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Newish Book — ‘Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving’

March 11, 2022 Books, Featured Comments Off on Newish Book — ‘Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving’

Imagine the car of the future, no steering wheel or pedals. Just get in and tell it where to go and then it quietly whisks you to your destination. Will this ever be a reality for anyone living today?

Maybe, for newborns.

A newish book looks at the promise of the future automobile.

“The foundation has been laid for fully autonomous,” Elon Musk announced in 2016, when he assured the world that Tesla would have a driverless fleet on the road in 2017. “It’s twice as safe as a human, maybe better.” Promises of technofuturistic driving utopias have been ubiquitous wherever tech companies and carmakers meet.

In Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving, technology historian Peter Norton argues that driverless cars cannot be the safe, sustainable, and inclusive “mobility solutions” that tech companies and automakers are promising us. The salesmanship behind the driverless future is distracting us from investing in better ways to get around that we can implement now. Unlike autonomous vehicles, these alternatives are inexpensive, safe, sustainable, and inclusive.

Norton takes the reader on an engaging ride —from the GM Futurama exhibit to “smart” highways and vehicles—to show how we are once again being sold car dependency in the guise of mobility. He argues that we cannot see what tech companies are selling us except in the light of history. With driverless cars, we’re promised that new technology will solve the problems that car dependency gave us—zero crashes! zero emissions! zero congestion!  But these are the same promises that have kept us on a treadmill of car dependency for 80 years.

Autonorama is hopeful, advocating for wise, proven, humane mobility that we can invest in now, without waiting for technology that is forever just out of reach. Before intelligent systems, data, and technology can serve us, Norton suggests, we need wisdom. Rachel Carson warned us that when we seek technological solutions instead of ecological balance, we can make our problems worse. With this wisdom, Norton contends, we can meet our mobility needs with what we have right now. (Island Press)

I’m very glad to see someone challenging idea that autonomous vehicles is the future of mobility. You can preview the book here.

— Steve Patterson

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We Saved 17.3% On Last Month’s Electric Bill

March 3, 2022 Environment, Featured Comments Off on We Saved 17.3% On Last Month’s Electric Bill
A smart electric meter is needed for Time of Use (TOU) rate plans.

Many more of you now have a smart electric meter, assuming you’re an Ameren Missouri customer, than when I have previously posted about this new technology — and the variety of billing rates that go along with it.

My three prior posts:

We have now completed 8 billing cycles using new time of use (TOU) billing rates — the rate charges varies depending upon the time of day. We did one month of Evening/Morning Savers, four months of Ultimate Savers, and the last three on the Smart Savers plan.  The latter plan is best for us, more on that below.

You’re probably thinking you don’t want to mess with new rate plans, you’ll just stick with the flat rate (aka Anytime Users) you’ve always had. Sorry, if you have a new smart meter Ameren will automatically move you to the Evening/Morning Savers plan.  This plan charges slightly less for electricity used between 9pm and 9am.

Why is Ameren Missouri changing all meters and complicating electrical rates? They’re trying to minimize energy use during peak demand periods. Think about shopping malls, they have massive amounts of unused surface parking — except for peak periods like Black Friday when parking lots fill up. Surface parking, unfortunately, is cheap so building extra capacity that isn’t used most of the time is no big deal. Energy plants, on the other hand, are incredibly expensive. Plus, Ameren is planning to shut down its second largest coal plant later this year.

Ideal for energy unities (natural gas & electric) the demand would be perfectly flat 24/7/365. Reality is our air conditioning, electric heat, electric clothes dryers, lighting, and electric cooking use isn’t flat. Most people have similar enough schedules they cool off the house after work in summer, make meals at the same time, etc.  These activities cause spikes in demand. Roller coaster use isn’t a good match for electricity generation.

Spikes in energy demand are costly to deal with, so it’s better for electric utilities to reward customers to help flatten out demand. So peak times cost more, off peak less. Peak demand happens at different times of the day in winter months compared to summer months.

All four of Ameren’s TOU rate plans have a few common elements.

Summer rates are valid for 4 months, June-September. Thus, winter rates are the remaining 8 months, October-May. The flat rate we’ve all had for years has been different in summer vs winter — higher in summer because of air conditioning demand. What’s new is the variability based on the time of day, and day of week.

Let’s review the plans, starting with the flat rate we’ve all had for years — the same rate no matter the time of day or the day of the week.

The specific charge per kWh has changed over the decades, but you see the time of day doesn’t matter.

