Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Big Data, Robot Cars, and Mission Street/OR-22 Study at Oregon Transportation Commission

ODOT's board, the Oregon Transportation Commission, meets Thursday and Friday this week in Silverton, and there are several interesting items on the agenda. And there's a bit of a theme: Big Data.

Maybe too much highway because it's simpler...
What about an urban environment with many different road users?
And what are the privacy implications?
The main course on the agenda is a half-day workshop before the main meeting the following day:
Emerging Trends: Innovation, Technology and Sustainability Develop understanding of the potential implications of emerging transportation technologies and explore how they relate to Oregon transportation policies. (4 hours, facilitated by ODOT Transportation Development Division Administrator Jerri Bohard, JLA Associates, Inc. President Jeanne Lawson; Global Technology Leader of Advanced Mobility Systems Brian Burkhard and Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc. Senior Project Manager Kristin Hull.)
This hints at the regulatory capture we are beginning to see with robot cars. It's outside consultants boosting for the products and contracts they hope to secure and see in wider acceptance. (And is Big Data serving us? Or are we being packaged and serving Big Data? The graphic is rightly, but perhaps unintentionally, ambiguous about surveillance capitalism and its use on the roadways.)

But the uncertainty bars here are so big that it mostly looks like a raft of BS packaged up as techno-sales!

On both axes there's a lot of fudge factor!

Active Transport leans "negative"

If AT leans "negative," how is Equity positive???
Who will be able to afford robot cars?
The presentation looks like it uses public bikes and scooters to greenwash and score a few minor points, but on the whole it's about robot cars.

Maybe those who have followed the "Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles" will have more insight and be able to draw deeper connections between this presentation and the Task Force's work.

But it looks more alarming than reassuring.

Seemingly more minor, one of our leading firms of surveillance capitalism wants an easement for fiber optic cable and does not want to involve an ISP, who might normally provide the connections and infrastructure:
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was approached by representatives from Facebook who are seeking to place fiber optic cable in state highway ROW to improve connections to its Prineville data centers. ODOT sees an opportunity to leverage this proposal to expand agency communications capabilities , serve the growing needs for connected infrastructure and also improve broadband connectivity for communities across the state.

The initial scope of Facebook’s deployment will be from Chemult to Prineville along U .S. 97 and other state highways. DOJ provided advice that ODOT may allow Facebook to install fiber in ODOT’s right of way in exchange for access to fiber and services that are at least equal to the fair market value of the use of the right of way. ODOT believes that, as the need for broadband communications becomes more crucial to ODOT operations, the value of the fiber access has the potential to far exceed the value of access to ODOT right of way.
Maybe there's really something in it for ODOT and the citizenry, but who would blame anyone for being suspicious?

The final, final plan
In an interesting delay, the OR-22/Mission Street Study is finally being presented. I'd thought this wrapped up some time ago, but apparently there were additional mobility targets that needed to be developed and approved. ODOT also needed to sign off on a wish list project.
Analyses going back to 2006 have documented that this corridor (especially the portion west of the Interstate 5 interchange) is severely congested and that meeting OHP Mobility Targets would be difficult without major and expensive improvements. These potential improvements would also be limited based on land uses adjacent to the corridor, such as the Salem McNary Field Airport, that would preclude certain major projects that could potentially result in mobility targets being met.

