Can Self-Driving Vehicles and Bikes Coexist?

Plus, West Seattle neighborhoods rally for a light-rail line, and more in our weekly New Starts. 

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Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Can Self-Driving Vehicles and Bikes Coexist? Minneapolis Is About to Find Out
Minneapolis is one of the few cities in the country with an in-city “bike freeway”: the 5.7-mile Midtown Greenway, most of which runs along a grade-separated former railroad right-of-way that cuts across the southern part of the city.

The community and bicyclist groups that pushed for its creation have also advocated running a streetcar line through the right-of-way. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, but mass transit is coming to the Greenway in the form of driverless mini-shuttles, at least for a few days.

According to a report on Gear Junkie, a news site for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, the “EasyMile” autonomous minibus being tested by the Minnesota Department of Transportation will spend Earth Day weekend scooting back and forth along a three-block section of the Greenway’s bike path that pedestrians also use.

EasyMile’s French manufacturer says the electric-powered vehicle can operate safely in mixed pedestrian and bike traffic. Although Hennepin County officials note that the vehicle can reach a top speed of 25 mph, it will go no faster than 12 mph on its April 20-22 test run.

As it did during Super Bowl LII weekend, when it ran along Nicollet Mall, the EasyMile minibus will follow a premapped route in one lane of the bi-directional bikeway. A human operator will be stationed on board to take control should anything go wrong.

Minnesota DOT has been putting the EasyMile through its paces since late fall, testing it on a closed track to see how well it would operate in Minnesota winters. The Super Bowl service marked the first time the agency used it to carry real people. Should this test prove successful, it’s likely we may see the self-driving shuttle buses using the Greenway to improve connectivity with other rapid transit services in south Minneapolis. As Midtown Greenway Coalition Director Soren Jensen told Gear Junkie, “We pretty much always support improvements to public transportation. Better it be an autonomous shuttle to the light rail or rapid bus than driving their cars, right?”

West Seattle Neighborhoods Rally for a Light-Rail Line
“It ain’t over ‘til it’s under.” That adaptation of a Yogi Berra-ism was the rallying cry of Tysons Corner commercial interests who fought to put the Washington Metro Silver Line in a tunnel through the huge edge city just beyond the Capital Beltway in Virginia.

(Photo by Oran Viriyincy)

They didn’t win that battle, but over in that other Washington, residents of the northwest Seattle neighborhood of Ballard may want to dust off that slogan as their own rallying cry.

The My Ballard news site reports that two neighborhood groups, the North Seattle Industrial Association and the Coalition of Magnolia, Queen Anne and Interbay Neighborhoods, have formally endorsed a proposed alternate route for a northwest light metro line that’s part of the Sound Transit 3 package of LRT extensions.

The line ST plans to build as of now would operate on an elevated structure once it leaves a proposed second downtown subway tunnel at Seattle Center, then on the surface along 15th Avenue Northwest, then climb skyward once again to enter Ballard via a moveable bridge over Salmon Bay. The alternate route first surfaced on a 2016 map showing possible routes for and likely progress of the northwest extension.

The two groups argue that moving the line westward to an elevated structure over more lightly-used 20th Avenue Northwest, then putting it in a tunnel under Salmon Bay to an underground terminus in Ballard, would be less disruptive of business and offer greater flexibility in planning future extensions to the north and west.

Sound Transit’s track record on tunneling has to date proven better than that of the Washington State Department of Transportation, which finally celebrated the completion of tunneling for a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct along the central Seattle waterfront this past fall. That was nearly two years later than scheduled thanks to an unfortunate mishap shortly after work began. But Sound Transit has been criticized for its own construction delays and lowballed cost estimates, so there’s likely to be pushback against any proposal that would add significant cost to the extension, as this would.

Area residents have until March 5 to voice their opinions on the proposed extension’s route.

Moscow Cuts Ribbon on New Metro Extension
Metro Report International reports that Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin formally opened an extension of the city’s newest metro line on Feb. 26.

The 10.5-km (6.5-mile) segment will be operated as Metro Line 11 for the time being. The five-station subway runs from Delovoy tsentr, where interchanges with Lines 4 and 8a are available, to Petrovsky Park, an interchange station with Line 2. Line 8a also operates in this tunnel.

A further one-stop extension set to open later this year will take the line to Ninjaya Maslovka, which will be an interchange station with Line 9.

Most of this tunnel will be incorporated into a new 69-km (42.9-mile) Line 11 belt subway around the city. The section from Khoroshevskaya to Ninjaya Maslovka will become part of that line along with an existing 3.3-km (2.1-mile) segment south of central Moscow from Khakovskaya to Kashirskaya currently labeled Route 11a. When Line 11 is completed in 2023, the segment from Khoroshevskaya to Delovoy tsentr will be operated as a branch line until it is joined to a planned Line 13 in 2025.

L.A. Metro Purple Line Begins Second Push Westward
City, state and federal officials in Los Angeles marked the official start of construction of Section 2 of the Purple Line Extension with a ceremonial groundbreaking Feb. 23, Railway Track & Structures reports.

(Photo by Jacob G.)

This second segment of the project that will ultimately take the city’s first subway line to Westwood and the UCLA campus will add 2.6 miles to its length and bring it into downtown Beverly Hills and Century City. Included in this section will be a station at Wilshire Boulevard and the famed Rodeo Drive.

For now, preliminary work, including utility relocation and geotechnical tests, is underway on this section. Actual tunneling is slated to begin this spring at the segment’s western end in Century City. Work at the Wilshire/Rodeo station will commence late this year.

Work on the extension’s first segment, which runs from the line’s current terminus at Western Avenue under Wilshire to La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills is 30 percent complete, with opening set for 2023. The second segment will open two years after that, and the final segment to Westwood will open in 2026.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: light railcarsbike safety

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