Some self-driving vehicles need sophisticated sensors producing data being analyzed by powerful computers.  An article in The Journal News on June 25, 2017 by Marco Della Cava writes “it seems the success of this transportation revolution hinges on decidedly low tech material: Paint”.   The most critical upgrade of infrastructure amounts to making sure the lines on 4 million miles of roads are solid, bright and preferably white so they can be picked up by computer vision gear.

A USA Today network survey of nearly a dozen states hoping to lead the way in self-driving cars and trucks reveals varying degree of readiness as officials balance anticipating a high shift in mobility with a reluctance to spend infrastructure funds.  Some states such as California, Michigan, Arizona and Ohio are eagerly welcoming self-driving vehicle tests and beginning to make upgrades to roads to accommodate self-driving vehicles.

Two factors make it difficult for states to dive headlong into concrete infrastructure, improvements whether that is painting lane stripes or embedding sensors in road and traffic signs. The first according to the article is a lack of national vision for self-driving vehicles.  President Trump promised to spend upwards of 1 trillion on infrastructure needs.  But so far there is no road map for securing such funds.  The second factor causing some states to put the brakes on is the sense that tech companies such as Uber & Google.  Waxmo and automakers such as Ford, General Motors and others are developing self-driving cars that will have sensors and mapping systems that will not rely on roadway upgrades.

New York has been talking about self-driving vehicles for the last four years.  The first obstacle was a New York Law that requires to have at least one hand on the wheel while the car is in motion.  In late April, 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped in and set aside that law to jumpstart a one year pilot program that gives self-driving companies access to New York roadways.  New York began accepting applications for companies in testing autonomous vehicles.  Audi was the first to receive approval.  Self-driving cars are the next frontier in transportation with potential to vastly improve traffic safety on New York roadways.

According to an article in The Journal News on June 25, 2017, by Thomas C. Zambito and Nathan Bomey self-driving cars are likely to disrupt business models.  (See our blog of October 4, 2016).   Disruption on that scale could represent one of the more dynamic changes to the American economy in the 21st Century.  Twenty-two states have passes legislation related to self-driving vehicles.  The patchwork of rules being created by states could play havoc confusing owners of self-driving cars.  With autonomous vehicle technology changing quickly, no on e

Knows how these cars will evolve.  That is why it is important to develop regulations that are adaptive and flexible.

New cars have cameras, computers and warning signals to make driving safer.  However, all cars have outdated 20th century technology for headlights.  On May 26, 2017, an article in USA-Today The Journal News by Nathan Bomey entitled “Vehicle headlights are stuck in tech’s dark ages”.  According to the article, 250 pedestrians are killed at night every year crossing the road and many cases it is because drivers can’t see them because their headlights don’t shine bright enough.  These findings are backed by headlight expert Michael Flanagan at The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded last year that two-thirds of lighting packages available on 21 small SUV models including Jeep Wrangler, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and the Nissan Rogue deliver poor performance.  Ten midsized car headlights systems were poor including Buick Verano, Hyundai Sonata and the Mercedes Benz C Class. The headlights of seven pickup trucks were rated poor including the Ford F-150, the GMC Canyon and the Toyota Tundra.

The cause of these poor headlights is outdated federal rules that have blocked automakers from introducing head lamps that automatically adjust to oncoming traffic to reduce glare even though the technology is available in Europe and Japan.  According to AAA “there’s technology available today that could potentially reduce some fatalities and it would be simply a matter of regulation change to allow that in the U.S.”

It has now become a sellers’ market because demand for single family homes is up and prices have not reached pre-recession levels.  In an article in the Putnam-Northern Westchester Express of the Journal News on May 11, 2017 by Akiko Matsuda, points out that at a recent open house on North Ridge Street, Rye Brook, New York, 26 group of visitors (young families with young children) toured the 1,797 sq. ft. home put on the market for $699,900.  A day later, the listing agent reported that they had received multiple offers.  Bidding wars were already common place for move-in ready homes in river towns and southern Westchester that offer easy commute by Metro North to Grand Central station.  The inventory is not keeping up with the demand.