Now we can get into the new plans, starting with the one Ameren has moved you to after installing the smart meter:

This is the plan everyone will be moved to after receiving a new smart meter. As you can see the rate for 9am to 9pm is only slightly higher than the other half of a 24 hour cycle. 12 hours peak, 12 hours off peak — 7 days a week.

Here are the other three rate plans. They can be confusing but after 4 months Ameren can show you the average cost of each plan based on your usage.

With this plan peak rates are 16 hours, off peak is 8 hours. Seven days a week.

 

This is the one plan that has three levels, instead of just two. Eight hours of off peak, five hours peak summer, four hours peak winter. Peak is only for non-holiday weekdays.
This rate plan has the best rates, but it also has a demand charge based on the hour of highest demand during the billing cycle.

I should note here that major holidays are a break from peak rates, see my first post on TOU rates for specifics.

I jumped into plans as soon as I could, without waiting 4 months to see which plan was best for us. However, I’ve also changed when we use electricity because of these rates — trying to maximize our savings each month. When our report was available I could clearly see the Smart Savers rate plan would save us over the Ultimate Savers plan. I switched based on the report and now that we’re in winter and using electric heating we’re saving big money each month.

We recently received our February bill for the period 1/22/22-2/22/22 — a savings of $12.39 compared to the old Anytime flat rate. The previous cycle we saved $10.64.  So far we’ve cumulatively saved $29.22 on time of use rates compared to the old flat rate — nearly 80% of that amount in just the last two billing cycles! I can’t wait to see the savings after we’ve been on our current TOU rate plan for a full 12 billing cycles. Ameren doesn’t tell you the savings, but I’m a spreadsheet geek so I don’t have to do the math manually.

Our apartment is 100% electric, about 15 years old, 3 exterior walls, with two occupied apartments above ours — winter heat is a bigger expense than summer cooling. The best plan for you may be different, all you need to do is log into your Ameren account online to see the approximate average cost per month for each of the time of use billing rates.

Ameren dashboard
If you have a smart meter and they’ve compared the various TOU rates you’ll see a mention at the bottom of this section of your Ameren dashboard about rates.
Ameren rate plan comparison
This is our current comparison. Note the dollar amounts are energy only — no fees, charges, taxes. Some plans you can opt for summer only or all year.

And finally, what makes these new electric meters so smart?  They’re able to understand what is using electricity based on the loads. This allows Ameren to show me reports like these:

energy use by appliance report, December 2021 bill cycle
Our energy use by appliance report, December 2021 bill cycle. Water heating was our biggest single user of electricity in this cycle ahead of heat.
energy use by appliance report, January 2022 bill cycle
In our January 2022 bill energy use by appliance report heating is no longer a separate lime item, this is likely due to our cat’s heating pad that’s on 10pm-6am daily, with the help of a smart plug.
February 2022 bill energy use by appliance report
Last month our energy use by appliance report was nearly identical to the previous.

Once you have a login for your account it only takes a minute to see if they’ve had enough data from your use to compare rates. You might be paying more each month than necessary.

I mentioned that I did make changes in an effort to reduce our energy costs. I used to do 3 loads of laundry per week, in the mornings. I now do 2 loads timed so the dryer isn’t turned on until 10pm. The washer is set to tap cold water. Most of the time our dishwasher is also run after 10pm — the heat dry and other energy sucking features are off. The dishwasher is occasionally run during the mid-peak time, but never during full peak. Our thermostat is set to a temperature during peak hours so our heat/cooling won’t kick on. I’ve not made any changes to what, how, or when we cook.

In addition to saving money by using some appliances during off-peak hours, we’re using less electricity.  Here’s the totals for the last 3 years:

  • 2019: 10,179 kWh
  • 2020: 9,620 kWh
  • 2021: 7,447 kWh

The weather, of course, plays a role in our heating & cooling costs.

Without changing your life you can potentially save money by checking out Ameren’s advanced time of use billing rates — let them show you the comparison. If you’ve only just received your smart meter check bask online each month to see if they have a comparison ready.  If you can additionally reduce energy use during peak hours you can save even more.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Electrified Vehicles at the 2022 Chicago Auto Show

February 24, 2022 Environment, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Electrified Vehicles at the 2022 Chicago Auto Show

Earlier this month I attended the 2-day media preview of the Chicago Auto Show. I’ve attended the show every year since 2014, except last year when the usual February show was rescheduled to the summer because of the pandemic. This year’s show was smaller than previous years, but there was still a lot to see.

