B. However, at this point the budget language has changed and the “unallocated contingency” is only about $300 M. FFGA is signed at year’s end.

2012: Both a NEPA and a Hawaiian burial ground desecration lawsuit are filed, the former in Federal court the latter in State court. Only the second lawsuit causes construction restrictions in areas where archeological surveys had not been done.

2012: Construction accelerates at the casting yard and the first piers appear in the middle of prime agricultural land. The first four miles of the project are on agricultural land. Carlisle loses in the primary. Two Democrats, Kirk Caldwell (pro rail) wins the mayor race over past governor Ben Cayetano (anti rail.) Although some frame it as another victory for the rail project, Cayetano’s battles with unions during his eight years in the governor’s office were a major cause for his loss.

Mid-2014: 9th Circuit court appeal ends unsuccessfully for the plaintiffs of a NEPA-based suit.

December 2014: HART reveals a $910 projected deficit and asks and gets for more tax monies.

December 2015: HART proposes to open 10 miles of rail service in 2018.

Friday, December 4, 2015

250 Miles with a Made in the USA Supercar, the Tesla P85D

The surprising acceleration of the Tesla S prompted Jay Leno to race his 700 HP Cobra two-seater against a grandmother driving a Tesla P85D in the opening segment of a recent episode of Jay Leno’s Garage shown on NBC-SN.  With minimal effort, the grandma handed Jay’s Cobra a clear defeat. Jay retorted: “Horsepower wins sales, torque wins races.” This is where electric motors reign supreme with their instant, large and constant torque. Torque is the actual force that turns the wheels and propels a vehicle forward.

Through a school fundraiser I got a weekend drive of a Tesla S. I asked if they had the 2015 top-of-the-line model available for the drive, the P85D, and they did!  I kept the car for almost three days; offered rides to over a dozen wowed passengers, then loaded the family and completed a tour around the island… Honolulu, Mililani, Haleiwa, Kaneohe, Waimanalo, Hawaii Kai, and back to Honolulu.

A fair comparison would pit the Tesla against the $150,000 Maserati Quatroporte for size and luxury or a $300,000 Ferrari FF for performance and luxury, but hardly anyone is familiar with those Italian exotics. Instead, I’d compare the Tesla S by with two popular cars that I and a lot of other people are familiar with, that also have elective drive: The BMW 335i in hybrid version, which is sold as the Active Hybrid 3, and the top selling sedan in the US, the Toyota Camry, in Hybrid and XLE trim.

F U L L   R E V I E W

People who can deduct expensive car leases or who can buy cars in the range of $60,000 and above owe it to themselves to test drive a Tesla S and its more powerful variants.  I will wait for the 75% scale version of the P85D or its 2016 sister the P90D. I’d love a Tesla M, M for motor sport; 25% smaller, 25% lighter and 25% cheaper than the P85D.  Hopefully one of these days Elon Musk will read this and oblige me …

Thursday, December 3, 2015

UC-Berkeley Professor: Rail TOD Isn't Sustainable Development

One of the conclusions that can be drawn from the article Does Transit-Oriented Development Need the Transit? by Daniel G. Chatman, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley is that rail transit is ineffective in reducing auto ownership and in reducing auto ownership use for commuting.

Interesting quotes include the following (my underlining):
  • Auto ownership: Once I controlled for housing type, parking availability, population density, bus availability, and other built environment measures, the results were striking. ... rail proximity was not an independently significant predictor of auto ownership.
  • Driving to work: When I controlled for other factors, the apparent effect of rail access on auto commuting vanished entirely.
  • Grocery trips: Again, when controlling for parking supply, housing, and built environment characteristics, neither housing age nor walking distance to rail showed any association with the frequency of auto grocery trips.
  • Conclusion 1: Developers are aware that public opposition is often lower near rail stations, and policy makers and urban planners believe that rail access will mitigate traffic impacts. But such a policy will not improve long-term sustainability when rail investments and rail-proximate housing, in and of themselves, make little difference in auto ownership and use.
  • Conclusion 2: If access to rail is not a primary factor in reducing auto use, it could be a blessing, not only because rail infrastructure is expensive, but also because the amount of available land near rail stations is limited.

