Cartoon Tuesday: GM Imitates WALL-E With La-Z-Boy on Wheels

segway_or_hoverchair.jpgGM has seen the future, and it looks like a B-n-L Hover Chair.

If you held out any hope that billions in taxpayer bailout money and Barack Obama’s dismissal of Rick Wagoner would mark the end of General Motors’ bad plans, today was a wake-up call.

GM’s solution for the future of transportation is — hold your breath — a Segway built for two.  I don’t know about you, but I want my money back. 

GM and Segway announced the prototype, which they dubbed "Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility," or PUMA, today in New York City, where the old single-occupancy stand-up Segways are already illegal.  The wheeled chair, which GM claims will address congestion, safety, affordability, parking, and energy concerns in urban areas, gets 35 miles per charge and does 35 miles per hour, a blistering speed that makes them just slow enough to get run down by the automobile company’s more traditional vehicles. 

Unfortunately for those of us who already use a "personal mobility device" with more than 100 years of proven utility and health benefits, Dave Rand, GM’s Executive Director of Global Design, said on Brian Lehrer today that he thought PUMAs should be able to use bike lanes. Lehrer was skeptical of the device, saying that the last time he heard of a transportation "revolution" was when Segways were introduced, and he noted how small a market share they currently have. 

When Lehrer challenged Rand on how PUMAs would fit in already dense urban areas, where carving out room for a bike lane is as difficult as it gets, the GM rep suggested they would start using PUMAs on college campuses and other areas that look nothing like cities.

Given that Segways cost around $6,000, the new PUMA would likely be more expensive. There are also concerns about safety and visibility, which GM claims they’ll solve with technology links to existing OnStar systems so that the PUMAs will sense other vehicles and slow automatically, at least other vehicles with OnStar.

Rand
said on Lehrer’s show that users could charge the vehicle at home
overnight or where it is parked during the day, the implication being
that people have an easy place to plug in at night, as in a garage. Has Rand spent any time in a dense urban setting, where most people don’t
have garages? Does he envision all those plugs coming out of parking meters?

GM’s announcement comes a day after Ohio State released a study that found 20 percent of preschoolers are obese. I know the mega-corporation lampooned in Disney’s Wall-E was meant to be Walmart, but GM seems to be moving us a step closer to the B-n-L Hover Chairs that make physical activity a thing of the past.

I seem to recall from a class in high school something about us evolving to walk upright. Rather than worrying about how to incorporate an impractical new Segway into the urban realm, shouldn’t cities be making more room for walking
and cycling? The good ones already are.

Speaking of which — officer, can you remove that thing from our nice new pedestrian plaza?

Picture_8.pngPhoto from NY Times
  • garyg

    In NYC, for example, the aim would be to encourage the people in the outermost boroughs to drive the these vehicles to a stop/park bus or subway station.

    According to the National Transit Database, the average length of a subway trip in New York is less than 5 miles. The average length of a bus trip is only 2 miles. Why shouldn’t people use PUMA for most of these relatively short trips, and reserve buses and trains only for longer trips where transit would make more sense?

  • gecko

    It should also be emphasized that mass acceptance of vehicles this small and light could just as well be human powered with ergonomic improvements and be the first step in broad acceptance in hybrid human-electric transport and transit.

    A very charming podcast has just been produced by Popular Science writer Bruce Grierson describing ongoing developments of “Power From The People”.

    http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-03/podcast-power-people

  • gecko

    At a hefty 300 pounds per this two-person vehicle — equivalent to 150 pounds per person — PUMA’s weight per person is still a lot less than the 372 pound per person weight of New York City’s 35-ton subway cars carrying a maximum capacity of 188 people.

  • Gecko, I find it interesting that so many of your comments disparage the subway system, while so few disparage the automobile. Could it be that the private-vehicle universe of happy motoring is closer to your sensibility than mass transit?

  • garyg

    Mark Walker, I find it interesting that you seem to want people to use mass transit for the sake of using mass transit. It’s all about, to use your word, “sensibility,” rather than the actual merits of mass transit as a transportation system.

  • garyg, as you know, I have spent a lot of time interacting with you, though not lately. I gave up long before you published these words: “…Indians see the same benefits to getting around by car — speed, comfort, convenience — that have been drawing Americans and Europeans to cars for three generations.”

    Compare this to the Streetsblog mission statement that appears on the homepage every day: “We are part of a growing coalition of individuals and organizations in cities around the world working to transform our cities by reducing dependence on private automobiles and improving conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders.”

    Please note — your deliberately misleading “for the sake” comment to the contrary — the three modes mentioned in that last sentence. Those three things are what I support, and I practice two of them (I’m not a biker).

    Twice, garyg, I have patiently and openmindedly challenged you to say what it is you are trying to achieve here. At least one other person has challenged you a third time — and you never answered. But I think your words quoted above are the answer.

