Self-Driving Car Proposal

This proposal envisions the first real-world test of self-driving cars in the United States. It is modeled after England’s autonomous car project in the city of Milton Keynes. Developing autonomous vehicle expertise with a Portland-based incubator is one goal. Addressing urban congestion is another goal.

NOTE: This page is obsolete Here’s the new Autonomous Car page at

The basic idea is to move people from a Vancouver hub to the Yellow Max line. Battery-operated, rubber-tired, people-movers could use a much cheaper pedestrian bridge. It could also create a testbed for autonomous vehicles on Hayden Island.

MIT’s self-driving golf cart would be handy for the Jantzen Beach Mall. It can connect people to mass transit, connect different businesses, and drive itself “home” to charge. No driver. Summon it with a button on a pole. Press on the screen map to tell it where to go.

Google is testing its self-driving car in Mountain View and Austin, Texas. They’re currently averaging ~10,000 autonomous miles per week on public streets.

Business Insider predicts about three percent of new cars will be self-driving by 2020, but an additional 65 percent will be linked to a wireless network. We could be ahead of this curve.

Uber is partnering with the University of Arizona to develop autonomous technology to make Uber a cheaper transportation option than owning a car.

The three-year Milton Keynes autonomous trial, backed by the government and the private sector, is running alongside two other U.K. programs in Bristol, and the London borough of Greenwich. UK Autodrive is a consortium of governments, businesses and academic institutions.

Lawmakers from California, Texas and Virginia are wooing the autonomous-car industry, along with the jobs and tax revenue that come with it. 4G LTE and mobile Wi-Fi empower passengers to do more with less congestion.

The European CityMobil2 project has selected the first round of sites to run large and small-scale demonstrations of automated road transport systems. UK Transport Minister Claire Perry said, “Driverless cars are the future. I want Britain to be at the forefront of this exciting new development.”

The advantage of these battery-powered, rubber-wheeled vehicles is that an expensive (light rail/vehicular) bridge is not required. Autonomous cars can go many places, on-demand. No overhead line for power and no tracks. They can connect to public transit.

The infrastructure for light, battery operated vehicles is developing rapidly. Autonomous cars don’t need a crew to bring them back home. Electricity is cheap. No drivers required.

Elon Musk told Bloomberg, “Maybe five or six years from now I think we’ll be able to achieve true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination.” He added that it may take a few years beyond the point when the technology is ready for regulators to sign off on it.

Any qualified organization can apply for self-driving car permits on public roads in California. The permits cost $150 for the first car and $50 for every additional car, effective September 16, 2014, and require companies testing them to cover insurance costs up to $5 million. Similar laws were passed in Florida and Nevada.

A Rand report says public transit agencies currently spend 14 to 18 percent of their budgets to provide on-demand paratransit services. The per-trip costs are often three or more times those of fixed-route transit services. The average personal vehicle sits parked 95 percent of its life and only carries 1 person 75% of the time.

Personal rapid transit — without a driver — might provide on-demand transportation, connecting shoppers to Vancouver and the Expo Center. It could minimize cost, risk, and the disruption of a $2.8 billion vehicular bridge crossing the Columbia River. Shoppers could take the Expo train to the Jantzen Beach shopping center on Hayden Island — or travel to Vancouver WA and back.

Google is now developing self-driving prototype cars. The driver will be able to summon the car using a smartphone application and the car automatically drives to the destination. Costs are coming down. Fast. Wired reports that the Velodyne Puck uses 16 laser sensors, rather than the 64 sensors on Google’s autonomous cars. The longterm goal is to offer a Lidar unit for $1,000.

It doesn’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal. Their software and sensors do all the work. The electric-powered car is simple: two seats, two buttons and a screen that displays the route. Roush is Google’s manufacturing partner, assembling the autonomous vehicles on the outskirts of Detroit.

Ultra-light mass transit and self-driving, rubber-wheeled people movers could be an answer. They are fast, light, clean, comfortable and can connect neighborhoods to high speed transit. They don’t require big, expensive bridges. The cars could be built right here in Oregon.

The Google autonomous car looks like a Daimler Smart for Two with a Tesla power train — and likely is.

