In the midst of all of the handwringing amongst the public, and particularly, cyclists, about self-driving cars, comes news that a company is developing robotic trikes to be used in bike lanes to make deliveries in our urban centers. As one who tends to think that getting humans out from behind the wheels of cars is a good thing, given that they are prone to texting and talking on their phones, applying make-up, changing clothes, etc. while driving, I'm actually thinking that small delivery vehicles with the appropriate AI technology, will actually be a good thing. Likely they would reduce delivery trucks that are driven by humans (though perhaps not for long). Reports I have read have indicated that the trucking industry with actual human drivers may be ending in the next couple of decades as robots take over.
So, can a robot trike safely coexist with cyclists in bike lanes? Certainly I'd take extra care around one if I was traveling along next to it but I can tell you that I'm far more nervous around cars crossing over a bike lane as they try to merge onto 395 or homeless people along the Truckee River path who often behave erratically when walking, or crossing the path. I think I'll put my trust that whatever algorithm some programmer comes up with for these robotic delivery trucks over irrational human behavior.
The article is here but her is an excerpt:
Refraction AI, a robotic delivery startup, plans a lightweight delivery robot for both bike lanes and roads.
The company is the brainchild of University of Michigan professors Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan. eLab Ventures and Trucks Venture Capital are backing the company.
Recration AI is pitching its REV-1 as a low-cost, lightweight autonomous delivery robot.
“We have created the Goldilocks of autonomous vehicles in terms of size and shape,” said Johnson-Roberson, chief executive of Refraction AI.
“Our platform is lightweight, nimble and fast enough to operate in the bike lane and on the roadway, and we are tackling regional inclement weather patterns that inhibit or slow down other AV solutions,” he said.
But the cycling community is likely to object to autonomous vehicles operating in bicycle lanes.
“It’s a bit presumptuous for Refraction to claim they can operate in bike lanes. They would face a pretty big debate and permit process if they tried to operate in Portland,” said Jonathan Maus, publisher of BikePortland.org.
But Maus doesn’t reject the idea out of hand.
“If this is a more efficient and city-friendly way of doing last-mile delivery, I’m all for figuring out how to make it work,” he said.
The REV-1 is about the size of an electric bicycle. It is a tricycle and stands 5 feet tall, 4.5 feet long and 30 inches wide. It weighs approximately 100 pounds and can reach a speed of up to 15 mph.
The company said that makes it fast enough to make timely deliveries. Yet is still has a stopping distance of just 5 feet, far shorter than a delivery car or truck.
No doubt you've noticed the green paint being used to highlight potential car/bike conflict points in the bike lanes in certain areas of Reno. A nice addition that is a visual reminder to drivers to be looking out for cyclists. Years ago when I sat on the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the RTC we knew of a stash of this green paint existing but it never got used. Originally we were talking about using it along California Ave. in the uphill stretch where Keystone Avenue merges into the street as a way of highlighting the pinched and unsafe loss of bike lanes as you approach Newlands.
Not surprisingly a local news story was done by the right wing Fox/NBC KRNV that included a "viewer poll" asking if the green paint would make roads safer. The story itself was innocuous enough but the poll was just click bait for anybody who doesn't like cyclists getting in the way of them driving. But research shows that these kinds of visual cues for road users are more effective safety tools than just another sign on the road that gets lost in a driver's field of vision that warns that there might be actual cyclists using a bike lane. I guess you can't cure stupid.
I don't know how uniquely in a position I am to review the differences in ride quality of Roland Della Santa's bike frames. Truth be told, I know numerous people who own more than one of the master framebuilder's bikes. That says something in and of itself that owners come back wanting more, or something slightly different in the range of the DS frames.
My Della Santas are fairly distinct but only two are strategically so. My first, the Molteniesque orange was purchased in part with some money I received from my inheritance when my Grandma died. The idea of honoring her, and my love of good craftsmanship, seemed like a good idea. Roland built me a classic racing bike that he even claimed was the lightest frame he'd every built. The bike is custom fit and feels perfectly attuned to my body.
The most recent DS I purchased took the same geometry as the above but stretched the tire capability to 35mm (just barely). It has that nimble road race feel with a bit more rubber to feel more secure on a typical day of riding in Reno for me, which tends to include mostly pavement with a few diversions onto dirt roads. It's still underbiking on trails but quite capable for some light dirt/gravel action.
