Urbanism Next On the Road This Week!

For those of you who are in the College Park or D.C. area this week, we have TWO exciting events coming up. On Thursday, June 21 Urbanism Next Center Director Nico Larco will be on the roster of speakers for the inaugural TEDxCollegePark. They have organized a great lineup of speakers around the theme GET OUTside encouraging audience members to “GET OUTside physically to appreciate the benefits of being connected outdoors as well as metaphorically to get out of your current mindsets, comfort zones, us versus them mentality and stereotypes.” The event will take place at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland from 9am-4pm this Thursday. Tickets are available here. (But if you can’t make it, we’ll be sure to share the video as soon as it’s available!)

On FridayJune 22 Nico will be heading to Capitol Hill for a congressional briefing on the “Secondary Impacts of Autonomous Vehicles” hosted by Rep. Blumenauer. The lunchtime briefing will be held at 2167 Rayburn House Office Building from 12-1pm. The briefing will be open to the public, so please feel free to attend if you’re in the D.C. area on Friday!

Urbanism Next Conference Videos and Presentations Now Online!

Weren’t able to attend the first annual Urbanism Next Conference? Or, you were able to attend, but you didn’t catch all the sessions you wanted to? Well, we have good news! The videos of the plenary presentations as well as slides from many of the sessions are now available online. There were so many great discussions and sessions, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide this window to the conference. Watch Urbanism Next Center Director Nico Larco kick off the conference and then hear what Mayor Ted Wheeler and U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer have to say about emerging technologies and the precipice of change we are on. (Maybe even do so with a cup of coffee in hand to recreate the full conference experience!)

We’ll be highlighting some of the other plenaries, panel discussions, and sessions next week, so stay tuned! (And a big thank you to our University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications videographers for the great job they did capturing so much of it on video!)

Join us in Portland on June 1!

Nico Larco, Urbanism Next Lead, will be speaking at the University of Oregon’s Wings event on Friday, June 1 along with three other UO-affiliated presenters. Wings: UO Presidential Speakers Series is a curated series of talks showcasing research, innovation, and creativity. If you are interested in hearing more about the more research we’re doing at Urbanism Next, as well as checking out the interesting work that the three other presenters are doing, we hope you’ll join us on Friday, June 1 at 5:30pm! More information about the event is available at UO Speaker Series and tickets are available here.

Beyond the Sidewalk

A recent article from Curbed examines our long-neglected pedestrian infrastructure and the variety of solutions that are being tested to improve our most basic form of mobility – walking. Sara Polsky writes about the benefits of pedestrian-centered streets as well as some of the reasons people were relegated to the sidewalk in the first place (hint: it was because of cars).

With transportation contributing over half of the greenhouse gas emissions across the country, cities are starting to invest more in walkable neighborhoods, and in many places their residents are pushing for this change even more strongly. And while some advocacy groups are trying to simply get their city to maintain their sidewalk network, others are starting to imagine pedestrian life without the sidewalk. Here are some of the more radical ideas:

  • Seattle is testing temporary, permeable pavement that can be removed as street trees grow, with the pilot streets serving as pedestrian-oriented spaces.
  • Some American cities are starting to consider the Dutch idea of woonerf, or “shared street,”  where all modes of transportation intermix with each other. This idea has already started to spread across Europe.

Bell Street Park, Seattle

  • Design and tech companies are promoting a variety of design ideas of multi-modal streets or reclaiming parking spaces for other uses including parklets, bike corrals, or café seating. The big names include Pensa, Nelson\Nygaard, and Perkins + Will. Even Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft have partnered with other mobility tech companies to create a collective vision for transportation.
  • Google-incubated Alphabet spinoff is busy building Sidewalk Toronto, a $50 million, 800-acre neighborhood-from-scratch in the Quayside district of Toronto. The neighborhood will exemplify the idea of walkability and mixed-use development.

With the advent of autonomous vehicles, some of these ideas could become even easier to implement. With the expected reduction in parking need and narrower vehicle lanes, more space could be converted from car-only to multi-modal. The Curbed article discusses these ideas as well, and brings up the idea that with ubiquitous sensors, AVs could even operate in a shared street environment.

Maybe new street design ideas should start thinking outside the sidewalk box.

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.

Changing Parking Infrastructure with Autonomous Vehicles

While much has been said about the impact autonomous vehicles could have on the demand for parking, less has been said about what to do with the parking we have now, or what we should do with parking that has yet to be built. Parking can be split into three categories: street parking, surface lots, and parking structures. Street parking is addressed mostly through road diets in speculativepieces, and surface lots are equally easy to use as a flat, blank slate to be reinvented into something else. But what about parking structures?

Parking structures are both a challenge and an opportunity for innovative architects. They’re concrete structures with blocky columns, sloped floors, ramps between floors, irregular ceiling heights, and awkward floor plans. None of these attributes make them ideal to remodel and given the uncertainty regarding how much parking we’ll need in coming years cities may feel hesitant to take action just yet.

However, this is not a ubiquitous opinion. A few cities have been recognized for plans to turn parking lots into other uses; while not as difficult to do as parking structures, it demonstrates that cities aren’t thinking they need as much parking as they have on hand. Eventually, more articles will be written about converting parking structures into affordable housing, office space, or other uses. Here is an example of a proposed parking garage in Seattle that is convertible to residential space. For existing parking structures, remodeling their husk into a new use could be difficult and expensive, but not impossible. Hereis an example of a difficult space – an abandoned subway restroom – being turned into a home by a British architect, and herea very skinny corner parcel in Japan was turned into an apartment building. These are not spaces that are considered prime real estate for redevelopment; they are not large spaces, they have funky shapes to work with, and most people would consider it a difficult endeavor to convert the space to something new and useful. But, if we can build apartments in geometrically restrictive triangles and dilapidated public restrooms, surely a rectangular, multi-story building in the heart of downtown shouldn’t be an insurmountable challenge?

Designing new parking structures poses different challenges and opportunities. Some cities are eliminating parking, but others are continuing to face a parking deficit that they don’t think autonomous vehicles will arrive in time to fix, or, that autonomous vehicles will still need lots of space to park (even if the cars are able to park closer together and line up headlights-to-taillights). Though the design of AVs is not completely clear, we know a few ways that parking garages could be more compact because of them. AV-ready garages could be re-designed:

  • Parking spaces could be narrower, since passengers are likely to be dropped off at their destination and never set foot in the parking garage itself, cars won’t need the space to open doors. Aisles could be narrower as well because AVs drive more precisely.
  • Parking spaces and aisles will likely both change sizes to reflect the size of vehicles, which might be stratified into a floor for traditional looking cars (personal use) or for rectangular shuttles (transit storage).
  • Parking garages could use charging capabilities, and could possibly incorporate car wash stations.
  • Loading lines could maximize efficiency and eliminate aisles. Assuming all cars in a garage are automated, instead of the traditional layout of singular rows with aisles in-between, loading lines without space between cars or aisles could be used for maximum efficiency (this would work for shared cars in which the car at the front of the line can be deployed for any rider).

Graphic Source: Designing parking facilities for autonomous vehicles by Mehdi Nourinejada, Sina Bahrami, Matthew J. Roorda

The previously listed considerations account for changes in technology, but not for changes in parking demand. Parking structures should be retrofitted to non-parking uses as demand for parking decreases; turning the more opportune floors of a structure (street level for connectivity, or higher stories for better lighting or views) to people-related uses, like this. To do so, new parking garages need to be re-designed to:

  • reduce the number of columns, and space them so they don’t disrupt the living room that may inhabit the space in future
  • use flat floors
  • eliminate ramps, or use ramps that are easily integrated into a floor plan;
  • Increase ceiling heights to make room for insulation, drywall, and the other building necessities of interior design without becoming too short for comfort;
  • Plan with the future floor plans of housing or office space in mind;
  • Allow for natural lighting. The cars won’t appreciate it, but future tenants will. A concept can be found here.

Although autonomous vehicles aren’t here yet, widespread adoption of ride-hailing services has already seen to decreased revenues for parking lots and garages. Parking lots are being bought and repurposed by developers in large quantities. Green Street Advisors, a California based real estate research firm, projects that parking needs in the US will be cut in half over the next 30 years due to a combination of ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles. It’s time to make plans for our changing parking needs, both from the effects we’re seeing today and the effects we’ll experience soon.

Jenna Whitney is a Master’s Candidate in Community and Regional Planning and an Urbanism Next Fellow at the University of Oregon.  She is examining how cities are planning for a multimodal future in the era of autonomous vehicles.

E-commerce may not be the only influence of store closings in the US

There are various opinions about the role of e-commerce has had on the brick and mortar store and decline of in-store shoppers. Some articles argue e-commerce is the main contributor to store closings today. Further, as technology becomes more advanced and delivery services more efficient (including the adoption of AVs for delivery), the retail apocalypse is definitely approaching. However, other emerging articles are erring on the side that while the phrase ‘retail apocalypse’ makes for an eye-catching headliner, it might not be telling the whole story. If physical stores are actually dying, some argue, why are stores like Dollar General, Ulta Beauty, and Nordstrom Rack still announcing locations of additional stores?