    That’s why I’ve stopped feeding you. Best wishes, and bye.

  • garyg

    I’m not really trying to “achieve” anything, Mark. Just commenting. Mainly, I tend to respond to what seem to me false claims of fact and specious arguments.

  • gecko

    #54 Mark Walker, “Gecko, I find it interesting that so many of your comments disparage the subway system, while so few disparage the automobile. Could it be that the private-vehicle universe of happy motoring is closer to your sensibility than mass transit?”

    The automobile is too easy a target and one major reason it prevails is that mass transit is so bad.

    Mobility is way up there next to intelligence driving human development.

    Human mobility is a product of many years of evolution and self-propulsion should probably be considered the gold standard. Nature has had a lot of years to figure this stuff out and nature essentially provides its stuff for free. The simple mechanical advantage provided by bicycle-like technology increases mobility tremendously. Add a little bit of external power on the same scale that normal humans can put out greatly increases the ease-of-use, speed, and range of these mobility amplification machines. Most likely, the upper limit of the external power required to create practical and optimum mobility machines is on the scale of what elite athletes can put out — which have achieved speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour — which is something like 1,500 watts or about 2 horsepower for brief moments. In this case, more is less.

    Supersizing and overpowering are normally not necessary in the proper designing of transportation. Supersizing and overpowering are about other things and more often than not make transportation difficult, dangerous, and wasteful.

  • Gecko, your calculations — as usual — leave out the energy and other costs of maintaining pavement. Asphalt is literally made from fossil fuel. It takes still more fossil fuel to power the machines that get it in place, maintain it, and regularly replace it. Even Lance Armstrong would be helpless in the face of a pothole-filled, rubble-strewn road.

    As for “difficult, dangerous, and wasteful”:

    I have been temporarily commuting from the Upper West Side to Centre Street lately. I know, from having walked it once, that walking this distance is too “difficult.” I also know, from once having taken a cab from there (while carrying a heavy object), that traffic barely moves at all below 14th, so that too is “difficult,” not to mention expensive. If cabs and cars are slow, a bus would be even slower, hence “difficult.” And I have no intention of taking a bike down there — navigating the rush hour nightmare of streets filled with angry drivers would be the ultimate in “difficulty.” I’m just not physically strong enough, nor do I have the survival reflexes. Instead, I have been taking the subway. I get on the 1 train at 96th and Broadway, where a bunch of people usually stream off the local and onto the express, freeing up a few empty seats. I sit down, close my eyes for awhile, and open them when the train gets to Chambers Street. It’s a relaxing ride and a great way to start and end the day. Not “difficult” at all!

    You want to talk about “dangerous”? Subway travel is far safer then any other form of transportation used in this city. Derailments are rare. As a result, the number of people killed in subway accidents in an average year is a big zero. Compare that to the carnage that takes place on the streets everyday, with peds, bikers, and drivers all suffering horrible injuries and death. Compared to that, subway travel doesn’t sound “dangerous” at all!

    Finally, you want to talk about “wasteful”? If so, you really should be discussing the true costs of pavement-dependent, fossil-fuel-intensive surface transportation. Until you’re willing to do that, all you’ve got is smoke and mirrors.

  • gecko

    #59 Mark Walker, “As for ‘difficult, dangerous, and wasteful’: . . . .”

    Currently, cyclists use existing infrastructure designed to support automobiles, trucks, buses, etc. typically very difficult, dangerous, and wasteful. It is fairly straight forward and inexpensive to design and build infrastructure specifically for cyclists that is very easy to use, safe, efficient and sustainable.

    Automated hands-free transit systems supporting bicycle-like technology or even PUMA-like vehicles will exist as soon as there is the political will to create and implement them. They can be built to be much more practical, convenient, and comfortable than subways. Times Square and Union Square stations with people packed to platform edges during peak periods especially, when there are delays are disasters waiting to happen and those people not fit enough to use stairs rapidly (the elevators are often unreliable), and to stand for extended periods of time possibly in high heat, know enough to stay away if they have a choice.

    But in any case, walking is the most dangerous way to travel so, what does that say about the way transportation is designed? Current mass transit systems require that people at least walk to them and in general walk around in them.

    The current budget for expanding New York City’s bike network is about $9.6 million to service over 100,000 cycling commuters the same cost of eight $1.2 million subway cars which can carry only 1,504 commuters maximum (eight 188-person subway cars) at any given time.

  • gecko

    #59 Mark Walker, “I have been temporarily commuting from the Upper West Side to Centre Street lately.”

    Suggestion:

    Probably the easiest and safest way to commute to Centre Street from the Upper West Side is to use the West Side Bike Path.

    Getting killed is not an option and walking to and from the bike path with your bike is the safest way.

