Tag Archives: roads

Self Driving Cars, Pitttsburg, Uber, and Us, Overlooking the Atlantic

So I’m here in a very nice seaside rented home on an obscure North Carolina island with the family. The kids and grand kids are off in various swimming/biking/exploring modes and rain is forecast. I’ve been working on my congressional campaign, and so distracted from blogging. Nevertheless, there is some new raw material that beg for expression, I’m on the porch watching storm clouds gather for the first time this week, so let’s organize the news of the last month and see if there’s anything that we on the commission need to heed.

Kris retired two years ago and decided that she liked to travel with me as I do locums work. This means that we take a taxi to and from the airport, a truly awkward experience. We call a day ahead, call half an hour beforehand, and still they don’t show up. The drivers are invariably African and hostile until my alcoholic personality disorder kicks in; “Africa, big place, where in Africa?” “Ethiopia.” “The Highlands or coast?” “Oh, you know Africa! The HIghlands.” Kris; “You’re Christian? Did you get kicked, go to Libya?” By this time the guy is wracked with emotion, ready to talk about his family, hopes, past, and we’re at the end of the journey. It costs $13.40. I try to give the guy 15 dollars, if I can find it as it’s often dark or worse yet, raining. Awkward.

Then the people at the airport decreed that Taxis bringing folks from Kentwood had to charge a minimum of 15 dollars. I don’t know how the airport can write a rule like that or even enforce it. We at the city commission should investigate.

This diktat caused me to rebel. I downloaded Uber and we have since had an excellent experience. The price is $7.30, half of a taxi, it automatically goes on my credit card and so is a recorded as deductible cost of doing business, the cars are uniformly interesting (two Priuses) and the drivers are all fascinating (a guy who sold art, several retired executives escaping their wives, an African American who was damned if he would ever work for somebody again.) In creative moments I calculate that if Uber can get us to the airport for 7 dollars, that they can get us to Meijers for 5; maybe get rid of one of our cars……

Then the Economist threw a bomb. It devoted a recent issue to the Uberization of transportation. It’s not what our Uber drivers had envisioned. Uber wants to get rid of all their drivers and instead operate a fleet of self drivers.-enough self drivers to replace most car functions as Americans now use them. They would operate a large fleet, cars constantly running, that would pick people up at their front doors and deliver them to their places of work, doctor’s offices, bars and at Aunt Tillie’s, then go off to pick up yet another customer.. The cost would be minimal, safety high, efficiency nearly perfect.

Wow.

Then Uber announced that they were testing 4 Ford Focuses that had been modified to be self drivers in Pittsburg.    Pittsburg!   Fifth Avenue is the only straight street in the whole region. They had to build the airport 20 miles out of town where it was flat enough to land a DC4 back in the day. It’s ice and snow, steep grades, intersections where 5 streets come together, narrow, 1900s built streets. Everything is lined with worn out brick or cement. No one would test drive a self driver in that environment.

Unless he knew that his product could handle the job. (I would have said “Had the calm confidence of a Christian holding 4 Aces” (Twain) but can’t make it work.)

Daughter who has lived in P’burg for 7 years is here with us, so we ask about the self drivers; Yep, she’s seen more than one. They exist, ugly, roof has a bubble so distinctive enough for it to be known if they fail somehow.

I’d guess that we’ll know that self drivers are viable, efficient, attractive and cheap enough to go commercial by next spring. How long before you can buy one, or before Uber orders a few 100,000 Priuses modified to self drive? another year? maybe 2? These 100,000 cars will replace a million personal cars in people’s garages and on the parking lots.

We on the commission had better think on this.

Some thoughts.

The cars likely will not be built in Michigan, or if they are, the mechanical parts will be mere commodities lacking attractive luxury pricing markups that would stimulate competition and creativity. Self drivers are computers and software with a metal attached.

Public transit in all it’s forms is doomed. Taxis and buses cannot compete with personalized pickup and delivery in a warm (or air conditioned in the summer) car. Passenger railroads (why do we support Amtrack? This company regularly kills and maims the elites in the NY to Washington corridor;  even as I write, there’s been death and over a hundred injured in Hoboken, NJ) and intercity buses will be replaced in their roles of moving people a few hundred miles to other cities or even to Florida in the winter. School buses, kaput.