Some terms you’ll see in this post:

  • BEV = battery electric vehicle
  • FCEV = fuel cell electric vehicle
  • Frunk = front trunk
  • HEV= hybrid electric vehicle
  • ICE = internal combustion engine (i.e: a gasoline engine)
  • MPGe = miles per gallon equivalent
  • PHEV = plug-in hybrid electric vehicle
  • Unibody = body & chassis are designed and built together, different than body on frame

In the past years you’d see a number of HEVs and the occasional BEV, but in 2022 the BEVs were everywhere. Most vehicles on display were ICE vehicles, but it was the electric vehicles that were the center of attention at most displays. Only manufacturers that have a dealership network are part of this and other big car shows; so no Telsa, Rivian, Lucid, etc.

Ford

Ford F-150 Lightening BEV:  Like the ICE F-150, the electric version is big. Other than a light bar front & rear it looks like any other new pickup. Ford intentionally kept the truck looking similar to other F-150s, a smart move considering the F-series is the best selling vehicle in America.

Ford F-150 Lightening BEV
Ford F-150 Lightening BEV
Ford F-150 Lightening "frunk"
Ford F-150 Lightening “frunk”

1978 Ford F-100 Eluminator BEV: I was very excited to see this truck. It was converted to a BEV using Ford’s BEV crate motor, first shown at the ’22 CES (Consumer Electronics Show).

1978 Ford F-100 Eluminator EV
1978 Ford F-100 Eluminator BEV

Ford Mustang Mach-E BEV: I’ve seen a couple on the streets in St. Louis, and a friend’s husband got one. I got to ride in one on the test track, which included a too fast launch control demonstration. I asked if they could demonstrate regenerative braking to stop the car but they said no.

Ford Mustang Mach-E BEV
Ford Mustang Mach-E BEV

Ford E-Transit BEV delivery van: Delivery & work vans are a big market and they’re good candidates for electric vs ICE since they’re not driven long distances.

Ford E-Transit BEV delivery van
Ford E-Transit BEV delivery van

In addition to vehicles, a lot of displays talked about their electrified vehicles.

Ford electrified vehicles display
Ford electrified vehicles display

Ford Maverick HEV compact pickup: Ford’s new unibody compact pickup was one of my favorite vehicles at the show, though it’s still larger than the smallest pickups of the 1970s. The base powertrain is hybrid, but a larger non-hybrid ICE is optional. Truck purists aren’t a fan of unibody trucks, others include the Honda Ridgeline and the new Hyundai Santa Cruz.

Ford Maverick HEV compact pickup
Ford Maverick HEV compact pickup
Ford Maverick HEV compact pickup
Ford Maverick HEV compact pickup

To complete Ford’s electric marketing this banner was displayed on their test track.

Ford "Built to Electrify" banner on their test track
Ford “Built to Electrify” banner on their test track

GENERAL MOTORS

General Motors is working toward being a leader in BEVs, but they had little to offer — make that nothing small, only big trucks.

Chevy Silverado BEV
Chevy Silverado BEV
Chevy Silverado BEV
GMC Hummer BEV pickup
GMC Hummer BEV pickup
GMC Hummer BEV pickup
GMC Hummer BEV pickup

Recently the EPA numbers on the GMC Hummer became public — this is now the least efficient BEV you can buy, only 47 MPGe! Seems appropriate. We need a BEV equivalent term for a gas guzzler, electron hog?

TOYOTA

Toyota, with the Prius HEV, has been into electrified vehicles for decades. They’ve made some BEV versions of their RAV4 compact crossover, but they showed their first BEV on a new non-ICE platform.

Toyota bZ4X BEV
Toyota’s very first BEV, the bZ4X. Seriously, that’s the vehicle name.
Toyota bZ4X BEV
Toyota bZ4X BEV
bZ4X platform
bZ4X platform
bZ4X platform
bZ4X platform

SUBARU

Subaru had a very large, interesting display. The premium spot was for their first BEV, the Solterra. Toyota and Subaru worked together to create the new BEV platform shared by the bZ4X (above) and the Solterra.

Subaru Solterra BEV
Subaru Solterra BEV
Subaru Solterra BEV
Subaru Solterra BEV
Subaru Solterra BEV
Subaru Solterra BEV

VOLKSWAGEN

Following the costly dieselgate scandal on many Volkswagen Group vehicles, they had to pivot to electric vehicles. The ID.4 is the first such VW here in the United States.

Volkswagen ID.4 BEV crossover
Volkswagen ID.4 BEV crossover
Volkswagen ID.4 BEV crossover
Volkswagen ID.4 BEV crossover
Volkswagen ID.4 BEV crossover
Volkswagen ID.4 BEV crossover

NISSAN

Nissan had a huge lead in BEVs with the Leaf, but odd looks, limited range, and price limited sales.Now they’ve got a new BEV platform and vehicle.

