Home » Featured » Recent Articles:

Autonomous Vehicles Will Change Urban Areas

June 26, 2017 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Autonomous Vehicles Will Change Urban Areas
Volvo S60 with pedestrian detection at the Chicago Auto Show

The auto industry is quickly moving toward full self0-driving cars. The impact on cities, including St. Louis, could be huge. You might be thinking it is a decade or more away, but earlier this month GM announced a a major accompaniment.

General Motors said Tuesday it has finished making 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt test vehicles, an achievement that the automaker says will help put it at the forefront of the race to develop and deploy autonomous cars.

CEO and Chairman Mary Barra said GM is the only automaker currently capable of mass-producing self-driving vehicles. (USA Today)

Other automakers. and tech giants like Alphabet (Google), Apple, etc are all racing to be first and/or the best.  Honda, for example, outlined its timeline earlier this month:

Honda has been one of the more cautious automakers when it comes to self-driving cars, and a recent study put the company at 15th out of 18 in terms of overall advancement. At a media event this week, however, Honda shared more about its plans and set a target of 2025 for introducing vehicles with Level 4 autonomous driving capability. 

Honda has already said that it intends to have vehicles capable of Level 3 freeway driving on the market by 2020, and is reiterating that goal today. Level 3, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, refers to highly automated driving where the driver still needs to be able to take over the vehicle upon request. Level 4 automation means that the car is capable of handing most driving situations itself, whereas Level 5 is largely theoretical and covers complete automation in any condition. (The Verge)

Level 4?  We’re not going to go from fully human-controlled cars to full self-driving overnight.

  • Level 0: This one is pretty basic. The driver (human) controls it all: steering, brakes, throttle, power. It’s what you’ve been doing all along.
  • Level 1: This driver-assistance level means that most functions are still controlled by the driver, but a specific function (like steering or accelerating) can be done automatically by the car.
  • Level 2: In level 2, at least one driver assistance system of “both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment” is automated, like cruise control and lane-centering. It means that the “driver is disengaged from physically operating the vehicle by having his or her hands off the steering wheel AND foot off pedal at the same time,” according to the SAE. The driver must still always be ready to take control of the vehicle, however. 
  • Level 3: Drivers are still necessary in level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift “safety-critical functions” to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. It means that the driver is still present and will intervene if necessary, but is not required to monitor the situation in the same way it does for the previous levels. Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said this is “the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4.” He’s focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. “We’re not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that’s not a fair proposition,” McBride said.
  • Level 4: This is what is meant by “fully autonomous.” Level 4 vehicles are “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.” However, it’s important to note that this is limited to the “operational design domain (ODD)” of the vehicle—meaning it does not cover every driving scenario.
  • Level 5: This refers to a fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle’s performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario—including extreme environments like dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future. (Tech Republic)

A study released in April says Ford is leading others in the race to produce autonomous vehicles.

When will this happen? From May:

When will I be able to buy an autonomous car?
That’s not an easy question to answer because it’s not yet clear how the technology will come to market. It’s likely that most automakers will be able to build Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021 or so, if not before — but the first Level 4 vehicles may be very expensive, and they may be offered only to fleet customers (like Uber or Lyft).

That said, it’s likely that one or more automakers (Tesla, perhaps others) will offer Level 4 technology to retail customers at some point in the next few years. But no automaker (or software company) has announced a firm date yet. (Motley Fool)

Many, including automakers, expect a shift from owning a car to using a ride share service. The coming changes will be massive, below are some thoughts from 50 Mind-Blowing Implications of Self-Driving Cars (and Trucks):

  • 1) People won’t own their own cars. Transport will delivered as a service from companies who own fleets of self-driving vehicles. There are so many technical, economic, safety advantages to the transportation-as-a-service that this change may come much faster than most people expect
  • 6) There won’t be any parking lots or parking spaces on roads or in buildings. Garages will be repurposed?—?maybe as mini loading docks for people and deliveries. Aesthetics of homes and commercial buildings will change as parking lots and spaces go away
  • 24) Cities will become much more dense as fewer roads and vehicles will be needed and transport will be cheaper and more available. The “walkable city” will continue to be more desirable as walking and biking become easier and more commonplace.
  • 29) Cities, towns and police forces will lose revenue from traffic tickets, tolls (likely replaced, if not eliminated) and fuel tax revenues drop precipitously. These will probably be replaced by new taxes (probably on vehicle miles). These may become a major political hot-button issue differentiating parties as there will probably be a range of regressive versus progressive tax models
  • 40) Many roads and bridges will be privatized as a small number of companies control most transport and make deals with municipalities. Over time, government may entirely stop funding roads, bridges and tunnels.
  • 41) Innovators will come along with many awesome uses for driveways and garages that no longer contain cars. There will be a new network of clean, safe, pay-to-use restrooms that become part of the value-add of competing service providers.