Rather than placing all the blame on Amazon for this new phase of retail, an article published by Bloomberg states that the US was bound to see a shift towards smaller retail footprints because we overbuilt retail space in the 1980s and 90s. The author also assumes that even without the rapid integration of e-commerce, consumer behavior today-particularly of Millennials would still prefer “the experience factor” of shopping. Different from past generations, it is now more important than ever for stores to be “unusual and delightful.” They need to create true destinations for people to enjoy. Perhaps retail isn’t dead altogether, but boring retail is.

Another recent article published in The New Republic also argues e-commerce isn’t the only driving factor of a shifting retail market. The writer postulates that many stores closures and bankruptcies can actually be attributed to an even greater threat… debt, which explains why profitable stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us had to close their doors earlier this year. This article states that in reality, e-commerce might have only played a minimal role in the company’s demise, while the larger issue is that the company acquired an astounding $5 billion debt with interest payments of $400 million per year after it was bought by a private equity firm in 2006.

Whether you agree or disagree with the retail apocalypse and/or the driving factors of a shift in retail, Forbes writer Steve Dennis puts it best, “Who cares?” Yes, while the causes and trends do matter, they only matter to an extent. The impacts of shifts in retail are troubling for communities, regardless of the causes.  The one thing that we should all focus on and know for a fact, is that retail is changing. Is your community ready? How do you see it adapting towards the future of retail space?

 

Planning for a Future with Less Parking: Chandler, AZ Gives It a Go

Source: FreeRideshareLessons.com

The words “Arizona” and “autonomous vehicles” are quickly becoming synonymous it would seem. The newest headline is that Chandler, AZ may become the first U.S. city to amend its zoning code in anticipation of self-driving cars. City planning staff in Chandler have submitted a list of recommended zoning amendments to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which, if adopted, would go into effect June 9. The proposed amendments would allow for minimum parking requirements to be reduced by up to 40% in exchange for the inclusion of passenger loading zones. One passenger loading zone could warrant a 10% reduction in parking, with a cap at 40% and controlling for building square footage. (A complete list of the proposed amendments is available here. Interesting and worth a look!) Planning staff have outlined two primary objectives: 1) allow for more flexibility in parking minimums as demand for parking changes and 2) promote the creation of passenger loading zones.

On the one hand, this news is encouraging—the demand for parking is already changing as a result of the rise of transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber and self-driving cars are anticipated to have further impacts on parking demand—and it is important that planners take these changes into account. Parking is expensive to build and drives up the cost of development. (See Don Shoup for comprehensive research on the high costs of parking minimums.) Making parking minimums more flexible could have lots of positive impacts, such as reducing the cost of developing multifamily housing. Encouraging the development of passenger loading zones also seems like a good idea—by this point, many of us have probably found ourselves stuck behind a TNC driver who is double parked awaiting a passenger…or we’ve been that passenger/driver ourselves. However, these proposed amendments bring up a whole host of questions that are worth considering. For starters, do we want each building to have its own passenger loading zone? How might that impact urban design? Or would we prefer that there be shared passenger loading zones for several developments or perhaps a whole block? And what about the possible impacts on congestion as cars spill out into the road while they wait their turn to enter passenger loading zones for popular destinations? Will that encourage the widening of roads to ensure that travel lanes are consistently moving, and if so, is that what we really want? Indeed, there are so many questions to consider and as of yet, so few answers.

How is Sidewalk Lab Planning for Toronto’s Transportation Future?

Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet spin-off that’s building a new smart city on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront, has just announced that construction will begin in 2020. Given that this new neighborhood is meant to be a pilot project to influence the future of cities across the globe, it seems valid to wonder what Sidewalk Lab’s vision of mobility looks like. A recent “Sidewalk Talk” blog post provides insight through a Q & A with one of Sidewalk Lab’s transportation advisors, David Levinson.

Levinson’s viewpoint can be broken down into three key takeaways:

  1. Pricing will be the number one way to incentivize shared AVs over private AVs. Some of the options include congestion pricing, road pricing, or even creating a new type of traffic violation that fines empty cars for circling the block endlessly.
  2. Curbside management will be a key consideration for cities, but may be most easily managed through flexible uses at different times of day.
  3. Curbside management can be generalized as space reallocation. Fewer, smaller cars that move more efficiently can make room for new uses on the road including bike lanes, bus lanes, and drop-off zones.

The article offers insight into Sidewalk Lab’s vision of traffic enforcement as well, displaying a reliance on cameras and bots to capture and record unwanted behavior. While the official Toronto plans aren’t set to be released for at least another year, several articles have reported the plan includes a heavy use of cameras for data collection and monitoring. The use of cameras may make it easier for cities to collect mobility data rather than relying on data sharing from private companies, but it raises questions about privacy and data security.

This article, as well as Sidewalk Lab’s vision statement, seem to point towards a people-oriented mobility future. However, vision statements and hand-drawn streetscapes don’t always translate into the real world build environment. The world will have to wait until development is complete to see if Toronto’s Eastside Harbor really is a strong example for a sustainable, affordable city of the future.

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 at National APA Conference

If you’re in New Orleans kicking off the National APA Conference today, here are a few sessions to check out featuring Urbanism Next representatives!

Saturday 2:45 pm
Automated Vehicles: Effects on Urban Development
This deep-dive charrette will highlight presentations from experts and in-depth conversations about how automated vehicles impact land use, physical city design, urban densification or sprawl, and local vitality and activity.

Sunday 1 pm
Planning for Autonomous Vehicles
Autonomous vehicles will begin to revolutionize mobility in communities across the nation by 2020. This session will present the latest research from APA, along with examples of places that are introducing shared autonomous vehicles to reshape development.

Fast, Funny, and Passionate
These six bite-sized presentations will both entertain and inform you, capturing the flavor of today’s planning by making you laugh — and think. This grouping is ideal for those interested in learning about how transportation, mobility, and technology impact the world we live in.

Monday 1 pm
Getting Ahead of Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars are coming — and fast. Hear from a public works director, national researcher, and national consultant who examine two key areas where planners should be focusing on autonomous vehicle impacts: street design/management and parking-garage design/management.

Monday 4:15 pm
Impacts of Emerging Technology on Development
Examine emerging technologies – autonomous vehicles (AVs), e-commerce, and the sharing economy – and the profound impacts they may have on parking, residential preferences, housing prices, and transit-oriented development.

Share your takeaways, thoughts, and insights with us on Twitter at @UrbanismNext, and happy conferencing!

The Amazonian Effects on Local Revenue

Amazon has been subject to criticism over the years for not paying sales taxes. Initially, Amazon and other retailers paid taxes in states where they had a physical presence. By 2017, Amazon began collecting sales taxes for all states that levy such taxes (as we reported here), though the retail giant still does not collect taxes sold by third parties (except in Washington and Pennsylvania.) As Ben Casselman reports in the New York Times, collections at the local level are problematic. This raises important considerations from a local budgeting perspective. Cities are losing property tax revenue and local sales tax revenue as retailers shutter because of losing out to e-commerce like Amazon. Even worse, the lost local sales tax revenue is not being replaced as residents purchase goods online instead of at brick and mortar stores.

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Collecting local tax revenue is complicated – in 37 states, local governments can levy their own taxes. But collecting and remitting these taxes is not negotiated as part of the deals between the states and Amazon. A recent report by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy outlines some of the challenges. It is important for cities to realize the stakes and work with states and e-commerce to collect taxes.  As Casselman writes: “(the issue) is less the fault of Amazon than of state tax systems that don’t require, and in some cases don’t allow, online retailers to collect local taxes.” It’s easy to understand why large retailers may not want to negotiate with each of the hundreds of local jurisdictions – but states can pass legislation or negotiate on behalf of the local jurisdictions within their state. That’s particularly important in states that don’t require collection of taxes unless the business has a local presence.

 

Spending Bill Includes $100m for AV Research

Did you hear? The most recent spending bill includes $100m for research on autonomous vehicles. A good chunk of that money ($60m) will go towards grants that test the “feasibility and safety” of autonomous vehicles, and those funds will only be available to local governments and academic institutions. Congress has also earmarked $1.5m to look at the impacts that autonomous vehicles may have on employment, with a particular eye on truck, taxi, and other commercial drivers. Considering that the U.S. Dept. of Commerce published a report in August 2017 that suggested that as many as 15.5m people work in occupations that could be affected by the introduction of autonomous vehicles, this investment seems critical to getting out ahead of these changes before industries are upended. As we say over here at Urbanism Next, AVs are not a transportation issue, they are an everything issue…labor included.

Amazon not fulfilling their end of cities’ investments?

A recent study published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) might have communities rethinking the costs and benefits of investing in Amazon warehouses.

The report announced that US state and local governments have offered Amazon a total of over $1 billion in tax revenue to lure Amazon warehouses to their communities. Amazon has expanded their operation from 10 warehousing centers in 2000 to approximately 100 centers across the nation today. Why are cities investing so heavily in Amazon locations? Warehouses can employ anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people, which is fairly enticing for cities that have high rates of unemployment or lack a diverse economic base. Not to mention the attractive contributions that Amazon provides to communities where their employees live.