    The West Side Bike Path is not 100% safe as there are cars, trucks, and buses that turn across the path at various places but, if you are vigilant and take it slow and careful, and be absolutely sure to bike at your own skills level you should be OK. Be especially vigilant for cars rapidly merging across the path from the closest West Street lane going downtown.

    It is also extremely important to watch for vehicles turning from the northbound part of West Street since they are far away, it is difficult for them to see you, and they are probably somewhat concerned about oncoming cars while making the turn. (A doctor was killed by a tow truck crossing the path several years ago and you can see the Ghost Bike [in the 30s] in his memory.)

    Cars, buses, and trucks from the Hudson River side can also be dangerous and tend to block large sections of the path.

    Early morning is a lot nicer and easier since there are not a lot of people on the path. You head across town to Centre Street when you reach Chambers Street which starts at Stuyvesant High School. The walk across to Centre Street is quite short. And if you so choose, there is a painted bike lane on the next street south of Chambers Street which is not too bad and leads to crossing City Hall Park which you can actually (legally) bicycle through.

    Some bikes are easier than others and it seems that the “step-through” type like Biria with a low u-shaped frame make getting on and off the bike a lot easier.

    http://www.biria.com/dealers/list.jsp?state=NY

    I have met the owner of Biria and know the dealer on Morton Street (The Hub Station) in the Village which is a couple of blocks from the West Side Bike Path, but you are more than welcome to use any of the dealers listed at the link above to determine first hand if this type of bike is to your liking and, do further research of competing brands and styles. Admittedly, Biria seems kind of pricey but, NYU bought about 30 of them for its bike share system that were used during Summer Streets last year.

  • Gecko: I appreciate the sheer kindness of post #61. You may be overestimating the physical ability of someone of my age and condition. Still, thank you. I live next to the Hudson River Greenway, so I often think of biking, but there are some practical considerations — for one, I live in a small apartment, which also bears the burden of being my office, so there is literally no place for a bike. But there is space in my wallet for a Metrocard.

    In post #60, I wholeheartedly agree with the first graf. Bike infrastructure should be built out aggressively and ASAP. It will be a big contributor to mobility in the future, for those who are able to do it.

    Second graf: As someone who has used the subway since 1975 — including daily commutes all over midtown as well as down to the financial district — I think you overstate the difficulty of using the subway system, including the Times Square station, of which I have extensive experience at all hours of the day. You’re right about the heat, though. The MTA needs to add ventilation fans to its capital wish list. There was a failed attempt to address this issue in the past, one of the MTA’s greatest missed opportunities.

    Third graf: The primary threat to pedestrians is cars, not the mass transit system. You know as well as I do that cars kill roughly 200 peds a year.

    Final graf: First of all, by pitting bikers against transit users in a fight for scraps, you are missing the big-picture problem, which is that too many transportation dollars are wasted on the soon-to-be-obsolete private automobile. And once again, you omit the cost of pavement from your calculations. This is doubly regrettable considering the number of times I have called this to your attention. You could well be a visionary, but by brazenly ignoring hugely important data that don’t fit your views, you doom yourself to being an armchair theorist, one whose visions attract no support, and fire no one’s imagination.

  • Gecko: I have a challenge for you. Imagine some ways that vehicles of your devising might run on rails, especially tram-type rails at street level. What would these vehicles look like? How would they work? How many people would they accommodate? How much would they cost?

  • gecko

    #62 Mark Walker,

    1. Physical condition: My claim is that hybrid human-electric transport can be designed suitable for just about anyone who does not require an attendant to take them around.

    2. Safety: Agreed that currently, there are not serious issues with safety when traveling in the subway and the primary threat is cars. (Fortunately, that derailment that happened at Union Square about 15 years ago was in the wee hours and probably during the weekend. no further comment) I have been nearly hit by cars at least several times walking to and from the subway which probably should be considered part of the mass transit system. There is kind of an apples and oranges thing here. Accidents that happen on the street are left to individuals (and insurance) to work out in general. The street system is usually not considered liable for the accidents even though it is run by the city and can be extremely dangerous where minor mistakes and errors of judgement and mere happenstance can be lethal which can be designed away in proper street systems. It is more difficult to diffuse the blame inside systems like subways which is a much more controlled environment. For whatever it is worth, I have been taking subways very often daily for many years before 1975.

    3. Transport mode competition: There is no intention to pit cyclists against mass transit. In those cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen with 40% and more commuting by bike, cycling is a major portion of the mass transit system so it is very difficult to understand what it is that you are trying to say. It will be transformational to the benefit of all when this happens here since there will be a major improvement in mass transit.

    Happy Easter Sunday! And, do try and fire up your imagination at least a little bit. Can’t remember if we’re in Spring or it’s on the way. Seems like both.

  • I’d hate to see those PUMAs replace bikes or walking, but if they replace cars, they might be useful.

