Pittsburgh pedestrians, cyclists mostly OK with self-driving cars, BikePGH finds

“Usual aggressive [human] drivers” have made us wary of law-abiding self-driving cars.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

Due to their cautious driving, many Pittsburghers said they felt safe cycling or walking next to self-driving cars, per survey results from advocacy group BikePGH. And the majority of respondents said they were in favor of having the cars on local streets.

Roughly 88 percent of the advocacy group’s members and 82 percent of the general public either approve or are neutral about using Pittsburgh streets as a testing ground for self-driving cars, according to BikePGH’s survey. About two-thirds to three-fourths of all respondents said self-driving cars have the potential to reduce injuries and fatalities.

Self-driving car research and development in Pittsburgh continues to expand. (Four companies are doing this work in the city —Carnegie Mellon University, Uber, Delphi and Argo AI/Ford.) For the past six months, Uber has allowed Pittsburghers to ride in their self-driving vehicles. But public perception has been a mix, with many expressing concerns about safety and the impact on future jobs.

For its survey, BikePGH collected feedback from both members, as well as the general public, for a total of 1,119 responses. Questions ranged from safety to the future of self-driving cars to potential regulations and how BikePGH can help cyclists and pedestrians.

The results will help BikePGH with its approach to advocacy, including working with lawmakers, and education around self-driving cars, Alexandria Shewczyk, communications and marketing manager for BikePGH, previously told The Incline. BikePGH is also keeping its Submit Autonomous Vehicle Experience, or SAVE form open for anyone to share their experience with the organization.

BikePGH called the results “surprising” in a press release, noting the advocacy organization had previously received several email complaints about self-driving cars.

“While our own personal experiences riding and walking alongside [self-driving cars] have been mostly positive, we believe that the introduction of these vehicles to our streets deserves a larger conversation,” Eric Boerer, BikePGH advocacy director said in the release. “As far as we know, we are the first organization collecting these stories from bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Other highlights

  • While most respondents agreed self-driving cars should be regulated, their opinions varied on what those should be.
  • Most people said they felt safer cycling and walking next to self-driving vehicles because the cars travel the speed limit, don’t block crosswalks at red lights and use turn signals, unlike all human drivers.
  • Some people however, said because self-driving cars are so cautious, it makes interaction unpredictable, given that “usual aggressive drivers” are the norm.
safety public
courtesy of BikePGH
safety members
courtesy of BikePGH
  • Fifty percent of BikePGH members and 43 percent of the general public said the advocacy group should actively support self-driving cars.
  • Many people noted that self-driving cars did pass their bikes with the required four feet between them, but several said the self-driving cars didn’t.
  • Multiple pedestrians said the self-driving cars didn’t stop for them when they were waiting to cross in a crosswalk.
  • One person saw a self-driving car run a red light, and another saw one attempt to go the wrong way down a one-way street.

Read the full survey results here. (BikePGH also gave its survey data to the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center for public use, per the organization’s news release.)

Other surveys

While BIkePGH is focused on feedback from Pittsburgh — specifically pedestrians and cyclists — other organizations have recently collected feedback on a larger scale.

At the state level, PennDot also collected public input on the policies proposed by the state Autonomous Vehicle Testing Policy Task Force. The Pa. house and senate transportation committees are having public hearing on proposed legislation regarding self-driving car testing today.

Earlier this month, AAA released results of a national survey about self-driving vehicles. However, that survey focused on riding in the vehicles and if Americans would purchase them. According to the AAA survey of 1,832 adults, one-in-five Americans said they would trust a self-driving car to drive itself and three out of four would be “afraid” to ride in a self-driving car.

For drivers who want semi-autonomous features on their next vehicle (automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, self-parking technology or lane-keeping assist), 84 percent said their first reason was safety. For those who didn’t want the features, the same percent said it was because they trust their driving skills more than technology.