My conclusion: Rail based TODs are unsustainable. They are sub-optimal projects that waste public resources on marginal (at best) mitigations of mobility problems.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How Do You Design an Electric Train without Considering the Electricity?

Honolulu’s electric rail is short of cash and answers on about power: Who will pay for a new substation? How will line relocations be handled and paid for? Who’s undergrounding the wires and paying for that? Not to mention, what will the train’s power bill be for decades to come? When we hear all these challenges, it means one thing. Cha-ching,” said Panos Prevedouros, an engineering professor at the University of Hawaii.
... and the cost of a substation needed to power the rail operation center that HART didn’t budget for?  I suspect it’s something in the $150 million or more, since it was not planned part of the design,” Prevedouros said.
...HART has talked about the option of going independent, creating its own utility.
This would have been a very smart idea to do from the get-go. Go independent, and then connect to the H-Power plant, which is not too far from where the rail line terminates,” Prevedouros said.

Friday, November 6, 2015

WaPo: The Politics of Transportation Infrastructure

Politics is meddling with transportation infrastructure, much to the detriment of the traveling public.

What side is Hawaii on?  The blue one.  What side was I ten years ago and counting?  The green one.



How transportation became the latest victim of America’s culture wars

In the past few years, the bitterly polarized “culture wars” have managed to blow apart the traditionally dull and parochial issue of infrastructure policy. As counterintuitive as this reality may be, it explains why Congress cannot agree on how to reauthorize — let alone modernize — federal surface transportation legislation, a.k.a. the highway bill.

How did this happen?

Since the 1990s, there has been a growing political divide between the cultural left and right, with one side favoring monocultural individualism, free markets and devolution to state and local government, and the other favoring multicultural communitarianism, government intervention and a strong federal hand. Issues that are intuitively cultural, such as abortion, guns and immigration, have long been front and center whenever these two worldviews collide. But now, in federal infrastructure policy, we are seeing what happens when self-segregated communities of common interest clash over how to manage our physical spaces.

As recently as the mid-2000s, there was general consensus over infrastructure issues, as reflected in the typically strong bipartisan support for reauthorizations of federal transportation legislation. The big differences were mostly sectional (“donor” and “recipient” states fighting over funding) or interest-based (trucking vs. transit vs. automobiles). But those humdrum days are gone. Longtime infrastructure supporters now find themselves befuddled over how a game of technocratic “inside baseball,” traditionally characterized by bipartisan consensus with a good measure of logrolling and earmarking, got so sidetracked.

The answer is that the partisans have gotten much more ideologically strident, and their differences have become much greater than their areas of agreement.

One side — call it the “congestion caucus” — claims to be infrastructure supporters, but it supports only what it deems the right kinds of infrastructure. Overwhelmingly urban and liberal, this group’s goal is not mobility or even infrastructure. It’s social engineering: getting people out of their soulless single-family suburban homes and into vibrant multiethnic communities; having them ditch their environment-destroying SUVs in favor of sustainable light rail; and supporting the urban disadvantaged instead of a privileged suburban class.

For the congestion caucus, expanding highways to reduce traffic jams is wrong, because it means more single-family homes, more SUVs and more suburbanization. This neatly summarizes why they oppose increased infrastructure funding for road expansion. As one presidential appointee to the Transportation Department told me when I asked why the Obama administration does not support a gas tax increase, too much of the Highway Trust Fund goes to, well, roads.

The other side — call it the “liberty caucus” — also claims to support infrastructure, but only insofar as it’s for roads, and only as long as the federal government’s role shrinks. Generally suburban or rural — and decidedly conservative — this group’s view is that infrastructure spending is politicized and wasteful. And unlike Ronald Reagan, who rightly saw the gas tax as a user fee, those on this side see it as just one more tax, deserving to be cut in the name of damn-it-all small-government purity.

The congestion caucus has been hammering home its message at every turn: Federal support for expanding roads actually makes congestion worse. Nonsensical though this notion is, it is nonetheless now widely believed. To be sure, better urban planning and an increased role for non-auto alternatives will have to be a part of the future transportation landscape. But if this comes at the expense of road expansion, the 85 percent of Americans who commute to work by car, and who waste nearly 7 billion hours yearly stuck in traffic, will suffer.

