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Noisy robotaxis keep getting stuck on this posh street, enraging locals

A cityscape with Coit Tower atop a hill, flanked by trees and terraced modern houses under a clear sky.
Residents say they have seen multiple Waymos get stuck in a cul-de-sac on Telegraph Hill. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

“Help is on the way. Thank you for your patience,” blares a disembodied female voice through the Waymo car’s external speaker system as its right turn signal blinks. 

The robotaxi glitch at the end of Greenwich Street is just the latest thing to enrage Telegraph Hill residents, a neighborhood synonymous with NIMBY posturing and infamous for lashing out at grievances, petty and otherwise. 

Bryan Culbertson, a self-described “mobility justice advocate,” posted a video on social media Sunday of a Waymo vehicle stuck at the cul-de-sac on Telegraph Hill in the shadow of Coit Tower. 

Culbertson, who lives in Oakland, captured the scene while on a walk after he heard a resident yelling at the immobile Waymo and its passenger from an upper-floor window. 

A Waymo autonomous vehicle is seen stuck in a residential driveway near Coit Tower on Sunday. | Source: Courtesy Bryan Culbertson

“He was saying, ‘This happens all the time, this is the third one today and these damn things keep getting caught right there,’” Culbertson said, adding he’s seen Waymos stalling out in front of buses and making dangerous or confusing driving decisions. 

Investors have poured more than $5 billion into Alphabet subsidiary Waymo, while its fleet of stark white robotaxis is regularly seen zooming across San Francisco.

As these vehicles have become more ubiquitous, so have concerns about a robotic takeover. In February, one was even set upon and torched in Chinatown. Cruise had its license suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles after the regulator said it “misrepresented” facts about an incident where a woman was dragged 20 feet by one of its robotaxis.

Perhaps it bodes well for our future as a species, though, that these multimillion-dollar pieces of technology appear to be stumped by a humble cul-de-sac. Waymo did not respond to a request for comment on the incident.

In his post, Culbertson argued for more effective regulation on autonomous vehicles, specifically citing SB 915, a bill introduced by San Jose state Sen. David Cortese that would give local governments a say over how and where robotaxis could be deployed. 

“We don’t need to ban them, but we need to try to advance what they’re trying to do without creating negative impacts for everyone else,” Culbertson said. 

Dr. Eileen Aicardi, who lives on the cul-de-sac, said she has seen multiple Waymos get stuck in similar situations or behind construction trucks at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Greenwich Street.

A smiling woman with gray hair, wearing a blue shirt, holds a card at an ornate metal gate.
Telegraph Hill resident Dr. Eileen Aicardi says the vehicles often approach the end of the street at an awkward angle, leaving them trapped while trying to turn around. | Source: Kevin Truong/The Standard

“I’ve seen them not be able to make the curve,” Aicardi said. “They come this way, they’re not at the right angle and they’re not really sure what to do with it.”

Travis Rivers, a neighbor who came bounding over with freshly cut rosemary trimmings, said he’s witnessed a handful of similar incidents in the past. 

In one case, Rivers said the Waymo reversed around the cul-de-sac and then down the street because it couldn’t figure out exactly how to turn around.

Rivers’ pet theory is that the robotaxis are confused by the foliage that covers the cul-de-sac, which tends to sway in the wind. 

“It’s often more than once. Sometimes three times a day,” Rivers said, adding that he’s seen the problems worsen over the last month. “It’s not that tight of a turn.”

A recent attempt by The Standard to re-create the issue also revealed the apparent fix. Instead of driving up the obstacle course, the Waymo instead pulled over at a nearby street. Calling a Waymo directly to the area itself had a similar effect.