A planner’s take on CA’s new EV news

A reporter reached out to ask my thoughts, using a transportation planning lens, on the news about the California Air Resources Board (CARB) plans to phase-out all new gas-powered vehicle sales by 2035. I emailed a response. None of it ended up in the story (which is fine, things change), but since I took the time to write it, I figured I’d post it here. Others are saying similar things to what I responded, but I think the more voices on this, the better.

The question was basically, do I think the plan is too aggressive, or alternatively, coming late considering “the state of things”. As they noted, multiple other countries have already pledged to do this, some on the same time horizon, some slightly faster. Here is my response:


I don’t think that, considering the urgency of climate change and the many detrimental aspects of our current economic and infrastructure systems, any move to end fossil-fuel dependency is too aggressive. Aggressive tends to connotate an antagonistic element, but we are all on the same side on the need to keep our cities and towns habitable. I was born and raised in rural northern California, and even as a child in the 80s, drought was something that was pervasive and talked about, particularly in an area with dying timber and ranching industries. The timeline is not particularly fast, either, considering how rapidly we need action, and how quickly the automotive industry already changes to respond to (or drive) demand for certain vehicles. Of course, many people have already raised the environmental problems that are not solved, merely changed, by electric vehicles, like the materials needed for batteries, disposal issues, and the large amount of pollution that comes from car brakes and tires, gas or electric. 

But even if you could wave a technological magic wand and solve those problems with EV today, a bigger concern is whether this focus on personal electric vehicles takes public resources that would be much better spent on investments in frequent, reliable public transportation between and within cities and towns, better walking and bicycling infrastructure, and land uses that remove the need to depend on vehicles – however they are powered – for every trip. The problem with private automobiles is that, even if they each don’t emit the same greenhouse gases, they will continue to contribute to the sprawling land use and longer distance and time travel behavior that is bad for us as individuals and communities. We know that, if people feel they are being more environmentally-friendly with an electric vehicle, they may actually travel MORE (a so-called “rebound effect”). Perceived or real reductions in personal fuel costs will also result in more travel. And having our communities spread out means more paved surfaces (bad for urban heat and run-off), longer response times for emergency services, more time in vehicles and away from family, friends, and healthy activities, more concrete and asphalt for roads (very polluting industries themselves), and so on. 

so, tl;dr – getting away from gas-powered vehicles is necessary, but not sufficient, for a better environmental future. The best outcome would be using the transition to invest heavily in the various types of public transportation that can serve communities from the small and rural to the large urban, while changing codes, standards, and laws to incentivize land uses that support not needing vehicles at all.

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Guidance for police traffic crash reports

On a typical day, over 100 Americans lose their lives in car crashes. That is like a commercial airplane falling out of the sky every other day. Yet there is little widespread public outcry about this significant and largely preventable loss of our loved ones, colleagues, and neighbors. Our research shows that news coverage of crashes may be partly to blame. However, our research shows that most journalists draw heavily from press releases when drafting articles. Thus, we are going upstream to you, the police. This handout offers 5 pieces of advice to help you improve press releases for crashes involving a person walking or biking. We suggest two areas for focus: word choice and reporting “just the facts.” We also include a Press Release template that you can use to report crashes. The full paper can be accessed here.

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Driver Attitudes about Bicyclists: Negative Evaluations of Rule-Following and Predictability [TRB conference paper]

Few studies have probed the role of attitudes in interactions between drivers and bicyclists. Research has shown that perceptions of situations or other roadway users may be a function of mode, and drivers do not treat all bicyclists equally. Most existing research on attitudes between drivers and bicyclists relies on surveys of bicyclists; little data exist on driver attitudes. The data presented in this paper are from a comprehensive evaluation of protected bike lanes in five large U.S. cities that included survey responses of 2,283 residents. In addition to questions about their travel behavior, respondents were asked about the rule-following behavior and predictability of “people they encounter in the street,” including drivers and bicyclists. Results showed that people who primarily commute by car are significantly more negative toward bicyclists than toward other drivers. People who make most of their non-commute trips by car were especially positive toward other drivers and negative toward bicyclists. Interestingly, while people who commute primarily by bicycle were more balanced in their evaluations than car commuters, they still rated drivers as more rule-following and predictable than bicyclists. Still, some amount of bicycling was one of the strongest predictors of more positive attitudes toward bicyclists. Overall, the analysis revealed significant negative evaluations of bicyclists, and even people who make some or most of their trips by bicycle hold negative attitudes about bicyclists’ rule following and predictability. These negative evaluations affected drivers’ view of bicycling as a transportation option and predicted whether drivers support building additional separated bicycle facilities.

