Amazon contracts with small, independent shipping services for many of its deliveries and requires them to hit high delivery targets. According to Buzzfeed, “drivers say they often have to deliver upward of 250 packages a day — and sometimes far more than that — which works out to a dizzying pace of less than two minutes per package based on an eight-hour shift.”
The need for speedy deliveries, when carried out by small, independent delivery companies, can create safety hazards for drivers who feel pressured into long shifts and rushed driving. This is dangerous for drivers as well as everyone who shares the road with them. One of the issues is that small last-mile carriers may have less rigorous safety practices than traditional carriers, like the US Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS that have more resources to dedicate to risk-management and driver safety, and are subject to greater governmental oversight.
The article questions the ethics of Amazon’s delivery model. However, because these drivers work for independent companies, not Amazon, the e-commerce giant is largely able to shield itself from allegations of wrongdoing. This protects Amazon from lawsuits that could arise from accidents involving its delivery trucks.
Another article published by the Wall Street Journal on September 10, 2019, reported that multi-story warehouses may become more popular in the U.S. as land prices rise and demand for next-day and same-day delivery increases. An early example came when Amazon recently leased 500,000 square feet of space in a three-story warehouse in Seattle in order to locate more distribution close to its customers. The article explains that this will facilitate faster and more cost-effective delivery of goods in dense urban areas. Though this type of warehousing facility is new to the U.S. real estate market, it may prove to be a profitable investment in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, where demand and prices for urban land are high.
So what do these two developments have to do with one another? They both have implications for the delivery of goods in America’s urban areas. As online retailers seek out warehousing locations closer to their customers, multi-story facilities in urban areas may become more numerous than sprawling single-story warehouses in the suburbs. This will, in turn, affect the routes, number of trips, and vehicle miles traveled by delivery trucks. It may also affect the number of trucks on the road and traffic congestion. Trends in warehousing and last-mile delivery are evolving at the same time, and time will tell how they interact.
The Transportation and Communities Summit 2019 at Portland State University is coming up Sept. 19-20! This annual two-day summit connects mobility-focused research to equitable practice and policy, and speakers will this year will talk about ways of mitigating the impacts of transportation infrastructure on housing displacement, how to develop and structure e-bike incentive programs that reduce barriers to access, and how to use data science to tell a story (among many other topics!). UO Professor of Journalism Andrew DeVigal will also be speaking about how to communicate transportation concepts and research findings with broad audiences. A few UO students and recent graduates (including Karen Mason who just published a blog about her analysis of e-scooter regulations) will be presenting as well. Get more info and register for the Summit here. We hope to see you there!
We’ve all heard the myriad promises that are set to come along with the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Improved safety, enhanced convenience, and increased productivity are all touted as benefits of no longer having human drivers operate vehicles. While these all sound appealing at first pass, these projected benefits are not without their caveats.
While removing human error and distraction from diving would make driving safer, the first pedestrian death by driverless vehicle was a tragic reminder that self-driving technology has a ways to go. And with initial reports indicating that transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, whose models of operation are often referred to as predecessors of AVs, appear to be increasing congestion, the convenience of AVs may be tempered by the increased traffic they create.
But what about increased productivity for AV passengers? That’s still on the table, right? Turns out you may need to hold that thought, too. If you’re one of the roughly 1 in 3 people who can’t read in a moving vehicle without feeling queasy, the promise of sending emails, catching up on the news, and videoconferencing as a passenger in an AV may not apply for you.
The University of Michigan’s Mcity recently published a whitepaper that discusses the effect that motion sickness may have on the acceptance rates of AVs. Whereas many motion sickness-prone people are able to avoid nausea and headaches by driving a vehicle, sitting in the driver’s seat would no longer be an option in AVs. Further, the study found that passengers who were “reading and interacting with a handheld device result[ed] in higher motion sickness ratings.” Given that most AV-friendly productivity tasks would likely be completed with the use of some sort of handheld electronic device, it’s reasonable to assume that the options for engaging in tasks as an AV passenger will be much more limited for those who suffer from motion sickness.
While motion sickness may well be a less pressing concern than safety and increases in vehicle miles traveled, the work by Mcity points to a larger issue – the fact that there are many unknowns or not-yet-thought-of’s with AVs. We will certainly learn a lot once AVs start rolling out in larger numbers, but for some issues, like equity, health and safety, and municipal finance, waiting until AVs are already on the ground to think through these potential issues may be too late. Focusing on finding avenues for technology to support and help realize existing community needs and goals is one way to start to see past the flashy promises and begin having practical conversations about what new technologies might mean for all populations, needs, and abilities.
By Karen Mason, Graduate in Community and Regional Planning from the University of Oregon
The popularity and rate of adoption of this new mode has been remarkable. The first electric shared-use scooters (e-scooters) appeared on the streets of Santa Monica, CA in September of 2017. By May 2019, fourteen electric scooter companies were operating across 97 American cities. As with anything new, however, there are challenges to be addressed. One such challenge is answering the question, “How should cities regulate e-scooters as they become a more common piece of the urban landscape?” As part of my Community and Regional Planning graduate studies at the University of Oregon, I set out to answer this question.
To answer the questions of how cities should regulate e-scooters, I studied the regulatory documents for e-scooter pilot programs and interviewed city staff in Santa Monica, CA, San Francisco, CA, and Portland, OR for insight and answers. These three cities provide critical insight into scooter regulations. Each had an e-scooter pilot program in place, although the timing of pilot initiation and e-scooter arrival in each city differed. Santa Monica, the first city in the world to have e-scooters, had no choice but to be reactive in governing this new technology when it arrived on the scene in September of 2017. San Francisco was in the process of drafting regulations when e-scooters besieged them in early 2018. Portland was able to get ahead of the curve (or e-scooter, if you will) and establish rules and regulations before e-scooter operations began in late July 2018.
I found that each city shared the same base motivations for launching an e-scooter program, thus focusing the intention of their e-scooter regulations. Each city wished to facilitate a shift away from personal automobile use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each also sought equitable access to ensure that scooters increased options and benefits for vulnerable populations. And each wanted to increase safety for all road users, including e-scooter users, but also pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, and anyone else who uses public streets.
Regulations from my case study cities focused on fees, fleet size, enforcement, data sharing, community engagement, and equity. My research assessed each city’s goals as well as its approach to each regulatory category. For the sake of brevity, however, this post provides a high-level overview of the enforcement, fleet size, data sharing, and equity components.
As previously mentioned, e-scooter implementation has not been without challenges. City staff from these case cities cited that major drawbacks to an e-scooter pilot include sidewalk riding and improper parking. They also mentioned the need for better infrastructure and educational outreach as tools to mitigate this.
All three cities provide detailed instructions about the Do’s and Don’ts of e-scooter parking in their regulatory documents. Parking regulations dictate that parked e-scooters should not impede access for persons with disabilities and should park in either dedicated parking areas or the curb/furniture zone of the sidewalk corridor. The cities encourage in-app messaging and geofencing to direct users to return units to designated parking areas.
The cities regulate sidewalk riding less directly than they do e-scooter parking, and primarily rely on state regulations for bikes to dictate where e-scooters can and cannot operate (like sidewalks).
In addition to parking and sidewalk riding, the cities regulate e-scooter fleet sizes through either a fixed or dynamic fleet cap. A fixed fleet size allows a specified number of e-scooters to operate on city streets, no more and no less. A dynamic fleet, however, can grow or shrink in size based on specific criteria. San Francisco and Portland both use a fixed cap, but Santa Monica uses a dynamic cap based primarily on a Minimum Utilization Rate (MUR) of four rides per e-scooter per day. If usership exceeds the MUR, vendors can increase their fleet size. Likewise, if usership falls below the MUR, vendors must remove e-scooters from the streets.
In addition to the number of e-scooters on the streets, the cities also consider how e-scooter vendors perform, including user feedback, how well they maintain the e-scooters, their responsiveness to service requests and safety/security concerns, measures taken to eliminate sidewalk riding and parking, and community engagement and safety workshops.
The cities also require either real-time or archived trip data and use these data to inform infrastructure decisions such as adding bike lanes, extending curbs, and “right-sizing” designated parking locations, pick-up/drop-off zones, and fleet sizes. Portland also used data to communicate numbers and facts to the public through weekly Tweets. The data helped to clarify the perception of who is using e-scooters and established that Portlanders used e-scooters as a means of transportation and not just recreation.
Lastly, all three cities specify a number of regulations to meet equity goals. Regulations for equity include providing a low-income plan option, that some provisions of service be available in multiple languages, and that access to e-scooter service be available without the use of smartphones or debit/credit cards. None of the cities studied require all of the above. Instead, each city either requires or prefers that vendors offer a selection of the few provisions listed, and no city is alike in the equity provisions requested.
This brings us back to the question at hand, “How should cities regulate e-scooters?” Using my research, I do not believe cities need to reinvent the wheel. I recommend that cities require equitable distribution across the entire city (not just the downtown core) and within proximity to transit stations to enable first- and last-mile connectivity. They should use all the tools in their toolbox for mitigating unwanted e-scooter parking behavior, including requiring lock-to mechanisms and unique identification numbers in design specifications and employing geofencing to direct users to designated parking areas. They should require both real-time and archival data, and use that data to inform infrastructure decisions. Lastly, they should require the provision of low-income plans and service in multiple languages.
My research paper goes into greater depth about my findings and recommendations. It was written through the lens of providing recommendations to one specific city—Eugene, Oregon—but my research can be applied to any city seeking guidance on establishing their own e-scooter pilot program. Currently, e-scooters have not yet arrived in Eugene, but the city is working to change that. To read further, please go to https://www.karenmasonmakesplans.com.
Urbanism Next is hiring! As we create our new online resource to share information and thinking about emerging technologies and their impacts, we are seeking a Web Content Project Coordinator to oversee content creation for the site. If you have a background in Urbanism Next-related fields, are interested in the effects that emerging technologies are having on people, places, and policies, and you have excellent writing skills, we invite you to apply to be part of our team here in Portland!
Further details can be found in the job posting at the UO Careers site. This posting will remain active until the position is filled, but review of applications will begin on August 6th. We look forward to sharing the details of our new online resource with you all later this year!
