AUSTIN (KXAN) — Video recorded by an Austin cyclist late last week shows a self-driving car rolling out onto the area’s bike lanes, months after the company began testing its vehicles locally.
In late 2022, General Motors Cruise rolled out its “robotaxi” technology in Austin, in addition to services in Phoenix and San Francisco. This marked the latest attempt at autonomous vehicles in the Texas capital in years, including the now defunct Argo AI vehicles made by Ford, Lyft, Walmart and Volkswagen.
Austin resident Robert Foster lives north of downtown and said he has seen many Cruise AV vehicles in recent months, but this was the first time he has seen a car without a physical driver in the car. As he was driving home around 11 pm last Thursday, that’s when he noticed the car making big turns and going down the bike path. Decided to write it down.
“There was no way the bike could be safely in the bike lane next to it,” he said. “I mean I haven’t seen anything so bad with [Cruise AV] cars before they were occupied or driven by people [the cars]”.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, Foster said he saw several more Cruise AV cars pass by and make the same turn, each turning wide and ending in the bike lane.
“Many cyclists, if they are in a hurry to do so [light]they would be side by side with him. And then the situation will really become dangerous,” he said.
A Cruise spokesperson told KXAN Nexstar on Monday that the company is reviewing lane-mapping technology in the area to better program vehicles. They said that if the cyclist were right next to the Cruise car on the bike path, the sensors would pick it up and work to keep the car from swerving.
“Safety is Cruise’s top priority, not only for our passengers, but for everyone we share the road with. Our technology is constantly improving and we are reviewing our lane maps in this area,” the statement said.
Cruise uses 360-degree camera technology for a complete view around the vehicle, including radar and thermal imaging cameras, according to the company’s safety report. Safety reports filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration detailed dozens of incidents involving Cruise on its multi-city network in 2021, with no major injuries or deaths reported.
“Our fleet is constantly monitored and remote assistance can be provided if needed,” a Cruise spokesperson added.
The two areas in which he saw large numbers of these vehicles were along West Sixth Street and West Campus, areas with a lot of pedestrians and cyclists, especially on weekends. Given his latest video, Foster said he would like to see the return of cruise car safety drivers as they travel through more pedestrian-friendly areas.
But at the city level, Foster added, he wants to see more investment in bike lane safety infrastructure, especially as Austin continues to test self-driving technology on its roads.
“If there were poles or flexible poles, the car would never roll over. [into the lane]”, Foster said. “I really think we should have safety drivers in these cars with the way they work nowadays, because even if they do 99% of things well, 1% of the problems are in downtown Austin or Central Austin could put people’s lives at serious risk.”
The Austin Department of Transportation said in a statement that the Texas Legislature passed an amendment to the Texas Transportation Code in 2017 and passed a separate law in 2021 to oversee autonomous vehicle regulations. However, an ATD spokesperson said they are continuing to work with local AV companies to improve security measures.
“The City has worked with autonomous transportation companies in the past as they enter the Austin market to offer staff knowledge of the local transportation network to help drones operate more safely,” ATD said in a statement emailed to KXAN.