Tesla builds electric powertrain components for other automakers, including the Smart For Two, the Toyota RAV4 EV, and Freightliner’s Custom Chassis Electric Van. Autonomous cars, modified by Continental AG, might be built and managed at the Daimler facility on Portland’s Swan Island in a partnership with Google. Daimler is the world’s commercial-vehicle leader and is working to introduce trucks that steer, brake and accelerate independently by 2025.

Google has been leading the charge in developing self-driving technology, but Audi, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Nissan, Delphi, Toyota, and Tesla are also in.



How much critical mass would you like?

Hayden Island, just south of Vancouver, Washington, is Portland’s only island community, with a population of 2,300 on 1,900 acres, encompassing 1.69 sq miles.

Demographics of car ownership are shifting. Younger people are moving towards car sharing, biking and mass transit.

Walk Score ranked America’s best cities for access to public transit, with Portland ranked 10.

A Columbia University report, entitled Transforming Personal Mobility (pdf), suggests that shared AV’s could provide metro area transportation at a total cost per mile between 15 and 41 cents.

A study from Berkeley Lab found that the per-mile greenhouse gas emissions of an electric autonomous taxi in 2030 would be 63 to 82 percent lower than a projected 2030 hybrid vehicle driven as a privately owned car and 90 percent lower than a 2014 gasoline-powered private vehicle.

The Hayden Island test would feature real-time data on battery state-of-charge and vehicle location, along with the data-monitoring required for DOE-funded projects. It might be integrated with SmartGrid 2.0 technologies (pdf) for partner PGE.

The U.S. Dept of Transportation has announced its seventh round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants totaled $9.8 billion, almost 20 times the $500 million set aside for the program, last year.

Portland light rail trains do not now go to Jantzen Beach. A light rail bridge connecting the Expo Center terminus to Jantzen Beach would be expensive. A bike-size lane would be cheap.

It could even be enclosed (with autonomous electric shuttles), for shopping.

Seattle’s Northgate Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge connects neighborhoods, businesses and schools next to Interstate 5 and is estimated to cost around $25 million, although any estimated cost of two Oregon bike/PRT bridges, linking Vancouver to the Expo Center, is beyond the scope of this proposal. Thompson Metal Fab would be well positioned as a bridge fabricator.

The project could start with 3-4 driver-less shuttles (Personal Rapid Transit) so consumers could travel around the (now pedestrian un-friendly) Jantzen Beach Shopping Center. That fleet would be supplemented after year one with 3-4 Google-type autonomous cars that can pick people up from their residence on Hayden Island and deliver them to the nearest PRT station.

After bugs are addressed on the island, the testing agency could look at dedicated PRT bridges or lane extensions for direct connectivity between Vancouver and the Expo Center. The entire developmental initiative would be largely funded by grants and sponsorships for 3-5 years.

Why not Light Rail?

  • Each Max Light Rail car is 95 feet long, weights 100,000 lbs (X2), and costs about $3.7 million each. The Tilikum Crossing Light Rail Bridge cost $134.6 million. It needs expensive (and ugly) overhead power infrastructure for the trains.
  • The Portland Streetcar can travel on Max tracks, too. Portland Streetcar is smaller (66 feet), weighs about 80,000 lbs, and costs about $2.2 million each (although manufacturer United Streetcar is currently in hiatus).
  • Rail is big, heavy and expensive. It requires a big, expensive bridge. It can’t use existing infrastructure.

London’s first, large-scale pure electric bus fleet with 51 electric buses are built by China’s BYD. But electric buses are big, heavy and expensive. They require a driver.

Autonomous people movers are 8-16 ft long and weigh under a ton. They can use pedestrian/bike bridges ($25 million vs $125 million). Cheaper, more attractive bridges. Zero pollution. Less congestion.

Local Motors is pioneering micro factories. It 3D prints working cars that you design. It uses open source additive manufacturing to create, develop, build, and drive home cars in a couple weekends. Fabrication of molds is eliminated and parts inventory is reduced.

Vancouver’s Pangea Motors makes a 16-passenger electric shuttle. The lithium battery provides up to a 100km range on a 5-hour, 220V charge.