As Urbanism Next has explored autonomous vehicles, e-commerce and the future of cities, many readers may be wondering about the impacts that these advances may have on labor. And they would not be alone. It seems like everyone (including John Oliver) is talking about automation lately, especially in regards to its impact on labor.
There are several studies from the past few years from the likes of McKinsey, Brookings, and the World Economic Forum that have attempted to quantify the degree to which labor will be impacted by automation. Before diving too much into those studies, it is important to point out one common theme: very few jobs will be entirely replaced by automation in the near-future. One simply cannot look down a list of jobs and say that this one will be replaced by a robot in ten years and that one won’t be. Rather, it is more telling to look at the tasks associated with a particular job and predict which of those tasks are susceptible to automation. As John Oliver points out in the clip linked above, ATMs did not replace bank tellers. ATMs merely allowed tellers to shift from focusing on tasks like dispensing cash to more customer-service focused tasks such as opening and closing accounts and advising clients on mortgages.
McKinsey reports that nearly half of all tasks that make up current jobs are susceptible to automation by 2055. Most of those tasks are connected to jobs that are low-wage and low-skill. For example, while only 8% of the tasks performed by an applications software programmer are expected to be automatable, 91% of the tasks of food preparation workers are expected to be automated in that timeframe. Brookings estimates that one quarter of total jobs in today’s economy are highly susceptible to automation (meaning that 70% or more of tasks can be automated). However, they also predict that 0.5% of jobs are comprised of tasks that are fully susceptible to automation. The World Economic Forum expects 1.37 million workers to be displaced from their current roles worldwide.
Forecasting the trends and pace of technological advancement is, naturally, difficult. Who in 2005 would have predicted that within ten years, most Americans would be using handheld devices for personal computing? In 2012, we thought that within ten years most personal computing would be taking place on our glasses, but that hasn’t come to fruition.
Most studies are bullish on the ability of technological advances to spur job creation, but one would be hard-pressed to find a prediction of how many jobs will be created in a given timeframe. Quite simply, no one knows what jobs or how many of them will be necessary to interact with technologies that have not even been invented yet. What looks to be the trend, however, is that many tasks that are low-skill and require few educational qualifications are at highest risk of automation while tasks performed by high-skill, high-educational attainment workers are relatively much safer. We also know that there are specific metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas and Dallas-Fort Worth that have a larger concentration of low-skill workers than many other cities and therefore have a greater chance of seeing unemployment rates rise in the coming years unless those workers are retrained or reskilled.
Urbanism Next is especially interested in the specific impacts that autonomous vehicles may have on labor and how these impacts may be felt differently in different cities and regions. A report by the Office of President Obama reports that automation could eliminate somewhere between half and three-quarters of driving-related jobs (which are largely low- to medium-skill) by 2033 while also leading to substantial indirect job creation in other sectors such as technology and computer programming. Meanwhile, the RAND Corporation suggests that autonomous vehicles may give workers easier and cheaper access to jobs by greatly reducing the cost of transportation, although that, of course, depends on a variety of factors related to deployment that are as yet unknown.
Ultimately, many researchers agree that automation will be a mixed bag for workers, eliminating some jobs, creating some new ones, and potentially making other jobs less monotonous. These impacts will likely be felt disproportionately by different sectors and different locales and could exacerbate geographic economic segregation. Understandably, workers are increasingly anxious about this mixed bag of job elimination/creation/evolution. For its part, Amazon recently announced that it is planning to retrain approximately 100,000 employees by 2025. As Ben Casselman and Adam Satariano write in the NY Times, “The investment is a large-scale experiment in whether companies can remake their existing work forces to fit a fast-changing technological world.” Only time will tell…
Matt Salazar is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and an Urbanism Next Fellow.
We are pleased to announce that the National Urbanism Next Conference will be held May 14-15, 2020 in Portland, OR! More details will be forthcoming soon, but we hope you mark your calendars now and plan to join us next year. We’ll also be sure to announce when our call for proposals is open. This field is evolving at a rapid clip—what will/should we be talking about in 2020? We hope you’ll help us shape those conversations in the coming months.
In the meantime, you can check out many of the presentation slides from this year’s conference, which are now online! There were so many great discussions and sessions, and we’re glad to be able to provide this window to the conference. Thank you again to all of our speakers for sharing your knowledge, insights, ideas, suggestions, lessons learned, and more!
Many auto manufacturers talked a big game in 2017 and into 2018 about how soon they would have fully autonomous vehicles on the road, with many promising it could be as soon as 2020 or 2021. We’re now more than six months into 2019, creeping up fast on 2020, and many of those timelines now appear to be, well, optimistic. AVs no longer seem quite as inevitable in the near-term as the breathlessness of 2018 suggested…but that’s not to say that advancements are not still being made. We seem to have moved from the phase of “promises fueled by unbridled luster” to the more tempered “alliances are the way of the future” phase. As Jim Press, former deputy chief executive of Chrysler told the NY Times, “large-scale alliances are essential to ‘have a path for success in this transformative era.'”
These partnerships make sense, of course. Developing electric autonomous vehicles is an expensive endeavor requiring a lot of upfront investment and the ability to iterate fast as competition heats up. By forming these alliances, automakers can play to their existing strengths and innovate more quickly, or at least that’s the hope. No doubt their eyes on are Waymo, which was awarded the first permit by the California Public Utilities Commission to participate in the state’s AV passenger service pilot program, which is distinct from California’s AV testing pilot program. It’s currently very limited in scope—only Waymo employees and guests can get a ride for now—but it’s one step closer to robo-taxi service coming soon to a city near you (at least if you’re in California or Arizona). That’s all to say that the flames of the AV fire may have died down a bit in 2019, but make no mistake, it’s still burning…we’ll see what comes of these newly forged alliances in the next year or so as they race to compete.
And what did they find? Are cities preparing for AVs? Largely, no. They write, “Minimal planning for AVs has been undertaken thus far at the municipal level.” This is in spite of the fact that majority of survey respondents believe that AVs will be commercially available within 10 years and that it could be as soon as 5 years. Here are a few more stats from their survey: Over 40% of respondents believe that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will increase with the introduction of AVs, at least a bit or a lot, compared with just 22% who think it will decrease. Approximately 26% of respondents think that congestion will increase, but 38% think it will actually decrease. More than 27% responded that they think walking and biking will increase, while only 14% think it will decrease…
Their findings are interesting on many levels. As Laura Bliss points out in CityLab, this runs counter to the much of the published research about the impacts that transportation network services (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft—often considered a proxy for AVs—are having on cities. Granted, there are a lot factors at play—TNCs may be contributing to congestion but it’s not like congestion didn’t exist before. And TNCs are certainly not the sole reason that many cities are experiencing decreases in transit ridership and other mode shifts. However, it’s interesting to try and imagine how AVs could help ease congestion or increase walk and bike trips without any policy interventions or regulations. At the end of the day, AVs are just vehicles and if they’re used in much the same way today—with most people riding alone—why would the outcomes be all that different?
We are not alone in this thinking, as the researchers suggest: “It is worth noting, in particular, the relatively large number of officials who worry about AVs increasing VMT and sprawl while reducing transit ridership and employment. If those fears come to fruition, many cities will be acting in direction opposition to their stated policy goals.” These are current policy goals in plans that have already been adopted. They go on to conclude, “Despite the nebulousness surrounding AVs, this finding indicates a need for creating policies specifically targeted at preventing these deleterious effects.”
The researchers make the case that the time to act is now, and we agree. Planning for AVs is not just about incorporating them into future plans, but in “connecting current problems with plans for AVs…” These problems already exist—let’s work on them on addressing them proactively now and—bonus—preparing for AVs at the same time.
Uber and Lyft are, not surprisingly, fighting for marketshare—and arguably wanting a monopoly—in San Francisco around bikesharing. (Check out Streetsblog for the full story.) While some of the fight has to do with which agency—San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) or Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)—has authority to regulate micromobility, the discussion points to two big issues to consider.
First, what is the role of municipal governments in helping—even sheltering—a company to get it off the ground, and build momentum and public acceptance of a new mode (one presumably that has added community benefits in terms of physical activity and reduced emissions). It is critical for cities to understand the business model of these companies enough to know how much help they truly need and not give away too much or create a non-competitive environment that will limit things long-term. Not an easy task in a quickly shifting world.
Secondly, the ideal scenario, eventually, is to get both companies on the same Mobility as a Serivce (MaaS) platform. It is easy to imagine that neither wants this and would instead want to dominate marketshare, but, from the article, there is already a sense that one company is having trouble providing all the needed bicycles for the city.
A big question here is what is the business model for transportation service providers vs. MaaS platform providers. This is still unclear. Should one just be a supplier for the other? And would that be of vehicles or of clients? Where is there money to be made and what are the additional opportunities with this? (E.g., for bringing customers to other services, for instance.) And what benefits or pitfalls exist if the transportation service provider and MaaS platform provider are the same company (as the walled gardens both Uber and Lyft are trying to build around their platforms)?
All of this points to the absolute need for cities to have a fairly high understanding of how new mobility companies work and where they see a long-term business case.
The 2019 National Urbanism Next Conference brought together over 500 people, including a great mix of private sector, public sector, academic and nonprofit representatives from a variety of disciplines. The three day event featured discussions on a wide variety of topics, with a concentrated focus on collaborative solutions for how emerging technologies can be harnessed to achieve desired outcomes. Many important and interesting points were made, but here are a selection of our key takeaways.
“Equity is not a commitment. It’s a practice.” Hana Creger with The Greenlining Institute spoke about racial equity and mobility, outlining the past, present, and the future. To arrive at a more equitable future, we have to start now, in the present, by intentionally building equity into every stage of planning, every pilot project, and every program. That means not only starting with the development of a shared vision, but also identifying meaningful and measurable equity outcomes and everything in between. For more information and guidance, check out The Greenlining Institute’s Autonomous Vehicle Heaven or Hell? Creating a Transportation Revolution That Benefits All and the Mobility Equity Framework. As Hana so eloquently stated, “Equity is not a commitment—it’s a practice.” Let’s make it so.