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Vulnerable Road User Safety in the (Partially) Autonomous Age

A pdf of my slides on partial autonomy, the trolley problem (and its problems!), and safety related to vulnerable road users.

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Syllabus section on mental health and wellbeing

My current syllabus section on mental health and wellbeing. I’ve thought about expanding it, but I do think there are benefits of keeping it short and broad, partly because there are many aspects to it and partly because I am not a counselor. I welcome discussion or suggestions.

Dr. Goddard’s syllabus statement on mental health and counseling

Even in the best of circumstances, university can be isolating, frustrating, or demoralizing. Depression and anxiety are a) more common than you might realize, b) not something to be ashamed of, and c) can be helped with the right tools. Please know that staff at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, https://caps.tamu) are available to provide those tools or help connect you to other offices or community resources that would be the best fit for your unique situation. The University Advancement Fee covers most services at CAPS. Please reach out before you feel overwhelmed or get behind in your studies. We can work with it. We are here for your success in graduate school, and that goes beyond grades.

If you or someone you know is ever in a crisis, CAPS has crisis counselors available. M-F 8:00-5:00 Call —. After business hours and on weekends, call the Helpline at —- (V/TTY).

Practice self-care. Get enough sleep. Caffeine in moderation. Sometimes we venerate overwork in academia when we should be concerned about long-term health. You will be more productive and creative in the long run if you are healthy. Make sure to move frequently. Spend time with friends. Read good books (that aren’t for classes). Pick up a sport or hobby. Take work breaks to watch silly videos or email/call friends and family. I am working on this, too. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other.

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Vulnerable Road User Safety in the (Partially) Autonomous Age: Research Methods and Critical Issues

Seminar at UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies

April 12, 2019

Click HERE for the YouTube link.

Here is a PDF of the accompanying slides:

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New paper (accepted 13 May 2020): Unsafe bicyclist overtaking behavior in a simulated driving task: the role of implicit and explicit attitudes

 The novel methodology linked 105 respondents’ conscious and subconscious attitudes with a simulated driving task
 Nearly one-half of driving simulator participants “close passed” the bicyclist
 Negative attitudes toward bicyclists predicted passing distance, speed, and time-to-collision
 People with negative attitudes about bicyclists as legitimate roadway users had a higher
maximum speed while passing
 Self-identified cyclists passed at higher speeds, while people who bicycle at least weekly passed closer but more slowly

There is extensive literature into the mechanisms of injury in traffic crashes involving vulnerable road users (VRUs), but little research into the social or psychological factors in causation in these crash types. Attitudes and emotional associations can affect how people attend to objects in their visual environment and physical approach/avoidance responses, but few studies have extended these approaches into the road safety domain. Existing driving simulator studies of driver-bicyclist interactions have focused on driver behavior but not underlying attitudes and their effect on safety-related behaviors.

This research explored the impact of implicit and explicit attitudes on drivers’ behavior in interactions with bicyclists. In a driving simulator, various objective measures of safety (e.g., speed, passing distance, crash occurrence) were collected in an overtaking scenario. Participants’ self-reported attitudes about driving and bicyclists were collected via survey instrument, along with an online test of subconscious attitudes called an Implicit Association Test, developed to examine preference between drivers and bicyclists.