Meanwhile, from the liberty caucus, we hear the constant refrain that federal infrastructure spending is wasteful. How many more times do we have to hear about former Alaska senator Ted Stevens’s “bridge to nowhere”? Clearly this was an expensive “earmarked” project that defied reasonable cost-benefit calculations. But the liberty caucus fails to mention that, even at their peak, earmarks were a tiny share of transportation funding, and the majority of earmarks were for good projects. That’s because the liberty caucus’s goal is not to better manage federal funding — if it were, it would support proposals such as a national infrastructure bank and increased performance-based accountability for governments receiving federal transportation funding. Instead, its goal is devolving funding to the states — which would, let us be clear, inevitably lead to a significant reduction of overall funding for infrastructure.

So we are stuck. Both sides, each for its own ideological reasons, demonize infrastructure spending.

If we are to have any hope of shifting infrastructure policy away from these culture wars and back toward solution-oriented pragmatism, it is incumbent on true infrastructure supporters to call out both sides’ arguments — the social engineering congestion caucus and the devolutionary liberty caucus — as flawed and damaging to the national interest. And both sides will need to get back to compromising in Congress. For example, lawmakers could increase the gas tax, but use some of the revenue to incentivize tolling; they could appropriate more money for “smart growth” policies, but only if there is results-based accountability. Only then will a greater share of Americans get the mobility we all want and deserve.

© 1996-2015 The Washington Post

Friday, October 9, 2015

Link Update for a Old Favorite: Albert Einstein and Neil Armstrong Discuss Honolulu's Rail

XTRANORMAL has closed as a website but all the cartoon movies they helped us develop are now on YouTube. Here is mine from four years ago and spot on accurate todayAlbert Einstein and Neil Armstrong Discuss Honolulu's Rail.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Driverless Cars Update

Progress is rapid in this area.  Several Chinese companies have gotten into this arena currently dominated by US, Germany and Japan.  The following report from 60 MINUTES is a realistic assessment of what is available now: CBS "60 Minutes," Hands off the Wheel.

The Guardian: Driverless robot taxis to be tested in Japanese town. Apparently professional drivers are the main target of current efforts: Taxi drivers, city bus drivers and intercity truckers.

Driverless cars (also called autonomous or self-driving cars) can be fully integrated and remarkably successful in China's ghost cities when they become populated.

At the UH we are conducting research to assess how different traffic operations may be with the presence of driverless vehicles in traffic ranging from them being a tiny portion such as 0.1% to 100 driverless vehicles.  Our scientific article below was accepted for the 2016 conference of the Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Research Council in Washington, D.C.

Shi, Liang and Panos D. Prevedouros, Effects of Driverless Vehicles on the LOS of Basic Freeway and Weaving Segments, Paper 16-3034, 95th Annual Meeting of TRB, Washington, D.C., 2016.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Factors that Explain Honolulu's High Pedestrian Accident Rate

Honolulu has a high number of pedestrian accidents. There are several factors at play. If properly adjusted, Hawaii's pedestrian accident rate is moderate.

1. Weather. Hawaii provides comfortable walking conditions year round.  That's not true for many other US urban areas. Many are too cold, e.g., Chicago and New York City, or too hot, e.g, Phoenix, and Houston.  Because of these conditions Honolulu pedestrians have many more opportunities, maybe more than twice the opportunities of Phoenix or Minneapolis pedestrians to get into accidents. However, national accident rates are not adjusted for this, nor for walkability.

2. Walkability. Honolulu historically has been a walkable community as it draws from Asian culture. Most other US cities developed more around the horse-and-buggy and later the car. Many US cities have skyways and underground pedestrian ways that eliminate traffic/pedestrian interactions. Honolulu's higher walkability comes with a higher risk for pedestrian accidents, particularly nowadays when many people connect to the digital world and partly depart from the real one.