“Transit backbone = Best way to get around town.” Bruce Schaller (Schaller Consulting) reminded us that even with all the new mobility options emerging, we cannot lose sight of transit and what a crucial role it plays. The geometry of our streets is essentially fixed, and we have to focus on maximizing that space by moving people as efficiently as possible—that means more people in fewer vehicles. And it’s not only about geometry. Public transit is linked to density, which is linked to innovation, which is linked to productivity, which is linked to opportunity, as Bruce outlined in his presentation. Transit must be the backbone and all other mobility options should support transit networks. Undertaking assessments of which new mobility options work best in which densities, morphologies, and socioeconomic contexts will help cities figure out how to promote new mobility services in areas where they are most useful and discourage their use in areas where they contribute to increased congestion and greenhouse emissions and compete with transit.
“Why do we allow the delivery of a box with a single nail clipper during the peak hour? Why do you need to ship a single tomato during rush hour?” Sucharita Kodali with Forrester Research gave an eye-opening presentation on the growth of e-commerce and the ways in which free shipping has distorted the market, resulting in negative externalities along the way—like a box with a single nail clipper being transported during the peak hour. How do we get the most efficiency from the street for both goods and passenger trips? Planners have to incentivize beneficial behavior and disincentivize congestion-inducing deliveries of non-essential items during peak hours.
Data, data, data. There is no doubt that data was a still hot topic this year, as it was last year, but the conversation is evolving. Last year, a lot of the discussion centered around the need for data, as well as the impediments to sharing it. In the past year, progress has been made in the development of shared data standards, with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation having taken a lead in this field through the creation of the Mobility Data Specification (MDS). Concerns about data privacy and security are still taking center stage, with lots of related discussions about how fine-grained the data needs to be in order for cities to be able to answer the questions they have to create informed policies. What is usable, what is useful, and what is extraneous? While the details have yet to be worked out—and without a doubt, the upcoming year will see continued developments in this area—coming to a consensus on shared data standards will be critical to the development of public-private partnerships.
Collaboration is key. This one is two-fold. The first part is about the need for collaboration between the private and public sectors in the form, of yes, PPPs or public-private partnerships. We also need to be keeping lines of communication open. If anything is certain at this moment in time, it is that the field is incredibly dynamic and constantly evolving. At last year’s conference, e-scooters were barely on the radar and this year, they were featured in multiple sessions. And that relates to the second point—the built environment disciplines need to be working in tandem and learning from each other. One of the most common refrains we heard from attendees was how valuable it was to hear from people working in a variety of fields and how useful it was to attend sessions that featured a mix of panelists, bringing in a cross-sector perspective.
These are our key takeaways for this year’s conference, but there is so much more to be discussed. We hope you all will join us in the keeping the conversations going throughout the upcoming year and working together to achieve desired outcomes in this era of change. Keep an eye out for the Urbanism Next NEXUS (anticipated launch in Fall 2019), a one-stop-shop to get the latest research, thinking, and discussion about how emerging technology is impacting cities. We look forward to seeing you next year!
Summer is almost here, and you know what means: the days are getting longer, the nights are getting warmer—and prime scooting season is upon us. E-scooters were a featured topic of discussion at the 2019 National Urbanism Next Conference, and for good reason. They essentially exploded onto the micromobility scene in 2018, eliciting a mix of reactions ranging from delight to consternation. Cities have been grappling with a host of questions, such as should they even be allowed on city streets? (NYC still says no.) If they are allowed, where should they be ridden? And also, where should they be stored when in not use? The crux of the issue is that the public right-of-way is limited—there’s only so much space to go around—so how does that space get allocated? For obvious reasons, cities don’t want to see sidewalks cluttered by e-scooters or other shared micromobility devices, creating potential obstructions and unsafe conditions for pedestrians.
As more and more attention is given to curb management and space allocation, cities are increasingly thinking about curbside and right-of-way charging as well. Range anxiety, which is the fear that an electric vehicle will run out of charge between charging stations, is cited as a top reason why Americans are not buying EVs. The fear of hopping on an e-scooter only to have it run out of juice mid-trip may not be the same kind of determent for fans of the micromobility devices, but it’s a bummer nonetheless. If we want to continue to electrify our transportation modes, we need to make our streets more hospitable to electric modes, which includes increasing charging capacity. Our community partners over at Forth will be talking a lot about the future of charging and how we can lead to an increasingly electrified future at Roadmap 12, coming up June 18-19 in Portland. (Use the code URBANISM to get $75 off registration!)
Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2019 National Urbanism Next Conference and helped make it a success! We could not have done it without the support of our partners and sponsors, without the time and effort given by every single presenter, without the dedication of our volunteers, and of course, without the energy and interest of all the attendees.
Over 500 people joined us in Portland last week, including a mix of academics, private sector, public sector, and nonprofit representatives. The combination of professions and academic disciplines enabled attendees to hear a mix of unique perspectives on a wide variety of issues. We were delighted to have Oregon, Washington, and California well-represented, but we were also very glad to have folks from nineteen other states and the District of Columbia in the room as well. Additionally, it was so great to have 26 international participants representing Canada, The Netherlands, Australia, Austria, Iceland, Turkey, Lebanon, and more, and have an opportunity to get their perspectives on how emerging technologies can be harnessed to achieve the kinds of outcomes we want to see.
Thanks to everyone who helped capture great quotes and interesting insights via social media! Check out our Twitter feed and search #UrbNext2019 for a glimpse at what people were talking about. We will also be sharing more information soon about our key takeaways, as well posting photos, videos and presentation slides from the conference presentations.
We here at Urbanism Next had a great time and are already starting to think about next year, so please stay tuned! As always, we welcome your suggestions so please contact us if you have ideas you’d like to share. Many, many thanks again to everyone involved!
The National Urbanism Next Conference is almost here, but there’s still time to register! It’s going to be a jam-packed couple of days full of information, ideas, and insights—we hope you’ll join us!
On Tuesday, May 7 we’ll be hosting a series of half-day workshops at the White Stag Building, along with a full-day workshop geared towards elected officials and government leaders. Workshops are filling up, so be sure to register soon if you’re interested in getting into of those! (We will be offering a wait list for those that are already full.) On Tuesday evening, we’ll be heading over to Urban Studio for a round of fun and fast-paced lightning talks. RSVP here!
We’ll be moving over to the Oregon Convention Center on Wednesday, May 8 and the morning will be filled with a series of plenaries about e-commerce and last mile delivery, public-private partnerships, new mobility and transit, the opportunity to re-forest cities, and how climate, economy, and health outcomes can be translated into tangible change. The afternoon will be full of breakout sessions covering a wide range of Urbanism Next-related topics, and the day will be capped off with an evening reception.
On Thursday, May 9 we’ll be kicking off the day with a plenary about why racial equity matters in mobility. Attendees will then have a slew of great breakout sessions to choose from throughout the day, with a lunch that will be accompanied by a discussion about mobility-as-a-service.
Whether it’s senior housing in the smart technology era, how transportation changes impact municipal budgets, micromobility pilot programs, or labor considerations for the gig economy, we’ll be talking about it in just two short weeks in Portland!
Urban delivery is a complex ecosystem, and one that continues to evolve as new technologies emerge. Terrestrial drones (or self-driving robots, or robo-couriers) like those operated by Starship Technologies are already on the scene, and growing in popularity— they seem to be especially popular on college campuses. Amazon, perhaps unsurprisingly, is getting into the terrestrial game as well and has started piloting the “Scout” for Prime deliveries in a few neighborhoods in Washington.
What does urban delivery look like when we add an aerial component? According to a Pew Research Center survey, there’s still a lot of wariness about drone delivery—about 54% of respondents said they didn’t think that drones should be allowed to fly near people’s homes. That being said, the question posed was not specific to commercial delivery but just drones in general. Perhaps some people may feel differently if the drone flying close to their home is making a quick package delivery? There are potential environmental benefits of drone delivery, but it’s hard to know just how quickly this kind of delivery might scale up—and what it might mean for cities if/when it does.
Article from the SF Chronicle is tracking the conversation about E-Scooter expansion in San Francisco. Scoot and Skip have been operating there for the last year after a contentious start to scooterdom in the city. A number of companies flooded the market, prompting the City to ban them altogether until they developed a plan for pilot deployment. That went well and now they are thinking of going from at total of 1250 scooters to 2500 scooters.
Some of the secrets to success of the roll-out:
Regulation and enforcement that keeps scooter riders off of sidewalks
Locking! The entire SF fleet has locking mechanisms that seem to have 1. reduced overall number of complaints about scooters misparked on sidewalks and 2. have limited the number of scooter thefts.
Some problems to keep working on: demographic using the scooters is still largely white, male and wealthy.
Come to the Urbanism Next Conference to learn how cities throughout the country are shaping micromobility in their communities!
Early bird registration rates for the National Urbanism Next Conference are only available through the end of the day Friday! We are very excited about the conference program, and we have a great lineup of speakers, sessions, and workshops covering everything from how to harness shared mobility data and curb management to the opportunities and challenges of urban delivery and senior housing in the age of the sharing economy. Check out our website for complete details. This year we will also be hosting a lightning talks event on Tuesday, May 7! We hope you will join us in Portland May 7-9!
London’s new Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) charge was instated this week, adding a £12.50 ($16.40) charge on top of the regular £11.50 ($15.10) congestion charge for driving in the heart of London. The added ULEZ charge applies to gas-powered vehicles older than 2006 as well as diesel-powered vehicles older than 2015. Want to drive a diesel or gas-powered private bus into the ULEZ? That’ll be an additional fee of £100, or roughly $131, per trip please.
London’s polluted air affects two million residents and the amount of pollution-related deaths is startling. Limiting older, more polluting vehicles is an important step in addressing these preventable deaths and illnesses. While the ULEZ is now operational in the Central London core, London plans to expand the ULEZ to a much broader and more residential area in 2021. Since lower income people tend to live in areas more exposed to pollutants in disproportionate numbers, expanding the ULEZ to include London’s inner ring suburbs will help extend the benefits of cleaner air to these groups. However, lower income people also tend to be more car-dependent, especially those who work in the central city area but have been pushed to seek more affordable housing further from their jobs. And lower income people are also more likely to drive vehicles that would subject them to the ULEZ fees in their own neighborhoods when the area is expanded.