Nissan Ariya BEV
Nissan Ariya BEV

BMW

BMW no longer offers the unconventional i3 — now offering more conventional BEVs.

BMW i4 M50 Gran Coupe
BMW i4 M50 Gran Coupe
BMW i4 M50 Gran Coupe
BMW x1 BEV crossover
BMW x1 BEV crossover
BMW x1 BEV crossover
BMW x1 BEV crossover

Kia

The sister brand to Hyundai has a new BEV platform, a new model, and a bulky concept.

Kia EV6 BEV
Kia EV6 BEV
Kia EV6 BEV
Kia EV6 BEV
Kia EV6 BEV platform
Kia EV6 BEV platform
Kia EV6 BEV platform
Kia EV6 BEV platform
Kia EV9 BEV concept
Kia EV9 BEV concept
Kia EV9 BEV concept
Kia EV9 BEV concept
Kia Niro PHEV or BEV
Kia Niro PHEV or BEV

HYUNDAI

Hyundai has 3 car brands: Kia, Genesis, and Hyundai. All three have a new BEV on a new platform, shown above in the Kia section. Genesis wasn’t at this show, so I didn’t get to see the GV60 BEV. Hyundai has used the Ionic name for a few years, on a vehicle available as a HEV, PHEV, or BEV — depending upon market. Now the Ionic name is being used as a sub-brand. The Ionic 5 BEV crossover is the first of their trio of new BEVs to market.

Hyundai Ionic 5 BEV
Hyundai Ionic 5 BEV
Hyundai Ionic 5 BEV
Hyundai Ionic 5 BEV
Hyundai Ionic 5 BEV interior
Hyundai Ionic 5 BEV interior
Hyundai Nexo FCEV
Hyundai Nexo FCEV
Hyundai Kona PHEV or BEV
Hyundai Kona PHEV or BEV

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It was great seeing so many BEVs in one place, like it or not vehicles are quickly switching from internal combustion to battery electric.

I wish more emphasis was placed on efficiency, rather than just 0-60 time or total range. In reviewing MPGe numbers on FuelEconomy.gov I can see none of the world’s legacy auto manufacturers can beat the efficiency of Tesla & Lucid. Chevy & Kia do have models in the top 10 in efficiency.

Think of it like an efficient car with a small fuel tank going the same distance as a heavy inefficient vehicle with a huge fuel tank, the latter being able to travel the same distance simply because the tank is so large. It makes sense that Tesla is great at efficiency, they’ve been at this the longest. Lucid, however, has only begun shipping their first cars and yet they’ve beaten all the efficiency of BEVs from legacy manufacturers.

More on efficiency, charging, etc in a future post(s).

— Steve Patterson

 

This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

February 17, 2022 Downtown, Featured, North City, Planning & Design, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on This Is Our Chance To Reconnect Two Neighborhoods Long Separated By Highways

Urban highways & interstates allow drivers to get from point A to point B quicker than had they taken surface streets, but they’re also a major divider between the existing neighborhoods they cut through.  In the late 1950s the downtown’s 3rd Street Parkway was being extended north, eventually connecting with the new Mark Twain Expressway (aka I-70/I-44) in July 1961.

I live on the west side of the highway, but I can stand in my kitchen and see Broadway & Cass, on the east side of the highway. I know first hand how the highway divides the historic north riverfront from my neighborhood, Columbus Square.

Looking south from the Cass Ave bridge over I-44, June 2020. The lane center is a southbound express lane, to the right is the express lane exit ramp to southbound Broadway.

Ideally we’d remove urban interstates and weave our neighborhoods back together, but that’s never going to happen. What should happen is when we rebuild crumbling infrastructure we add connections civil engineers in the 1950s never considered at the time the highways were planned.

The same view Monday with southbound Broadway bridge and the exit ramp gone.
The blue oval is the southbound Broadway bridge, the red X is where Csss & 7th were connected until construction began for the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Post-Dispatch July 9, 1961, p161.

The distance from Broadway & Cass to Broadway & O’Fallon is only 2/10 of a mile, but the distance required for the last 60 years has been double that — 4/10 of a mile.

The Missouri Department of Transportation supports pedestrian facilities:

MoDOT works with planning partners to create transportation facilities that work for all users because we value bicycle and pedestrian travel. Accommodating for bicyclists or pedestrians may be as simple as providing a well-designed road that all road users share or as complex as a separate-grade structure, such as a bridge. Developing appropriate facility design for nonmotorists depends on a variety of geometric and operational factors that are inter-related, such as available right-of-way, projected traffic counts and adjacent roadway design speeds.
 