Strangely, the Blue Della Santa, a 1979 frame, spaced to 120mm in the back, bridges the experience of the other two. It takes a wider tire than the Orange one, and has a tight racy compact cockpit. It's also a bike that pushes me towards the big ring more than the others. It's smooth 5 speed friction shifting has a tendency to keep me focused on my spinning, as opposed to constant fine tuning of gear ratios. It also happens to feel fast and incredibly smooth. I picked this up for rather cheap from someone unloading it and eventually it might turn into my L'Eroica ride.
Below is a gallery of pics of then bikes over the last couple of years in action. Throwing a leg over any of them brings me intense joy.
Westfield village is a small neighborhood in Reno, Nevada, where we live and love the benefits of high desert life. Apparently the first "track housing" in Reno, the houses are generally small and there seem to be only a handful of similar model designs. Built in 1946, our house has a spectacular view of the Sierras from the front south facing window. Westfield is considered one of the most soft after neighborhoods in Reno. It isn't as high priced as the "Shire", and not as self-proclaimed trendy as Midtown. The beauty of Westfield Village is that it is designed to not be a thruway to any place other area, reducing traffic, it's an easy shot by foot or bike to the prettiest parts of the downtown river area, walking distance to a couple of great parks, and zoned for some of the best public schools in Reno. It's also close to many shops but lacks the unsavory things that for some reason make Midtown trendy.
I should say, my last Della Santa. This beauty of a frame was on display at NAHBS a few times. Silver metallic, and gorgeous. That Roland guy sure knew how to build a bike. I was lucky enough to pick it up and it marks my 4th DS. All have quite different rides. Two are custom, one is from 1979 and decidedly of that era. This one is modern (built in 2016) but built with L'Eroica in mind with the tire clearances and such.
The parts spec is, shall we say, quirky? It's exactly what I wanted and built around what (mostly) Campagnolo parts I had hanging around.
Veloce 10 speed derailleurs
Campy Chorus Crank/Record BB
Ritchey Carbon seat post
Ene Ciclio Friction Downtube shifters (more on that later)
American Classic 350 wheelset
Cinelli Eubios Handlebar
28mm Conti Gatorskin tires (for now?)
A quick ride review...since I've been putting it through its paces. The first DS I bought was a modern racing geometry custom fit and it still fits like a glove. No doubt about it it is a traditional Roland racing geometry bike, with precise handling. He told me a few years after building it that it was the lightest frame he had ever built.
The next DS was a used 1979 bike that is very quick handling, more criterium feeling, but spritely and fun even if, as a non-custom build, it is not quite as comfortable.
My other custom DS was built shortly thereafter having seen Roland's apprentice, Jake Barrett's, racing DS with a biplane fork and with clearances for 35mm tires. It was a sweet spot I thought I wanted for more road/dirt riding. Slightly longer stays but the bike is built around the custom specs of the first DS.
This last DS is an off the shelf L'Eroica style model and it slots in, in terms of handling, more on the modern side of things with a longer top tube and clearances for maybe a 32mm tire though I haven't tried it yet. It's a comfortable stage race style of racing bike with a bit of room for a wider tire like a road bike should have.
Essentially this has been my experience when I have put the last Della Santa through its paces on several rides. When I started climbing and needed an easier gear, a quick flick and the chain dropped into place. When I needed to crank it up on the flats or downhill...ditto. Yes, there was a bit of trimming from the big ring to the little ring on the crankset, but no more than with my modern click shifting groups.
So in the end, I built up a steel lugged old school L'Eroica style bike frame built by the late grandmaster of frame building, Roland Della Santa, with a modern silver 10 speed Campagnolo group, super light racing American Classic wheelset, downtube friction shifters, Brooks saddle, threaded fork, clipless pedals, and a carbon seatpost. Makes total sense to me.
A gallery of photos:
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Let me first say that the newly reconfigured intersection in the Booth/Keystone/California intersection is a greatly improved design, particularly for pedestrians. The wide sidewalks and "multi-use" path on the south side makes walking along that stretch a less harrowing experience. The fact that the bike lane along California Avenue heading east clearly enters the path with markings and green paint makes it an obvious spot for cyclists to continue up the little hill towards Newlands park and the Old Southwest, or "Shire."
After all, it wasn't that long ago that you would see something like this along this stretch of California Ave. Not exactly safe having a sidewalk that narrow and if you weren't fit enough to make it up the hill the only option was to do something like this.