The potential for financial impacts to lower income people also came into play in New York City’s congestion pricing debates as well. However, as Laura Bliss from CityLab reports, a prominent NYC anti-poverty advocacy group found that the vast majority of lower income people that commute to Manhattan use transit, and thus would benefit from the transit system improvements that congestion pricing would fund. Additional financial mitigation measures are being considered for affected lower income people in NYC, and in London there are plans to provide lower-income people with funding to replace their cars with newer ones that would be exempt from the ULEZ charges.
The idea that congestion charges are inequitable does deserve careful consideration as it is important that the needs and experiences of all road users are accounted for. But in order to compare the fairness of congestion pricing to the current system without such pricing, we must think more broadly about what fairness entails. As Michael Manville outlines, “the benefits of free roads accrue disproportionately to wealthy people.” Only the lower income people who can afford to buy, fuel, insure, and maintain the vehicles needed to drive on ‘free’ roads benefit from this amenity. Conversely, many more lower income people cannot afford driving at all, making strategic and systemic investment in transit all the more critical. Congestion pricing with well-planned revenue allocations can indeed help benefit lower income populations with better transit services and cleaner air in the neighborhoods that are closest to major streets and highways.
One of the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, which was initiated by Robin Chase and has now been signed by a broad coalition of nonprofit entities, private companies, and municipalities, is to “support fair user fees across all modes” While transportation network companies (TNCs) have been the target of some fee programs, including in NYC, the above Shared Mobility Principle reminds us that it’s important to think comprehensively about the transportation system and congestion. True, there is evidence to suggest that TNCs are contributing to congestion, but congestion existed long before TNCs did TNCs are also being used in ways that benefit lower income people with limited transit access or special needs, like Columbus, Ohio’s prenatal care TNC transportation pilot. Congestion pricing, therefore, needs to be applied not in ways that focus on a single mode, but in ways that seek to make the entirety of the transportation system better and more fair for all users.
How can we harness technological innovations to achieve the outcomes we want to see? We’ll be discussing that in depth at the upcoming National Urbanism Next Conference in Portland, OR May 7-9. We hope you’ll join us! Early bird registration is now available through Friday, April 12!
We are thrilled to be bringing together architects, planners, landscape architects, developers, academics, and many others for conference. Experts from around the country (and the world!) will discuss what new mobility, AVs, and e-commerce mean for equity, health, the environment, the economy, and governance. Check out our website to get information about plenary speakers, as well as details about all the sessions and workshops that will be presented!
Those are the words that Donald Shoup used to describe the curb during a session at the LA CoMotion Conference a few months ago. And he is right. For years, curb space has primarily been allocated to the storage of private vehicles through the provision of short- and long-term on-street parking. While there have always been competing demands placed on this limited space, it has never has been as in demand as it is today. There are all kinds of reasons for the heightened demand—the introduction of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, the growth in dockless shared mobility devices like electric scooters, the continued growth of e-commerce, and the ease of in-app ordering combined with low-cost delivery, often provided by courier services like Grubhub and Doordash. All those drivers, couriers, riders, mobility service providers, etc. are in need of curb space, so perhaps it’s no wonder that this previously overlooked bit of real estate is becoming hotly contested.
Here’s the dilemma—or rather ONE of the dilemmas: “Most cities don’t currently have digital maps that would allow them to regulate curb users in anything approaching real time,” as reported in Citylab. This is a big problem in the era of new mobility we now live in. Cities need this data in order to better regulate this space, but that data hasn’t always been easy to come by or collect. Enter companies like Coord, Populous, and Remix. In “The Race to Code the Curb,” Andrew Small and Laura Bliss of Citylab break down the various efforts underway to fill this massive data gap while contextualizing some of the issues. For instance, what granularity of data is needed in order to regulate the space? What privacy issues exist? As Andrew Small and Laura Bliss write: “some of the new, data-oriented products that aim to pave over conflicts at the curb are also raising new conflicts about privacy and governance of public space. In attempting to combine real-time and long-term efforts to manage the curb, cities could risk overstepping their right to surveil the action.”
CityLab recently reported on Berlin’s Frauenticket promotion, which offered discounted transit tickets specifically for women. It’s not a coincidence that this one-day promotion happened 77 days into the calendar year on March 18th. This is the same number of extra days that a German woman would need to work to take home the same annual earnings as a German man. The Frauenticket price reduction of 21% is also equivalent to the average reduction in pay that German women receive for comparable work by their male counterparts.
While the Frauenticket promotion only lasted one day, it raises the important point of gender-based inequities in transit access and travel experiences. On top of earning less to begin with, women and female-presenting people face threats to their safety—both real and perceived—when taking transit that translate to additional transportation costs that men don’t incur. Researchers at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation recently published a report called The Pink Tax on Transportation that highlights the additional costs women pay for accessing safe transportation.
Of the women surveyed for the report, 42% felt that for-hire vehicles were the safest choice for late night travel. This translates to an additional monthly cost of $26-$50 for women seeking safer forms of travel whereas men pay $0 for the same reason. Women who are also caregivers for children or the elderly can spend double that in order to ensure safe transportation options for the people they are responsible for as well. But paying these extra costs is only an option for those who can afford them, making women of lower incomes even more vulnerable when using transit.
With transportation accessibility linked to many benefits, including economic, health, employment, and community growth and stability, it’s critical that we consider the unique needs of all transit riders. Creating transit experiences that address the concerns of the riders with the most barriers equates to transit experiences that benefit all. Resources such as The Greenlining Institute’s Mobility Equity Framework can help translate these concepts into transportation planning in meaningful and effective ways. (PS – fans of The Greenlining Institute’s work can come hear this report’s co-author, Hana Creger, as a plenary speaker at the Urbanism Next Conference in May.)
Especially as we begin to introduce new forms of mobility into our transportation networks, ensuring that these modes are serving existing needs and goals will be key to making sure these innovations help us work towards transportation equity for all.
New Reports Urbanism Next is pleased to share a new report: New Mobility in the Right-of-Way (Howell, Larco, Lewis, and Steckler), which explores the ways in which demand for the right-of-way, broadly, but the curb, more specifically, is changing. The curb has long been in high demand with multiple users vying for limited space, especially for the purposes of parking personal vehicles. However, TNCs and other services have helped to usher in a new age that involves an increased demand for short-term loading and micromobility device parking. AVs will likely exacerbate existing issues with the right-of-way and the curb, which is why it is important that cities tackle curb management in new ways. This report categorizes and summarizes efforts that are already underway in cities across the world to rethink curb management and identifies major research gaps.
We are also pleased to share the accompanying Policy Brief: AVs in the Pacific Northwest that summarizes the key takeaways from both phases of research related to this project. This policy brief outlines our main findings and includes a series of process/procedural and policy recommendations for cities to consider as they adopt new mobility plans and enable automated vehicles.
Urbanism Next Conference We are in high gear preparing for the Urbanism Next Conference, and we hope you’ll be able to join us in May! Check out the schedule page for details about the sessions and workshops that will be offered and stay tuned for an announcement about our plenary speakers next week! Early registration ends April 2!
Registration is underway for the 2019 National Urbanism Next Conference and we already have a great mix of people representing a variety of professions from across the nation and globe who will be joining us May 7th-9th!
One of the many highlights for last year’s conference attendees was our Lightning Talks event where a dozen established and emerging professionals talked about how technology will shape the built environment. These fast and fun presentations typically consist of 20 slides which are only up for 20 seconds each, however we’ll be doing 20 slides for 19 seconds each in honor of the year 2019!
We are currently seeking presenters for this year’s Lightning Talks, which will be held Tuesday, May 7th from 5:30-8pm in Portland. Our topic is How do we harness emerging technologies to reach desired outcomes? Your presentation can explore any aspect of this question that you want, although we suggest using the Urbanism Next Framework as a guide for the types of outcomes to consider. We also encourage presenters to get creative and embrace the fast-paced nature of these talks.
Whether you are presenting or attending, our 2019 Lightning Talks are a great way to learn something new in a relaxed environment while networking with other professionals over appetizers and beverages. The Lightning Talks event is included with your 2019 National Urbanism Next Conference registration. To apply to present, please visit our Lightning Talks page and complete the application form. Speakers at any level of professional experience, from student to seasoned practitioner, are encouraged to submit a proposal! Applications are due April 2nd. (And just a reminder that April 2 is the early bird registration deadline too!)
Last year, we discussed how technology is changing cities. This year, we will focus on the ways that technological innovations can be harnessed to achieve desired outcomes. Experts from the public, private, and academic sectors will come together to discuss recent innovations, research findings, pilot projects, collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors, and much more!
If you’ve placed an Amazon order recently that included more than one item, you might recall that when you got to the checkout options you were given the choice of combining your items into the fewest number of shipments or having each item ship as soon as it is available…which could mean more shipments overall. However, if you’re a Prime member and all your items are Prime, those items will most likely all ship for free. That means that you could choose to receive each item in your order as soon as it’s available to ship without paying anything extra for the additional shipments. As a result, there’s really no incentive to choose the fewest number of shipments option, unless maybe you don’t want to have manage collecting so many packages for one reason or another—you don’t have a secure space for packages to be left, for instance. But that aside, there are few incentives to combine shipments (and delay gratification) if there’s no cost to the consumer. And who doesn’t want to receive their order ASAP? (If I can get those crumpet rings delivered a day sooner than the frying pan is available, that’s one day sooner I’m eating crumpets, right?)
The reality, of course, is that we are paying for those extra shipments, one way or another. Online shopping may have freed us from having to take a trip to the store, but all those items we purchased still have to find a way to our doorstep. A big question is whether we are, on the whole, driving less now that we’re not running the same number of errands to shop. Professor José Holguín-Veras, director of the Center of Excellence for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, argues that seems unlikely and that online shopping is making traffic worse—and that comes with all kinds of costs. He was recently interviewed by Edward Humes for Time Magazine, and the numbers quoted are striking: “The number of freight deliveries per person in America has doubled over the last decade, Holguín-Veras says, with almost all of that growth attributable to internet buying. From 1963 to 2009, the U.S. per capita rate of deliveries of all kinds of freight — commercial and residential — remained remarkably stable, declining a small fraction over those five decades to .12 daily deliveries per American. That’s slightly over one freight trip a day for every ten people in the country. Between 2009 and 2017, that figure rose to an average of 2.5 freight trips for every ten Americans. At current growth rates, that number will double again by 2023.”