Joseph Rand of Better Homes & Gardens Rand Realty states “the story of the real estate market is lack of inventory”. The market is hot and buyers’ demands are very strong.  “We need more listings coming on the market”.  The tight inventory has started driving prices up.  The volume of home sales has been rising in both Westchester & Rockland Counties.  The buyers are young couples with families that left New York City looking for more space.  Single family home sales in the first quarter of 2017 was the highest first quarter in a decade according to Jonathan Miller, President of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants.  “The single family homes inventory was the lowest first quarter in 13 years”.  The number of single family homes for sale in the first quarter of 2017 was down 17% from 2016 in both Westchester & Rockland Counties.  According to Kenyatta Jones-Arieta of Nyack based R2M Realty “when properties come on the market, especially in our area, if they are priced right they get offers and don’t last.  They go within a first week if not the first few days”.  Rand states the levels of sales activity is back where it was in the pre-recession era.

The median sales prices wildly vary in different communities in the region, but the most desirable prices seem to be between $400,000 and $600,000. A majority of first home buyers that are flocking to the lower Hudson Valley aren’t looking for something fancy.  Dorothy Jensen Realty in White Plains states “a lot of people are just looking for a basic house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms”.  They do not want homes that are basic and dated.  They do want their home to be pretty much move in.  If the buyers are spending $400,000 and it is their first home, they do not have a lot of money saved to do major renovations.

We previously blogged on the safety of bicycle lanes on July 31, 2015, September 28, 2015, July 29, 2016 & November 01, 2016, see my blogs.  Today, we are blogging about bicycle laws in the Town of Mamaroneck.  In an article in The Journal News on May 18, 2017 by Gabriel Rom, he points out the Town of Mamaroneck is considering a network of bike lanes through the Village and Town of Mamaroneck.  The Town would create up to 20 miles of new bicycle routes connecting the Town of Mamaroneck to the Villages of Mamaroneck and Larchmont along with new paths between train stations, schools and retail businesses.

Stephen Moser, a member of the Town’s sustainability collaborative stated “this is about seeing our roads as a shared resource not just for automobiles but for pedestrians & cyclists”.  The Town commissioned a draft proposal from bike consultants including former NYC Transportation Commissioner.  The plan presented to the Town Board lists about a dozen possible bicycle routes across the three municipalities as follows:

  1. A portion of Palmer Avenue within the Town;

In an article in The Journal News by Nathan Bomey, it was reported that Johnson & Johnson to pay $110,000,000 to a Virginia woman for failing to disclose the cancer risk from its baby powder.  The woman, Lois Slemp, is 62 yrs. old and was diagnosed in 2012 with ovarian cancer.  The products liability case alleged Johnson & Johnson concealed the possible talc in its baby powder can cause cancer.

Johnson & Johnson has a legal crisis where the company has already lost several similar cases with verdicts of $72,000,000, $70,000,000 and $55,000,000.  Johnson & Johnson faces multiple class action suits.

After three weeks of testimony (expert on both sides testified) a 12 person jury deliberated ten hours before rendering the verdict in the Slemp case.  An attorney representing Slemp and other plaintiffs stated “they chose to put profits over people, spending millions in efforts to manipulate scientific and regulatory scrutiny”.  Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly denied the connection between the talc and cancer.  Johnson & Johnson said it would appeal the verdict as it won two other cases in March.  The company stated “we are preparing for additional trials this year and will continue to defend the safety of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder”.  Johnson & Johnson sold the Shower to Shower brand several years ago.

Westchester pothole experts from Public Works and Highway Departments throughout the region agree this year’s mild winter has meant a mild pothole season.  This is not a benefit to those who hit a pothole damaging their tire and sometimes the rim.  The destructive road craters form when moisture gets into the cracks in the roadway and freezes and expands in cold temperatures which weaken the road.  When temperatures rise (Spring weather) the water melts and leave cracks and gaps that enlarge into potholes by cars and trucks going over the weak spot.

According to an article on March 2, 2017 by Matt Coyne in the Putnam-Northern Westchester Express of The Journal News reports of potholes are entered into a database in New Rochelle.  A supervisor is dispatched to determine how severe the pothole is which helps DPW prioritize repairs.  New Rochelle’s Department of Public Works has two crews out filling potholes averaging 20 – 25 repairs a day.  In 2016, they filled 230 potholes.  This year there have been 100 pothole repairs.

