Monday, July 25, 2016

safety news: County Receives Approvals for Pedestrian Crosswalk on Washington Road in Princeton

It's taken almost 2 years, but finally:

"Mercer County has received approvals from the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission 
to install a crosswalk and pedestrian-activated beacons at the Washington Road crossing, 
a crossing heavily used by pedestrians and cyclists. 

"The approvals were necessary due to the proposed crossing's proximity to the Delaware and 
Raritan Canal State Park Towpath and the potential visual impacts on the elm allee. The State 
Historic Preservation Office, Princeton Historic Preservation Office, and Princeton University all 
had to sign off on the project as well. 

"The work will be done by the Mercer County Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. 
Officials said the crosswalk, as well as flashers on posts and the road, will be installed by the end
of this year."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

White Bikes, Big City - the ongoing Matthew Von Ohlen case

Matthew Von Ohlen was riding in the bike lane in Williamsburg on Saturday 
when, according to police, a motorist intentionally slammed into him. Von Ohlen
was killed and the driver fled the scene. The NYPD responded the following 
morning by issuing summonses to cyclists on the same block for running red lights. 

According to the NYPD and video footage of the crash, Von Ohlen did nothing wrong. 
[...] Yet officers from the 90th Precinct were out the next day summonsing cyclists
and passing out pamphlets about their obligations and responsibilities. 

"This is a particularly egregious example of the NYPD's skewed priorities when it comes
to traffic enforcement, and of the victim-blaming mentality that pervades the department,"
said Paul Steely White, the director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement today.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

open door, open loop: self-driving cars in an age of self-interest

Glimpses of the future can sometimes be seen in Princeton, despite its preoccupation
with the rear-view mirror. A recent example is the new valet parking service, operated
by Newtown-based Open Door Valet. More info on the company and its owner here.
The town stands to collect 6% of any revenue from this license arrangement. Parking
valet service is available "in front of Heinz Plaza" which most of us know as Hinds Plaza.

In the article How Driverless Cars Can Reshape Our Cities, Professor Alain Kornhauser
says "The biggest impact is going to be on parking. We aren't going to need it, definitely
not in the places we have it now. Having parking wedded or close to where people spend
time, that's going to be a thing of the past. [...] The current shopping center with the sea
of parking around it, that's dead." [  A sea of parking ... and of curbing made of "setts" ]

Kornhauser has led an effort to make New Jersey a research hub for driverless cars, and
has published widely on the topic of shared autonomous taxi networks, or vehicle fleets.
His proposal to create a Center for Automated Road Transportation Safety (CARTS) at
Fort Monmouth, the former Army installation, may lack high-level political support, though.

The enabling technology for driverless cars has been the recent confluence of three factors:
powerful graphics processor hardware, artificial intelligence "deep learning" algorithms, and
"big data" for efficient training of the robotic systems. As explained here, the architecture of a
graphics processing unit (GPU) is a very good match for the highly parallel requirements of
so-called "biologically-inspired multi-layer perceptrons" aka convolutional neural networks.

Decades ago, groundbreaking research in this area was published by John Hopfield, who
has spent most of his career at Princeton University. Collaborative research at Bell Labs in
Holmdel launched in the 1980's eventually led to character and voice recognition products;
the legacy of this neural network research program and scientific talent is carried on at Nvidia,
a leading vendor of GPU silicon. They've installed a research team in what is nowadays known
as Bell Works, the huge/famous building formerly home to Bell Labs on Crawfords Corner Road.
Here's a link to Nvidia's paper End to End Learning for Self-Driving Cars and the related video.

A provocative article "Makers of driverless cars want cyclists and pedestrians off the roads" is here.

The sentiment is that driverless cars will improve the safety of our roads. But in a likely setback for
the technology, the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) has launched a
probe into the fatal collision of a Tesla and an 18-wheeler rig, in Florida around seven weeks ago.
In this accident, which featured poor decision-making by Tesla's "Autopilot" controller - a mode which
had been banned in Hong Kong - and by the human drivers, both of whom sported safety violations,
the Tesla became instantly and literally driverless when it failed to notice the low clearance of a trailer
across its path on the highway. Tesla's Autopilot feature depends on "public beta testing" and is
never reviewed by regulators -- "highlighting what some say is a gaping pothole on the road to
self-driving vehicles: the lack of federal rules".

Meanwhile, a recent article asked Can a 700 M.P.H. Train in a Tube Be for Real? about the Hyperloop
project launched by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Princeton University has joined five other schools 
(Cornell, Harvey Mudd College, Memorial University, Northeastern University and the University
of Michigan) in the OpenLoop Consortium, competing against other collegiate teams at the
SpaceX test track in Hawthorne, CA. More info

NY Times' Silicon Valley correspondent and avid bicyclist [link] John Markoff, in his latest

             "People say that one day, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, they'd like 
             to be passengers in self-driving cars that are mindful machines doing their
             best for the common good. [...] A new research study, however, indicates that
             what people really want to ride in is an autonomous vehicle that puts its
             passengers first. If its machine brain has to choose between slamming into a
             wall or running someone over, well, sorry, pedestrian."