With the volume of deliveries increasing, the pressure is on carriers to deliver packages in as efficient and timely a manner as possible. However, that can be really tough to do, especially in dense areas: “According to Anne Goodchild, director of UW’s Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center in Seattle, research shows about 80–90% of delivery drivers’ time in urban areas is spent on foot, searching for the right apartment or office, riding up and down elevators and haggling at reception desks where employees don’t want to be responsible for the flood of boxes. And all the while, their trucks are blocking lanes and slowing traffic.” The Urban Freight Lab, part of the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center, refers to this as the “final 50 feet” of urban delivery and is exploring different ways to manage these hurdles by experimenting with common carrier locker systems and other solutions.
But there are some big picture questions about the impacts of e-commerce that require more examination—like what are the net impacts on the number of trips and vehicle miles traveled of online ordering? And what role does land use play in managing the cumulative impacts of more freight overall? We’ll be digging into these questions at the upcoming Urbanism Next Conference May 7-9 in Portland. (Full session and workshop details will be available on our website next week and registration will be open soon.) If you’re interested in these issues we certainly hope you’ll join us!
It’s understandable why companies like Lyft are interested in seeing statewide regulations enacted—if every jurisdiction has its own regulatory framework that companies have to comply with it makes scaling operations more difficult. And statewide regulations, as a whole, are not necessarily bad. However, statewide regulations that preempt local authorities can effectively eliminate important leverage points at the local level, and that can be problematic.
What if state legislators took Portland’s regulatory language and codified them into law, taking Lyft’s interest in a statewide regulatory framework and applying Portland’s standards to TNCs to every city in Oregon? Those could serve as the minimum standards and cities could retain abilities to add to them based on local context. Theoretically, both could be satisfied by this—Lyft with a uniform framework and Portland for retaining control, along with seeing similar standards applied elsewhere.
This news certainly revives the discussion about what the future of microtransit looks like. We have already seen the rise and subsequent fall of other private microtransit providers like Bridj, and several microtransit pilots have struggled to hit ridership targets. (According to “UpRouted,” a report by Eno Center for Transportation published last year, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and Bridj launched a public-private pilot project to provide downtown commuter service and estimated that the service would provide 200 rides per day. In reality, it took nearly six months to reach about 600 rides, and it was only up to 11 rides per day by the end.) There are, of course, a lot of reasons why some microtransit projects have struggled to perform to expectations. For starters, it is incredibly difficult to get the numbers to pencil out, especially when trying to rely primarily on fares. However, as Eno notes, we should think twice before we label a project a success or failure. One of the great promises of microtransit is the possibility it holds for improved mobility, especially for those who have been underserved by more traditional transportation services. Hence why Eno suggests that “the success or failure of the application should be determined based on performance metrics that go beyond ridership changes and farebox recovery, such as improved mobility, increased safety, and enhanced customer experience.”
But, that hasn’t stopped the death knell for Chariot. So, what is the future of microtransit? What role does microtransit have to play and can it be viable? This is definitely a topic we’ll delving into at the 2019 Urbanism Next Conference. Details on the full conference program will be available soon, but in the meantime check out our website for a schedule of events, as well as pricing and travel info. We hope you’ll join us.
At this point, it’s possible that you’ve come across at least a couple of articles naming 2018 as the year of the e-scooter. That certainly seems to be the consensus based on the number of articles written about them during the yearly wrap-up in December. And for good reason. They made headlines a lot last year. Aarian Marshall pretty succinctly summed up why in Wired: “They arrived unannounced in cities. They provoked fierce council meetings and protests. They launched debates about who owns sidewalks, anyway, and what role regulators play in bossing around big business. They sucked up VC dollars, mountains of them, as upstarts crowed about the revenue generated per scoot. They got damaged and fixed, they launched their own new gig economy jobs.” Suffice it to say, they inspired quite a bit of debate and dialogue last year, including a number of interesting thought pieces about what effects they are having on cities and what we might expect in 2019. (In addition to the Wired article, check out these end-of-year pieces in Forbes and Citylab.)
The report also includes some interesting, if unsurprising findings worth highlighting, such as: “Users demonstrated a strong preference for bikeways and other protected infrastructure. In their absence, or on higher-speed streets, sidewalk riding increased.” This, of course, is not rocket science. If people feel unsafe in the street due to inadequate infrastructure to shield them from cars, they ride on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, that has a ripple effect since having an e-scooter whiz by can impact how safe pedestrians and other sidewalk users feel. The answer is simple, however. As Regina Clewlow of Populous notes in Forbes, “cities should take back streets to focus on moving people, not the single occupancy vehicles that currently dominate most travel.”
In addition the report makes an important point about how we evaluate the potential CO2 emissions savings of e-scooters—getting people to switch from a personal vehicle to an e-scooter is just one part of the equation. The companies’ business models is the other part. How many cars are on the road solely for the purpose of deploying, balancing, fixing, and rounding up e-scooters for regular charging? Are there enough people switching from a personal vehicle to an e-scooter to tip the balance in the right direction and create a net reduction in total vehicle trips? At this point, that question remains unanswered, but we’ll see what 2019 holds for the scooter-verse.
Happy 2019, all! We’re officially a week into the new year, and we hope it’s off to a great start for you. Before we get too much further into 2019 we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year that just ended, as well as consider the year ahead. Urbanism Next grew considerably in 2018, and we’re looking forward to continuing that growth in 2019 (and beyond!).
Last year we focused on how technology is changing cities. This year, we are excited to see how the conversation will evolve as we hone in on the ways that technological changes can be harnessed to achieve desired outcomes. Cities are engaging in innovative pilot projects, and there is a growing emphasis on public-private collaboration. Without a doubt, there is no shortage of topics to discuss since 2018 was a busy year—we saw the growth of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), the meteoric rise of e-scooters, the promises and pitfalls experienced by the AV industry, the continued expansion of e-commerce, and much, much more. We certainly hope you’ll join us in Portland May 7-9 for the 2nd Annual Urbanism Next Conference as we delve into these topics. Conference schedule and registration information will be available soon on our website.
Outside of the conference, the Urbanism Next/SCI team has also been working on a number of projects and reports. At the start of the year, SCI Co-Director Marc Schlossberg, along with William Riggs, Adam Millard-Ball, and Elizabeth Shay completed Rethinking Streets in an Era of Driverless Cars. In September, Nico Larco, Amanda Howell, Rebecca Lewis, and Becky Steckler completed the report AVs in the Pacific Northwest: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in a Time of Automation. We were pleased to be able to collaborate with the cities of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC on this work, funded by the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance/Urban Sustainability Directors Network via a grant provided by the Bullitt Foundation. We are currently working on the second phase of this project focused on New Mobility in the Right-of-Way with an emphasis on curb management. Look for that on our resources page later this spring!
We have also been hard at work on a National Science Foundation Planning Grant, which enabled us to convene a nationwide network of collaborators from the private, public, and academic sectors to better understand the secondary impacts of emerging technologies on cities. Drawing upon those conversations as well as an expansive literature review, we are drafting a report that builds out the Urbanism Next Framework. That will be finalized later this spring and we will be using it as the basis for an online resource we are developing to help cities, practitioners, and researchers learn about the latest thinking around these topics. Look for the launch later this year!
In addition, the team at Urbanism Next has been working on a National Institute for Transportation and Communities project with the Oregon cities of Gresham and Eugene to assess the risks and opportunities for land use, transportation, economic development, and city budget by the deployment of new mobility services including AVs. Our report and findings will be available later this year.
We are also incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to both attend and speak at multiple conferences, meetings, and engagements last year—a particular highlight included Nico’s talk at TEDx CollegePark in June 2018. Look for Program Director Becky Steckler’s TEDx McMinnville talk later this spring!
8:30 – 9:30 AM, Library of Congress – Rebecca Lewis and Nico Larco will present at the Transportation Stakeholders Meeting hosted by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). [This is a closed event.]
10:15 – 12PM, Poster Session, Emerging Research on Social and Economic Factors – Anne Brown will present on “Car-Deficit Households: Determinants and Implications for Household Travel,” also with Evelyn Blumenberg and Andrew Schouten (UCLA).
Wednesday, Jan. 16
10:15 – 12PM, Poster Session, Bicycle Transportation Research – Marc Schlossberg will present “Rethinking Streets for People on Bikes: An Evidence-Based, Visual Guide of Completed Street Retrofits.”
One-click ordering. Free shipping. The ability to have millions of different goods delivered directly to your doorstep within days, or even hours, of ordering—in its quest for growth, Amazon has often seemed willing to go to extreme lengths to get consumers making purchases from the site time and time again. Now, according to a recent article from the Wall Street Journal (paywall), Amazon is starting to tighten its belt and think more about the bottom line. It has started targeting items it has internally designated as CRaP, or “Can’t Realize a Profit.” Items that fall under that category are typically fairly cheap, under $15, but they are heavy, making them more expensive to ship. Beverages are a big one in this category. In order to “fix” the issue, Amazon is working with suppliers to streamline processes, such as having some vendors ship directly from their own warehouses, or changing package amounts. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Amazon used to sell a 6-pack of Smartwater for $6.99 as part of its “Dash” one-click reorder program. However, the company worked with Coca-Cola and changed the Dash default amount to a 24-pack for $37.20 to make it profitable for Amazon. That 6-pack isn’t unavailable—it’s now an item in Amazon’s Prime Pantry whereby consumers can choose multiple items to fill up one box in order to reduce shipping costs.
It is interesting that Amazon now seems to want to rectify some of the system inefficiencies it is responsible for creating. Having multiple items ship separately just to get to them to consumers more quickly has never sounded like the most sustainable option, both financially for Amazon, and for the environment. Encouraging consumers to box multiple items together into one shipment instead? Having some suppliers ship directly from their own warehouse as opposed to sending their items to an Amazon facility to be shipped from there? Amazon may be more focused on its bottom line, but these shifts could have important environmental benefits since an optimized system with fewer deliveries equates to fewer trips, which means reduced greenhouse gas emissions. And goodness knows we need that. As Streetsblog noted just today, we absolutely have to reduce driving if we’re going to be able to combat climate change.
As cities navigate their way through the new mobility landscape and try to figure out what and how they should be regulating new business and service models, two key roles of government are emerging – one to help create a level playing field for all of these services and two to shape these services to help achieve community goals.