But, the new EPI’s report argues that the job growth generated by Amazon warehouses is merely an exaggerated perception. Many cities may notice the percentage of warehousing sector employment increase (30%), but Amazon warehouses are not a silver bullet to significantly boost the overall employment rate. In fact, the report discovered that in some counties the total employment rate had actually decreased since Amazon warehouses opened.

The release of the study comes at an interesting time. Last fall, Amazon announced their search for a second headquarters (HQ2). Over 200 cities applied for the bid. The new headquarters was estimated to generate over 50,000 jobs and add $5 billion to the local economy. Cities offered amazing and enticing planning strategies to competitively attract Amazon to select their proposal; many offered millions of dollars in tax incentives, promises to invest in rapid transportation modes, and some even offered to de-annex land for Amazon, and the list goes on. But latest EPI report raises questions about these incentives and enticements; it joins a small but growing chorus of people who expressed concerns about offering Amazon deals that may be too good to be true.

The EPI Report urges local communities to slow their roll on handing out tax incentives to Amazon and to stop looking for such short-term solutions. Their advice to cities? Focus on long-term strategies and more traditional investments to spur economic development—specifically, invest in efficient transportation and quality public education.

Urbanism Next Conference Session Highlighted in Citylab

Quick post-conference update! We are working on a full conference report and will soon have videos of the plenary speakers to share, but in the meantime we wanted to highlight an article that Citylab’s Laura Bliss wrote about “The Ama-zoning of America” session. (We are delighted that she was not only in attendance but that she also moderated one of the plenary discussions! Link coming soon…)

In “The Ama-zoning of America,” panelists Rick Stein (Urban Decision Group), Kelly Rula (Seattle Dept. of Transportation), Justin Robbins (HDR), and Jason Sudy (OHM Advisors) discussed the future of car-oriented suburban retail…or perhaps the lack thereof? Check out the article for a full write-up!

Ending the Search for Parking

Photo by Raban Haaijk on Unsplash

Angela DeLuca
ENR/Urbanism Next Research Fellow, School of Law, University of Oregon

Inevitably, at almost every presentation on how emerging technologies will impact cities, someone will suggest that Americans love their cars and will never give them up for shared transportation or autonomous vehicles (AVs). Our broad response is that people used to love riding horses as well. If there are less expensive transportation choices that allows the commuter to be productive during their commute, then people will utilize these choices.

The automobile has been a fixture of American life since the explosion of automobile ownership after World War II. Cities encouraged this trend by requiring parking minimums on new buildings. However, the policy of providing abundant parking is being called into question and a paradigm shift in transportation choices is calling for a change in our parking policy.

Transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, are of one of the driving forces shaking up the traditional parking market. The ride-hail economy offers users the convenience of a private vehicle transportation without the additional burden of parking.  TNCs have exponentially increased their services in the last four years. In Chicago, TNC rides quadrupled in the last three years. On a typical weekday in San Francisco, 5,700 TNC vehicles are in operation, accounting for 15% of all intra-city vehicle trips and 20% of all local daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT). TNC trips are concentrated in the densest and most congested parts of San Francisco.

Airports are already feeling the price pinch of TNC operations. Airports generate 25% of their operating budget from parking fees. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline Report, Fresno Yosemite International Airport is losing an estimated $180,000 per year in parking revenue. Leigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania saw a decrease of $123,000 in parking revenue in the 2016 fiscal year. At Dallas Fort Worth, parking revenue is nearly $4 million lower than was projected for fiscal year 2017. Buffalo Niagara International Airport is estimating a loss of $2 million from TNC operations.

Other parking markets are starting to see the beginning of this shift as well. The two highest markets for private parking spaces are New York and Washington D.C. In D.C., a parking spot was recently sold for 10% of its purchased value eight years ago. In New York, parking space rentals are in the hundreds per month, instead of in the thousands. And according to a recent news report from San Diego, Ace Parking contends that TNCs are responsible for as much as 50% reduction in parking revenue with restaurant and nightclub parking valets being hit the hardest.

So, what does this mean for the parking industry? The need for abundant parking is coming to an end as people increasingly utilize TNCs and as some move away from private vehicle ownership altogether. Parking spaces come at a cost, especially to renters. A study of 23 recently completed Seattle-area apartment buildings showed that 15% of rent in Seattle stemmed from the cost of building parking. The same study showed that parking requirements increased rent on average by $246 a month. At the surveyed developments, only 63% of the parking spaces were utilized at the peak of demand. In addition, more units were rented in the developments than there were cars in the parking lots, illustrating that not all tenants owned an automobile.

Cities are starting to take notice of these shifts. Summit, New Jersey, for example, forewent building a new parking structure and instead entered into a transportation deal with Uber. Summit is located 30 miles from Manhattan and the city transit center is a hub for commuters who work in the city. The City addressed its parking shortage at the transit center by offering commuters free or discounted rides through Uber. One hundred commuters who have purchased parking passes are eligible for free Uber rides to and from the station. Additional riders can pay $2 per trip each way. The program is estimated to cost the city around $167,00 per year in contrast to the $10 million price tag of a new parking structure. Unlike the parking structure, the new program is also flexible to changes in future if the use of AVs and TNCs expand.

The way the average American commutes is changing. The rising generation is calling into question automobile-centric policy that has supported the inflated parking market. As Summit’s Mayor Nora Radest said “… our program is the first of its kind in the United States… [o]ur innovation has the potential to shape how municipalities think about and implement parking options in the future.” The days of the single-driver commute might be numbered and new models of mobility and innovation may very well be shaping the emerging commuter market and thus, the parking market.  

Conference Interviews to Check Out!

We were fortunate enough to have Mobility Lab as a media sponsor for the conference, and Mobility Lab’s Paul Mackie interviewed Nico Larco of Urbanism Next last week. They covered a lot of ground, including transportation demand management, infrastructure funding, changes we can expect to see this year, and how the Urbanism Next Conference even came to be!

We were also happy to have the organizers of the The Mobility Podcast with us last week. Check out the conversation they had with Nico Larco and Becky Steckler, Urbanism Next’s Program Manager, as the conference kicked off. In addition, don’t miss the discussions they had with plenary speakers Susan Shaheen and Robin Chase! Lots to mull over.

Have a read, have a listen, and let us know what you think!

This Week’s Don’t Miss Stories

Things are happening faster than we can write about them these days! As a result, we are starting a series called “This Week’s Don’t Miss Stories.” We’ll round up the stories we’ve read this week that we think are especially interesting and of note. Here’s a snapshot of what we read this week…

Autonomous shuttle service launched in San Ramon, California last week. EasyMile became the first autonomous vehicle to make use of California’s new regulations around driverless testing and use of AVs on public roads. EasyMile may soon be running service between BART and Bishop Ranch, a 585-acre office park where approximately 30,000 work every day, in the hope of improving the first/last mile conundrum. (Contra Costa County says that it wants to have in the vicinity of 100 autonomous buses by 2020!)

Amazon and Uber may be heading towards a package delivery showdown that could disrupt the global logistics industry, reportedly worth $8.1 trillionScroll down to read through the interesting comparison infographic they’ve put together for statistics about Amazon, Uber, and the state of the trucking industry. (It’s e-commerce, the sharing economy, and the advent of autonomous vehicles all in one.)

Lyft is testing a monthly subscription plan. The subscription service is targeted at users who spend upwards of $450/month on Lyft rides. According to Lyft CEO Logan Green, “a subscription to Lyft could cost something along the lines of $200, which gets you 1,000 miles of traveling around.” This doesn’t sound like the greatest plan if reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is a goal. Sure, you could argue that these high-frequency users are already spending the money to travel as much as they are, indicating they aren’t price sensitive, so perhaps this change won’t make much of a dent on VMT. However, this could very well encourage less frequent users to up their usage if they’re on the cusp of thinking it could be worth the cost, thereby driving up VMT.

The Museum of Ice Cream provides insights into the future of retail—spoiler—it’s about the experience. The Museum of Ice Cream lures customers to its New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco locations with a pool of sprinkles, among other innovative (and scrumptious?) experiences. This is an especially interesting look at the future of retail and raises the question about whether it’s even about the retail at all. In this case, you pay $38 just for admission (that’s the “museum” part), but what if more retailers start considering charging for the experience altogether? No more simple browsing without paying a price of admission? Perhaps that may never come to pass, but it’s interesting food for thought as we consider the future of retail and where we may choose to spend our time, if we can afford it…

Urbanism Next 2018 Conference!

Attendees line up to ask questions during Monday’s opening plenaries (Photo by Sabrina Ortiz Luna)
Nico Larco introduces Monday’s transit panel (Photo by Sabrina Ortiz Luna)

What a week we’ve had! Last week, the inaugural Urbanism Next Conference brought together the private, public, and academic sectors for a thought-provoking and inspiring three days. For our part, we were positively delighted by the turnout, the presentations, and the discussions that were had. If the conference could be summarized in one sentence, it would be that emerging technologies have brought us to the precipice of major change and there is LOTS of work to be done to ensure that those changes are positive. As Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, Veniam, and Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, said during her talk, “We’re getting a chance to redo our cities.” What if we could go back in time to the 1930s and convene a conference called “Suburbanism Next,” as Tim Smith, Principal for SERA Architects, invited us all to imagine? What we have done differently on the brink of that period of change?