The Westchester County’s Commissioner of Public Works and Transportation, Vincent Kopicke deals with potholes from March through May.  Priorities are given to the parkways and portions of Central Avenue, than smaller less traveled roads.  Public Work crews who are out on other assignments will fill potholes.  Westchester County allocates $300,000 this year for repairs. During the winter when most asphalt plants are closed, the potholes are filled with “cold patch” a temporary fix that fills the potholes with premixed asphalts and tampering it down.  When the weather gets warmer, crews have to return to make permanent “hot patch” fills.

A total of 545 million homes were sold in the US in 2016.  Housing supplies in later December, 2016, fell 10.8%.  Skimpy inventory is expected to act as a headwind in 2017.  After the housing crash, many homeowners owed more on their mortgage than their homes were worth. Owners are waiting to realize bigger equity gains before putting their homes on the market.

According to an article in Putnam-Northern Westchester Express of the Journal News on January 26, 2017 by Akiko Matsuda, the lower Hudson valley housing market was the busiest in 2016 since 2011.  The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, Inc. reported 18,145 closing of residential homes in Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange Counties.  This figure is 2019 higher or 12.5% more than in 2015.

The largest percentage gain in volume was in Orange County where sales of single family homes were up 26.7% from 2015.  The number of sales in 2016 in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties showed growth in 2016 up by 8.4% in Westchester, 21.7% in Putnam and 12% in Rockland compared to 2015.  The volume of sales far exceeded the pace of inventory.   Putnam’s replenishment year end inventory in 2016 was down 31.2%; Westchester inventory was down 21.2%, Orange down 20.8% & Rockland 16.1% down compared to inventory in 2015.  Despite the high levels of sales and low inventory, the median price of homes have not risen that much.  In Westchester, single family homes had a median price drop for two years in a row.  In 2014, it was $635,000 in 2015, 628,875 and 624,000 in 2016.  The median sales price of Rockland & Putnam single family homes went up 2.4% and 4.8% respectively.

The Volkswagen group plead guilty on March 10, 2017 to three criminal charges for its diesel emissions scandal setting it up for a penalty.  According to an article in USA Today – The Journal News on March 11, 2017 by Brent Snavely, this will propel Volkswagen’s total cost to the $20 billion mark.

U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox in Detroit accepted the pleas and set down April 21, 2017 for fines.  They plead guilty to charges of fraud, obstruction of justice and misrepresenting the capability of vehicles with diesel engines imported into the USA.  Judge Cox needed time to review the terms of the settlement which proposes a $4.3 billion fine.  Volkswagen has agreed to a settlement worth about $17 billion for U.S. consumers and dealers who own Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles.

Manfred Doess, Volkswagen’s General Counsel acknowledge that Volkswagen, the world’s largest automaker, willfully and knowingly created software designed to fool government regulators so its diesel engines could pass tougher emission standards adopted in 2007.  The software allowed the cars to engage all emissions gears during testing, then turned it off on the open road.  This resulted in the Volkswagen engine to spew nitrogen oxide at up to 35 times the legal limit.  Doss admitted that Volkswagen’s employees designed software to chat on emissions and some employees destroyed documents after they knew Volkswagen was under investigation.  Doess said high level employees were involved but they were “below the level of Volkswagen AG Management Board”.

The National Traffic & Safety Administration (NHTSA) keep statistics of winter car accident resulting in death.  NHTSA claims wintry weather car accidents killed 4,000 people over the last five years.

In an article by Doyle Rice in USA Today, The Journal News on February 7, 2017, points out wintry weather such as blinding snow squalls occur often in Pennsylvania on I83.  Snow squalls are like little blizzards.   Most people think tornadoes or floods are the deadliest weather but car accident in wintry weather kill more Americans each year than any other weather danger.

From 2011 – 2015, an average of 800 people died a year in car accidents because of snow, freezing rain, sleet or ice according to NHTSA and the Auto Insurance Center.  Ohio was the deadliest state for car accidents more than 420 deaths in the past 5 years.  The average of 86 deadly accidents per year.  New York averages 46 deadly accidents per year.