What does all this potentially mean for St. Louis? Fewer privately owned cars means on-street parking and parking garages will have increasing vacancy. Less revenue from meters and parking tickets. Privately-ownewd garages will no longer be profitable — unless leased to a fleet operator. Enterprise already owns the garage attached to Mansion House, Gentry’s Landing, and hotel.

Some jobs will see less demand and eventually go away. Parking enforcement, for example. There will be less demand for gasoline but an increased demand to infill more densely. Will the city have the funds to narrow roads, improve infrastructure to work with autonomous cars? Maybe, new residents might add enough to the tax base. Will St. Louis be one of many municipalities in St. Louis County by then or even be a big consolidated government?

Car dealerships, new & used, will begin to disappear. New houses, condos, etc won’t have garages as we know them. Existing garages may be converted into additional living space, perhaps a mother-in-law suite.    Oil change, tire shops, and auto repair will also see reduced demand until finally disappearing. Yes, autonomous vehicles will need tires but the fleet companies won’t run to the corner tire shop.

There are many more positive and negative implications of the transition to autonomous vehicles. The important thing to remember is it won’t happen overnight — but it’ll likely happen faster than many expect.

— Steve Patterson



Sunday Poll: Who Owns The Confederate Monument In Forest Park?

June 25, 2017 Featured, Parks, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Who Owns The Confederate Monument In Forest Park?
Please vote below

In the recent past I’ve voiced opposition to the removal of the Confederate monument in Forest Park — it’s a good reminder of our ugly history. If a Confederate flag was flying at city hall I’d, of course, favor removing it. The monument, in my eyes, is different. It will eventually be moved, I accept that.

Now the question is who will remove and store it?

The Missouri Civil War Museum in Jefferson Barracks is claiming ownership of the controversial Confederate statue in Forest Park, but city officials maintain they have control over both the structure and its removal.

Citing a 1912 city ordinance giving the United Daughters of the Confederacy the green light to erect and maintain the monument in the city’s largest public park, museum executive director Mark Trout said the organization signed over the rights to the museum on Tuesday. (Post-Dispatch)

Last week a judge ordered the monument to stay in place until after ownership & control is determined. The court will decide but I’m curious what readers think on this issue.

The poll will close at 8pm

— Steve Patterson


St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bills 76-90

June 23, 2017 Board of Aldermen, Featured Comments Off on St. Louis Board of Aldermen: Board Bills 76-90
St. Louis City Hall

There are 15 new bills (same number as last week) to be introduced at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen today. Some further butcher the street grid, others related to development projects. One renames a public park. More on the municipal courts project…


Note that just because a bill is on the agenda doesn’t mean it’ll be introduced, similarly, bills not on the agenda might be introduced if they suspend the rules to do so. Also, as of 7:15pm 6/22/2017 the pages with links to the PDF versions of the bills were not available.