Getting a chance to redo our cities is both a monumental opportunity, and a monumental challenge. How do we get it right this time?

Workshop participants weigh in on the future of street design (Photo by Cindy Chou)

Well, for starters, “we have to bring equity to the forefront of our thinking,” as Susan Shaheen, Director of UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, said. She also posed the question, do we really need to rethink everything? YES, she said. We do. And we’ll have to be brave, be bold, and we’ll have to work together. Jeff Tumlin, Principal at Nelson\Nygaard, encouraged us to tell better stories and told us that our job is manage the street for the public good. We have to imagine a future in which technology is in the service of people instead of people in service of technology. This gets to a point made by Mayor Wheeler of Portland who said that technology is value neutral. People, on the other hand, are not. We have to be led by our core values.

There were so many interesting discussions, sessions, workshops, and ideas and this is just a snippet of what we heard at the conference. Over the next week we’ll be sharing more information so please stay tuned! We’ll also be posting video footage and links to presentations on our website in the near future, so be on the lookout for that as well. In the meantime, you can learn more about the conference by checking out the conference program if you haven’t already, and by searching for #UrbNext2018 on Twitter.

Many, many thanks to everyone who presented, attended, and shared insights, and a HUGE thank you as well to our partners and sponsors!

 

 

 

 

 

TNCs (and eventually AVs) will help facilitate healthcare access

Uber has launched a platform to help facilitate access to healthcare. While many people miss appointments because they cannot get to a doctor (claimed to be more than 3.6 million).

The experiences of healthcare providers using TNCs to get patients to care has been mixed. The director of consumer health initiatives at MedStar Health has said that “Uber has helped us drastically reduce appointment cancellations. It’s great to be able to quickly request a ride with so that in need patients can make an appointment they’d otherwise miss.” And a working paper from a University of Kansas Economist has shown that TNCs entry into a city’s transportation market “reduced the per capital ambulance volume by at least 7%”.

However, research in the JAMA Internal Medicine has demonstrated that free ride services using TNCs “may not be as effective as previously thought.” So as Uber rolls out its platform it may be challenged to sustain the connections with those that most need a ride with their technology–specifically as it relates to the digital divide and access to the technology needed to Uber/Lyft. Though there is evidence that government use of smartphone applications have been shown potential to help bridge the digital divide.

ICYMI: The future has arrived

It’s true. The future is here. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is officially permitted to operate as a Transportation Network Company (TNC) in Arizona. Why is this a big deal, you ask? Because Waymo is operating fully autonomous vehicles—that’s LEVEL FOUR AUTONOMY. The Arizona Department of Transportation granted Waymo’s permit on January 24, less than two weeks after the application was filed. This means that Waymo can begin charging passengers for rides, something it hasn’t done since it began testing its autonomous vehicles in April 2017. According to Digital Trends, Waymo’s fleet of vehicles is comprised of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids, which are plug-in hybrids with an all-electric range of 33 miles. If everything goes according to plan, Waymo will start offering paid rides via an app (yep, just like Uber and Lyft) in Phoenix later this year.

Image: Waymo

Speaking of Uber and Lyft, this could spell competition for them since driverless cars are widely believed to be the thing that will make ride-hailing profitable with the elimination of driver wages. (According to Quartz, Uber paid ~$8 billion to drivers in earnings and bonuses in the 4th quarter of 2017.) Of course, Uber is famously working on its own driverless fleet, as is Lyft, though neither is yet operating fully autonomous vehicles. Waymo hasn’t announced a price structure, but chances are good that they’ll be competitive with what Uber and Lyft are currently charging.

The race is on and now is definitely the time for cities to get up to speed and get those regulations in place. As of now, there hasn’t been any mention of Waymo’s TNC roll-out prioritizing ridesharing, just ridehailing. What happens if they are all private rides? Will we be able to make the switch to shared after the fact? It increasingly seems like we are on the brink of Robin Chase’s Heaven or Hell scenario. Now seems like the perfect time to be convening experts from across the country to explore these questions and plan for the future…which is upon us. The Urbanism Next Conference kicks off Monday, March 5—there’s still time to register, but if you can’t make it in person keep an eye on our blog for updates!

 

The AV retail experience is coming

Today, you have to travel to the store. In the future, with e-Palette, the store will come to you!

Akio Toyoda, President and Member of the Board of Directors for the Toyota Motor Corporation recently announced the e-Palette; a fully electrical autonomous vehicle (AV) that can be used for just about anything including being an at-your-door retail “store”. Toyoda states the e-Palette will not be any “ordinary” electrical AV—it will extend beyond the mobility of people and will fill a societal need to mobilize services and commerce.

The e-Palette will be revolutionary in the retail market because not only will it deliver a customer’s order, but potentially a range of options – truly bringing the store to you.  Imagine ordering a pair of shoes and having multiple pairs of those shoes in a variety of sizes arrive at your door for you to try on. There will be no driver or need to travel your local centers of commerce. While this may be unimaginable today, it might very likely be the next generation’s retail experience. Toyota, along with partners like Amazon, Uber and Pizza Hut hope to launch the e-Palette by 2020.

The e-Palette has the potential to bring the convenience of retail to an entirely new level and it could have positive impacts such as reducing the number of single-occupancy trips per day and decreasing vehicle miles traveled per person. As people drive less, motor vehicle lanes could be reallocated to additional sidewalk space for pedestrians or to increase areas for curb access. But the e-Palette could have negative implications as well, such as the deactivation of downtowns, increased store closings, increased rates of social isolation and disengagement from the larger community among residents.

In response to these concerns, what are critical strategies cities can plan for to incentivize active downtowns, retail centers, or plazas? Additionally, the e-Palette will inevitably require new tax policy and mobile-retail regulations in general. How will the e-Palette concept be integrated into the budgetary needs of a city?

If you are interested in learning more about thee-Palette, you can watch the press conference here.

 

Interested in learning more about the retail apocalypse or the role of e-commerce in cities of the future? Join us at the Urbanism Next Conference where a series of leading scholars and practitioners will present their research on “Are stores doomed?”

Is Ride Share the Cure?

In discussing how the future of transportation will function, and in particular the future regarding autonomous vehicles, rideshare (Uber and Lyft) is often touted as a way to improve mobility and reduce the number of cars on the road, meaning less traffic, parking and pollution.

But, rideshare hasn’t been upholding this promise. Recent research shows that the introduction of Uber and Lyft to cities has increased congestion and air pollution, the combined number of taxi, Uber, and Lyft vehicles in Manhattan has increased by 59% from 2013 to 2017. Notably important is the fact that rideshare is increasing VMT by creating rides – a study by U.C. Davis transportation researchers found that between 49-61% of trips either wouldn’t have happened or would have been accomplished by transit, bike, or on foot if rideshare hadn’t been an option.

Many think Uber and Lyft function the same way AV will be used, but simply have drivers.  Thus, the initial research on the impacts of Uber and Lyft are troubling. Both rideshare and self-driving cars promise to eliminate the need for parking, improve safety, possibly reduce the number of cars on the road, and ease environmental concerns. However, a substantial amount of rideshare vehicles are idle without passengers at any moment in time, in Manhattan the number of empty Ubers and Lyfts is approximately one-third of the rideshare fleet.  The convenience of rideshare has not yet discouraged car ownership or reduced vehicle miles traveled, and until the fleet is electric, air pollution and GHG remain an issue.

So the question remains, how can cities prevent autonomous vehicles from increasing sprawl, adding to congestion, or continuing to emit GHGs? A few ideas such as the following might work:

1) Policies such as charging a fee for “zombie cars” (AVs without passengers) to discourage AVs from driving without passengers;

2) Mandating that AVs be shared instead of private;

3) Limiting the number of AVs on the road by relying on sophisticated algorithms to optimize the number of cars on the road based on the number of passengers hailing rides; and

4) Transitioning rideshare users to the higher capacity of public transit through various economic incentives or penalties. These are some examples of policies that cities could enact to curb congestion caused by rideshare and AVs.

Jenna Whitney is a Master’s Candidate in Community and Regional Planning and an Urbanism Next Fellow at the University of Oregon.  She is examining how cities are planning for a multimodal future in the era of autonomous vehicles.

Practitioner and Policy-Maker Perceptions of Planning for Autonomous Vehicles

In less than one month’s time, practitioners and policy-makers across the country will convene in Portland, Oregon to learn about, explore, and discuss a variety of topics related to transformative technologies, urbanism and planning.

What lies ahead for communities across the world is anyone’s guess—and the ‘guesses’ vary quite a bit. That’s just what Dr. Kristina M. Currans and Dr. Tara Goddard—Assistant Professors from University of Arizona and Texas A&M, respectively—are interested in. In the weeks between now and the conference, Drs. Currans and Goddard will be administering a 6-10-minute survey aimed at understanding practitioner and policy-maker perceptions of planning for autonomous vehicles.

