A white Uber autonomous vehicle cruises Smallman Street. Image courtesy of BikePGH.

In the months since Uber unleashed their experimental fleet of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on Pittsburgh, many have questioned the safety of the new technology. Now the local advocacy group BikePGH has launched a survey to see how AVs interact with bicyclists and pedestrians.

“We have a real concern that someone could become involved in a crash with an autonomous vehicle,” says BikePGH communications and marketing manager Alexandria Shewczyk.

She adds that they welcome every experience, whether it’s good, bad or neutral. The survey will then inform how they approach AV advocacy education going forward, and help them decide if more needs to be done to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe.

The survey is available now and runs until March 8, 2017.

Prior to the survey, the reports BikePGH received on AVs ranged from close calls to more innocuous encounters, including one that happened to Shewczyk as she rode her bike.

“It was hesitant and wouldn’t pass me,” she says. “It was just slowly following along behind me.”

After the survey ends, BikePGH will continue to collect information through an online Submit Autonomous Vehicle Experience (SAVE) form. The form allows for more thorough accounts of interactions by allowing contributors to add details such as time of day and weather conditions.

The survey and SAVE form should come in handy as companies continue to use Pittsburgh’s public streets as a testing ground for AVs. In addition to Uber, Ford recently announced it would invest $1 billion in Argo AI, a Pittsburgh startup developing their own self-driving cars.

While BikePGH recognizes the advantages of the technology, stating in a press release that it has the potential to “change the public realm, impact the economy, reduce collisions, and alter our environment like nothing we’ve seen since the invention of the automobile,” there are plenty of reasons to proceed with caution. Last December, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition released a warning about Uber AVs being tested in the city after staff members witnessed them making sudden, unsafe turns into bike lanes. The company reacted by promising to fix the problem.

The troubles in San Francisco didn’t end there. Uber also had to pull and then re-release their AVs after they ran red lights and committed other traffic violations, prompting threats of legal action from the California attorney general and the DMV.

While there are obvious concerns, BikePGH sees the widespread adoption of AVs as inevitable, especially now that a bill outlining autonomous vehicle testing in Pennsylvania has been introduced in the state Senate. The organization only wants to ensure that everyone who uses the roads in Pittsburgh has a say in how that transition unfolds.

“Autonomous vehicles are fast becoming part of our future,” said BikePGH executive director Scott Bricker in an official statement. “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.”

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...