A large fear of the shifting models for mobility is that we will end up with a few large, private companies controlling the majority of all of our mobility options. You can imagine a future where Uber, Lyft or Waymo control e-scooter, bikeshare, and ride-sourcing services and we each subscribe to one of their vertically integrated services. One – of the many – large problems with this scenario is that it centralizes control of an absolutely ubiquitous and public need in the hands of a few private entities. Another large concern (and one that could mitigate the first) is that it stifles competition. How would any new mobility concept be able to spread it wings as so many are doing right now if the market is held by a few key players. All innovation would need to happen through these larger companies as gatekeepers and consumers would suffer. The transportation equivalent of current fears about Amazon owning all of our retail options.
To combat this, governments can help create level playing fields for new mobility services. As discussed previously on this blog, the key parts of this are supporting (or creating) platforms that allow shared route/cost/time information, offer a uniform payment platform, and allow for multi-company subscription services. (See article on efforts to do some of this in Germany).
Large question will be what governments actual role is in this — should they host/build the platforms themselves, establish a shared API (such as LADOT’s Mobility Data Specifications (MDS), for instance) along with open competition regulation and allow others to create platforms, or simply create regulations/guides for the outcomes they want and let the market figure out how best to organize around these (most difficult/dubious, in my opinion). Cities will need to balance controlling the process enough to get to desired outcomes while allowing enough flexibility to attract innovators to participate.
The second role governments need to play, once a level playing field is established, is to make sure that playing field has the right shape, incentives and penalties to assure it is supporting the outcomes cities want. Imagine a situation where the open-platform leads to a situation that promotes single occupant car trips and diminishes transit use. Or a situation where this platform leads to certain areas of the city being underserved by services. Cities need to understand what levers exist to shape new mobility services to be equitable, economically supportive of their communities, sustainable, and lead to positive health outcomes. Cities should not be in the business of capriciously or politically favoring one company over another, but they absolutely should be in the business of promoting modes and services that support community goals. In this vein of thinking, Urbanism Next put together a recent report in partnership with the cities of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver that looked at how to regulate AVs (and New Mobility to an extent) with a view towards the cities GHG emission goals.
The mobility landscape is definitely in flux and cities need to think through the outcomes they want, and how best to get there. Allowing for competition and supporting services that support community goals are key steps to doing that.
This is indeed big news—the very first commercial robotaxi service is here. The limited nature of the roll-out, while perhaps disappointing for those are revved up and ready to request a ride in a fully autonomous vehicle, is certainly understandable from a safety standpoint. There have been a few tragic incidents involving self-driving vehicles that have garnered substantial publicity and made many wonder if AVs will really be able to deliver on the promise of making streets safer. (Of course, there is plenty of room for improvement compared to today’s standards.) To that end, Waymo’s robotaxis will continue to be staffed by a Waymo employee ready to take over should intervention be necessary. The ramp up may be slow, but Waymo does intend to make its commercial service more readily available.
If you’re wondering what a ride in one of Waymo’s robotaxis is like, Alexis C. Madrigal, a staff writer for The Atlantic, has an interesting and in-depth take on the experience. (Alexis discovers that robotaxis may be “smart” and sophisticated machines, but one thing they really don’t know how to manage? The big-box retail parking lot. If you’ve ever found navigating a massive retail parking lot to be a challenge, rest assured that computers find them even more flummoxing.)
Here’s one last, just-in-the-nick-of-time reminder that proposals for the 2nd Annual Urbanism Next Conference are due TODAY (Thursday, Nov. 15)! How can technological innovations be harnessed to achieve desired outcomes? How can the private and public sectors collaborate to ensure that desired outcomes drive technological innovation rather than the other way around? Let us know what you think and what you are working on! Submit your proposal here.
Of course, the biggest e-commerce news of the week is that Amazon announced where HQ2 (and HQ3?) will be. They’ve selected Long Island City in Queens, NY and Crystal City in Arlington County, VA and they plan to bring 25,000 jobs to each locale. (They also announced that they would opening an operations center in Nashville, establishing 5,000 jobs.) There have already been a number of interesting think pieces about the announcement, including Citylab, CNN, and Curbed, among others. While the merits of Amazon’s bidding process are up for update and questions abound about whether the tax breaks are too big, one thing does seem certain—e-commerce is reshaping our cities both literally and figuratively.
The 2019 Urbanism Next Conference Call for Proposals deadline is coming up fast! Proposals are due by Thursday, Nov. 15 at 11:59pm PST. We are excited to carry the conversation we started in 2018 forward, and we want YOU to help shape the agenda. We invite you to submit a proposal for a session or workshop. Click here for full proposal details and submit your proposal here. For questions, please contact Amanda Howell, Urbanism Next Program Coordinator.
On June 22nd, Urbanism Next Center Director, Nico Larco spoke at a TEDx event at the University of Maryland in College Park. The theme of the event was “Get OUTside,” and Nico’s talk was one of many throughout the day that encouraged people to look past their comfort zones, preconceived notions, and existing mindsets to gain a different and better understanding of the world. In discussing the potential secondary impacts of autonomous vehicles on our cities, Nico describes a “second revolution,” one which we may be able to control and influence if we can anticipate the coming technology. The key, he says, is thinking of AVs not as a transportation issue, but as a community issue. The full 15-minute video is now available to watch, and you can also check out Mobility Lab’s coverage of it here!
Mark your calendars! We are pleased to announce that the 2nd Annual Urbanism Next Conference will be held May 7-9, 2019 in Portland, OR. The first annual conference held in March 2018 brought together over 500 planners, architects, landscape architects, developers, technology experts, elected officials, academics, and many others.We’re excited to partner with the National and Oregon Chapters of the American Planning Association, the American Institute of Architects, and the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Urban Land Institute Northwest.
Last year, we discussed how technology is changing cities. This year, we will focus on the ways that technological innovations can be harnessed to achieve desired outcomes. What has been tried? What has worked? What has not worked? What should we try next? How can the private and public sectors collaborate to ensure that desired outcomes drive technological innovation rather than the other way around?
We want YOU to help shape the agenda. We invite you to submit a proposal for a session or workshop. Click here for full proposal details. Proposals are due November 15, 2018 (11:59 pm PST).
We look forward to reviewing your proposals and hope to see you in Portland May 7-9, 2019!
However, there is a group that won’t get this raise: contract workers. And that’s notable because there are LOTS of contract workers delivering packages for Amazon as demand continues to increase. While Amazon contracts with USPS and other traditional package carriers like UPS, it has also been steadily ramping up its own delivery services. There’s Amazon Flex, whereby independent drivers use their own vehicles to deliver packages, similar to how other drivers use their personal vehicles to ferry passengers for Uber and Lyft, or to deliver food via UberEats, Postmates, and others. The Flex program promises “great earnings, flexible hours” and the opportunity to “be your own boss.” But is that the reality? In June, staff writer for the Atlantic Alana Semuels wrote about a day spent delivering packages for Amazon Flex and described it as a “nightmare.” (To be sure, that’s one person’s experience, but it’s an interesting one and worth the read.)
In addition to the Flex program, Amazon also contracts with independent courier services who hire drivers to help ferry packages between local fulfillment centers and homes, businesses, storage lockers, car trunks, etc. You might have seen them—many are driving unmarked white vans loaded with packages. (And according to Business Insider, some of the working conditions endured by those couriers leave something to be desired.)
The news about the minimum wage raise is certainly positive, but there are lots of questions that still need to be answered about the widespread impacts that Amazon is having not just on the labor force, but on transportation networks as well.
Though no longer brand new, ridehail companies like Uber and Lyft continue to cause consternation as cities struggle with how to plan for and regulate them. Some cities have opted for trip-based taxes and fees, while others have regulated the number of cars allowed to operate. In August, New York City became the first American city to cap the number of ridehail vehicles permitted to operate each day .
Taxi drivers celebrated this move as a victory against Silicon Valley titans. But some city councilors cautioned that the New York City cap could harm low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, who have historically been underserved or avoided by taxis. Could they be right? My own research on Lyft in Los Angeles suggests: yes. Ridehailing extends reliable car access to low-income neighborhoods, majority-black neighborhoods, and areas with limited access to personal cars. A cap on ridehailing could concentrate drivers in wealthier neighborhoods, driving up prices and wait times in lower-income neighborhoods. In other words, a ridehail cap threatens to undermine the access it delivers to neighborhoods that need it the most.
Lyft serves everywhere. Data from over 6.3 million Lyft trips in Los Angeles reveal that Lyft service is remarkably ubiquitous. In a county with dense urban centers, sprawling suburbs, and remote mountain towns, Lyft trips served neighborhoods home to 99.8 percent of the population.
Lyft is used most where personal car access is lowest. Most people used Lyft to fill an occasional travel need, taking just one trip per month on average. But data also suggest that people took more Lyft trips where its close substitute—the household car—was scarcest and corresponding car travel was most limited.
Ridehail use is highest in low-income neighborhoods. Riders living in low-income neighborhoods relied disproportionately on Lyft, taking 36 percent more Lyft trips per month than users living in high-income neighborhoods. Riders in these neighborhoods made more of their trips on shared and less-expensive Lyft Line compared to riders living in high-income neighborhoods. Over one-third (34%) of users in low-income areas made shared trips on Lyft Line while users in high-income areas used this service less frequently, approximately 22 percent of the time. These results suggest that sharing provides an important low-cost option for cost-sensitive travelers.
Access is improved, yet questions remain, in communities of color. Taxis have historically avoided or refused to serve communities of color. Lyft presents a more promising story. Riders living in majority-black neighborhoods in Los Angeles took more Lyft trips than riders living in neighborhoods with any other racial/ethnic majority group, even after accounting for neighborhood characteristics like density and transit service. At the same time, questions about barriers to ridehail service remain. Riders living in majority-Hispanic and majority-Asian neighborhoods took fewer trips than expected all else being equal; lower use in these neighborhoods may reflect unequal banking access, smartphone ownership, or other barriers that inhibit residents from hailing a Lyft. More research is needed to ensure that all travelers can hail a ride.
