Americans are driving farther and longer than ever before, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. For 2017 through September, Americans drove 1.3% more — or 32 billion more miles — than in the same period in 2016.1 That’s equivalent to about 170 round trips between the Earth and the Sun. Other countries are seeing a similar trend.2 Economics are a contributing factor, such as lower gas prices and increased car purchases due to financing incentives. “The car is an incredibly powerful piece of technology that enables so many aspects of our lives,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “We’re driving more, also, because the car itself has changed our concept of distance — it’s changing our mental maps of the world.”
- Los Angeles tops the list of the most gridlocked global cities for the sixth year, in an annual study by transportation analytics company Inrix. Los Angeles drivers spent an average of 102 hours in traffic during peak times last year.
- Other cities where drivers spend the highest amount of hours in traffic, on average, are: Moscow (91), New York (91), Sao Paolo (86), San Francisco (79), Bogota (75), London (74), Atlanta (70), Paris (69) and Miami (64). The company crunched the data from 1,360 cities in 38 countries.
- U.S. cities made up 10 of the top 25 global cities with the worst traffic, making it the world’s most congested developed country.
Looking only at the United States, the rest of the top 10 cities with the worst traffic besides those that made the global top 10 are Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Seattle and Dallas. GeekWire points out that eight of the top 10 congested U.S. cities are vying for Amazon’s HQ2, leaving out only San Francisco and Seattle. That’s not surprising considering traffic tends to be far worse in big cities, and these are some of the biggest in the country. Amazon had specifically requested that applicants be large metropolitan areas of at least 1 million people.
Late last year Inrix had released another study showing that traffic congestion will cost U.S. commuters $295 billion in lost time, wasted fuel and carbon emitted over the next decade.
The new Inrix analysis has some of the same global cities on its top 25 most congested list as other companies’ congestion studies, such as one by TomTom released last year. But a lot of the cities on the lists are far different. TomTom ranked Mexico City number one for congestion, and the first U.S. city to appear on that list is Los Angeles, at number 12.
A number of factors can contribute to these kind of discrepancies, but mainly it all comes back to varying methodologies. These are not scientific, peer-reviewed research studies, they are merely different companies’ analyses of their own gathered data. Each company that produces one of these analyses could be using different data tracking devices and have a different number of devices in each city. For example, TomTom says its study is based on its own and its partners’ GPS measurements, whereas Inrix gathers data from numerous sources that include GPS, cameras and mobile devices. Some would argue that a lack of control groups or uniform datasets for comparison across all types of the many available traffic congestion studies reduces their overall accuracy and validity in making sweeping statements about individual cities’ rankings.
The cities under examination are also different in various analyses. For example, Inrix gathered data from 1,360 cities in 38 countries, whereas TomTom surveyed 390 cities in 48 countries. Although there is certainly overlap on some of those, these congestion studies and others clearly use different cities and sample sizes.
Despite the differences, one thing is evident across nearly all traffic congestion studies: Drivers in most cities consistently experience worsening traffic congestion and it’s affecting urban mobility. It also affects residents’ health, both from a mental and a physical perspective. And the economy takes a hit because of lost time and resources, not to mention economic dips if people avoid visiting businesses when they fear bad traffic along the way.
“If we’re to avoid traffic congestion becoming a further drain on our economy, we must invest in intelligent transportation systems to tackle our mobility challenges,” said Dr. Graham Cookson, Chief Economist at Inrix, in a statement.
“Mobility” is the buzzword of today. Everyone is hot for finding new ways to avoid the congestion trap that makes modern cities a nightmare. In the age of the horse and carriage, the average speed in central London was 3.5 miles per hour — about as fast as most people can walk comfortably. 150 years later, the average speed in central London is still 3.5 miles per hour. Cities are drowning in traffic as cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians vie for the same space at the same time. Is there no way to cut the Gordian Knot and free us from wasting half our lives crawling through traffic?
Many people have seized on the idea of flying cars and/or drones — airships that would whisk us from Point A to Point B quickly and cheaply. Don’t waste time in traffic, fly over it. Be happy. Life is good. Our own Nicholas Zart has covered this topic extensively here at CleanTechnica. “The glass is half empty” types — like myself — question whether taking all those people off the street and putting them into the skies will solve our urban congestion problem. Won’t we just wind up with congested skies instead of congested streets? But I digress.