Will parking lots, parking spaces on streets and the width of roads be affected? If so, what do we do with the extra space; more buildings next to the malls? Parks that never get used?

Will shopping for groceries, clothing and minor purchases be abolished since things can be ordered on the internet and then delivered cheaply when the resident is at home and ready to receive the goods. So what happens to malls, big box stores and strip centers? A warehouse full of dry goods and staffed by robots will no longer need to be located on our main streets.

Will plunging transportation costs encourage people to live further out in the country? I can’t think of any arguments that would support them wanting to live closer together, so scratch the New Urbanism and Smart Cities. That’s my opinion but maybe others can marshal opposite arguments.

Do good street lighting, traffic lights and signs mean much to a robot? No, but there will be many years before human drivers no longer struggle with steering wheels and brakes? How important will street maintenance and snow removal be in this pending storm of change?

The accidents that are reported for self drivers in Palo Alto, where these have been standard for years, are almost all caused by humans disobeying the law while the patient self drivers are scrupulous in heeding the law. The patrolling for- and punishing of speeders, drunks, and unlicensed drivers will disappear, so there go lucrative traffic fines, busybody drug courts and the fill in the hours work of lurking for speeders that police do. Also, we should anticipate fewer accidents with their fires and injuries that occupy the fire department.  Maybe we should cut budgets and recruitment.

The latest fad in policing is DDACTS, in which our police concentrate on known high crime areas looking for minor traffic violations and vehicle defects that serve as an excuse to “stop and frisk” the drivers without ruffling constitutional feathers. Gone. Those old Pontiac and Toyota beaters will be soon retired and the traffic in poorer areas will resemble that of the wealthiest suburbs. And all the self drivers will soon have traces of cocaine and marijuana detectable, just as it is on our US currency.

Will our fleet of cars, fire engines, plows, utility trucks self drive? Quite probably, to some extent so we’ll get some cost savings.

The folks who will first use self drivers are the old who are still living in their own home. They can more easily take care of themselves if they have the increased mobility, so forestall moving into retirement villages. So what happens to the explosive growth of these corporations that depend on a aging and dependent population?

I think that air traffic will be relatively spared, so our connection to Kent County’s airport will be an advantage.

Well the rain passed us by, a watery sunshine, temperature 78, moderate wind,  and I see an osprey hunting off shore.  Commission meeting next Tuesday, so gotta get back in the next few days. Life in retirement is hard but yo gotta do what ya gotta do..

More on Sidewalks; We’re Past Horsemanure.

Sidewalks were first elaborated when dirt roads and horses reigned transportation. Women hated the dust, mud and semidigested oats from streets and so insisted that these be paved and swept daily. In commercial areas the merchants provided walkways for pedestrians to keep the two modes of transportation separate. Walkers could keep their shoes clean.
Later as cars took over the streets, most families did not have a second car but did have an icebox and so women walked to the grocery and kids to the local small school. Sidewalks made sense.
A very few folks still walk; dog walkers, The few using public transit, an oddball like myself who walks to clear his head. I’m alone when I walk from our condo, cross 28th street, and hit my usual haunts, all the while thinking. Occasionally when there is light snow, I emerge from my fog enough to notice that I’m usually the first person to walk on many sidewalks. I should take pictures next winter just to document this failure of government.
After my last blog on grass growing on unused sidewalks, it occurred to me to do a documentary now. We on the commission spent (?) $700,000 in the last few years to line 28th street with sidewalks; “It would allow walkers to patronize those businesses!” I voted in favor because it was “free” money from the Feds or someone.

I biked over and photographed a few segments….
I have included one picture because it is all I can load, but another shows a grape vine all but crossing the sidewalk on a segment opposite Roaring Twenties strip mall. Long grass is growing in cracks and over the edges in one year old sidewalks in front of Fruitland and Lazy Boy. Everywhere some grass grows despite a hot, dry summer.

They say that grass won’t grow on a busy street, but in Kentwood, our ideologically justified sidewalks carry legions of imaginary customers to shop along 28th Street. Images don’t need to step on the cracks, y’know.

Next, our planners will grind up the road and have fantasy horses trotting up and down our street producing fertilizer to encourage very real weed growth and mud just to infuriate the cleaning crews in the grateful stores.

