Bike lanes

Pedestrians and cyclists: Have thoughts about self-driving cars? Tell BikePGH

Good, bad, neutral: The advocacy organization is taking it all into consideration.

wickerham_theincline_uberselfdrivingcars_09_13_2016_59
Jared Wickerham/ For The Incline
MJ Slaby

You’re about to walk in the crosswalk and see one stopped at a light.

Or maybe you’re riding your bike and a self-driving car is in the lane next to you.

Bike PGH wants to know: How safe do you feel walking or biking with self-driving cars on the streets? What experiences have you had? The advocacy group launched a survey Wednesday afternoon to collect your thoughts on the topic.

Survey questions range from safety to the future of self-driving cars to potential regulations and how BikePGH can help cyclists and pedestrians.

The survey — largely anonymous, but it asks for a zip code — closes March 8, but BikePGH also started an ongoing online form: Submit Autonomous Vehicle Experience, or SAVE.

Alexandria Shewczyk, communications and marketing manager for BikePGH, said the organization will use the survey results to determine how it wants to approach advocacy, including working with lawmakers, and education around self-driving cars.

She said it’s important for participants to be specific and include details like time of day and weather, so BikePGH can judge if those factors impacted a cyclist’s or pedestrian’s experience.

“This survey will help inform the organization and help guide it as this new technology is tested and deployed. The interests of pedestrians, bicyclists and people with disabilities need to remain at the forefront as this technology enters our lives,” Eric Boerer, BikePGH advocacy director, said in a press release.

On Feb. 10, Ford announced a $1 billion investment into Argo AI for the Pittsburgh-based company to develop the “virtual driver system” for the car company’s self-driving cars.  Plus, three companies are already doing self-driving car work in Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University, Delphi and, most visibly, Uber, which has allowed Pittsburghers to ride in their self-driving cars since September.

On a state level, PennDOT recently collected public feedback on policy recommendations regarding testing self-driving cars in the state. State lawmakers are expected to propose legislation as well. Last month, Pittsburgh was designated a “proving ground” by the the U.S. Department of Transportation to encourage testing and information sharing about self-driving cars.

“Autonomous vehicles are fast becoming part of our future,” Scott Bricker, executive director of BikePGH, said in the release. “We are at an important moment in terms of how this technology interacts with pedestrians and bicyclists. Ultimately it’s up to all of us to decide what kind of city we want to live in.”

BikePGH has heard all kinds of comments from positive to negative to even neutral from cyclists and walkers about self-driving cars, Shewczyk said. The survey will be a way to truly gauge what BikePGH members and non-members think. That’s why the SAVE form is staying open, too, she said. It will be a place for anyone to share their experience with BikePGH, even if it happens after the survey closes, because this isn’t something the organization has tracked before, Shewczyk said.

“It’s a new experience for all of us,” she said.