  • B.B.#76 – Guenther –An ordinance approving a Redevelopment Plan for 1956 Utah.
  • B.B.#77 – Guenther –An ordinance approving a Redevelopment Plan for 2918 Wyoming.
  • B.B.#78 – Guenther –An ordinance approving a Redevelopment Plan for 2821 Texas.
  • B.B.#79 – Guenther –An ordinance approving a Redevelopment Plan for 3021 Texas.
  • B.B.#80 – Spencer  –An Ordinance establishing a four-way stop site at the intersection of Oregon and Cherokee by regulating all eastbound and westbound traffic traveling on Cherokee at Oregon, and containing an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#81 – Spencer –An Ordinance establishing a four-way stop site at the intersection of Louisiana and Potomac by regulating all eastbound and westbound traffic traveling on Potomac at Louisiana, and containing an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#82 – Ogilvie –An ordinance recommended by the Board of Public Service to conditionally vacate travel in an eastern strip of Clifton beginning at Columbia and extending southwardly 6152 Columbia in City Block 5304 as bounded by Columbia, Sulphur, Magnolia and Clifton.
  • B.B.#83 – Conway –An Ordinance Authorizing The Execution Of A Contract for Sale Between The City And MCB Hotel Owner; Prescribing the Form And Details Of Said Agreement; Making Certain Findings
    With Respect Thereto; Authorizing Other Related Actions In Connection With The Contract for Sale; And Containing A Severability Clause.
  • B.B.#84 – Muhammad – An ordinance to rename a public park from O’Fallon Park to York Park.
  • B.B.#85 – P. Boyd – An ordinance prohibiting the sale of paraphernalia for cannabis and tobacco use, unless a business license is issued by the Board of Public Service to operate a head shop; containing definitions; the requirements and procedure to acquire a head shop license; revocation of licenses, and containing an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#86 – Spencer – An Ordinance for regulation and control of Air Pollution within the City: repealing Ordinance 68657, approved June 2, 2010, pertaining to the regulation and control of air pollution and enacting in lieu thereof a new ordinance pertaining to the same subject matter, and containing a severability clause, a penalty clause and an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#87 – Kennedy –An ordinance prohibiting lessors of residential real property from effectuating illegal, self?help evictions without availing themselves of the appropriate legal processes; containing a penalty clause, severability clause, and an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#88 – Bosley –An ordinance repealing Ordinance 69864 and in lieu thereof enacting a new ordinance prohibiting the issuance of any package or drink liquor licenses for any currently non?licensed premises within the boundaries of the Third Ward Liquor Control District; and containing an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#89 – Conway –An Ordinance Authorizing The Execution Of A Contract for Sale Between The City And Vertical Realty Advisors, LLC; Prescribing The Form And Details Of Said Agreement; Making Certain Findings With Respect Thereto; Authorizing Other Related Actions In Connection With The Contract for Sale; And Containing A Severability Clause.
  • B.B.#90 – Bosley/Hubbard –An ordinance repealing Ordinance Nos. 54425, 58949 and 63534 approving Development Plans and Redevelopment Plans for the Mullanphy Urban Development Area, the Montgomery Industrial/Commercial Park, Industrial/Commercial Area and the Madison Acres Plan for the Madison Acres Area, respectively and authorizing certain actions relating thereto, and containing severability and emergency clauses.

The meeting begins at 10am, it can be watched online here. See list of all board bills for the 2017-2018 session.

— Steve Patterson


Readers: Consolidated Government Not Too Extreme To Consider

June 21, 2017 Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Readers: Consolidated Government Not Too Extreme To Consider
Sign on Natural Btidge marks the city limits of Uplands Park, population 460

The St. Louis region is highly fractured — lots of units of government. From numerous counties in two states you have many municipalities within each. Plus school districts, sewer districts, etc.

We can look to Indianapolis’ 1969 Unigov for one example:

Unigov was neither a complete consolidation nor a perfect remedy. For example, it did not combine fire or police departments (the Marion County Sheriff and Indianapolis Police Departments merged in 2005), and it left intact the cities of Lawrence, Beech Grove, Speedway and Southport. By far the most notable omission was the schools.

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board had preferred a unified school district, but political reality of the time would not allow it. The IPS schools were predominantly black, the township schools mostly white. “To have included schools in Unigov would have raised the specter of racial integration . and would have meant instant death for the plan,” the Rev. Landrum Shields, IPS school board president, acknowledged at the time. (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel)

Louisville Metro is another example of pros & cons. Since passing in 2000, some are still unhappy.


More than half the readers in the recent non-scientic Sunday Poll agree the consolidated government idea isn’t too extreme to consider:

Q: Agree or disagree: Agreements between St. Louis City & County or adding the city as one of many munis might be ok, but one big city-county is too extreme.

  • Strongly agree 6 [13.95%]
  • Agree 5 [11.63%]
  • Somewhat agree 5 [11.63%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree 0 [0%]
  • Disagree 13 [30.23%]
  • Strongly disagree 14 [32.56%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

Resistance to any change will likely be high.

— Steve Patterson



Design: Vehicle Headlights

June 19, 2017 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Design: Vehicle Headlights

As I indicated a few weeks ago when talking about the use of headlines, I promised future posts on the design of automotive lighting — headlights & taillights. No, this isn’t becoming an auto blog. Vehicles are a fact of life in urban areas. In fact, pedestrian deaths are on the increase. From March:

It’s the oldest and most basic form of transportation — walking — and more people are doing more of it to get fit or stay healthy. But there’s new evidence today that even walking across the street is getting more dangerous.

A report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic jumped 11 percent last year, to nearly 6,000. That’s the biggest single-year increase in pedestrian fatalities ever, and the highest number in more than two decades.

“It is alarming,” says GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkins, “and it’s counterintuitive.” (NPR)

In October 2015 the death rate was becoming a local issue, see: Rising number of pedestrian deaths has St. Louis officials concerned. Distracted driving and distracted pedestrians, of course, are partly to blame. A year ago the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) began testing vehicle headlights:

The ability to see the road ahead, along with any pedestrians, bicyclists or obstacles, is an obvious essential for drivers. However, government standards for headlights, based on laboratory tests, allow huge variation in the amount of illumination that headlights provide in actual on-road driving. With about half of traffic deaths occurring either in the dark or in dawn or dusk conditions, improved headlights have the potential to bring about substantial reductions in fatalities.