Importantly, this study examined not only distance, but duration and speed during overtaking. Results demonstrate that conscious attitudes affect how quickly and closely drivers overtake bicyclists. Participants who hold negative attitudes about bicyclists as a legitimate road user group passed significantly faster, while people with concerns about their knowledge or judgment about overtaking a bicyclist passed further and more slowly. Drivers self-identification as a bicyclist predicted higher passing speeds, while respondents who bicycle weekly drove closer but more slowly to the simulated bicyclist. These behaviors did not significantly differ based on the measure of implicit attitudes. The results of this study provide potential avenues for infrastructure and education interventions to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Additionally, pairing driving simulator behavior with attitudinal measures represents a significant methodological contribution.

Keywords: bicyclist safety; driver behavior; driving simulation; road safety attitudes.

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COVID-19 message to students

[NOTE: This is the note I sent to my students via our Learning Management System about our school closure and going to online teaching. It certainly isn’t perfect, but feel free to use and adapt if you want.]

Hi everyone – Ok, first, before we dive in, let’s take a collective deep breath. In through the nose . . . 2, 3, 4 . . out through the mouth . . . 2, 3, 4. I’m not being glib. If you are paying even a bit of attention, it is easy to end up with your shoulders up around your ears and your jaws clenched tight. Maybe that’s just me. But probably not. However, we are all in this together, things are gonna get weird, and we’ll figure it out. The most important thing is everyone staying as healthy as possible (physically and mentally), doing their part to keep from infecting each other, and knowing that the rest (credit hours, grades, defenses, etc) will get worked out in time. No one is getting penalized for what has officially become a global pandemic (which basically means a multi-country novel illness).

1. You should have received the news, but classes are canceled Monday and Tuesday, March 16-17. As of now, classes will resume on Wednesday, March 18. While A&M has not yet gone to mandatory online-only, I am going to teach my classes online starting Wednesday. This will be rocky at first, since converting to online teaching isn’t simple, and I’ve only got a week to figure it out. So I thank you in advance for your patience and assistance.

2. You’ll get more info from me by Monday about what going online means. At this time, I am expecting us to meet as a class at the normal class times. We will be using Zoom. If you have not yet claimed your free Zoom membership at tamu.zoom.us, do that now. We are going to see if video class will work, since I think that makes it easier to stay engaged. If the bandwidth isn’t there as everyone goes online, we will go to audio-only. There will be interactive parts. There will be discussion. It will be messy while we figure it out. But in the scheme of things, the challenges of going to online classes for a few weeks or the rest of the semester is small potatoes. Any time it starts to stress you out (or even before that!) feel free to reach out. 

3. If you are somewhere without a reliable computer and/or internet, let me know ASAP. You can also use Zoom on your phone, so be sure to download the app. 

4. If you have other issues (need for accessibility accommodations, housing/food challenges because of school/travel limitations, etc) and don’t know where to get help, please feel free to reach out and I’ll help you get connected to resources, the best I can;.

5. Don’t panic, but take the whole situation seriously. It isn’t just about protecting ourselves, it is about keeping each of us from becoming disease vectors that spread coronavirus to vulnerable people – older folks, people with illnesses or chronic disease or compromised immune systems, etc. It is about slowing the rate of sickness to keep our medical systems from getting overwhelmed. So do your best to follow sanitation and social distancing protocols, for yourself and others. If you need more resources on any of that, let me know.

Thanks again for your adaptability on this. We’ll try to have fun with the opportunities and challenges presented by online interaction for class, and we’ll figure it out.

See ya on the interwebs.

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Editorial Choices Affect Perceptions of Traffic Crash Responsibility

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The Structure and Function of Cities syllabus

Here is a link to my Fall 2019 syllabus for The Structure and Function of Cities. I completely revamped this class for this semester, drawing heavily from the Critical Pedagogies database ( https://criticalgeopedagog.wixsite.com/repository/urban-geography-1) and the advice and recommendations of my colleagues Amy Coplen, Dillon Mahmoudi, and Anthony Levenda. Feel free to use any of it that you want, and I welcome comments or recommendations for additional or substitute readings (the reading list starts on page 4).

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