3. Aging.  Compared to many other US cities of about one million people, Honolulu has a higher percentage of old people.  Unfortunately I have witnessed several of them making risky crossings. The city has removed several pedestrian crossings and has added crossing signals at high pedestrian volume locations.

4. DUI.  This is one area where Hawaii takes the lead in the nation (see Figure below).  Drug or alcohol impairment affects both drivers and pedestrians.  Poor judgement under the influence of substances greatly increases risk for all types of accidents, including pedestrian accidents.

5. Busy highways next to popular beach and surf spots.  Hawaii clearly needs some bypass roads in such areas because of the unsafe mix of heavy through traffic, multiple parking maneuvers and disorganized pedestrian crossings, e.g, Turtle Beach and several other spots statewide.

While Hawaii is shown to have the 4th worst pedestrian accident rate in the nation, if the data are properly adjusted, Hawaii's pedestrian accident record will be average.  Some of the reasons above also apply to bicycle and motorcycle accidents.  However, there are no reasons to adjust and excuse Hawaii's worst in the nation for DUI.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2014 American Community Survey: Honolulu Mode Shares

Transportation modes are the means by which people move around in a city, particularly for their commute to work. The mode shares for "Urban Honolulu, HI Urbanized Area (2010)" are listed in Table B08301 of the 2014 American Community Survey. They are as follows:

The same data in pie chart form:

There are several important observations:
  • Personal transportation (cars, bikes and motorcycles) is used for 80% of the trips.
  • Bicycling in Honolulu is only 1.1% of the trips.
  • Work at home is a welcome 3% of the trips, similar to the US average.
  • Walk is over 5%, which is better than the US average.
  • Public transit (bus and taxi) is almost 10%, which is much better than the US average.
Almost 90% of the trips shown require roads and another 8.4% of the trips shown do not require substantial infrastructure (just sidewalks and the Internet.)

So how does the state, city and OMPO address the people's preferred use of transportation?  They provide an obscenely expensive elevated rail alternative that saps transportation funds for much needed road and sidewalk repair and expansion.

Rail Projects: Excerpts from a National Discussion

Last week one of my students asked why rail projects don't get stopped. The following quotes are from recent discussions with national leaders in transportation, regarding the  proposed $2 billion Purple Line for the Washington Metro.  Notice that their quotes are as if they are talking about Honolulu rail... [My comments]

1   One thing that always has to be remembered is that no FTA staffer, or FTA as an institution, is EVER going to take credit for killing a project – and, when it comes down to a GS-12 vs. a Congressperson on a project going forward, who do you think is going to win in the end?" [In Honolulu' s case, Senator Inouye had 40 years of congressional seniority,  i.e., he was unstoppable.]

2  This is what has become of urban transit planning: US Senators playing the role of God in disbursing --or threatening the loss of-- oodles of tax money.  Every FFGA now must come with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval of the state's senior Senator. Alternatives analysis, schmalternatives analysis.*  Its just good old-fashioned pork.  The Senate doesn't work. (* the AA in Seattle for light rail was a sham.) [So was Honolulu's AA that eliminated the PH tunnel with a couple lines of discussion.]

3  It's all about getting elected and staying elected until they die. When they get money for a local goodie, they tell their constituents that its free money just for them.  The other thing they say to the folks back home is that they create jobs but those jobs are mostly for workers from somewhere else. [No comment is necessary.]

4  One thing that you have to understand about building rail lines, most particularly those in urban areas, is that speed is not really a high criterion, particularly compared to the need to keep costs down.  Now, when I say, “keep costs down” in a discussion of urban rail lines, the first reaction of many people is to say, you have got to be kidding, this is not a priority at all – and you cite the $200 million/mile for the Portland Orange MAX line. Urban rail costs have become unbelievably high. When I was working on the Long Beach-Los Angeles light rail Blue Line in the 1980’s, it was coming in at about $877 million (actual cost was over $1 billion, but this wasn’t really known at the time, and it certainly wasn’t publicized) [This is why Honolulu will be "lucky" if the cost per mile stops at $500M, that is, the $4.6 billion Honolulu rail will have an actual cost of $10 billion.]