Ehang Drone Completes Testing Protocol
Ehang, the Chinese company that brought its model 184 electric autonomous quadcopter to the Consumer Electronics Show in 2016, says it has successfully completed an exhaustive testing protocol. Over the past few months, the 184 has undergone over a thousand test flights, according to The Verge. It has completed a 300 meter vertical climb, transported a weight of 500 pounds, flown a 9.3 mile long test flight autonomously, and reached a top speed of 130 kph.
The 184 has also performed flawlessly in a variety of different weather conditions, including high temperatures, heavy fog, flying at night, and gale force winds. “What we’re doing isn’t an extreme sport, so the safety of each passenger always comes first,” said Ehang founder and CEO Huazhi Hu. “Now that we’ve successfully tested the Ehang 184, I’m really excited to see what the future holds for us in terms of air mobility.”
The Ehang 184 can carry a single passenger 10 miles — equivalent to a 23 minute flight. It takes off, flies, and lands autonomously. All the passenger needs to do is enjoy the view. A human pilot is available to take over control of the aircraft remotely if necessary. The company is working on a prototype with a carrying capacity of more than 600 pounds that will carry two passengers. It has permission from the FAA to test its autonomous flying vehicles in designated areas in Nevada.
Airbus Pushing VTOL Technology
Perhaps you think Ehang is a small time player that may or may not be able to transition to commercial viability, but Airbus certainly has the resources to see its electric air taxi plans through. It has created a dedicated teamed called Vehana to do the research and development needed to get into the game. Its first prototype — named Alpha One — has just had its Kitty Hawk moment. It only flew for 53 seconds while reaching a height of 16 feet but Wilbur and Orville started small, too, and look what happened to air travel after that! Like the Ehang 184, the Airbus Alpha One is completely autonomous.
The Airbus creation is a VTOL aircraft, which means it has wings to help it achieve stable flight once in the air. The wings and the attached electric motors pivot into a vertical position for takeoff and landing. Airbus envisions such craft being part of an autonomous shuttle service similar to the land based system Waymo is rolling out in Phoenix and other US cities this year.
Is The World Ready For This?
In prior stories about electric drones and aircraft, some CleanTechnica readers have questioned whether the noise generated by all those propellers beating the air will prove unpopular with the plebeians down on the ground. Anyone who has spent any time near an Army or Air Force base where helicopters are prevalent will relate to that concern. And as I mentioned above, crowded streets may be a drag but crowded skies could be downright frightening. Call me a Luddite, but I am firmly in the “We’ll see” category when it comes to airborne mobility solutions.
Smart Cities Dive 7 Feb 2018
- A³ by Airbus announced the first successful flight of Vahana, its electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL). On Jan. 31, the aircraft — known by the company as Alpha One — flew five meters high and then descended safely. The self-piloted flight lasted 53 seconds, and a second flight was completed later that day.
- “Our goal is to democratize personal flight by leveraging the latest technologies such as electric propulsion, energy storage, and machine vision,” Vahana project executive Zach Lovering wrote in a post on the project’s website. “Our first flights mark a huge milestone for Vahana as well as the global pursuit of urban air mobility.”
- Lovering said more flight tests will continue for Vahana, while the company has also chosen California-based MAGicALL as a new partner for its motors. MAGicALL designs and builds “custom, cutting-edge components,” Lovering wrote.
A 53-second flight by a flying taxi five meters into the air and then safely down again represents a significant step in the development of the technology. Aviation giant Airbus has spent more than two years on this project, which indicates concrete progress after the likes of Bell Helicopter showed off what flying taxis could be like in augmented reality at CES in Las Vegas earlier this year.
Flying taxis could help alleviate congestion on crowded city streets, if people become less reliant on traditional cars and ride-hailing apps and start to take to the skies to make trips. But if the technology really takes off, it could put even more of a strain on already-struggling city taxi firms that saw their profits eaten into by Uber and Lyft, while those same apps could see their business impacted with greater competition.
City leaders must think about the risks of having taxis flying among skyscrapers or other tall buildings, which could be disastrous if it goes wrong. The technology to prevent such crashes and keep flying taxis away from tall buildings will need to be foolproof or else we could see major disasters. Already, Uber is testing its uberAIR service in Los Angeles and Dallas — two cities with plenty of skyscrapers and major landmarks — so lessons learned there could be broadly applicable elsewhere.
And where will the flying taxis land and take off from in cities? Some cities are looking at replacing on-street parking spots with reserved pick-up and drop-off areas for Uber and Lyft, and city leaders would likely need to experiment with similar take-off and landing areas to ensure the taxis have enough space to do everything safely.