Anyone who has read The Daily Parker knows I desperately hope the US and Canada get over their suburban growth pattern psychopathy sometime before I die. Any actuarial table you consult will suggest the declining likelihood of that happening. Still, a guy can dream. (Or move to Continental Europe, I suppose.)
Thus my interest in these two stories today. First, from the New York Times, a report about the repeated failures of self-driving cars to operate safely in urban environments:
In San Francisco, more than 600 self-driving vehicle incidents were documented from June 2022 to June 2023, according to the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency. After one episode where a driverless car from Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, ran over and dragged a pedestrian, California regulators ordered the company to suspend its service last month. Kyle Vogt, Cruise’s chief executive, resigned on Sunday.
To handle the fallout, San Francisco has designated at least one city employee to work on autonomous car policies and asked two transportation agencies to compile and manage a database of incidents based on 911 calls, social media posts and employee reports.
Last year, the number of 911 calls from San Francisco residents about robotaxis began rising, city officials said. In one three-month period, 28 incidents were reported, according to a letter that city officials sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Waymo said it had rolled out a software update to its cars in October that would let firefighters and other authorities take control of the vehicles within seconds.
My surmise from 30 years of writing software professionally and dealing with non-technical executives is simple: they rushed technology to market before it was ready (which is nearly universal), but this particular technology can kill people (which is very rare).
Another thing: self-driving cars don't add much at all in places that have adequate public transit. (By "adequate" I mean Chicago and New York, not Amsterdam, which has really amazing public transit.)
Speaking of non-technical executives rolling something out over the objections of engineers, Wired reports that the City of New Orleans tried to dole out licenses for short-term rentals like Airbnb through a lottery:
The plan was simple: Carve up the city into blocks and use a hand-cranked lottery machine to draw numbers, allowing one rental property per residential block. For the winners, the prize was a license to keep listing their property on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. For the losers, despair.
But the controversial rules, enacted in March 2023, led to just one lottery before being temporarily halted by a federal judge in August. As the city awaits a final decision, short-term rentals in New Orleans have been left in limbo. The city has said it is no longer accepting applications for the short-term rental licenses it requires hosts to have, nor is it renewing existing ones. And, until the court makes a final ruling, the lottery balls have stopped spinning and the city has halted enforcement of its latest licensing rules.
I'm now living in the third consecutive housing development that bans short-term leases, and in fact as president of my last HOA I proposed the bylaws change to extend the minimum lease period to 6 months from 3.
I don't think Airbnb is bad, necessarily. In Chicago, with our 6% vacancy rate and pretty reasonable house prices for a city our size, we can absorb a few thousand Airbnb units. But in many cities, where zoning has created a housing crisis, Airbnb makes things worse by taking units off the market.