Pangea Motors has attracted political leaders in several continents and currently operates its electric buses in Manila. It will distribute 10,000 of their electric vehicles in The Philippines as a part of a three-year purchase agreement between Pangea Motors and transport group Pasang Masda.

Robosoft’s driverless shuttles are available today. Robosoft says their people mover carries 11 people (6 seated and 4 standing). It’s light and rubber-tired. No rails (or overhead power). No drivers, either. Navia’s autonomous vehicle carries up to 10 passenagers and goes 125 miles on lithium batteries. It’s inductively charged…no wires or personnel required.

Take Robocar to the Max and avoid I-5 congestion. It saves money. It benefits the environment. It enhances the economy. In 5 years autonomous cars will pick you up at home.

We can plan for it now.

Portland found $5.5 million in sponsorships to fund a bike-share system. Alta Bicycle Share was contracted to run Portland’s much-delayed $4 million bike-sharing system. Bike sharing is seasonal while self-driving cars drive themselves home. Year-round.

The autonomous car concept starts as a very small test. It is largely experimental and inherently much riskier than bike sharing. This initiative hopes to enable a variety of local companies to market hardware and software – developed and tested in the real-world – by 2020.

General Motors, Nissan, Mercedes, Toyota and others are all racing to develop their own self-driving cars.

Intel is working with leading automakers on In-Vehicle Technologies and Intel is working with Portland officials on volunteering air quality data to help understand real-time pollution risks.

Intel’s Freeway to the Future survey found almost half of Americans aspire to live in a driverless city; more than one-third believe it will happen this decade.

The Jantzen Beach SuperCenter could host solar-powered charge stations. Ev4oregon combines Solarworld panels with Enphase microinverters, battery storage and 220 volt utility feeds. A wireless charging system, with inductive coupling, eliminates cables.

The top three battery makers for electric cars today are Panasonic, AESC, and LG Chem. Panasonic sells largely to Tesla, AESC is a joint venture half-owned by Nissan, while LG sells its cells to more carmakers than any other battery company.

Toyota is licensing WiTricity wireless charging and will be rolling out wireless charging in the Prius. Daimler and BMW plan to provide a uniform inductive charging standard for the garage at home. At a charging power of 3.6 kW, many plug-in hybrids can be charged completely in less than three hours. Let’s guesstimate that a 4 hr shift travels about 40 miles with a 50% battery discharge. Two shuttles might enable 24/7 operation.

The Flux bicycle uses resonant inductive coupling embedded in bike lanes to wirelessly charge electric vehicles on the go.

Using large solar panels that are placed on the roof of the car, ‘Stella’ can travel 250 miles without sunshine and on a sunny day, when fully charged, it can drive up to 420 miles.

The Aeon Project is an augmented reality interface for cars.

Connections to downtown Vancouver WA and the Oregon Expo Center light rail would be enabled by adding new bike lanes and autonomous POD lanes on current bridges.

Actually, there’s plenty of space between the two bridges now to run 2 HOV lanes for both autonomous vehicles and bikes. Small autonomous electric vehicles enable Washington commuters to catch mass transit without the cost of a new bridge. Tri-Met could easily add more Yellow Line trains to ease congestion.

Seattle’s Century Transportation Authority, would run a monorail between Ballard and West Seattle via the downtown waterfront. An on-demand PRT — personal rapid transit – would connect the waterfront monorail with downtown Seattle. CTA vows to come up with a viable financial plan, though skeptics abound. Seattle Center Monorail carries over 2 million annual one-way riders between downtown Seattle and Seattle Center.

SkyTrain is a rapid transit railroad system in Vancouver, British Columbia. It has 43 miles of track and uses fully automated trains. In contrast, skyTran is a patented, high-speed, low-cost, elevated Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system using computer-controlled, 2-person vehicles employing passive Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) technology.

Transit costs more to operate than highways because you’re paying a driver. But Vancouver BC’s SkyTrain, can run at low ridership times because their trains are driverless. A SelTrac Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) system, controls up to 34, two-to-six car trains capable of 90 km/h (55 mph).