The researchers plan to share the synthesis of their findings after the conference. In the meantime, they have made it available to the general public. Learn more and take their brief survey here!

Thriving and surviving retail sectors during a “retail apocalypse”

As writer Andrew Van Dam states in a recent Washington Post article, “retail is one of the biggest, most diverse sectors of the economy.” Not only does it vary in types of products sold (i.e. clothing, electronics, and food markets), but also range in size, specialized vs. big-box department stores, and upscale boutiques vs. discount stores. Therefore, it is not surprising that each sector is experiencing different impacts from emerging technology and shifts in the market economy, some are even defying the presumed certainty of the retail apocalypse.

While many sectors are struggling to keep pace with the competition, others seem to be thriving and even hiring new employees. According to Van Dam, retail employment only actually decreased 0.4% from 2016 to 2017. As it shows in the graphic below, this is comparatively mild to the hits of the two recessions since the late 1990s.

The overall employment impacts start to become more interesting when we look at specific types of retail that are being affected the “retail apocalypse.”

The retail sectors with the highest average monthly job loss Jan-Nov. 2017 are:

  • Department stores (excludes discount stores)
  • Warehouse clubs, supercenters
  • Pharmacies and drugstores
  • Electronics
  • Women’s Clothing

…and the retail sectors with the highest average monthly job gain from Jan-Nov. 2017 are:

  • Electronic shopping and auctions
  • Home Improvement Centers
  • Discount Department stores
  • Bridal, lingerie, costume and other clothing
  • Trophies, collections, art supplies and other miscellaneous

As shown in the graphic above, 4 out of the 5 sectors have been fairly consistent in gaining jobs for the retail economy, both from 2009-2016 and also in 2017. Discount Department Stores, which had previously experienced job loss from 2009-2016, saw an unprecedented spark of job gain in 2017. In general, all five sectors outpaced their job gain in 2017 compared to the aggregated job growth from the last 5 years. In general, there are more retail sectors that experienced job gain in 2017. Still, the total number of jobs that were lost is greater than the number of jobs gained.  The top job loss sectors, Warehouse Clubs/Supercenters and Department Stores, lost over 5,000 jobs in 2017.  This is nearly the total amount of jobs of all the top job gain sectors.

The retail sector lost approximately 66,500 jobs, which is striking given the economy as a whole added over 2 million jobs in that same period.

Nationally, these trends may seem relatively minor, but they can have lasting impact local communities. In some communities, job loss in these sectors could mean significant impact to local unemployment rates and the decline in property tax revenue.  How will cities that depend on these retail sectors as major employers adapt to job loss or store closings? And while impacts may seem minor in 2017, will this trend continue…should we start planning for a continual decline of retail employment for the future city?

The full graph of retail sector job loss and gain can be found here.

Interested in learning more about the retail apocalypse or the role of e-commerce in cities of the future? Join us at the Urbanism Next Conference where a series of leading scholars and practitioners will present their research on “Are stores doomed?”

Alexa, schedule a Whole Foods delivery

Photo by Anne Preble on Unsplash

That’s what some Amazon Prime members in Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Virginia Beach might be saying today after Amazon announced that it will begin offering free two-hour grocery delivery from Whole Foods. As you might recall, Amazon rocked the grocery world when it announced it was purchasing the upscale grocery chain in August last year. Now, some customers will have the option of ordering natural and organic products from their local Whole Foods store and having it all delivered for FREE within two hours. According toBloomberg Technology, 90% of Amazon Prime’s 90 million users live within 10 miles of a Whole Foods, so the announcement of a free delivery service perhaps should come as no surprise. And from a cost standpoint, you can see how this would pencil out—instead of pulling items off a shelf in some distant warehouse that then have to be transported to local destinations, goods will come directly from a nearby store right to your doorstep.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

This convenience does not come without implications, of course. For one thing, we could see an uptick in delivery traffic in the cities where this program is rolling out. (Did I mention that delivery is FREE?) Increased delivery traffic could result in increased congestion, particularly in dense areas, as drivers look for loading zones or possibly double park to drop off orders. (Even more reason why cities need to start digitizing those curbs.) There’s also the question of what this will do to suppliers. As Bloomberg’s Olivia Zaleski mentions, shelf space at Whole Foods could get a whole lot more expensive as suppliers compete for placement. And then there’s the competition that other grocery stores will experience–just this week, the Portland-based upscale grocery chain New Seasons announced that it will be closing a Sunnyvale, CA store it opened less than a year ago and will not be building the other California stores it had planned. They cited “growing pressure from new business models, including stores offering in-store pick-up of online orders and meal kit delivery services” as contributing to the decision. Imagine how much tougher it could get for them now that a direct competitor for their retail market can offer fast and free delivery.

Let us not overlook the equity implications of this announcement either. If you can afford an Amazon Prime account, you likely live within 10 miles of a Whole Foods, as noted above. Now you can get free delivery of fresh, organic foods. But what if you can’t afford an Amazon Prime account? E-commerce promises convenience, and perhaps no other company understands “that the most important value in American retail today is what’s is technically known as ‘consumer convenience'” than Amazon. But convenience comes with a price tag that many people cannot afford. How do we move into the future without widening the gaps between haves- and have-nots even more?

Join us for discussions about the equity implications of emerging technologies and what to do about them at the Urbanism Next Conference next month!

Seeing curbs for what they are: hot commodities

Flexible curbside uses (excerpted from NACTO’s 2017 Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism)

If you’ve ever dropped someone off at an airport on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you know that finding even the tiniest amount of space at the curb to wedge your car into is near impossible. As you battle for curb space, you may not be seeing dollar signs—but cities are starting to. As Karen Hao writes in Quartz, “The humble curb is quickly becoming the city’s hottest asset.” With the rise of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, more and more drivers are looking for places to pull over for periods of time. Add to the mix delivery trucks also vying for that space, and you could be heading for a real congestion headache. Recognizing that this problem is only going to increase as we move towards a driverless future, some cities like Washington D.C. have taken a first step towards treating curbs like commodities—they are inventorying and digitizing them, starting with their loading zones. By digitizing that data, they can begin to measure supply and demand for curb space and charge accordingly. As the author of the Quartz article notes, DDOT started charging higher prices for the use of certain loading zones using the data it had collected.

Curb space is hot and as parking becomes, well, less hot, the loss of parking revenue is going to have an impact on municipal budgets. Charging for curb space could be the way of the future. Want to know more? Join us for the Urbanism Next Conference March 5-7 in Portland, OR and check out the session on the Future of the Curb, featuring Gillian Gillett with the City of San Francisco, and Allison Wylie of Uber. Come hear what they have to say about the city’s hottest asset!

Early bird deadline for the Urbanism Next 2018 Conference extended!

Have you heard? The early bird deadline for the Urbanism Next 2018 Conference has been extended to Friday, February 9! How we can leverage technology to create the best future for all? Be part of the conversation March 5-7 at the Urbanism Next 2018 Conference in Portland.

Engage with architects, planners, landscape architects, developers, academics, and others. We will explore the secondary impacts of emerging technologies—autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy, and e-commerce—on real estate, land use, urban design and transportation.

Hear from national experts and participate in interactive sessions focused on what these technologies mean for equity, the environment, the economy, and governance:

Please visit the conference site to complete your registration and find additional details about speakers, schedule, and accommodations. Special rates are available for members of the AIA, APA, ASLA, ULI and academics. Conference organizers are applying for continuing education credits for the American Institute of Architects (LU/HSWs) and the American Institute of Certified Planners (CMs). ASLA members are eligible to self-report hours per the requirements of their state licensure boards.

Register today for early bird pricing!

Driverless Cars are Here (Just with Drivers) – TNCs

We often get the questions about when AVs will arrive – and although that date seems closer and closer — (see our post here about car manufacturers plans, here about level 4 automation in Phoenix last November, here about GM’s request for federal approval for a fleet of level 4 AVs to be rolled out in 2019, and here for an article about Waymo’s recent order of thousands of Pacifica vans they will be deploying as AVs around the country) — we like to point out that AVs, or more precisely the model of how we will use AVs, is already prevalent throughout the country in the form of TNCs.

Transportation Network Companies like Uber, Lyft, Via and Chariot are examples of exactly how we will be using AVs, just with drivers in them.  The mobile apps, the on-demand nature, the sometimes limited contact with anyone easily map onto the AV future.

The implication for this is that we can be studying the impacts of TNCs to get a sense of what the impacts of AVs will be.  Recent reports from Bruce Schaller, Susan Shaheen, and UC Davis’ 3 Revolutions on the impacts of TNCs on travel behavior and mode choice can be seen as early predictors of the future we will have with AVs.

For cities wondering what the future will look like, it has already arrived.  Just take a look at TNC impacts.

