Pittsburghers Still Feel Safer Beside Self-Driving Cars Than Those Driven By Humans

Feb 6, 2019

Bike Pittsburgh released its second-ever survey on how Pittsburgh cyclists and pedestrians feel about sharing the roads with self-driving cars. 

The group's advocacy director, Eric Boerer, talked to 90.5 WESA's The Confluence just before the survey was released Tuesday. He said the death of Elaine Herzberg, who was struck in March by a self-driving Uber in Tempe, Ariz., last year, clearly affected the results.

"For the most part, people still feel pretty confident about the technology itself, but it really soured how they feel about Uber," and how the company handled its aftermath, Boerer said.

The survey, which includes data and excerpts from its 795 respondents, finds Pittsburghers still feel safer alongside self-driving cars than those driven by their human counterparts, but would support better policy that's more clearly communicated to the public. Just over 1,100 people responded to a similarly worded survey in 2017.

Erin Potts, director of marketing and community outreach with Healthy Ride, which operates the fleet of subscription and pay-as-you-go bicycles all around the city, said they work hand-in-hand with BikePittsburgh to help inform and prepare would-be bike commuters for local drivers and potentially unsafe situations. 

Hear the full conversation with Potts and Boerer on WESA's The Confluence.

Healthy Ride's headquarters is on Penn Avenue, just a few blocks from Uber's main campus and along the track where many autonomous vehicles are tested. Potts said they haven't received any specific complaints, but tends to point people to Bike Pittsburgh when incidents or concerns come up.

"We have a lot of frank conversations with residents in Pittsburgh on the regular," she said, "but we also run our own survey that asks our riders what their priorities are, and if they're not riding, why. And often times it's that they don't feel safe sharing the road with cars."

Boerer credits protected bike lanes for helping encourage growing interest in bike commuting. 

"People feel much safer whenever there is that physical separation," he said.

Bike Pittsburgh collects experiences and observations regarding autonomous vehicles year-round. Boerer said the group relays some to Uber, Argo AI and others when appropriate, as well as law enforcement if necessary.