SFO AirTrain, at the San Francisco Airport was built by Bombardier at a cost of US $430 million, and opened on February 24, 2003. The trains operate 24 hours a day on two separate lines, covering a total of six miles (10 kilometres) with no driver.

The Oregon Dept of Transportation said they studied PRT alternatives in the failed I-5 Bridge plan and found it lacking. But ODOT didn’t consider rubber-tired, autonomous vehicles. Rail-based PRT systems are expensive. Rails, the guideway, and providing power are 75% of the expense.

Small, light, autonomous vehicles eliminate all of that. Rubber-tired, battery-powered PRT vehicles use existing infrastructure. They’re cheaper and lighter. They’re available now.

Some transportation advisers believe the best way to reduce congestion is to combine mass transit with self-driving cars for the last mile.

On-demand transportation service Uber connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. Uber’s mobile app sends a car to your location on demand.

Uber makes mobile apps that connect passengers with drivers and ridesharing services. UberX has a wider selection of cars. Uber’s pricing is similar to metered taxis, although all hiring and payment is handled exclusively through Uber and not with the driver personally.

Lyft claims that its service generally costs about 30% less than the price of a similar cab ride. Lyft drivers are distinguished by a pink, fuzzy mustache placed on the front of their vehicle. Sidecar drivers now set their own prices, while riders select the ride they want based on price.

Seattle is discussing how to regulate ride-sharing services that have emerged in the last few years as alternatives to taxis and other for hire vehicle services. Companies like Lyft, Sidecar and Uber/Uber-X are being targeted as “unregulated” services. Flywheel Software sells software to for-hire and other regulated transportation providers in both Seattle and San Francisco.

Nimbler Portland utilizes TriMet’s Open Trip Planner and General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). Nimbler provides transit directions, bike directions and combinations of the two and integrates with TriMet’s real-time vehicle location feed to provide real-time arrival predictions.

The autonomous Navia shuttle can fit up to 10 people and is designed to accommodate a wheelchair. It is currently being tested on college campuses in Switzerland, Britain and Singapore.

The Navia (Meridian) uses anchor points to see along its prescribed course and costs around $250,000, but the company says operating a conventional shuttle service, with drivers, fuel and maintenance, costs roughly the same.

Portland’s Car2Go has added 30 all-electric Smart Cars to its Portland-area fleet. One option would be to add an autonomous package to Daimler’s electric Smartcar.

Daimler Trucks North America, headquartered in Portland, is the leading heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America and is constructing a new headquarters building on its Swan Island campus.

Modified Neighborhood Electric Vehicles or 2-passenger vehicles, like GM’s EN-V, could cross bridges on bike-wide lanes. No light-rail bridge necessary. No drivers, either.

The Ridgefield City Council created a golf cart zone for downtown Ridgefield, to provide citizens enhanced mobility options in the downtown district. This demonstration project would be modeled on England’s autonomous car project in Milton Keynes. Our user cost is targeted at $2 per ride or $6/hr.

The project might be 1/100th the cost of building a new Columbia River bridge ($2.4 billion) and less than the cost of widening North Hayden Island Drive ($25 million). An autonomous car bridge would also feature pedestrian/bike paths. Without cars or light rail, the bridge could be significantly cheaper. Some kind of agreeable bridge extension might allow better bike access while light, electric vehicles could run in the space between the bridges.

This concept wouldn’t require a $190 million study.

The project is anticipated to attract clean electric car industries to the region along with their associated electronic and wireless businesses. The $3 million-plus TIGER II award in 2011 allowed Oregon to bolster its EV-related strategies. Oregon has installed 34 charging stations along major routes and drivers have logged 10,000 charge events.

Portland State’s Electric Avenue helped entice several manufacturers to launch new electric vehicles in Portland, including the Chevy Spark EV and Mitsubishi i-Miev.

Other companies that have used the free public charge stations to test their vehicles, include Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and Car2Go.

It is our belief that autonomous vehicles are ready for public testing.

The $10 million testing ground run by the Mobility Transformation Center, a partnership between the University of Michigan, state and federal governments and auto and technology companies provides one possible model.

