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Development & Transportation

No Blocked Intersections, No Pittsburgh Lefts. BikePGH Survey Finds Cyclists Like Autonomous Cars

Gene J. Puskar
A self-driving Uber car drives across the Ninth Street Bridge in downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016.

A Bike Pittsburgh survey from earlier this month found that about half of local cyclists approve of self-driving cars on city streets.

The advocacy group launched the survey in an effort to find out how cyclists and pedestrians felt about the driverless technology and about 800 people weighed in.

“There were a lot of people who took the survey who were just like, ‘We cannot get rid of human drivers fast enough,’” said Eric Boerer, Bike Pittsburgh advocacy director. “Humans are really bad at handling vehicles.”

Borer cited the more than 30,000 vehicle-related deaths that occur in the U.S. each year

“The bar is pretty low for these AVs (Autonomous vehicles) to reach in order to be safer than humans,” he said.

Pittsburgh has been named a national test site for self-driving cars, with Uber and Ford publically testing their technology here. Several other Pittsburgh-based companies are also working on autonomous vehicle technologies.

More than two-thirds of respondents said they feel self-driving cars would make the road safer.

The results of the Bike Pittsburgh survey run contrary to a recent national study from AAA that found most drivers would not like to ride in a self-driving car.

“The survey was more of an indictment of local drivers,” said Boerer. “People were overwhelmingly more comfortable and felt safer sharing the road with autonomous vehicles than they did with human drivers.”

Boerer said several respondents noted that the self-driving cars obeyed the speed limit, they don’t text, they didn’t make the infamous “Pittsburgh lefts” and didn’t block intersections.

However, not all of the responses were positive.

The survey found more than 70 percent of bikers and walkers think there should be more laws regulating the testing of the autonomous vehicles and many were concerned about being passed by the self-driving cars.

“We did see some where autonomous vehicles didn’t seem to be passing with the state required 4 feet,” Boerer said.  “That seemed to be a common thread, but we did see a lot where they did pass with the 4 feet.”

Boerer said it’s also impossible to tell when a car is driving itself and when a driver has taken over the controls.

“Regardless, when people see that thing on top, we’re automatically going to assume it’s driving under autonomy and, if not, the driver should probably be held to a higher standard and actually follow those rules of the road,” he said.

Bike Pittsburgh will continue to collect comments from the public on interactions with autonomous vehicles. Borer said many respondents said they’d like to see Uber provide a similar feedback mechanism.

Uber spokesman Craig Ewer did not respond to that request directly, but in an email said, “We look forward to working with the cycling community to make our streets safer.”

Boerer said his organization has not discussed the results with Uber. Ewer added, “The Uber ATG (Advanced Technology Group) has a strong working relationship with BikePGH and is a business member of BikePGH.”

The full results of the survey can be found at Bike Pittsburgh’s website.