And Here Comes the Backlash… UPS and Teamsters Debate AVs

We have often said that the largest barrier to the roll-out of AVs will not be state of the technology, but instead the backlash to it.  Our work has focused on understanding the impacts of emerging technologies on cities and we firmly believe that these impacts, if not well structured and guided, might be detrimental to cities.  If cities and communities suffer – or fear they are going to be negatively impacted – we will start to see resistance to the technologies en masse.

As a case in point – UPS is currently in contract negotiations with the Teamsters and one of the key issues on the table is that UPS agree to not pursue the use of drone technology or autonomous vehicles.  From conversations we have had with transit agencies around the country, this is a similar issue coming up in labor negotiations nationally.

Labor and industry will need to figure out a path forward that takes into account the needs of workers and the reality of competition (as other companies that are pursing AVs may outcompete those that don’t).  This all points to a need to think proactively about the implications of these new technologies – going beyond transportation and beyond labor as well – to understand how we can best shape an emerging technology future.

Amazon Expanded Delivery Services Will Impact Warehousing

Amazon has been developing a program they call ‘Seller Flex’ which allows them to do deliveries for third party suppliers (this is Amazon delivering packages for products they do not stock, but offer through their website).  This will largely be competition for FedEx and UPS who currently do most of these types of deliveries.

The implications for warehousing is that individual sites around the city that stock different goods will now be more integrated into a network of warehouses.  This means space needs could be reduced, efficiencies could improve and there will start to be added benefits of having various key warehouses located near each other so that Amazon can more easily access and service them all.  Amazon will be streamlining delivery while not having to own all of the individual warehouses or merchandise themselves.

Early registration pricing for the Urbanism Next Conference 2018 ends Monday, February 5

The last day for early bird registration for the 2018 Urbanism Next conference is next week – Monday, February 5, 2018! Join us in Portland, Oregon March 5-7, 2018 to engage in dialogue about how technology is transforming our cities.

The conference will focus on the secondary impacts on real estate, land use, urban design, and transportation as a result of emerging technologies including autonomous vehicles.

Highlights:

  • Learn about the implications of emerging technologies for equity, the environment, the economy, and governance.
  • Hear from Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, ZipCar Founder Robin Chase, Nelson\Nygaard’s Jeff Tumlin and many more
  • Engage with architects, planners, landscape architects, developers, academics and others in interactive workshops

Please visit the conference site for additional details about speakers, schedule, and accommodations and to complete your registration.

Special rates are available for members of the AIA, APA, ASLA, ULI, and academics. Conference organizers are applying for continuing education credits for the American Institute of Architects (LU/HSWs) and the American Institute of Certified Planners (CMs). ASLA members are eligible to self-report hours per the requirements of their state licensure boards.

New Report: Rethinking the Street in an Era of Driverless Cars

Communities get few moments to rethink their streets and make decisions that will serve the basic purposes of transportation, address urgent challenges like climate change, rising obesity, social isolation and conflict, and expand opportunities for general happiness throughout society.  Such a pivotal moment is upon us, as autonomous vehicles represent a potentially disruptive technology that can re-make the city for good or for ill.

Urbanism Next has released a new report delineating ways our communities can begin repurposing their most common public space – the streets – to better serve public uses.  Driverless cars may need less parking, narrower lanes, and may be able to occupy bi-directional shared lanes, all leading to a significantly reduced need for road space currently used to move and store vehicles. Where driverless cars are primarily available as fleets where users are buying rides instead of vehicles, the space savings may be more significant.

City planners, policy makers and community residents have a unique, and immediate, opportunity to rethink their streets with purposeful and creative consideration about how this critical public good may best serve the public for generations to come.  Read this Urbanism Next report to learn more.  And to see other Urbanism Next briefs, visit this page.

Future of jobs and the end of the cashier

Seattle may not have the SuperSonics basketball franchise anymore (this still burns me up—but that is a story for another day and a different blog) –or the headquarters of Boeing—but they do have supersonic convenience store checkout now. Amazon, based in Seattle, now has its first Amazon Go store up and running. This brick and mortar Amazon store location just requires shoppers to “Simply present the Amazon Go app at the gates and start shopping.” A range of technology (cameras and sensors) is used to monitor shoppers as they browse and shop. When the shoppers are done selecting their goods they just leave the store and get charged to their Amazon accounts.

Amazon Go store in Seattle (credit: www.theguardian.com)

Some shoppers at the store described the store as an experience that they just had to experience for themselves—“It’s at the cutting edge of AI and machine learning and I wanted to experience it for myself,” said one shopper. And while this may be novel for the shopper, it is a real threat to a lot of jobs (cashier being the 2nd most common job title in the US). This threat to employment is no longer in the far off distance of 2 or 3 years from now, as might be the case for truck drivers, but has actually already occurred. These types of shifts could be the end of a lot of jobs, but stores could also use as a way to improve customer services on the floor—and probably get shoppers to buy more as their employees focus on upselling rather than asking at check-out if “I found everything I was looking for.”

 

 

 

 

Pick your workshop at the Urbanism Next Conference

Day 2 of the Urbanism Next Conference will be an active day of in-depth workshops. Each attendee will have the opportunity to select from 17, 3-hour workshops – there’s something for everyone.

  • Equity issues take center stage in An AV for Everyone: Shared Mobility and Equity.
  • Curious about implications for local government budgets and finance? Where did All the Money Go? Opportunities and Challenges for Local Government Finances is your session.
  • Scenario Planning for an Uncertain Future is a great choice for planners to help foster public engagement.

Attendance is limited to approximately 35 people per workshop. Register today to make sure you get your first choice!

Visit the Urbanism Next website for full workshop descriptions, information about the nationally renowned professionals speaking at the conference, accommodations, and more.

The National Urbanism Next Conference is a collaboration between the University of Oregon and the Urban Land Institute, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Planning Association, and the American Institute of Architects.

Thank you to our partners and sponsors.

 

 

Podcast Double Feature – Urbanism Next on The Mobility Podcast and Convenience Matters

Here’s some food for thought to listen to on your commute home today – how might autonomous vehicles transform your commute next year? Urbanism Next’s Nico Larco and Becky Steckler share their thoughts on that question and more in two recent podcasts.

First, hear Nico’s discussion with The Mobility Podcast during the 2018 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting:

When we adopt new and innovative approaches to mobility, Nico Larco says we should pull back the curtain first. As the Co-Director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, Larco helps public and private entities understand the potential impacts of autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, and ecommerce on cities.

In this wide-ranging discussion, Larco describes how he evaluates these technologies as transportation issues in order to understand their secondary impacts on health, livability, and housing.

Next, check out Becky’s conversation about New Vehicle Technologies and Urban Design on Convenience Matters:

Emerging technologies are having profound effects on how we live, move and spend our time in cities, but also increasingly on urban form and development itself. Listen in as we discuss the secondary impacts of emerging technologies on urban design and transportation.

The Far, Way Off, Hard to Imagine Future of 2019

General Motors just announced that in the far off distance future of 2019 – next year – they are prepared to introduce commercial scale fleets of electric, autonomous vehicles to be used for ride buying, not individual car purchasing.  This may be the most major announcement of its kind to date and significantly accelerates the need for communities to figure out everything, including managing curb drop off and loading, surplus street and surface parking, the re-use opportunities of the public right of way, the impacts on land value and municipal budgets, plus issues of safety, security, etc.

Because the future seemed so, well, far into the future, most communities, from elected leaders to developers to livability advocates, don’t even know where to start in thinking about all of these things.  The GM announcement is not an announcement about just transportation, it is an announcement about everything that has to do with how and where we live, making the upcoming Urbanism Next conference much more critical for all communities, whether in attendance or not.

Register Now for the 2018 National Urbanism Next Conference

Early bird registration for the National Urbanism Next conference is now open!

Join us in Portland March 5-7, 2018 to engage in the dialogue about how technology is transforming our cities.

Highlights:

  • Learn about the secondary impacts of emerging technologies on land uses, urban design, transportation, and real estate markets and the implications of these changes for equity, the environment, the economy, and governance.
  • Hear from Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, ZipCar Founder Robin Chase, Nelson\Nygaard’s Jeff Tumlin and many more
  • Engage with planners, architects, landscape architects, developers, academics and others in interactive workshops and charrettes

Please visit the conference site for additional details about speakers, schedule, and accommodations and to complete your registration.

Special rates are available for AIA, APA, ASLA, and ULI members.

Stay connected on the latest news by following us on our Twitter and Facebook pages

Twitter: @urbanismnext

Facebook: Urbanism Next

We are grateful for the support of our partners and sponsors:

For questions, please contact Program Manager Becky Steckler, beckys@uoregon.edu

2018 Supreme Court ruling may help (or continue to hurt) state and local finances

Early last year Amazon indicated that they would finally start collecting sales tax in states that assess sales taxes, with the one caveat that they would only collect sales taxes on items that they sold or fulfilled. Only half of the goods sold on Amazon are sold by the e-commerce giant, leaving the rest of the goods (potentially) untaxed.

