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Sunday Poll: What’s Up With St. County Police & Metro?

July 30, 2017 Public Transit, St. Louis County, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: What’s Up With St. County Police & Metro?

A week ago we learned about St. Louis County police officers covering the camera at a MetroLink substation.

A federal Homeland Security law enforcement officer was assigned to Metro transit patrol as part of a beefed-up security plan for the busy Fourth of July weekend.

He didn’t like what he saw.

Late in the afternoon on July 4, the officer walked into the North Hanley MetroLink substation to find 12 St. Louis County police officers milling about. A resulting Metro check of video footage determined that not only were county police officers loitering in the North Hanley security office instead of patrolling trains or platforms, at one point they covered the security camera with an envelope and tape. (Post-Dispatch)

Horrible, right? Consider the other side’s position:

The statement released Sunday by county police Chief Jon Belmar and spokesman Sgt. Shawn McGuire implies the allegations are the result of “politics and infighting.” The statement says the security camera at North Hanley MetroLink substation, which documented at least eight instances since 2015 of police covering up its lens, is improperly placed in a “private room.”

“A limited number of carefully selected images from over a two-and-a-half-year period that were pulled from an improperly-placed surveillance camera in a 12×14 private room appeared with the article,” McGuire wrote. “This room is used to monitor security cameras, hold briefings and complete report writing. It is also the only room officers have to take breaks from work and weather as well as change clothes and equipment at the end of a shift.” (Post-Dispatch)

As part of the Post-Dispatch series, apparently the County wants to remove accountability from their contract with Metro, with Metro head John Nations and St. Louis County Police chief Belmar disagreeing on matters for a couple of years now, hence Belmar’s “politics and infighting” comment.

Which brings us to today’s poll:

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

Pine @ Tucker Treated Different Than Locust @ Tucker

July 24, 2017 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on Pine @ Tucker Treated Different Than Locust @ Tucker

In April I wrote how some drivers get confused on one-way Locust approaching Tucker — some turn left from either lane because it’s not properly marked. Two blocks directly South, on Tine St, is the identical situation but properly marked.  Pine is also a 2-lane street one-way Westbound.  But the city treats Locust very different than it does Locust.

Locust has no pavement markings or signs to indicate where drivers should be.

Locust approaching Tucker, from April post

Pine, however, has both pavement markings and at least one sign.

Pine looking West toward Tucker. Pavement markings and sign indicate the left lane must turn left at Tucker.

Maybe AT&T got the city to make this intersection less confusing? Two blocks away is the same type of intersection treated very differently — untreated. I favor having traffic that wants to continue Westbound being in the right lane. with the left lane for left-turn only traffic. When I drive Westbound on Locust I stay in the right lane to cross Tucker, allowing me to get through the intersection and not be caught behind cars waiting on pedestrians to cross Tucker.

Locust should be treated just like Pine.

— Steve Patterson

 

Opinion: World Naked Bike Ride St. Louis Is A Great Event

July 19, 2017 Bicycling, Featured Comments Off on Opinion: World Naked Bike Ride St. Louis Is A Great Event

The recent World Naked Bike Ride – St. Louis was the 10th annual here. The purpose is clear:

The World Naked Bike Ride in St. Louis is part of an international event to raise awareness of cyclist rights and vulnerability on the road, and promote positive body image and protest oil dependency.

I absolutely love this event! Sadly, the first rode here was just months after my stroke — so I”ve only been able to participate as a spectator.

AS a spectator even it’s excellent. The hubby and I were sitting at 16th & Washington for about 15-20 minutes before the ride came through. In that time we talked to numerous people — strangers. One couple suspected what we were out: “Ready for the naked bike ride?”. they asked. Others, pedestrians & motorists, asked us what was going on.

Unlike many other events, I saw no corporate sponsors, though many local businesses are partners. I saw almost no genitalia — but I wasn’t looking either. I was bust waving, reading signs, enjoying the creative costumes & body paint. Nothing remotely;y indecent.

Most who voted in the non-scientific Sunday Poll seemed to agree:

Q: Agree or disagree: The annual World Naked Bike Ride encourages indecent exposure.

  • Strongly agree 2 [4.35%]
  • Agree 4 [8.7%]
  • Somewhat agree 5 [10.87%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 1 [2.17%]
  • Somewhat disagree 2 [4.35%]
  • Disagree 13 [28.26%]
  • Strongly disagree 18 [39.13%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [2.17%]

An important part of the ride is to promote a positive body image, to show the world we’re not all cover models.

How we feel about ourselves as people directly impacts what we ultimately see in the mirror. Negative messages from others in our lives and from the media can make this a challenging proposition. Creating a positive body image requires being able to integrate our feelings about ourselves with the messages we are getting from others.

When we have a hard time reconciling how we feel with external influences, we are likely to experience insecurity in our social lives–anywhere from a low hum of anxiety to a crippling self consciousness. We may also find that a good feeling about our body image is hard to hold onto and can be disrupted by small comments or an unexpected glimpse of our reflection. (Psychology Today)

Years ago I did some design work at a local facility that treats patients with eating disorders. Seeing young people with visible bones but think they’re fat leaves a lasting impression. My stroke caused me to have a food disorder, gourmand syndrome.Desiring fine food I have to work hard to not get even fatter.

Keep it up St. Louis, ignore those who can’t see past exposed skin.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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