Feet First has Concerns about Robot Delivery Vehicles

The current legislative session in Olympia features a bill (SB5378/HB1325) concerning autonomous delivery vehicles (robots), designed to bring goods (including to-go food orders) to your door. They are also referred to as Personal Delivery Devices (or PDDs). Amazon is currently testing this technology in Snohomish County. This bill would allow these vehicles to operate on the sidewalk unless regulated locally. With more and more new motorized and wheeled devices competing for sidewalk space, is there a point where we should draw the line?

Feet First has several concerns about this bill and urges you to contact your Legislators (see the end of this post).

At Feet First, we believe sidewalks are for people. They are the only part of the streetscape dedicated to pedestrians (including folks in wheelchairs, walking with any sort of assistive device like a cane or walker, pushing a stroller, etc.) We already face many obstacles on sidewalks around the state, including dangerous conditions due to lack of maintenance, illegally parked vehicles, and more. The bar should be set high in terms of adding anything else to our pedestrian space.

Specifically,

  • Because of our relatively narrow sidewalks in many areas, PDDs could take up more than half of the width of some sidewalks, not leaving room for anyone with a walking aid or in a wheelchair.
  • In this same situation, it is unclear how the vehicle would respond to a pedestrian attempting to get around it in a confined space like a narrow sidewalk. Would a remote-location human operator be available quickly enough to avert a potentially hazardous situation? Who would be expected to give way in such a situation? Would the PDD be able to reverse and get out of the way of the pedestrian?
  • We know that many older citizens, and those with mobility limitations, have concerns about balance. Anything that is unexpected or comes up quickly can lead to a loss of balance, and a potentially very dangerous fall.
  • As proposed, these vehicles would be allowed to go up to 10 miles per hour! The average person walks at no more than 3 miles per hour. This speed is simply too fast, particularly in denser walking environments. We would suggest a maximum speed limit of no more than 5 miles per hour.
  • We believe that PDDs must be defined as “vehicles” – because that is what they are – a means of carrying or transporting something.
  • The bill allows PDDs to use sidewalks unless municipalities ban them or to limit their speed. This should not be an opt-out situation – municipalities should need to opt into allow PDDs, and community members should have a chance to voice their concerns at the local level.
  • We believe that, if PDDs are allowed, delivery vehicle companies must be required to carry at least $1million in liability insurance per vehicle. The risks to pedestrians, particularly those most vulnerable to falling down or losing their balance, need to be properly covered.
  • We also believe that cities should require that any administrative costs, and any infrastructure costs, related to PDDs, should be charged *to the company that provides the PDDs*, and should not be borne by the citizens of that city. A firm that is using public right of way for profit should be responsible for helping maintain that right of way. Perhaps there should be a per-PDD charge for sidewalk repair and maintenance.
  • One interesting twist is that PDDs can gather sidewalk quality data (pavement condition, heaves/cracks, etc.) This data is expensive and time-consuming to gather; Seattle took over a decade to update the citywide dataset. If company(ies) were compelled to provide this data to cities in Washington, that data would be very helpful in allocating unfortunately scarce sidewalk repair and maintenance funds.
  • Before passing state legislation for an unknown and untested new idea, we suggest instead that a yearlong testing and data gathering period overseen by the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, the Pedestrian/Bike Safety Advisory Committee (or Active Transportation Safety Advisory Committee), and WSDOT’s Active Transportation team. Let’s take the time to fully and carefully consider the potential impacts of this technology before creating a permanent entitlement for their use on our increasingly crowded and disrupted sidewalks.
Follow this link to tell your Washington State Senator your concerns with SB 5378
Follow this link to tell your Representatives your concerns with HB 1325.

 

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