The article quotes Harvard psychologist Joshua D. Greene, who, when a
grad student at Princeton, had  legendary ethicist Peter Singer, author
of How Are We to Live? Ethics in an Age of Self-Interest as well as
the somewhat bike-related Is Doping Wrong?, on his thesis committee.

The article in The Guardian puts it as follows "... designers of future driverless 
cars find themselves in a moral maze from which there is no easy way out". Or
per the headline in Spectrum magazine's articlePeople Want Driverless Cars
with Utilitarian Ethics, Unless They're a Passenger.

The NYT article mentions that study of "the trolley problem" got its start in 
1967 with Philippa Foot, a British philosopher who also had a Princeton
connection: her mother, born in the White House, was a daughter of
Grover Cleveland. Trolleyology, "a neologism ... shorthand for a flourishing
cottage industry in a well-known philosophical dilemma: should you push a fat
man onto a track to save five innocent people from being hit by an oncoming
railway trolley?" is from a book by NYU's Kwame Anthony Appiah during his years
at Princeton U. Appiah's quote "My philosophy is that everything is more complicated
than you thought" stands in contrast to Facebook's "move fast and break things".

By way of a postscript about current events, click here to watch a 30-second
video of Brexit "Leave" proponent Boris Johnson being booed and blocked by
cyclists. Johnson, the former mayor of London, made his city more bike-friendly.
Economist/commentator Paul Krugman would normally have much to say about
Brexit's ramifications, but was away on a bike trip near the Vermont/Quebec border.

Friday, May 20, 2016

EVENT - 18th annual Cory's Ride on Saturday, June 4

Cory's Ride is always a fun event.  As evidenced by my collection
of colorful T-shirts, some of which no longer fit me, I've participated
quite a few times over the years. The 'same day' registration fee is $35.

  • A ride to benefit the Anchor House Cory C. Golis Memorial Scholarship Fund. 
  • A time to meet and socialize with friends and other bike riders. 
  • A day to remember and honor Cory Golis. 

In case you need more motivation, I'd add the following aspects

  • the event venue is nowadays Rosedale Park, off of Federal City Road. This 
         makes it possible to ride to the start/end location. I might just decide to do this
         versus driving, esp if the weather is fantastic. Until a few years ago, start/end was
         at Tall Cedars Picnic Grove, with access to some very nice roads, but distant.

  • Rosedale Park is also one of the usual start/end locations for an outing on the Lawrence-
         Hopewell Trail (, so this is a convenient way to learn about that jewel.

  • Cory's Ride is closely affiliated with Anchor House where, as you probably know,
         Tim Quinn has been involved in a leadership role. So Cory's Ride will allow you to
         ride alongside Tim and discuss cycling-related or other issues of concern, as he
         is running for Town Council this year - the primary election is the following Tuesday.

Learn more about the event at the links below.

Map - Rosedale Park, directions to/from Princeton

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

author of "The High Cost of Free Parking" is on WHYY at 11AM today

Today on "Radio Times",  Mary Cummings-Jordan speaks with parking guru Donald Shoup. 11AM - noon.

 Are parking spaces poisoning our cities? According to our guest DONALD SHOUP, deemed the "parking guru" by many of his peers, an overabundance of parking spaces can lead to increased traffic, harm to the economy, and can even exacerbate poverty. In this hour of Radio Times, guest host Mary Cummings-Jordan speaks with Shoup about his years studying the humble parking space. They'll also discuss his efforts to persuade city planners to think differently about cars and urban design, and how this might impact city denizens across the globe. He is the author of The High Cost of Free Parking. - 

See more at: Radio Times | WHYY

Recently in the New Yorker magazine, a long article about recycling and plastic bags etc.

The Bag Bill  - Taking action on a ubiquitous ecological blight.

The article is by Ian Frazier, author of "Travels in Siberia" and many other wonderful books.

"The Specialized Foundation uses cycling as a tool for children to achieve academic and social success. 
Over the past few years, we've worked with schools across the United States to create a comprehensive cycling program, and to support research on how cycling can positively affect student learning, health, and well being—with a particular focus for those with learning differences such as ADHD. 

"For the next academic year, we'll select up to 10 schools to be part of our Riding for Focus program, with the potential to impact over 900 students. This is an ambitious goal, and we're looking to partner with equally ambitious schools to make this happen and help advance the mission of the Foundation. The selected schools will receive extensive support, training, and equipment, with the aim of creating a lasting cycling program in each of these schools. Riding For Focus is designed for students in the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth grades."

Finally, take note  -    this Saturday, 10AM - 2PM, a fundraiser car wash to be held at the Harrison Street fire station:
Princeton High School's Odyssey of the Mind Team #1 successfully met the challenge of designing a vehicle powered by a human propulsion system (other than pedaling) to place first at the State Finals in Ewing, winning a bid to the World Final Championship at Iowa State University May 25-28.