    As replacements for cars they would have no business running on bike lanes or bike paths. And if they really go 35 mph, why should they? How many local streets in New York have speed limits greater than 30 mph? If there were lots of PUMAs on the streets, they might actually force motorists to take those limits seriously, for a change.

  • gecko

    #63 Mark Walker, “Gecko: I have a challenge for you. Imagine some ways that vehicles of your devising might run on rails, especially tram-type rails at street level. What would these vehicles look like? How would they work? How many people would they accommodate? How much would they cost?”

    My apologies Mark for not responding sooner since for some reason I didn’t see your post until very recently. What follows is an extremely simple description.

    Single-person vehicles are strongly recommended for highly modular systems and could easily look like the Trice Q shown on the streetsblog wiki

    http://www.livablestreets.com/streetswiki/zero-vmt.

    Single unit costs are high at about $2,700 for a 35-pound foldable vehicle that can fit in the back of a smart car.

    Rails at street-level need only be guide ways.

    The vehicles can easily be equipped with electric powering using a Bionx motor and battery systems (between $1,000 and $1,700) to increase speed and range and accommodate those people who do not wish to pedal and or pedal all the time – also for hilly areas, wind, etc. — and those people who are not in the condition to make the entire trip under their own power with video at

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEQNWmt-IM8

    Also, at
    http://www.suhavoda.com/snimak.asp?film=QQb0vCiem6Y

    Bionx electric assists can be found at http://www.greenspeed.us/bionx_motor_bike_kit.htm

    And, in New York City at
    http://nycewheels.com/bionx-electric-bike-system.html

    Accommodating more than one person can be accomplished by linking multiple vehicles together in a highly modular system or by tandem configurations.

  • gecko

    #63 Mark Walker, “Gecko: I have a challenge for you. Imagine some ways that vehicles of your devising might run on rails, especially tram-type rails at street level. What would these vehicles look like? How would they work? How many people would they accommodate? How much would they cost?”

    My apologies Mark for not responding sooner since for some reason I didn’t see your post until very recently. What follows is an extremely simple description.

    Single-person vehicles are strongly recommended for highly modular systems and could easily look like the Trice Q shown on

    http://www.livablestreets.com/streetswiki/zero-vmt.

    Single unit costs are high at about $2,700 for a 35-pound foldable vehicle that can fit in the back of a smart car.

    Rails at street-level need only be guide ways.

    The vehicles can easily be equipped with electric powering using a Bionx motor and battery systems (between $1,000 and $1,700) to increase speed and range and accommodate those people who do not wish to pedal and or pedal all the time – also for hilly areas, wind, etc. — and those people who are not in the condition to make the entire trip under their own power with video at

    Accommodating more than one person can be accomplished by linking multiple vehicles together in a highly modular system or by tandem configurations.

  • gecko

    Where subway trains accommodate millions of people by packing them together into very large vehicles, safe stopping distances are quite large and it seems that for normal safe operations subway trains are spaced about one-quarter mile apart between 300-foot trains; so that about 1,100 people require about a little more than one-quarter mile of track.

    The proposed vehicles are much safer with much shorter safe stopping distances and can be attached or closely spaced to stream people at densities at least as good if not better than that provided by subways.

    If my math is correct:

    If the proposed vehicles are six feet long and are attached and travel two abreast along a track system about 540 people can be moved using one-quarter mile of track.

    Normally, subway trains seem to travel many miles apart except maybe on the Lexington line during rush hour, so for one mile of track about 2,160 people can be moved using the proposed 6-foot long attached vehicles. Of course, if the proposed vehicles are not attached and average about six feet apart only 1,080 people can be moved over one mile of track; still very close to the number of people normally moved by subway trains, since they normally move several miles apart. A variety of configurations can create some very appealing if not improved people-moving densities. Even more advantage comes when running off-peak as the proposed vehicles are on-demand and empty seats are not being needlessly moved where in conventional systems cost considerations require that trains be moved the equivalent of many miles apart.

  • gecko

    Average speeds are improved especially, for those typically underserved by transit since travel times to and from transit systems are about one quarter that of walking. My 20-minute walk to the subway takes 5 minutes by bicycle.

  • gecko

    And, regarding vehicles tightly configured as the GM-Segway PUMA people-moving densities could be significantly higher.

  • The big question to GM is: Is GM prepared to build one billion bamboo bicycle-like or small vehicles grown in the developing world for use on and off networks for consumption globally by 2012?

    Incremental improvements along the lines of what is currently being proposed will not have a serious impact on the current accelerating rate of environmental devastation and many more radical improvements will canabalize GM’s markets and business models.

    The idea being that the transportation business model moves to value-added branded commodities from products for excessive consumption by the rich.

    http://www.livablestreets.com/streetswiki/zero-vmt/ehrlichgoulderexcessiveconsumption.pdf

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