Additionally, the city and county have long supported construction of an interchange at the current grade-separated crossing of the highway at Cordon Road. This interchange would, in the city’s and county’s opinion, greatly improve the marketability of the Mill Creek Corporate Center, a large mixed use business park being developed by the city in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Administrative Services south of the highway. The local jurisdictions also feel that this new interchange would improve Cordon Road as an alternative parallel route to Interstate 5 in the Salem metropolitan area. ODOT initially objected to inclusion of the interchange in the facility plan because operational analysis showed no significant benefit to the state highway system. After further discussion, ODOT agreed to assist the city and county in preparation of a study to determine if an interchange could be justified based on measures other than traffic operations (such as accessibility, mobility, economic development, etc.). After completion of the Cordon Road Interchange Study, ODOT agreed to support inclusion of a Cordon Road interchange in this facility Plan with the understanding that it would be a local agency funded project.
I don't understand how "alternate mobility targets" (or regular targets and their volume/capacity metrics, for that matter) operate in the regulatory environment - when they must be developed and deployed, and whether a legal challenge could be mounted about meeting or not meeting mobility targets. From here they seem rather slippery, invoked when it is convenient, but not in a consistent manner. There's an element of sophistry to them.

Remember how the word "implement" operates in a very slippery way? (Here on equivocation and here on the legal ruling affirming equivocation.)

V/c ratios - a key metric for hydraulic autoism - seem to operate in similarly slippery fashion. Sometimes agencies are passionate about evaluations with them, sometimes not.

Elaborate stair-stepped or chained alternate analysis
Here's an elaborate justification for not meeting the v/c ratios of 0.85 the Mission Street corridor is supposed to meet. Instead, it looks the study is mostly going to go by 0.95, and through some additional rigamarole they find only two intersections that will need mitigation relative to 2035 projections.

More generally, it's time to scrap these v/c metrics and look at the movement of people rather than counting vehicles. We have already seen how an outdated allegiance to them has horsed up the State Street project.

So all that's a little interesting as far as a theory of hydraulic autoism goes, but maybe more directly interesting is the proposal for a full interchange at Cordon/OR-22.

Again, originally ODOT did not support it.
ODOT initially objected to inclusion of the interchange in the facility plan because operational analysis showed no significant benefit to the state highway system. After further discussion, ODOT agreed to assist the city and county in preparation of a study to determine if an interchange could be justified based on measures other than traffic operations (such as accessibility, mobility, economic development, etc.).
It's important to underscore this: If the City was not trying to market and develop the Mill Creek Corporate Center, this proposed interchange would not be adopted in any plans. The interchange, for however many millions, will be a subsidy for the Center.

Remember this?
We already hand out Enterprise Zone property tax abatements and are building other roads and infrastructure to service the site. Additionally, it seems to be warehouses more than anything else going in, and many of the jobs initially created will be replaced by robots in the near future, so investments here are not always going to enduring jobs.

The City should publish a detailed analysis of all the subsidy the Center is getting, the expected property tax revenue, and show in detail whether the Center will in fact ever pay for itself, and if not, why such a large total subsidy remains valuable to the citizenry.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the graphs you selected from the OTC presentation:
For the Transportation Options slide, Autonomous Vehicles will likely have a negative impact on 'Active transportation choices' due to the assumption that under a MaaS (Mobility as a Service) scenario, the price will be low and they will be available for all people and all times. Thus people would choose AVs over other options for those reasons.

AVs could have a positive impact on 'Active transportation choices' due to increased compliance with existing traffic laws (less speeding, possible reduction/elimination of left/right hooks) and the (possible) reduction in parking and travel lanes (allowing them to be reused for sidewalks, bike lanes, e-scooter lanes etc.) due to how AVs could operate (either in a MaaS scenario or otherwise.

So, for the Equity slide, the consultants seems certain that AVs will be beneficial in providing more options for mobility to all people at a lower cost than is currently possible. This is likely again due to a MaaS sceanrio with full electric AVs that result in a low cost/mile that is passed on to the traveling public.

Of course, this is just me looking at two slides and trying to reconcile them with all the reports I've read. If the OTC streams the workshop we can find out what the consultants actually meant.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

That is a likely reading! Thanks.

A Maas model probably does not sufficiently account for the problems caused by an increase in VMT. (A different chart in the OTC presentation does show a "negative" for VMT.)

Its techno-utopianism also overestimates the value of microtransit and underestimates the value of fixed-route transit.

Anyway, there will be lots more debate and analysis in the months and years to come.