Recent advances in headlight technology make it a good time to focus on the issue. In many vehicles, high-intensity discharge (HID) or LED lamps have replaced halogen ones. Curve-adaptive headlights, which swivel according to steering input, are also becoming more widespread. (IIHS)

In the initial test only the Toyota Prius V got a good rating — out of 31 vehicles tested. Lighting didn’t improve with the price of the car.

By October 2016 IIHS released results of their truck headlight test:

Out of 11 pickup trucks (and 23 possible headlight combinations) tested, the Honda Ridgeline was the only one to earn a “Good” rating, the highest mark possible. One truck earned an “Acceptable” rating, a few were deemed “Marginal,” and a majority scored a “Poor” ratings.

As previously reported, IIHS headlight testing includes high- and low-beam performance on straight roads and curves. The tests also include glare toward oncoming traffic.

The IIHS tested all possible headlight combinations, which include halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, and LEDs. That said, the only truck to receive the institute’s highest mark was the Honda Ridgeline equipped with LED low-beam headlights–Ridgeline trucks with halogen units earned a “Poor” rating. (Motor Trend)

Regulation is important, but it must change and keep up. From last month:

Outdated federal rules have blocked automakers from introducing adaptive beam headlamps that automatically adjust to oncoming traffic to reduce glare and help drivers see better, even though the technology is legal and available in Europe and Japan. At the same time, sleek styling and manufacturing mistakes on currently available systems has led to poor performance on the road, including excessive glare and insufficient light on the pavement.

“Regulators have not done a lot to help this through inaction,” said Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering at national motor club AAA. “There’s technology available today that could potentially reduce some fatalities, and it would be simply a matter of regulation change to allow that in the U.S.”

Japanese automaker Toyota asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 to allow adaptive beam technology, which is already widely used in Europe and Japan, particularly in luxury vehicles. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents major automakers on Washington policy issues, backed the petition.But four years later, NHTSA hasn’t made a decision. (USA Today)

Here are some examples of how headlights have changed over the years.

This was my first of two 1986 Saab 900s, the last year US 900s had old fashioned sealed-beam headlights. 1987 900s got flush headlights — though different than thud on aurorean models.
This is a late 70s Volvo 242GT with a round sealed bram headlight.
This is the same model with a flush glass headlight.
I briefly owned a 1982/83 Right-hand Drive Volvo 240 that had flush glass headlights like these, though without the wipers. US models had 2 rectangular sealed beam units per side at the same time. The turn signals here are US spec — no more prominent amber color like the prior examples.
My first daily car with flush headlights was this 2000 VW Golf. Replacing a burn out bulb required a trip to the dealer service dept.

Later cars were easier to replace the bulb. Still, US headlights differ from models sold in other countries.  They get glass, we get plastics.

Most modern headlight lenses are made of clear and nearly unbreakable polycarbonate plastic or a similar material. The lenses are treated at the factory with a special coating that protects them from the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight, vehicle exhaust fumes and other environmental contaminants. In fact, to obtain government approval, plastic headlight assemblies must pass a three-year U.S. Department of Transportation durability test.

In normal use, the life of a headlight’s protective coating depends on the level of exposure to the hazards mentioned above – especially the amount and intensity of sunlight. AAA inspected a representative sample of used vehicles and determined that five years is the approximate timeframe in which visible deterioration of headlight lenses begins to appear. (AAA)

However, the quality/quantity of light is improving. From last week:

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported Tuesday that only two of the U.S. auto industry’s 37 mid-size sport-utility vehicles offer headlight packages with “good” performance.

Safety advocates warn that poor headlight performance, including incorrectly aimed beams and excessive glare, endangers motorists and pedestrians.

IIHS, which has been gradually testing the hundreds of models sold in the U.S., concluded that 11 models offer “poor” headlights, 12 fall in the “marginal” category and 12 are “acceptable.” The organization ranked 2017 models based on the best-available headlight package on each vehicle.

By comparison, 12 of the 21 small SUV models tested by IIHS in 2016 delivered “poor” performance, while only four were “acceptable.” (USA Today)

I’ll save recent headlights, daytime running lights, and front turn signals for a future post.

— Steve Patterson




Rcvd a new book to review: 'Places in Need: The Changing Geography of Poverty' by Scott W. Allard. Interesting focus. ... See MoreSee Less

4 days ago  ·  

Loving Rooster's new cafe seating. Perhaps just because the previous picnic benches were so awful for the public right-of-way (PROW). #stl ... See MoreSee Less

5 days ago  ·