Can Self-Driving Vehicles and Bikes Coexist? Minneapolis Is About to Find Out
Minneapolis is one of the few cities in the country with an in-city “bike freeway”: the 5.7-mile Midtown Greenway, most of which runs along a grade-separated former railroad right-of-way that cuts across the southern part of the city.
The community and bicyclist groups that pushed for its creation have also advocated running a streetcar line through the right-of-way. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, but mass transit is coming to the Greenway in the form of driverless mini-shuttles, at least for a few days.
According to a report on Gear Junkie, a news site for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, the “EasyMile” autonomous minibus being tested by the Minnesota Department of Transportation will spend Earth Day weekend scooting back and forth along a three-block section of the Greenway’s bike path that pedestrians also use.
EasyMile’s French manufacturer says the electric-powered vehicle can operate safely in mixed pedestrian and bike traffic. Although Hennepin County officials note that the vehicle can reach a top speed of 25 mph, it will go no faster than 12 mph on its April 20-22 test run.
As it did during Super Bowl LII weekend, when it ran along Nicollet Mall, the EasyMile minibus will follow a premapped route in one lane of the bi-directional bikeway. A human operator will be stationed on board to take control should anything go wrong.
Minnesota DOT has been putting the EasyMile through its paces since late fall, testing it on a closed track to see how well it would operate in Minnesota winters. The Super Bowl service marked the first time the agency used it to carry real people. Should this test prove successful, it’s likely we may see the self-driving shuttle buses using the Greenway to improve connectivity with other rapid transit services in south Minneapolis. As Midtown Greenway Coalition Director Soren Jensen told Gear Junkie, “We pretty much always support improvements to public transportation. Better it be an autonomous shuttle to the light rail or rapid bus than driving their cars, right?”
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