Ridehailing provides car access in neighborhoods where personal access to cars is lowest. Capping the number of ridehail vehicles could encourage drivers to concentrate on higher-income neighborhoods, where they may anticipate more demand and longer, pricier trips. Taxis have long ascribed to this model, gathering around downtown hotels and businesses where they anticipate high-paying clientele. In doing so, taxis often avoid lower-income neighborhoods where personal car access is lowest, despite data showing that the residents in these areas rely disproportionately on taxis to travel by car. A ridehail cap could similarly encourage drivers to flock to wealthier neighborhoods, raising prices or wait times in less-affluent or less-central neighborhoods. Higher prices and long wait times in these communities could undermine the access benefits that ridehailing has provided to date. Worse, attempts to draw drivers into these areas through tactics such as “surge pricing”, while an incentive for drivers, could put ridehailing out of financial reach entirely for those who need it the most.
Instead of simply capping ridehailing, cities should consider the holistic role ridehailing can play in the broader mobility puzzle and how different regulations will affect cities’ visions for the future. While ridehailing can and should be regulated—such as to maintain safety standards or require data sharing—it is important that cities understand the wider effects of these regulations and implement equitable policies that will improve access for all.
The largest grocery chain in the U.S. recently announced they are testing driverless grocery delivery in Scottsdale, Arizona. In the U.S., The Kroger Company is the Walmart/Amazon of the grocery sector. In other words, this is a big deal. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the impacts of AV on the transport of humans, but the earliest, and arguably the most profound impacts, will occur because of rapidly changing consumer expectations.
Kroger’s pilot program currently uses an autonomous Prius with a human in the driver’s seat to monitor the car’s performance, but future versions of this service will be completely autonomous. Kroger is partnering with Nuro, a startup founded by two Google engineers who worked at Google’s Waymo venture. During this pilot phase, a clerk loads the groceries into the vehicle and then the vehicle delivers the groceries to the customer at their curb where the customer enters a numeric code to open the vehicle. These are baby steps towards the inevitable – the complete automation of the entire process from ordering to stocking the food pantry in your home. And oh, by the way, the entire supply chain will be automated as well. It’s time to make friends with our robot overlords.
This past March, I and two of my colleagues traveled to Portland for the inaugural Urbanism Next Conference where we gave a presentation in which we speculated that the retail industry will likely be the earliest, and most significant adopters of autonomous vehicle technology. The presentation was well-received and even got some love from the folks at The Atlantic’s CityLab. At the time, we told those in attendance to prepare for the one-hour delivery of virtually anything within three years or so. A series of recent acquisitions and partnerships undertaken by The Kroger Company seems to validate the ambitious goals of automating the entire grocery procurement process. While the timeline for achieving these goals will be impacted by factors such as regulations (including zoning), technology, safety, and the economy, to name a few – make no mistake, it’s coming.
Up until now, all you really needed to do was pay attention to the seemingly daily barrage of articles about Amazon and Walmart competing for the consumer’s attention. Now we can throw Kroger into the mix as well. Obviously, there will be other retailers that embrace autonomy in the next couple of years – many, many others. The battle to bring goods to the market for the lowest price has long been the goal of the largest retailers, but prices can only go so low before producing a good stops making sense. The war on price isn’t over, but it is going to take a back seat to the next epic fight – the battle over your time. And this war will be ugly if we aren’t prepared for it.
In 2005, Amazon introduced us to Amazon Prime – a membership-based service that promised free two-day shipping on eligible purchases within the contiguous United States. Within a few years, we will likely reflect on Amazon Prime as a cute idea. From this point forward, the consumer’s “time” is squarely the target of the world’s largest retailers. While a lot of attention is paid to the concept of “experiential retail” as a means of saving conventional brick and mortar retail, the battle over our time will have a much larger impact on us all, regardless of our level of consumerism.
Amazon is currently rolling out a two-hour delivery service from Whole Foods through Prime Now. Prime Now does not use autonomy/robotics/AI and it is only for items stocked at Whole Foods. Rest assured, future versions of Prime Now will almost certainly employ all those inter-related technologies and will extend way beyond grocery items. Each of the major retailers will try to one-up each other to deliver goods to us as fast as is technologically possible. What does this mean for our cities? Well, it means cities need to be prepared for a level of disruption not seen since the widespread adoption of the automobile and the post-World War II demand for housing produced the modern suburb.
There are going to be autonomous delivery vehicles on our roads – a lot of them. You could make the argument that if I purchase goods online and the goods are delivered to me (autonomously or not), then aren’t I simply substituting my trip with another’s trip? In theory this is true, but we have evidence in the form of humankind’s relatively recent adoption of computing technology, that we don’t merely substitute one thing for another; rather, we tend to add additional tasks into the voids created by technologically-enabled efficiency. For example, the adoption of electronic spreadsheets reduced the amount of time to complete most accounting tasks. Calculations that took hours or days to complete could now be done in a matter of minutes or seconds. Employers took advantage of that time savings and added more and more tasks. Smart phone adoption is a more recent example of a tool that made us more efficient on one hand, but somehow resulted in us being even more busy than before. It stands to reason that if we chose to have most things delivered to us, we will use our newfound time to do something else – and that something else may very well be taking a trip somewhere – perhaps a trip to an experiential retailer.
How are we going to deal with all these extra vehicles on our streets and roads? We don’t have the space or the money to build our way out of it. Not to mention, there is no evidence that it is even possible to build your way out of traffic congestion in the long run. Further, we haven’t even talked about the inevitability of existing physical retail buildings functioning as distribution nodes and the challenges this presents to existing zoning. That is another conversation for another blog post (or book).
The takeaway is this – our cities are ill-prepared to handle the disruption that is coming their way. The “solutions” are going to be complicated and will impact everything from zoning to transportation funding. Although cities are on the front lines, this will require an “all hands on deck” approach that includes regional, state, and federal coordination. The way we manage autonomous delivery of retail goods will likely be an indicator of our ability to manage the autonomous delivery of humans. It’s the proverbial canary in the coalmine.
Urbanism Next is pleased to share a new report: AVs in the Pacific Northwest: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in a Time of Automation (Larco, Howell, Lewis, and Steckler). The policy decisions made over the next 10 years that shape the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) will have significant repercussions for our communities as well as environmental repercussions related to greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change. In recognition of that, Urbanism Next worked with the cities of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC to better understand how new mobility technologies such as AVs could affect greenhouse gas emissions thereby impacting their ability to achieve the goals in their respective climate action plans.
After conducting a literature review, reviewing existing new mobility documents, conversations with stakeholders, and conversations with partners in the public, private, and academic sectors, we compiled a variety of possible implementation actions that we think cities could consider to reduce GHG emissions. We invite you flip through and see what you think. (Please note, while we we think the actions we identified can serve as a starting point for thinking about the impacts of AVs on climate goals and how best to mitigate the potentially negative ones, we know that this will be an ongoing, iterative process as promising practices are developed.) There may be challenges ahead, there are also many opportunities to make positive changes. We hope those opportunities will seized!
Cities are starting to see a vertical integration of the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) landscape. A number of companies (see examples of Uber and Lyft) are realizing the opportunity to provide multiple MaaS options to their clients and not only focus on one part of the mobility pie. Rideshare, bikeshare, e-scooters, etc. all have the possibility of on one hand cannibalizing one another and on the other being an entryway to a broader set of possible MaaS options. By integrating services vertically, companies can offer a broader suite of services and ensure that all transactions are within their platform (and their bottom line).
While vertically integrated MaaS options will have large benefits for users, it also points to a potential future where a few dominant companies offer a Helsinki-like vertically integrated mobility option. As a consumer you may end up needing to decide if you want to subscribe to the Lyft MaaS suite, the Uber MaaS suite, or the Waymo MaaS suite. A large concern with this is that it will stifle competition and keep small companies out of the marketplace. Cities can play a lead role in ensuring that this doesn’t happen so that their residents have a wider range of options and the economic benefits of MaaS are not restricted to a few large, key players.
The three things that are necessary for an open MaaS platform are:
Shared route/cost/time information– There are already a number of examples of this happening thanks, in large part to Google’s leadership on creating GTFS. A number of apps – including Google’s own Google Maps – let you compare travel options, complete with time and cost information. The next generation of these apps needs to start thinking about how to show expanded travel options which mix modes (the height of the MaaS vision). It would be great to see a travel option that includes bikeshare from your house to the transit stop, the transit trip itself, and then a scooter option for the last-mile. More and more, this is exactly the types of trips we will all be making in a MaaS world.
Uniform payment platform– Critical in making all of this work is a single payment platform that allows easy movement from one mode and service to another. This will facilitate use of the most efficient mode of travel and will allow small companies to compete with larger ones. While uniform payment has been a challenge in many parts of the US, there are examples abroad that show this is absolutely possible. For example, OV Chipcard in the Netherlands is a single payment platform that is used by train, tram, bus, carshare and bikeshare companies. It is simple to plug into the system and from the user’s perspective, makes transportation choices easy to make.
Multi-company subscription services – Both of the points above create the opportunity for multi–company subscription services where movement between MaaS modes becomes easy and economically beneficial. The difficulty will be in finding the framing and levers to bring private sector companies along and not have them each create their own transportation fiefdoms. One large lever will be that, if this shared subscription marketplace can be created, companies will want to join simply to have access to users. If they are outside of it, their competitors will get the rides. It is a tricky proposition and will require a good amount of thinking and coordination (both with companies and with regulatory bodies) to make this work, but the potential upside is tremendous for user experience, economic opportunity, and for the overall efficient use of the transportation network.
This is an important moment where cities should be shifting their thinking from how to deal with a continuing series of mode innovations (e.g. e-scooters being the latest one) to a more expansive and forward thinking approach that is focused on outcomes and on creating a broad platform that can accommodate current and future transportation options in a level playing field.
Perhaps they will become vertical warehouses if Amazon’s pending patent application is approved. If a multistory distribution center that looks like a skyscraper sounds a bit unbelievable, check out the story about Amazon’s additional patent application for an airborne fulfillment center that looks like a blimp. The e-commerce giant intends to use drones to access the flying warehouse. Just imagine what THAT air traffic might look like…
Curious about the impacts of emerging technologies on things like parking revenue, traffic fines, registration fines, and other transportation revenue streams? Well, the Transportation Research Board is organizing a webinar about these very questions on Thursday, September 6 from 1-2:30PM ET! This webinar is based on a workshop that was presented in January at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board and will feature Urbanism Next Center Director Nico Larco. Bruce Schaller, who recently published a report on “The New Automobility” that has garnered a fair bit of attention, will also be presenting. (See here and here for some interesting responses to his findings.) Additional details about the webinar can be accessed here.