We strive to integrate nonmotorized travel into the existing system to provide connections where none exist to promote efficiency and to focus on a primary concern—the safety of those who depend on walking or bicycling to reach their destinations. (MoDOT)

Unfortunately MoDOT failed to accommodate the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in the replacement. This is a huge mistake — it’ll be another 60+ years before we get another chance to reconnect these areas.

View from Broadway near Cass looking SW toward Broadway @ O’Fallon (just beyond building), June 2021
The buildings on the right are part of a National Register Historic District.

You might be thinking it would be too difficult to include a pedestrian sidewalk.  The old bridge, removed over the weekend, couldn’t have easily been retrofitted. But when building the new bridge entirely from the ground up it is actually pretty easy.

Here’s the overview:

The blue circle is my location. The blue line represents the route required to walk from Broadway @ Cass to Broadway @ O’Fallon — twice as far as the direct route shown in solid green. The dashed green line is how to connect Cass to 7th & 6th streets. Apple Maps

Now let’s take a look at the old bridge and highway exit ramps.

Broadway is only one lane per direction north of Cass, but it widens to 2 right turn lanes onto westbound Cass and 2 southbound lane to continue across the highway. One lane expands to four! Apple Maps
So 2 lanes of Broadway continued over the highway. The express lane exit is one lane but the Broadway exit is 2 lanes. Four lanes continue toward Cole before getting reduced to 2 further south.

The solution is the one southbound lane of Broadway splits into 3 before Cass — one left, one right, one straight ahead. This means the same width bridge can also accommodate bikes & pedestrians. The traffic exiting the southbound express lane and the highway have plenty of length for drivers to decelerate. Rumble strips (or similar) can be used to communicate to the driver to slow down as they approach Broadway. The 2 highway exit lanes can narrow to one before Broadway. Not sure if signals are necessary or just a flashing red light and notices to yield to pedestrians.

I would like to see Broadway south of Cole to return to two-way traffic in the future, so I’d like the new bridge to accommodate 2-way traffic and pedestrians on one side.

Again, I’m trying to connect two areas that have been separated for over 60 years. Both have enormous potential for redevelopment — new construction & adaptive reuse to the south and mostly captive reuse to the north. I’d love to see football fans have pre-game drinks at Shady Jack’s Saloon and then walk down to the Dome to see the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL returns under new ownership.

We must use this moment to correct past mistakes!

— Steve Patterson

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Amtrak Faster to Chicago than closer Kansas City

January 31, 2022 Featured, Public Transit, Transportation, Travel Comments Off on Amtrak Faster to Chicago than closer Kansas City
The Texas Eagle train uses 2-level trains like this one, the Lincoln Service to/from Chicago uses a one level train.

In October 2021 I booked an Amtrak trip to Chicago for a weekend next month. At that time the trip was scheduled to take 5 hours 40 minutes to Chicago Union Station, via Lincoln Service.  This is faster than it has been over the years — improving every year since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed by president Obama. Amtrak recently revised my trip — it’ll now take only 5 hours 25 minutes. Fifteen minutes quicker than before!

Amtrak will implement a schedule change for Chicago to St. Louis Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains, effective December 13.

These schedules reflect a maximum authorized speed of 90 mph for Trains 300 – 307 and Trains 21 & 22. Chicago to St. Louis corridor travel times are reduced by approximately 15 minutes, end-to-end.

Updated schedules now on Amtrak.com reflect these changes, as do new bookings, eTickets and other boarding documents.

This is a step toward 110 mph schedules that are planned for the next 12 to 18 months. These improvements use federal grants and other funds from the Illinois Department of Transportation. (Amtrak)

These speeds aren’t close to high-speed rail experienced in other parts of the world, but it is very welcomed.

Driving a car is still faster, but it’s exhausting and very expensive to park in Chicago, station to station is 297 miles, requiring 4 hours 20 minutes. Of course, that’s assuming no restroom/eating/stretch breaks.

Kansas City is closer to St. Louis than Chicago is, so you’d think both driving & train travel would be less. Driving is 250 miles — 47 miles less than to Chicago, requiring 3 hours 37 minutes. Makes sense. The train trip to Chicago, however, is 5 hours 40 minutes.

Yes, the trips used to take the same amount of time even though one is closer. Now the STL to CHI train is faster. Once more improvements and speeds of 110 mph are achieved the time difference of traveling to Chicago compared to Kansas City will be even greater.

It would be nice to see similar improvements made to better connect St. Louis and Kansas City, spanning the width of the state.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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