Is the Cycling Safety Problem Due to Not Being “Smart” Enough?

As we zoom, apparently, toward self-driving vehicles, Sin City is working toward something closer to self-driving bicycles:

To prevent crashes, the City of Las Vegas has partnered with an analytics company to develop a smart bike that warns drivers when they approach.

The project is headed by a Boston-based company called Charles River Analytics and explores the possible safety gains from bikes that can communicate with wirelessly connected vehicles. Working out of Las Vegas’ downtown Innovation District, the company says its “Multimodal Alerting Interface with Networked Short-range Transmissions” (MAIN-ST) project was awarded a $750,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration for two years of research.

The idea, reported by “news and events in state and local government technology” online publication “StateScoop,” is that by hooking into the “smart” grid, bicycles, and the riders who sit upon them, can avoid trouble via “MAIN-ST” or “Multimodal Alerting Interface with Networked Short-range Transmissions”:

An example of such an incident is when a rider is pedaling to catch a light and can’t see a car passing through an intersection at the same time. With a MAIN-ST alert, the cyclist will not only know that a car is coming, but also know the direction it’s coming from.

And the presence of a bike, and the rider who sits upon it, can also be relayed to the “smart” car, and the driver who sits within it:

A bicycle’s location and speed are relayed to an oncoming driver while a computer attached to the bike’s seat tube processes algorithms and prioritizes alerts.

As we’re evidently not quite yet talking USB ports into the human brain (firewire, if a person is really intelligent), the prototype system interface is almost as quaint as a Victrola:

Cyclists receive the alerts via Bluetooth to speakers in the handlebars and to a mobile app.

Something to consider, Albuquerque cyclist, as you hurtle down MLK to Broadway, for example. Is it better to have alerts coming from your handlebars about potential red light running vehicles, or have you got enough ambient stimuli and things to think about without your handlebars beeping, or a Siri voice, soothingly, telling you “some asshole is running the red light”?

For now, such technology is merely in $750,000 federal grant stage. Nevertheless, the “StateScoop” story concludes with an assertion and unspoken question or two:

Transportation research and consulting firm BCG predicts there will be more than 12 million fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2035.

The questions are:

  1. Aren’t there more than 12 million vehicles on the road now?
  2. What will a nation with 12 million “fully autonomous vehicles,” yet countless more non-fully autonomous vehicles be like?
  3. Will I fly down MLK through Broadway on my “smart” bicycle any safer, or more confidently, if there are 12 million fully autonomous, yet countless more non-fully autonomous vehicles in the United States?

In an effort to ask more questions and have fewer answers at Better Burque, I will, with some effort, avoid answering the questions above. As a mental diversion to achieve this, I will instead close with this, completely unrelated, photo looking down the soon-to-be-abruptly ending bike lane on Lead as one approaches 2nd Street downtown.

Stay “smart” out there everybody…

lead overpass to 2nd bu




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