81% of Toronto residents are willing to trade lower speed limits for safer streets, poll says

By Kate Allen, Toronto Star, 24 June 2017 

The poll also found that 80 per cent of respondents support a safe network of bike lanes across the city, and 69 per cent want to keep the Bloor St. bicycle lanes

A poll conducted by Angus Reid Forum in early June found that 80 per cent of respondents support a safe network of bike lanes across the city, and 69 per cent want to keep the Bloor St. bicycle lanes.
A poll conducted by Angus Reid Forum in early June found that 80 per cent of respondents support a safe network of bike lanes across the city, and 69 per cent want to keep the Bloor St. bicycle lanes.  (BERNARD WEIL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)  

“I think people understand what the city is trying to do, and that is create safer streets for everyone that allow for different modes of transportation,” said Mike Layton, the councillor for Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina.

“We all want to get home safely to our families or to our places of work or school at the end of the day. If it’s a matter of safety over convenience, I think you’ll find that most people agree that we need to make sure our streets are safe.”

Councillor Stephen Holyday warned that while lowering speed limits to reduce collisions usually sounds good in the abstract, these changes have to be considered carefully.

“If drivers and cyclists and pedestrians are collectively frustrated by increased controls and configuration changes, that raises the stress level and raises aggression,” which also affects behaviour and public safety, said Holydacy (Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre).

The poll, conducted by Angus Reid Forum over five days in early June, also found that 80 per cent of respondents support a safe network of bike lanes across the city, and 69 per cent want to keep the Bloor St. bicycle lanes.

Unlike the relatively uniform support for changes to speed limits, however, poll respondents in the downtown area were much more likely to support the Bloor bike lanes than those from the suburbs. Only 57 per cent of respondents in Etobicoke and 63 per cent in Scarborough said they wanted to keep the lanes.

The David Suzuki Foundation last year partnered with the advocacy group Cycle Toronto to support building a network of protected bike lanes, focusing on Bloor and Yonge Sts. and Danforth Ave.

The Bloor bike lanes are a pilot project running from Shaw St. to Avenue Rd. Council will debate in the fall whether to make them permanent.

Layton, whose ward hosts a big chunk of the Bloor bike lanes and who has been a vocal proponent of them, said he was impressed with the very high levels of support considering that the initiative is less than a year old.

Holyday understands his constituents’ disapproval of the bike lanes.

“Many of us realize that Bloor Street is a very important route in and out of the city. As routes are taken away from us in terms of their viability, we feel more and more isolated,” Holyday said.

“People do support bike lanes, including in my area. Where we run into trouble is where . . . automobile capacity is reduced in favour of bicycles.”

Younger poll respondents were more likely than older respondents to support the Bloor bike lanes and to say they were good for business, the poll also found.

The Angus Reid Forum poll, which surveyed 802 respondents, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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David Roberts, Vox excerpt, July 2017 on AVs

The closer self-driving cars get to full autonomy, the harder it will be to get drivers to pay attention. Even if cars can force drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, they might still zone out if they don’t have to actually make any decisions for thousands of miles in a row. Beyond a certain point, it might become safer for the car to just make its best guess about what to do rather than turn over control to a driver who is likely to be disoriented and out of practice.

Waymo wants to jump straight to full self-driving

North American International Auto Show Features Latest Car Models
John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, debuts a customized Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid that will be used for Google’s autonomous vehicle program at the 2017 North American International Auto Show on January 8, 2017 in Detroit.
Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Google ultimately concluded that partially self-driving cars were a technological dead end. Instead, the company set itself a goal to build a fully self-driving vehicle — one that was so reliable it would never need intervention from a human driver.

Urmson, the former Google engineer, believes that driver assistance and full self-driving are “actually two distinct technologies.”

“In a driver-assistance system, most of the time it’s better to do nothing than to do something,” Urmson said in an April talk. “Only when you’re really, really, really sure that you’re going to prevent a bad event, that’s when you should trigger. That will guide you down a selection of technologies that will limit your ability to bridge over to the other side.”

In contrast, Waymo is trying to build cars that never hand off control to a human passenger. That means the software has to be able to choose a reasonable, safe response to every conceivable situation. And it means building in redundancies so that the car can respond gracefully even if key components fail.

“Each of our self-driving vehicles is equipped with a secondary computer to act as a backup in the rare event that the primary computer goes offline,” Google wrote in a 2016 report. “Its sole responsibility is to monitor the main computer and, if needed, safely pull over or come to a complete stop. It can even account for things like not stopping in the middle of an intersection where it could cause a hazard to other drivers.”

Building software that can gracefully handle any contingency — and redundant, bulletproof hardware — is a much harder technical problem than building driver-assistance technology that counts on humans to handle tricky situations. But it also has a big upside: If the car never transfers control to a human driver, then it never has to worry about the driver being caught unprepared.

For now, Waymo does still have drivers behind the wheel, but these drivers are Waymo employees with special training on handling self-driving vehicles, who are presumably paid to continue paying attention to the road no matter how boring it gets. And in recent months, the job has been getting pretty boring. According to a regulatory filing, Waymo’s self-driving cars drove more than 600,000 miles in California and only had to hand over control to a human driver 124 times.

That works out to one disengagement every 5,000 miles, a four-fold improvement over 2015, and by far the best showing of any company testing on California roads. At that rate of progress, it’ll take a few more years for Waymo to surpass human levels of driving safety. If the California data is any indication, rivals like GM, Ford, BMW, and Mercedes have a lot of catching up to do.

While Waymo seems to be the clear leader in self-driving technology right now, the company is taking a big risk by trying to jump straight to full self-driving technology. Reaching the necessarily level of reliability — going from 99.99 percent reliability to 99.9999 percent, say — might take several more years. During that time, companies taking a gradualist approach could steadily gain ground.

One big advantage of the gradualist approach is that it can allow car companies to collect a lot of data, and many experts believe that having a lot of data is crucial for building successful self-driving cars. Waymo’s cars have driven more than 3 million miles on public road, providing the company with the raw data they use to tune their software algorithms. in contrast, Tesla has collected more than 1 billion miles of real-world sensor data from its customers’ cars. All that extra data could allow Tesla to make more rapid progress toward a goal of full autonomy, allowing it to eventually catch and surpass Waymo’s early lead.