It’s like OSU’s Hinsdale Wave Laboratory or Vancouver’s BPA Ross Complex — a nationally respected research asset.

The proposed regional test would attract transportation grants and be 100% self-funded. Who might provide funding? Ford, Jaguar, Freightliner, Mercedes, Toyota, Nissan, Qualcomm, Intel and Google would be among the likely candidates.

The Hayden Autonomous Car proposal, a real-world implementation of autonomous vehicles, promises to off-load traffic from the Interstate 5 bridge and improve pedestrian access to Jantzen Beach. It offers the following benefits:

The “Hayden Eye” Skybridge concept reduces congestion and provides access to Jantzen Beach Super Center, and virtually all points on Tomahawk Island (east of I-5), as well as west of the I-5 bridge, including, perhaps, a waterfront pier on the North side of the Island and some natural areas on West Hayden Island. Perhaps a ferris wheel at the Expo Center could provide an addition inducement, providing views of the Columbia River and Vancouver.

The Hayden Island location is only 8 miles from the Mercedes Swan Island manufacturing facility and provides a manageable real-world environment isolated from other locations by water.

The 1,400 population of Hayden Island skews to older populations. It consists of houseboat owners, condo dwellers and a large manufactured home population. Incomes of Hayden Island residents vary widely.

Congestion on Hayden Island’s main arterial would be lessened with the addition of a wider bike/AutoCar lane to off-load traffic.

Zero emission electric drive benefits the environment and lowers costs.. After passengers are delivered to their destination, the AutoCar automatically returns home to auto charge.

The Port of Portland reduces arterial congestion on I-5 and Marine Drive. Without the Columbia River Crossing, Port terminal expansion now appears problematic.

Portland General Electric benefits from a switch to electric cars rather than fossil fuels. PGE would be eligible for federal grants.

Oregon Iron Works, which is currently building streetcars for multiple jurisdictions across the United States, could be an adviser/partner.

The expertise of Intel Infomatics, Daimler Trucks, and software developers like Globe Sherpa could be utilized.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber called for 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles to hit the road in the next 12 years. He joined leaders from eight other states in the proclamation. Eight automakers now make 16 zero-emission vehicles between them.

The Oregon Transportation Commission is set to approve $42 million in state bonds for 37 non-highway projects, including three proposed to ease the movement of coal and oil through the state.

Connect Oregon is the agency that funds projects other than highways and bridges. In July, 2014, the Oregon Legislature approved 42 million in funding of the multimodal program. It’s funded from bonds with a 20-year lifespan.

The Oregon Department of Transportation would likely be eligible for federal matching grants, while the City of Portland and Multnomah County could be the lead agencies for rights of way and infrastructure. With nearly $10B in TIGER Grants available, federal dollars may be there.

The City of Portland benefits by attracting new high-wage jobs and developing its leadership in sustainability and innovation. Portland has pledged to having 20% of the City’s 2,800 vehicles run on electricity by 2030.

Drive Oregon, the Oregon State agency tasked with promoting a business development hub around sustainable transportation, would lead in developing an RFP, along with PGE, ODOT, the Hayden Island Community, and others.

Low financial risk. If Portland’s shared bike program can raise $5 million in sponsorship dollars, then the autonomous car project could certainly match that. Raising millions in federal grants and other investments might be relatively easy with Google as a partner. The test could conditioned on 100% funding and no taxpayer money.

Hayden Island residents would benefit with public access to natural areas that are currently unavailable, along with wider bike lanes, and low cost transportation that saves money over current Dial A Ride options and provides better service.

Phase Two would add access to and from the Expo Center Light Rail. Access would be proved by a new AutoCar/Bike lane added to the West side of the North Portland Harbor bridge or a dedicated bike/autonomous-car bridge.

Phase Three would add access to and from Vancouver. Access would be proved by a new AutoCar/Bike lane added to the side of the bridge, similar to the Hawthorne Bridge extension.

Just for perspective, NE Maglev has updated its plans for a superconducting maglev train connecting Washington D.C. to New York City in 60 minutes. It’s reminiscent of Elon Musk’s HyperLoop. Maybe the autonomous car test bed could be a kickstarter project or funding from new investment instruments like Hatch could be explored.