The Supreme Court has ruled that e-commerce retailers cannot be compelled to pay the sales taxes in states they don’t have a “physical presence.” With a $100 billion in e-commerce for the 2017 holiday season alone, e-commerce has a huge and growing footprint. State and local governments’ have been struggling as more commerce moves online—and the revenue from those sales disappears as brick & mortar close their doors. This year the Supreme Court has the potential to upend the long-running feud between state and local governments and online retail. While the court was certainly within its right to claim that the “requirements…the court decided, were indeed undue burdens that would ultimately harm the national economy” when they ruled on the Quill (mail order office supplier) case in the 1960s. However, technology has clearly reduced the regulatory compliance costs associated sales tax collection burdens—in that computers can easily match rates with each transaction and assure state/local compliance.

Beyond the regulatory burdens, “state and local governments will lose about $34 billion in revenue in 2018 because of the physical presence requirement” that was set forth in the Quill case. The physical presence rule has also hampered local economic development because “it discourages [online retailers] from establishing a brick-and-mortar location (and creating jobs) in a new state and being liable for collecting its sales tax. Online retailers also enjoy state services — like roads that allow their products to be delivered efficiently to customers — without contributing to their upkeep.” It is clearly far past time to recognize that e-commerce is just commerce.

 

 

 

Town Seizes Control of Its Own Streets

One of the biggest assets any city owns is its streets.  And since no driver likes to be stuck in traffic, the predominant fix to congestion for the last 60 years has been to expand the street right of way to add more lanes.  Time and again, this new road space only leads to more car trips and the very congestion street expansion was supposed to fix.

There are a a lot of new experiments going on across the country about this problem, often by re-allocating some of this public space for other public uses like bike, pedestrian, or transit spaces, or to re-purpose parking and lanes for leisure (think parklets) or ecological function. These types of efforts recognize the trade-offs in use of the street and figure that if a community can’t solve congestion, it can at least provide more efficient transportation alternatives and better use of this public space.

But what if a community simply banned excess cars to eliminate congestion, thereby taking a more active role in the management of its street right of way? Not banned cars to create a car-free utopia, but simply banned excess cars?

This is the idea of Leonia, New Jersey, which is upset by being a vehicle shortcut preferred by navigation systems like Google Maps and Waze. The excess ‘outsiders’ are causing severe traffic issues and the approach of Leonia is to give tickets to anyone outside the community driving in certain areas at certain times.

While I have significant concerns about a city banning outsiders as disturbingly exclusionary, especially on the use of public streets for legal purposes, what is intriguing in this story is the appetite to seize greater control of the public right of way to help carry out the community’s values, which in this case is congestion-free streets.

While the approach of banning outsider’s cars from public streets seems misguided and unnecessary (just do traffic calming to reduce speeds locally and they won’t be attractive for commuters), proactively deciding how the street right of way will be accessed is a critical issue for cities beginning to think about how autonomous vehicles alter their future.

AV companies require access to the right of way to operate and right now may be a unique opportunity for many cities to decide what parts of town are accessible by what types of vehicles. AVs will require local maps that include where they can and cannot go, so while it may not be wise for a community to outlaw non-residents from its public streets, cities can restrict what types of vehicles can go where.

This is an important consideration as autonomous vehicles roll out much faster than most cities are planning for their implications on traffic, land use, or general quality of life issues.  Cities must remember that they own the transportation pipeline – their streets – that AVs will depend on and utilizing this asset to achieve community goals is something that cities can proactively control.

 

Amazon’s Moves Directly Affecting Brick and Mortar Companies

In yet another sign of Amazon’s strength and impact on cities, a recent article tracked the way moves by the company had direct effects on other companies’ stocks.  When Amazon announced the purchase of Whole Foods, Kroger and Target lost value (10-20% of their value) with a second drop happening a few months later as Amazon announced it would be lowering prices in their Whole Foods stores.

This type of impact on competitors’ stock prices happened most dramatically when Amazon announced it was considering getting into the prescription business.  At that point CVS and Walgreens, the two largest pharmacy chains in the country, dropped a whopping 30+% over the next few weeks.

This trend was repeated with auto parts, delivery, and prepared food companies as Amazon announced moves that were viewed as competition for these industries.

The takeaway for our purposes is not so much a focus on the stock price, but on the notion that the stock prices are reflecting a perceived market shift away from these brick and mortar companies and towards the online retailer.  For cities this translates to store closings and increases in direct deliveries and warehousing.  The trend we have seen the last year, with more than 6,500 store closings – the highest ever in the US, will most probably continue into 2018.  Certainly something for all of us to be paying attention to and preparing for.

NACTO Outlines Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism

Capacity of an example street redesign

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is a leading source for progressive cities wishing to adopt cutting edge street designs that challenge the conventional norms of a car-first transportation system. It should be no surprise that NACTO has already begun thinking about how streets should be used once autonomous vehicles arrive on the scene. The first module of Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism was released at the end of October, focusing on street design, curbside management, and new mobility systems.

The Blueprint starts by outlining six principles for autonomous urbanism:

  1. Safety is the top priority
  2. Provide mobility for the whole city
  3. Rebalance the right of way
  4. Manage streets in real time
  5. Move more with fewer vehicles
  6. Public benefit guides private action

These principles provide the framework for the rest of the ideas in the blueprint. In the online preview, safety is key in new ideas for street crossings. Pedestrian islands and slow vehicle speeds can allow for pedestrians to cross anywhere along the street, rather than needing to use designated crosswalks. Protected bike lanes are also championed as important design elements to increase the safety of using the most efficient form of transportation.

Rebalancing the right of way features in two sections of the preview. The first highlights the fact that bikes and transit can move far more people than single occupancy vehicles, and thus recommends prioritizing the use of the street for bikes and transit. The second explores the concept of curbside management, where space that was formerly dedicated to parking can serve a variety of uses throughout the day, ranging from delivery zones to restaurant seating.

Overall, the ideas are progressive in supporting a reduction of single occupancy vehicles and an increase in walking, biking and transit. While street designs can play a role in this behavioral shift, it is acknowledged that policy will be a crucial component as well. Only time will tell if cities can effectively regulate autonomous vehicles use in order to achieve desired outcomes, and if they will be able to afford to transform their streets in order to take advantage of the possibilities of autonomous urbanism.

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.

Trucking industry expected to be AV leaders

Over the last few months, we have been talking some about how the trucking industry could be impacted by AVs – see here and here.

The push for automation in the trucking industry continues to build. Trucking companies have been installing equipment to partially automate their rigs over the last few years—similar to many features added to mainstream cars/SUVs. This includes assisted braking and collision-avoidance systems. Automated lane steering is coming too. Beyond the tweaks to rigs on the road today, it is expected that over a billion dollars will be invested in the self-driving truck AV innovations this year.

The cultural resistance of gear-heads to give up their cars is not a phenomenon that is expected to pose challenges in the trucking industry. Consequently, it is likely that the big-rig operators will be in the AV game far earlier than the ‘average Joe’ on the street.

Driving with the wind in your hair will still be possible, but you might not be in control of the wheel (photo credit: JohnLund.com)

The trucking industry also doesn’t see the complete removal of drivers from the cabs of the rigs anytime soon. Unlike AV cars, long-haul trucks spend most of their lives on the vast stretches of highway that can be less complex to navigate that the chaos of city streets. A study by Roland Berger would give credence to the idea that intra-city truck driving may be harder to automate based on current cost models –but long-haul trucking is more susceptible. Some are projecting that a truck driver’s future career might be piloting trucks closer to home—driving upward to 30 different rigs in a day—guiding them from the highways to their final destinations. Many of the AV truck companies “are almost universally pitching themselves as a friendly partner [to the industry] instead of a job killer” because they are trying to “increase productivity, but also make the job more attractive.” This is going to be very important as there are shortages of drivers nationwide, and AVs may help to make the job more attractive and less stressful.

AV trucks platooning to save on fuel costs. (photo credit: ITS International)

Savings for the trucking industry will come from savings on insurance by reducing crashes, being able to keep drivers driving long and keep them more rested, and by platooning to save on fuel costs. Many of these things are already happening, but as the technologies advance, the savings are expected to grow exponentially. AV trucks are on the road around the country, but their impact is still not quite realized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autonomous Transit is almost here!

While autonomous personal vehicles seem to be in the news nearly every day in one form or another, less has been publicized about the rise of autonomous transit. One new experiment,  Autonomous Rail Transit (ART), will be appearing in Zhuzhou, China in 2018.

ART is a mixture of train, bus, and tram. ART does not require fixed infrastructure, but does follow specially painted lines on pavement, so it’s a hybrid between fixed rail and an open ended autonomous environment that is harder to control but easier to adapt. Having the ability to follow a track of painted lines opens the options to allow ART on any paved street relatively quickly and predictably and no new infrastructure would be necessary. It can be quickly materialized in cities that are willing to re-draw the lines on streets; potentially providing the flexible option that cities need for public transit to compete with personal vehicles. ART is a cheap way to move a lot of people, it’s the size of a small train but costs about as much as a bus, which is why cities favoring public transit are drawn to efficient and cost-effective solutions such as ART. Routes could be easily and inexpensively redrawn to adjust to behavior, or increased ridership, or land use changes, or just to tweak the system appropriately. Public transit is critiqued as being slow to implement, slow to change, and expensive. ART, by comparison, is none of these things.

