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.