Watch for it.

Breton Taking Wing on Wing Avenue, a Proposed Double Purposing

We just got the proposed agenda for the 5 July meetings. Planning wants to put on its dog and pony show of how they propose to ease Kentwood back to the 20th century by willing businesses and builders to behave abnormally, but, I digress.

The one real muddle involves the necessary rebuild of Wing Avenue along with the upgrade of the infrastructure forcing the folks along it to hook up to utilities. This seems inevitable and will be unpopular.
The other yet longer term building project will be extending Breton Road seamlessly through to 60th Ave. It currently stops at 52nd , and folks have to stop, make a left turn, then a right turn at Wing to go through to 60th. The current vision is to build an entirely new road across an existing farm when that can be acquired, over wetlands with those bureaucratic headaches and necessitating two signals.

It’s occurred to me that there is a more compact way to solve both problems. Why not make two round and rounds on 52nd Ave, one at the south end of Breton, and the second at the north end of the newly rebuilt (maybe slightly widened and graced with a bike path that would preserve its scenic charm and make at least two commissioners happy.)? The traffic from either direction would not have to stop, but rather would be routed onto 52nd Street for about a quarter mile. Breton Ave would not have to be built through saving money and stress on the environment.
Since we’re into round and rounds, maybe also put a round and round at the junction of Wing and 60th Street?
It’s also possible to make what would technically be just one round and round on 52nd to be more of a long rectangle, but traffic and civil engineers get paid a hell of a lot to figure out small details like that.

I probably won’t be able to be at the meeting but will forward this to several commissioners; might make for some interesting conversation, and actual planning..

Crimping Competition in the Bidding for Contracts.

This week the engineering and purchasing departments will ask us on the city commission to limit the number of firms invited to bid on certain contracts (those likely to come in under 75k  and subject to other payer requirements.) Our bureaucrats found five firms that they deemed “prequalified”  and so should be protected from the market place. We would be locked into this arrangement for 3 years in an apparent one sided contract with no reciprocal consideration. We give an awful lot and get nothing back.

 

The reasons presented for restricting the numbers of bidders include the claim that burdening bidders with the need to evaluate each proposal or of responding quickly to a request for a bid might discourage many from bidding since they would not be completely confident of having a good shot at success. But why should being in a cage fight with the same 5 competitors instead of two (or even the 16 who actually bid on the RFQ, see below) alter the incentive to submit a low bid?

 

I focused on how these 5 “in group” competitors were selected. The engineering and purchasing departments sent out a request for qualifications in which they solicited 1) the names and skills of key people, 2) detailed descriptions of previous projects, 3) sample reports and 4) subcontractor details of companies that might be interested in bidding on Kentwood engineering contracts. I don’t understand what or why these criteria were selected. Determining the names of owners, the reports written by, etc just moves the questions of one step upstream; how did those in our engineering and buying departments know that owner Jones was better than chief exec Smith? Or that the Digitup Firm had a better writer than did Tearitdown Firm?

Sixteen companies went through all sorts of trouble to reply. They lined up to bid for the Kentwood imprimatur in throngs, collecting and sending in the paperwork imputed to be an formidable burden by our bureaucrats. Many knew it would be futile.

On the Kentwood side, the selection of the lottery winners that our engineering and purchasing department seems sloppy; one right in the middle of the “elect” was Williams and Works, a favorite of the environmental enthusiasts in Grand Rapids and the one that I know to some extent. It seems that the president of Williams and Works had bragged in a Green Party infomercial published by the Grand Rapids Press about how much gas money he was saving because he had bought a Prius. In the comments, I pointed out that his Prius cost $10,000 more than a similar conventional car and would save 100 gallons of four dollar gas yearly. He would break even after 25 years, much of which he’d have to spend drinking coffee in a Prius dealership waiting to replace the expensive batteries in this jalopy. I ask, if the chief officer of Williams and Works can’t do simple math, can our city engineer trust Williams and Works lackeys to know about the radius of a curvature or even the difference between cement and concrete?  

The blunt truth is that the firms selected for special treatment were known to and favorites of the folks in City Hall. I can find no other reason for this outlandish proposal. It’s an attempt to limit competition. Notice that I didn’t say “cooperation,” or even “collusion.”