The housing and community development sector is looking in the rearview mirror as it tries to tackle the affordability and opportunity challenges that face millions of Americans – and it is about to have a head-on collision with an autonomous vehicle.
As we work to address the 7-million unit housing shortage in the U.S. and enable people to live where they have access to good-paying jobs and high-quality schools, we need to look beyond the bricks and sticks, amortizations, and tax credits and start figuring out how self-driving cars and a whole suite of mobility, data, and communications-related technologies are about to transform how and where we live and the implications that will have for low-income people and communities.
The combination of technology and data applications being applied in urban environments, loosely referred to as “The Smart City,” has initiated a slew of policy and planning work in cities and regions across the country that provide an opportunity to shape an inclusive and equitable future for lower-income citizens and communities.
New technology-enabled forms of mobility are the biggest driver of urban transformation. Until recently, options for getting from point A to point B (too far to just walk) were limited: privately owned car, taxi, and public transportation (bus or subway). But the onset of the shared economy, enabled by digital technology and ubiquitous mobile devices and high bandwidth networks, has introduced a nascent multi-modal network that includes options such as shared private cars, e-bikes, e-scooters, shared pedal-powered bikes, and soon autonomous cars and buses.
As we continue to try to build our way out of the affordability shortage, we need to do it in the context of what the market will look like over the next decade and beyond. If people can move more efficiently, at lower cost, and on-demand throughout a city, what implication does that have for how real estate is used and valued and how affordable housing is produced, preserved, and allocated? Is location in the city core or in a high-resourced neighborhood as valuable if the access or proximity to that place is not as distant or isolated as it previously was? What does transit-oriented development mean when the transit network becomes dynamic, on-demand, and comes to wherever you are?
While we don’t have a crystal ball that tells us what cities will look like 10 years from now, we do know that technology will continue to be more pervasive, less expensive to deploy, and generate some unexpected (and maybe unintended) outcomes. Identifying and applying core principles that derive greater equity, inclusion, and social and economic justice in our society will help steer us to better outcomes regardless of what technologies get deployed.
Put People First: Especially as cities plan and design transportation systems and make zoning decisions that dictate where new housing can be built and its density, these decisions must be made in the context of how people actually live and what resources they have. There has to be a balance between what we want to see and the reality of how life plays out, especially for those lacking resources. How do we help unhoused and underhoused people find permanent housing that also enables a commute to a job in less than 30 minutes? How do we help the senior citizen living alone in need of some light assistance but not appropriate for a nursing home and not able to afford an assisted living facility? How do we keep the child connected to her network of social supports where she has grown up? We must make the systems we build, both digital and analog, fit people’s lives and not build to suit the technology’s capability just because we can.
Solve Problems, Don’t Search for Them: So many technology applications seem to be solutions in search of a problem to solve. Yet the problems in the social sector are right in front of our faces: affordable housing, quality education, access to fresh food, living wage jobs, climate change, and mobility. If cities define their problems well and ask companies to bring their best solutions regardless of technology or analog function or preference, then we are likely to get better outcomes than asking for a specific technology to do X, Y, or Z. If we lead with problem-solving, then we will evolve to a city of meaning, purpose, and justice. If we lead with technology, then we are likely to end up with a dystopia.
Get the infrastructure right: Infrastructure, especially hard infrastructure that requires rights of way (roads, bridges, water/sewer, fixed rail) is extremely expensive and only gets built and rebuilt once every few generations. Decisions we make today will likely last upwards of a century. But some infrastructures, such as transportation and power are becoming more flexible and dynamic, less constrained. As cities face decisions today on critical infrastructure projects, they need to consider how needs will change over the next decades especially regarding technological and climate change influences. That means running scenarios for multiple futures and determining how any given investment will respond. It also means testing for resiliency and how infrastructure can withstand and adapt to changing climate and market conditions.
Rigorously measure outputs and assess externalities: As solutions are put in place, outputs should be measured in real time and routinely evaluated. These metrics need to be considered and structured for in advance. Assessments for externalities need to be conducted to ensure that unanticipated costs or problems are not being generated.
Open the process to citizens: Governments should view citizens as their partners, not just customers. As Smart Cities evolve and produce immense volumes of data, those data sets should be made public in real-time so citizens can help identify problems and generate solution options. Imagine the creativity and brainpower that could be unlocked if people were invited to participate in making their communities as great as possible. Rather than viewing government as something to tolerate and where citizens are essentially passive consumers of government services, rules, and regulations, we could start to shift to a partnership model where citizens felt empowered to bring solutions as well as complaints.
Let’s collectively flag down that big self-driving bus barreling down on us and hop on board. It and the other emerging Smart City technologies can help redefine what is possible for a more equitable, prosperous, just, healthy and sustainable society. It may also help us solve the housing affordability challenge.
It is official—after much anticipation, the New York City Council voted to impose a year-long cap on for-hire vehicles and will not issue any new vehicle licenses for the duration of the cap period, although they have made an exception for wheelchair accessible vehicles. (Of which there are not nearly enough.) During the upcoming year, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) will also be tasked with studying whether to adopt vehicle utilization standards or regulations…essentially, they will determine if there should be permanent regulations in place limiting the number of for-hire vehicle licenses issued, much the way that taxi medallions have been regulated for decades. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Uber and Lyft lobbied pretty hard against this bill, arguing that a cap on the number of vehicles will decrease vehicle availability leading to longer wait times and, possibly, higher fares. Despite their efforts, the bill passed 39-6.
According to the NY Times, the number of for-hire vehicles in the city has increased to 100,000, up from 63,000 in 2015 when Mayor de Blasio tried, and failed, to institute a cap. This time around, there was support not just from taxi drivers who have seen the value of their medallions plummet but also many of the independent contractors who drive for the TNCs. (The Independent Drivers Guild was heavily involved in the campaign to pass the bill.) In addition to imposing a cap on vehicles, the NYC Council also voted in favor of giving the Taxi and Limousine Commission the ability to establish minimum payments for for-hire drivers—a big win for drivers.
For a window into the for-hire driver’s view, I suggest checking out the Independent Drivers Guild’s FAQs about the cap, which provides a easy-to-digest summary of what they’re anticipating the cap will mean. (They anticipate the demand for leasing to skyrocket under the cap as new drivers look for ways to acquire vehicles.) The Rideshare Guy, a go-to source of information for rideshare drivers, also posted a summary of the suite of bills that passed yesterday and how to decipher them.
The passage of these bills comes on the heels of a new report published by Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant and former DOT commissioner, who did some serious data crunching and determined that “Private ride TNC services (UberX, Lyft) put 2.8 new TNC vehicles miles on the road for each mile of personal driving removed, for an overall 180 percent increase in driving on city streets.” He also concludes that TNCs primarily compete with transit, walking, and biking, not other private vehicles. (This does to seem to be in line with a growing body of research that finds that people are using TNCs in place of trips they might otherwise have made by transit, walking, or biking.)
Robin Chase, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, thinks we are far too focused on the trips being replaced by TNCs and are missing the bigger picture: 72% of trips taken are taken by private vehicle. TNCs and taxis only account for 1.2% of total trips nationwide. Why aren’t we asking what other modes people might have used for a trip if they hadn’t used a personal vehicle, she wonders. Presumably some fraction of those personal vehicle trips could have been made by walk, bike, or transit. All of this focus on the impacts that TNCs are having on congestion is glossing over the fact that congestion was already an issue long before TNCs arrived, she argues. Instead, we should institute fair user fees across ALL modes, private vehicles included, which is one of Shared Mobility Principles that have been committed to by a growing number of agencies, private companies, and advocacy groups. (Notably, NYC recently enacted a surcharge for taxis and TNCs in Manhattan for rides south of 96th Street, but did not manage to institute the much-discussed congestion zone, which would have required private vehicles to pay a daily use fee during busy times—with the idea that the funds would help raise money for the subway.)
It will be illuminating to see how the vehicle cap plays out in NYC over the coming year, and what findings the TLC arrive at. But one thing does seem clear…there may be enough political support to cap TNCs in NY but the private vehicle will live to see other another day without a congestion fee or a cap.
Urbanism Next is growing! We are hiring a Project Manager to oversee a variety of research projects, as well as to develop the Urbanism Next Clearinghouse, a national online resource. If you’re interested in emerging technologies and the impacts that they are having on how we live, move, and spend our time, then this may be the job for you! These are exciting, challenging, constantly-evolving issues and there’s lots of work to do be done. We hope you’ll consider joining the team.
For a full description of the position, check out the job posting here. The first review of applications will take place August 21, but the position will remain open until filled.
Land Rover has just announced Cortex, their investment in off-road AV technology, and Wired summarized the project in a recent article.
Outdoors enthusiasts have expressed skepticism in people’s willingness to give up conventional vehicles since it would mean losing the ability to adventure in places that are only accessible by rough, unpredictable roads. So far, experts hypothesize that AV technology will need a highly controlled road space with smooth surfaces and freshly painted markings, but this clearly poses challenges to adoption since many roads, even in cities, don’t fit these criteria.
While AVs capable of all-terrain navigation are obviously useful for reaching a favorite mountain hike, they could also provide additional benefits in more developed areas. For example, shared streets could become easier to implement since clearly designated lane markings wouldn’t be needed to keep the vehicles on track. Cities could change up the street space by adding planters or street furniture without requiring navigational software updates for all the cars in town. Plus, cities could save a lot of money if roads don’t need to be maintained in pristine conditions all the time.
There is one last benefit to more adventure-ready AVs. If people no longer need to hold on to their conventional cars for their outdoor adventures, the transition to a fully automated vehicle stock could happen sooner, meaning cities will exist in the confusing transition period for less time.
Steph Nappa is a Master’s Candidate in Community and Regional Planning and an Urbanism Next Fellow at the University of Oregon. She is examining how to re-design city streets to prioritize bicycles, pedestrians and transit in an era of autonomous vehicles.
Urbanism Next - Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI) - University of Oregon ____ Blog Contact: Nico Larco - email@example.com