So now the bike lane enters the widened path for pedestrians and cyclists going east. It's a safer option for cyclists for that stretch but unfortunately we now get to the....
As a cyclist continues up the hill as they reach the top and continue onto California and re-merge into the street and marked bike lane, there are no warnings or indications to drivers to expect to see cyclists exiting the widened sidewalk path. This is especially problematic if the cars are turning right onto Newlands Circle. My expectation is that most well-trained urban designers are going to know that one of the most dangerous conflict points for cyclists and automobiles is when cyclists ride on sidewalks and then enter the traffic lane. Given that this really is a widened and glorified sidewalk that cyclists are now expected to use, I expected that there would be some sort of indicator for drivers to mitigate this unsafe, and potentially deadly, conflict point.
The sequence of photos below illustrates this pretty clearly;
AND THE HEAD SCRATCHING....
As you enter this intersection from the north, along Booth Street and heading south, as a cyclist you have a clearly marked lane on the right. But here is the question...as a cyclist, if you want to head up the hill east on California, as a vehicle you should logically get in the left lane to make the turn onto California Ave. But then you are entering the auto traffic lane (which you are legally allowed to do even with the new multi-use path on the right). The problem is there is no access point as you make that left turn onto California Ave. to pop up onto the path. In order to access it you have to proceed straight across the east west lanes of traffic, backtrack a bit to the west, in order to find the green marked bicycle path entrance. The photos below, I think, highlight the conundrum.
The interesting thing about this is that as you approach the intersection traveling on Booth St., it is clear that the RTC expects cyclists on this stretch of road (hence the green marked bike lane). So why didn't they anticipate this rather odd situation to access the new bike infrastructure heading east. Many cyclists do actually use this intersection for just this purpose, me being one of them.
The above photo shows (if you look closely) the green access point for the path across California, on the south side of the street. But the left turn lane enters California on the far left side of the photo so a cyclist would have to ride diagonally across the intersection to make a pretty hard left turn from that angle, onto the bike path. Surely placing another ramp onto the path even 30 feet further east would make some sense in this situation.
As for now I will likely put in a query through Reno Direct to ask about this. But I believe it further illustrates the ways that the RTC or the City seems a bit impaired when it comes to making these kinds of pedestrian and bicycle improvements. Like the Midtown/Virginia Street redesign that so many pedestrians and cyclists pushed for something truly amazing and great and ended up with something better but rather "meh," this intersection at California is unquestionably better than what was there before. But it is obviously not completely thought out in terms of the way the urban space will likely (and legally) be used by cyclists even if a safer modification seems easily within reach.
Here's the PR blurb from the RTC relating to the intersection:
The California Avenue/Keystone Avenue intersection in Reno will reopen on Friday, August 9, at 7 a.m. with new, major improvements by the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County. The project improves safety and access for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians at this high-traffic intersection near Reno High School.
“These are significant, much-needed improvements the community identified in our Keystone Corridor Plan that will enhance the surrounding neighborhood,” said RTC Executive Director Lee Gibson. “These improvements provide better access, mobility and safety for all users.”
In addition to traffic-safety improvements and a new 10-foot multi-use pathway for bicyclists and pedestrians, the RTC widened sidewalks and added pedestrian ramps at the intersection to improve pedestrian safety and access for everyone in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The stairs connecting California Avenue to Foster Avenue were also reconstructed as part of the project."
I've been to a lot of art galleries over the years in many large and small cities and I've never been more impressed than when I walked into So-Oh Art Gallery in Lincoln, NE. Usually the 95%/5% rule applies especially in art galleries. Do you know this rule? Look at any collection of art, Top 100 Billboard albums this week, the top 100 films released in a given year, etc. 95% will be absolute crap, and 5% will have some merit. If you break that 5% barrier consider it a lucky break (which might be the case last year if you look at films--it's been a pretty good year).
Anyway, So-Oh Gallery breaks that ceiling handily. I'd guess that I'd be happy to have a third of the art hanging in my home. That's why I'm so pleased to have acquired this photo that has haunted me since the first time I saw it several years ago. Perfection by Barbara Abel is extraordinary but I'll leave this article to better describe the interesting history behind this series of mannequins. An excerpt:
You can see a good online gallery of the works at So-Oh here. Check out the Larry Welo and the Deborah Mae Broad.
For over 12 Years I wrote the Reno Rambler Blog covering everything from Bicycle Advocacy, Reno Politics, Popular Culture, and my experiences as a long-time cyclist.