Here are some related links:


  1. Google’s Self-Driving Car Test with blind driver (video)
  2. New Yorker: Inside Google’s Driverless Car
  3. Google has talked with “contract manufacturers”, such as Continental AG and Magna International, to build self-driving cars.
  4. Daimler’s Smart For Two equipped with Google’s autonomous package (video)
  5. Here’s a video of a completely autonomous Cadillac driving on East Coast freeways
  6. Forbes: Cars That Drive Themselves Will Have Some Awesome Consequences




Portland’s 20-year comprehensive plan map shows it is betting everything on making car-lite transportation dramatically more attractive than it is now. Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan map shows “how changes to land use, transportation and infrastructure will help make Portland a more livable city”. Designated bike boulevards and greenways which prioritize cyclists and pedestrians over motorized traffic are being built all over town, due in large part to the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Bicycle Plan for 2030.

Driverless transit may now be feasible:

  1. Cheaper bridges could be built. Battery-powered, rubber-wheeled enclosed vehicles are lighter than trains. They can move 4-8 people and go anywhere (within limits).
  2. Autonomous vehicles can move people from a transit stop to their destination. It’s a “last mile” solution and could deliver people to individual shops at Jantzen Beach. It could boost business. Enable mobility. Reduce parking.
  3. It’s a test. It might be the first real-world autonomous transit study in the United States. Grant money would be available with a viable proposal. Portland has the Daimler Benz plant on Swan Island.

Perhaps PSU’s Center for Transportation Studies should vet the idea.

“As you look outside, and walk through parking lots and past multilane roads, the transportation infrastructure dominates,” says Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. “It’s a huge tax on the land.” Most cars are used only for an hour or two a day, he said. The rest of the time, they’re parked on the street or in driveways and garages.

“But if cars could drive themselves, there would be no need for most people to own them. A fleet of vehicles could operate as a personalized public-transportation system, picking people up and dropping them off independently, waiting at parking lots between calls. They’d be cheaper and more efficient than taxis—by some calculations, they’d use half the fuel and a fifth the road space of ordinary cars—and far more flexible than buses or subways. Streets would clear, highways shrink, parking lots turn to parkland.”

Google’s self-driving car has now driven more than half a million miles without causing an accident — about twice as far as the average American driver goes before crashing.

Autonomous cars provide a “last mile” solution for clean, efficient transit and minimize the effects of cold, wet weather. Their arrival is inevitable. Every major automaker is now “in”.

Portland has the technology and infrastructure. We have the expertise. Global leaders such as Freightliner, Intel, Globe Sherpa, Jaguar/Land Rover, and others have headquarters here. An autonomous test could have a big payoff. Conditioned on 100% funding and no taxpayer money.

2 comments on “Self-Driving Car Proposal
  1. Here’s another idea: build and lease narrow commuter cars pre-determined to become equipped with self-driving technology. See and

  2. Sam says:

    Hey, Sam, nice to hear from you. I’m not quite clear on this concept. Your page about this describes phases 2 and 3, but where do the cars go in phase 1? Are you saying we’d retrofit each of the existing Columbia bridges to add a lane? Where does it go? Don’t a bunch of motor vehicles getting on and off the highway on each side of the river make the long-term bottlenecks at the bridge landings even worse?

    – Michael Andersen


    Hi Michael:

    Thanks for your valuable feedback on my screwy driverless car proposal.

    Yes, this proposal needs a little work. It just occurred to me. I got carried away with this idea and tweeted the Governor and Mayor. Oh, geez.

    I was intrigued by the Segway-like smart cars that Milton Keynes is considering. My basic idea is to move people from a Vancouver hub to the Yellow Max line…and create a testbed for autonomous vehicles on Hayden Island.

    I was thinking that the bike-lane retrofit on the Hawthorne – which is also 100 years – could be applied on the I-5 Bridge (somehow). If EVs can operate on narrow bike lanes, maybe they could off-load some traffic. Just an idea.

    Best regards,

    Sam Churchill
    Hayden Island

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