Will the future of autonomous transit be a combination of fixed lines, semi-fixed routes like ART, and fully flexible neighborhood micro-transit?

Jenna Whitney is a Master’s Candidate in Community and Regional Planning and an Urbanism Next Fellow at the University of Oregon.  She is examining how cities are planning for a multimodal future in the era of autonomous vehicles.

Car Design, Street Design: A Chicken and Egg Scenario?

With all the discussion of how autonomous vehicles will function, there hasn’t been as much buzz about what they will actually look like. A recent article on The Ringer explored the way automakers are beginning to unleash their imaginations. The first design opportunity comes from the removal of side mirrors, allowing for sleeker, more aerodynamic and fuel efficient vehicles. Google briefly experimented with a more ambitious redesign in the form of their pod-like Firefly cars, but concerns over its ability to perform in a variety of environments, especially high speed freeways, caused the company to shift towards automating a standard minivan. It’s argued that since consumer identity is still tied so strongly to the style of car they own, drastic changes to vehicle design isn’t likely to happen any time in the near future.

Some companies are still thinking outside the box, with thoughts about different door designs, or reshaping the car’s interior seating. Mercedes-Benz and Chevrolet are both considering new opportunities within the framework of a more traditional exterior design. However, current cars are designed around tight safety standards, so completely breaking established rules won’t be possible until AVs make up a significant, if not complete, portion of cars on the road.

Why should planners care about car design? The size and shape of AVs will determine the amount of space they need, which will impact how much space planners can reallocate for other road uses. If car designers maintain current dimensions, or worse, make cars larger to become moving offices, it limits the types of street designs that can be used in the future.

The article suggests that different car styles will become popular for different uses. If policy is successful in shifting behavior towards shared vehicles, will that make cars larger or smaller? Will they hold one person or multiple? Will passengers sit side by side or behind each other in a line? Should planners design the roads to fit the car or should automakers design their cars to fit the road? Perhaps there will be multiple shifts in car form and function, along with multiple shifts in street design over time, as planners slowly try to claw back space from machines in order to give it to people.

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.

Cities for People, Sprawl for Cars, and What About In Between?

Throughout history, our cities have reflected the transportation technology of the time.  Walking and horsecar era cities were relatively compact, streetcars led to land development in relatively tight bands following rail lines, and the automobile led to ubiquitous development and sprawling landscapes, including the development of multiple employment/commercial/housing nodes across the metropolitan landscape. The  big land use and urban form question related to autonomous vehicles is: what will this new transportation technology do to the size, shape, and function of our urbanized areas?

There’s a little bit for everybody in this very thoughtful piece from MSN Marketwatch. Central areas may see a rise in pedestrian orientation (the walkable city), outer suburbs will see continued sprawl (the automobile city), and the inner ring suburbs may become the least desirable and disinvested areas and perhaps become warehouse distribution areas to serve the rise in e-commerce. Center city residents may buy rides, suburbanites may buy vehicles, and shared fleets may increase mobility options for the transportation disadvantaged.   This article doesn’t offer the answers, but is a good context piece to stimulate conversations with people new to these topics.

Need for Warehouse Space Continues to Grow

With the continuing growth of E-commerce, cities are seeing large growth in the amount of space needed for warehousing.  According to JLL – a commercial real estate company – the vacancy rate for warehouse space at 5.2% this year, down from an average 8.1% over the previous decade.  A driver of this issue is that “…E-commerce operations require three times the amount of warehouse space that brick-and-mortar stores need… to guarantee that inventory is on hand and returnscan be processed. That means companies with online shopping platforms are going to be on the hunt.”

Cities across the country are seeing large growth in this sector and this is creating competition for other industrial and light-industrial uses that use similar spaces. With this,  location is also becoming more important in the value of warehouses as the need for access to markets and quick delivery grows with shifts in short-timeframe delivery of E-commerce.  That said, the largest growth in warehousing employment has been in smaller counties located near larger cities or major highways (see image below).

A quick summary of key points of the article (credit to Jeb Doran from TriMet for this):

Interesting positive trends:

  • Increase in warehouse jobs since 2010. (increasing at rate more than four times rate of overall job growth)
  • Amazon plans to hire 120,000 seasonal employees this year.
  • Amazon warehouse rental increased to 114 Million SF, from 9 million in 2009.
  • Walmart increasing its warehouse rental space as well.
  • Seattle developing multi-story warehouse.

Neutral Trends:

  • The lack of warehouse development sites in big dense cities is becoming a larger an issue
  • This year, developers are expected to build about 225 million new square feet of warehouse space

Potentially Negative Trends:

  • Ecommerce requires 3 times the warehouse space of brick and mortar

For more on the changing nature of warehousing, take a look at our ‘Warehousing’ report on our Research Briefs page.

“Bigger Growth in Smaller Counties

The 20 counties with the largest job markets in 2010 have accounted for a quarter of the nation’s net job gain since then. But the warehouse boom is playing out differently. Only 11 percent of the new jobs have gone to these large counties, and the industry is growing rapidly in smaller counties adjacent to population centers and major highways.”

By The New York Times | Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Even Brick and Mortar Retail is Being Automated

While we have mostly focused on e-commerce in this blog, here is a story that points to the continuing trend towards automation, even in brick and mortar stores. Walmart is testing technology that scans shelves to constantly update inventory.  Although the promotional video repeatedly emphasizes the new roles for workers, it is hard to not imagine this will translate to less workers on site.  That will be having both labor implications and space implications for already struggling retail locations.

Land Costs vs. Construction Costs – A Clue to Overall Project Impacts

We have often discussed on this blog that one of the key disruptions of emerging technologies will be land values.

As AVs and ride-sharing becomes more prevalent we will tend to have an increase in land supply (reduced parking needs will free up land used for parking – today’s largest single land use in most US cities, while increased ease of travel will expand metropolitan footprints and land at the periphery will now become viable for development).  As E-Commerce continues to grow we will continue to see store closings and a reduction of commercial development – already being felt today – and hence an increase in available land supply.  Basic economic theory tells us that if we end up increasing land supply – both in central cities and in the periphery – land values should go down.

With this, the question is how much of an impact will this reduction in land values have on overall property values – or ‘how much of my property’s value is the land and how much is the building?’.  A recent analysis by Issi Romem tackles this question by plotting the building replacement value and land value in major metro areas throughout the country.

The findings are sobering.  In growing coastal cities, the land value is more than 3.5 times the building replacement value and the vast majority of properties in these metro areas having the land value exceed the building replacement value.  What this means is that changes to land values will drastically alter overall project values.  If the impacts we describe above come to fruition, we will see large disruptions to overall real estate value throughout the country.  Take a look at the article to see maps of different metro areas to see how this differentiates itself within metro areas.  Not surprisingly, the areas closest in are the most affected – and by factors of up to 5 times the home replacement value.

This could be a boon for the affordability of housing – especially in areas closer into central cities where accessibility to jobs and services is easiest (under current transportation systems…), but it will be a large disrupter in the overall real estate market and could put many current homeowners underwater.

What happens when a technology giant designs a neighborhood? Toronto is about to find out

Urbanism Next researchers are always thinking about how emerging technologies are shaping our cities, but we didn’t anticipate that a technology company would literally design a neighborhood. But that is what Alphabet (Google’s parent company) proposes to do. The New York Times reported today that Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is partnering on an 800-acre development proposal to fully integrate technology into the new neighborhood and to create, “the world’s first neighborhood built from the internet up.” It remains to be seen how the integration of technology will be accepted by the people that live in the neighborhood. Stay tuned.

New Report Predicts the Effective End of Individual Car Ownership by 2030

“By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of fully autonomous vehicles, 95% of all U.S. passenger miles will be served by transport-as-a-service (TaaS) providers who will own and operate fleets of autonomous electric vehicles providing passengers with higher levels of service, faster rides and vastly increased safety at a cost up to 10 times cheaper than today’s individually owned (IO) vehicles.”

This is the startling start to a substantive new report by RethinkX, a research group that looks at disruptive technologies from a finance, market, and technology perspective.  As bold and clear as that opening sentence is, this report goes on to describe the possible impacts on everything from the geopolitical implications of a crashing oil economy to the boost of household income (10%) due to reduced transportation costs to the changes in the automobile industry from production to the local repair shop.  They predict a reduction in automobile in use from 247 million vehicles to 44 in an extremely short time frame, all the while estimating that actual miles that people will travel will double compared to a 2021 estimate and at a quarter of the cost.

How those shifts impact the form and function of cities, employment, land use, social cohesion, municipal budgets, etc. are not the subject of this report.  Nor is there a discussion about the non-auto forms of transportation in the future, how street space might be re-allocated, where and how urban form and place-making change, or the policy environment that influences all of these local qualities.  However, understanding possible changes due to accelerating feedback loops of AV technology and rollout, as well as industry and resource disruption globally and industry-wide, makes this report a very clear contributor to understanding that AVs are not a transportation issue, they are an everything issue.