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Honolulu's Recycling Plan Needs Important Revisions

Throughout my campaigns for mayor of Honolulu I focused on the flawed recycling efforts of Honolulu. Huge amounts of effort and fuel are wasted to recycle things instead of safely burning them and making free electricity for Honolulu.

Back in 2013 I developed a pictorial guide for Honolulu.

Later in 2013, a graduate student of mine and I published an article in the Pacific Business News which revealed that "Waste to energy is superior to any other technology in the long term."

Then in July 2015 HONOLULU magazine quotes me about a dozen times in their detailed article Should Honolulu’s Recycling Program Go Up in Flames?

“Trash is treasure,” says Panos Prevedouros, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UH Mānoa and a former mayoral candidate. “Not only do you make energy, you remove something that is bad.” Prevedouros adds that a waste-to-energy plant can make “serious money” charging tipping fees, selling its electricity to the utility and harvesting the valuable metals for what he calls “a win-win-win” situation: The plant helps the state meet its renewable energy goals...

Paper and cardboard are heavy and hard to compact further for efficient shipping to recycling plants; they burn beautifully, and are depressed in price. “Paper, oh, my God, it’s really perverse to recycle. We’re losing the opportunity to make energy, and we’re wasting more fossil fuel to ship it somewhere else. If you have paper, put it in the gray bin,” says Prevedouros.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Driving Automation ... Sooner?

Automatic Cars Or Distracted Drivers: We Need Automation Sooner, Not Later argues professor Don Norman.  Technology is moving that way. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

In 2005 Stanford's "Stanley" a driverless VW SUV won the DARPA award for negotiating a grueling 132 mile off-road race in the California/Devada desert.

By 2010 Google had several driverless Prius cars plowing streets in California practically accident free.

In 2015 the Google car is unveiled with no steering wheel and a top speed of 25 mph.

When will the ability of driverless vehicles meet and exceed the ability of drivers? Driver distraction and age effects are helping technology by raising risk which is better controlled in driverless cars.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Driverless Cars: Does Google Have Answers?

Lou Frenzel who writes and teaches about electronics and communications recently opined Just Say No to the Driverless Car. His article includes 15 questions and the 16th one is Does Google Have Answers?

I have an answer for Google, but first, Frenzel's 15 questions for driverless cars:

  • Can driverless cars operate as safely at night as they do during the day?
  • Can driverless cars handle rain, fog, and snow?
  • Once a driverless car gets you to your destination, can it find a parking place in a parking garage or on the street? Can it navigate your garage?
  • What if you want to go for a casual Sunday drive with no particular destination? Does the car have a “browser” that lets it just wander in a highlighted area, or what? Or will that even be allowed?
  • Will drivers get frustrated in navigating around slower, more-cautious driverless cars?
  • Can a driverless car ever make a left-hand turn across traffic, make a right turn on red, or merge into heavy traffic? In many cases, some risk is necessary to make any progress.
  • Can a driverless car find a toll lane, navigate road construction, or find a detour?
  • Can a driverless car operate in New York City traffic?
  • Will the driverless car really improve a person’s productivity if relieved of driving duties, as proponents claim?
  • Will there be an increase in the incidence of motion sickness in non-drivers, as some expect?
  • Whose insurance company pays in case of an accident?
  • Will driverless cars really reduce deaths and injuries? Supporters say yes, but this has not been proven.
  • Will driverless technology come to 18-wheelers? Scary thought.
  • Will driverless cars really be affordable, or just too expensive like electrics?
  • Why not just apply all the good technology to regular cars or make a driverless mode an option?

  • The last three questions are easy to answer.
    18-wheelers? Yes, for testing purposes: Daimler’s Driverless 18-Wheelers Approved to Cruise Nevada’s Highways
    Affordable? No. Driverless cars: 15 things you need to know. System costs start at $70,000 (plus the car.)
    Optional driverless function? Yes. It has started with intelligent cruise control, lane keeping, and other piece-meal components available now in mid-range priced vehicles and above.

    So, does Google have answers to all these questions? Google rarely published or debates the merits and demerits of their current state of the art.  My guestimate is Yes, a Google Car can do all of the above with over 99% reliability if, and it's a big if, all traffic is limited to 30 mph or less.