I’m going to vote against this attempt to rig the markets.

Prop 1-15 goes to the Wall, and Voters’ Lists are now Filtered.

One quarter of registered voters came out and they crushed Prop 1-15. The whining by the well-funded losers has started. M-live has already published one of their vapid editorials. Bridgemi pontificates on the choices that they deem the state legislators must consider. But no one has commented on the political implications of who came out to vote and what that means for politicians and future elections.

I’ll note that virtually every “professional” meaning leftist writer, teacher, academician and petty politician at the city and county level publicly supported Prop 1-15. The city commission in Kentwood voted unanimously to support with only Commissioner DeMaagd voicing any reservations. (I was not there for that meeting.)

I’d intuit that the arrogance of this snooty group infuriated the peasants who came out in droves to waylay this crude power grab by their betters. But the trashing that they inflicted on Prop 1-15 is just the short term casualty. The election created a list of voters who were probably fiscally conservative and who were motivated to react to the political highway robbery (really, I just now stumbled on this image) such as Prop 1-15. They will still be outraged by the affront for some years and may well want to punish politicians who aligned themselves with the ballot question. Anyone who has the funds can use the May ’15 voter list to efficiently contact and mobilize an electorate that is primed to help oust office holders who foolishly supported this political cock up..

Promoters of 15-1 see Some Solids; Getting Deeper as They Continue to Flush this Clogged Toilet.

Problems not mentioned in the soporific boilerplate surrounding this tax increase include;

Congress, the one in Washington, is close to passing law to help collect internet sales taxes. It will apply the tax at the rate in the sellers state. Internet sales will migrate to low tax rate states, and Michigan will lose whatever internet sales companies now present and forestall any new ones starting here.

The tax will cost each man, woman and child in Michigan 200 per year; Kentwood will contribute 10 million, but we are promised 4 million (tops) back. Not a good deal.

I did a 15 minute search of internet publications on what is presented to the citizens of nearby states about the state of their roads and infrastructure. Without exception I could find adjectives like the “worst roads” and costs of 3-500 dollars per car, the usual scary stuff. It’s interesting that so many can collect under the usually unique superlative like “worst.”

Lots of us Crowded into the Superlative and how we get Stoned for Adultery without the Pleasure

Stoned for Adultery without the Pleasure

A state notorious for being the only one with a population loss in the last census, where the dominant industry has migrated to backward Asia and its major city sacked by political opportunists, will probably suffer from a poor self image, an inferiority complex in which any claim for being the worst is likely to fluorish. So it is that the conga line of construction companies, politicians with their media enablers, civil engineer groups and other ectoparasites gain an audience with their campaign to tax us to support their road building projects.

I spent 15 minutes compiling the following internet sites using “Poor roads in State x.” I excluded articles over 5 years old.

Each of these articles cites damage to cars of 3-500 dollars per year, dangerous driving conditions, need for more tax dollars and the general poor condition of “infrastructure.”

Familiar themes on radio and tv? We buy into this nonsense because it makes us happy to be oppressed, to be the greatest victim. We need only pay more taxes to redeem ourselves.

Not much fun, you say, and you’re right. Think of it as being stoned for adultery without the pleasure.

Pennsylvania roads were rated worst overall by Overdrive magazine.  and http://www.tripnet.org/docs/Pennsylvania_TRIP_By_The_Numbers_Report_May_2013.pdf

http://www.theindychannel.com/news/report-poor-indiana-roads-cost-drivers-hundreds

http://indianaeconomicdigest.com/Main.asp?SectionID=31&SubSectionID=66&ArticleID=65335

http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/ohio/ohio-overview/

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/poor-road-conditions-cost-ohioans-billions-prompting-new-business-push-for-federal-highway–transit-investments-bill-119857199.html

http://newsarchive.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=164026

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-03-19/news/ct-met-illinois-infrastructure-report-card-0319-20130319_1_infrastructure-new-report-card-civil-engineers

  • and from Wisconsin; http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/wisconsin/wisconsin-overview/
  • Wisconsin has 11,095 miles of public roads.
  • Wisconsin has 13,539 miles of major roads, 21% of which are in poor condition.
  • Driving on roads in need of repair costs Wisconsin motorists $2 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $502.10 per motorist.