Greater Greater Washington

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If car commercials were honest, this is what they'd look like

A sporty coupe glides joyfully along a seaside highway, all by itself. It's heaven for the anonymous driver. That's the standard, ridiculous car commercial.

This video shows what car commercials would look like if they were actually honest.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


Ask GGW: Which is the best nonprofit to donate a car to?

As more people go car-free and families cut back on how many cars they own, a reader asked us the best way to put an unwanted car to use. Our contributors suggest nonprofits that accept vehicle donations.


Photo by Kars4Kids on Flickr.

Reader Rob asks:

Do you have any preference among the various charities that accept car donations? Are there any reputable ones around here that have better offers on the table than others?
Contributors recommended only a handful of locally-focused organizations. Greg Billing put in a plug for his employer, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association:
WABA receives 70% of a donated car's value. In addition to the donation being tax-deductible, WABA provides the donor with a free one-year membership and our sincere gratitude.
Jonathan Krall added that the annual Tour de Fat group ride, sponsored by New Belgium Brewing Company, offers a prize to a person willing to give up his or her car.

Canaan Merchant suggests our local NPR station:

WAMU will take your car, and I like that station enough that'd I'd probably go with them right off the bat if I were ever donating my car.

Also, WAMU's pitch specifically mentions people looking to cut down on the number of cars they own, which I see as a sign that more and more people are seeing car-free/lite living as normal.

Tina Jones opted to support another local nonprofit radio station:
Several years ago, I donated a car to WETA. They made it really easy. I just called and someone came to tow it and left some documents. Later, they sent confirmation of what it sold for at auction. I will say, though, that had I known, I would have donated it to WABA!
Yours truly adds:
One good organization that accepts car donations is the National Association of Railroad Passengers, for which I used to work and still serve on its national advisory body, the Council of Representatives. NARP advocates on the national, state and local levels for the investment necessary to modernize our passenger train network and make passenger trains an integral part of the national transportation network and a viable travel choice.

On a broader note, there are several companies out there that manage vehicle donations on behalf of many nonprofit clients. I believe it's free for a nonprofits to set up a car donation program with most of them, but the company takes a cut of the value of every car donated.

Another local charity suggestion from Chris Slatt:
If you want to be sure your donated car actually goes toward a good, local use, you can donate to the Automotive Technology program at the Arlington County Career Center. Vehicles donated by the community are used in instruction and/or are repaired by students and auctioned online. Proceeds from these vehicle sales are used to buy the latest tools and equipment for the automotive program as well as fund field trips and events.
Jim Titus provides some background on how car donation tax credits work:
If you are thinking about donating a car, my advice is to ask whoever you're considering donating it to what they're going to do with it.

The federal income tax deduction is limited to $500 or whatever the organization gets for selling the car, whichever is greatest. The larger programs that take cars still seem to be catering to people with junkers who want a $500 deduction regardless of what the car is worth. (I am not commenting on the worthiness of these charities, just the vehicle donation programs).

A few organizations partner with trade schools, or otherwise fix old cars, and sell them. If you give to that type of organization, you can still get the generous tax deduction, and to me, it doesn't raise the same questions about scamming when someone actually gets the old car in working order. Or if your car is worth (say) $2000 and just needs a few minor repairs, at least you get the $2000 fair market value deduction because they will fix it up just a bit and sell for its true value.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

Roads


Mercedes imagines passengers in driverless cars never interacting with the world outside

Driverless cars still aren't ready for consumers to buy, but they're getting closer. When they do, they will reduce dangers and hassles of driving but will not magically eliminate congestion. And it would be a shame if automation totally isolated the riders from the places they travel through, as one concept from Mercedes does.


Scale model of the Mercedes F015 concept car. Photo by the author.

Electric and driverless car concepts made a big splash at this month's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Two concepts from BMW and Mercedes show what is coming soon.

BMW hopes to make parking easier

BMW's foray into automation, called the i3, can't quite drive itself down a city street. But it can park. At the push of a remote, the vehicle can roll forward, without a driver.


BMW i3. Photo by the author.

That sort of innovation may not revolutionize cities as we know them, but it could have immediate practical impacts. A self-parking car could squeeze into tighter parking spots. That could make our parking lots more efficient, saving space and reducing drivers' desire to circle for a better spot.

BMW hopes to continue developing the i3 until it can fully retrieve itself from a parking lot, sans driver. But manufacturers aren't stopping there. Other features include things like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure detection, and eventually full automation.

Mercedes hopes to block out the outside world

BMW wasn't the only car company at CES. Mercedes also made news, with its completely autonomous F015 concept car.

According to Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz, the F015's futuristic design protects its driver in an exclusive "cocoon" of luxury.


Mercedes' F015 concept car. Photo by lincolnblues on Flickr.

With its F015 design, Mercedes strives to isolate passengers behind silvered slits of windows and extra-thick doors. Since the car drives itself, there's no need for anyone in it to bother themselves with views of the outside world. Instead, touch screen computer panels line the doors.

Zetsche compared the car to an exclusive condo, contrasting it with a public subway car that anybody can enter. He recalled Margaret Thatcher's infamous comment that anyone on a bus beyond age 26 "can count himself a failure."

Techno wizardry aside, Zetsche's comments and Mercedes' designs are troublingly antisocial.

Many car drivers already exhibit a "windshield perspective", where the outside of the car seems like an entirely separate, and somehow less real world. That perspective has all sorts of negative effects, from promoting road rage to encouraging snap judgments that magnify social biases.

By taking the next step and literally blocking the outside world from motorists' eyes, Mercedes will surely exaggerate the effect. The world will be out of sight, out of mind.

Will driverless cars cure congestion?

It's still an open question whether autonomous cars will improve congestion or worsen it. On the one hand, they'll eliminate much human error and potentially use road space more efficiently. On the other hand, if more people use cars more often, congestion will likely get worse.

In the meantime, taxis may offer an instructive example.

Like with autonomous cars, travelers can hail taxis whenever they want, and with taxis one need not cruise around for parking. Nonetheless, outside CES at the Las Vegas convention center there was plenty of taxi congestion.

Cabs were simultaneously numerous enough to clog the streets and insufficient to serve everyone waiting for a ride. A colleague reported standing in line for 40 minutes until he could get a ride. Even queued up in a line and ready to go, cabs simply could not move fast enough to load all passengers in a timely manner.

Queuing like at the Las Vegas taxi stand isn't a problem driverless cars will solve. They may reduce some congestion by eliminating cruising for parking or by forming platoons on the highway, but at some point, everything comes down to geometry.

Anyone who's ever tried to catch a cab at DC's Union Station during a busy time of day knows exactly what my colleague experienced.

Meanwhile, I walked around the corner from the convention center, waited five minutes, and took the bus.


A viable alternative to driverless cars. Photo by the author.

Public Spaces


To a pedestrian, a road's a tiny space with danger just beside

Pedestrians surrender a lot of public space to cars. It's something society has accepted, but this clever illustration from Claes Tingvall of the Swedish Road Administration shows how extreme our allocation of public space has become, from the pedestrian's point of view.

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