Parking garages are already becoming dinosaurs

I’m seeing a giant meteor coming that will, metaphorically speaking, put a huge hole in municipal budgets. This meteor will be AVs. The meteor that pushed dinosaurs to extinction may have done so with one big hit, the AV evolution might be a bit slower. A recent article in Governing Magazine provides us with evidence that the impact of AVs is being foreshadowed by the likes of Uber and Lyft (often collectively referred to as TNC or transportation network companies).

Airport managers nationwide are expressing concern in how the TNC are disrupting the budget models that airports have long had in place. Carter Morris (VP with the American Association of Airport Executives) has stated that “airports need to adapt and do it quickly.” Many airports have seen dramatic drops in fees collected from taxi companies and car rental companies because so many people are just using the TNCs instead. So now more than 200 airports nationwide are charging pick-up and/or drop off fees for the TNCs, just as they might have with taxis—though the exact revenue models are quite varied. As fee revenues decline, airports may look to airlines to pay more, which could drive them away from the small/medium size airports.

And if you are wondering how much of an impact TNCs are having on the ground transportation game, look no further than “San Francisco International Airport, where TNCs accounted for more than two-thirds of commercial ground transportation in May.” Lyft and Uber are preparing for an AV future, airports should too!

To learn more about the impact of AVs on municipal budgets in the Urbanism Next report coming out in late July. You’ll find a link to the report here on the blog.

Lyft: 1 Billion AV-EV Rides Per Year by 2025

We have often talked about some of the important parameters guiding the future effects of AVs on cities to be the question of AV fleets vs individual ownership as well as AVs cost.  Lyft recently announced that its platform will provide 1 billion autonomous vehicle rides per year by 2025 – and they project these rides to be electric vehicles.  This points heavily towards a model of mobility as a service – at least in parts of the country – and a dramatic drop in the number of parking spots needed in cities.

Supporting the idea that autonomous fleets are in our future, GM (Lyft’s partner in the AV/EV/Ride-sharing arena) said that its Bolt AV will be costing something in the six-figures, most probably precluding it from the private ownership model, but absolutely viable in the ride-sharing model.

All signs pointing to Robin Chase’s FAVES in our future (Fleets of Autonomous Vehicles that are Electrified and Shared).  Good news for those interested in urbanism and sustainability.

Federal AV Legislation???

There seems to be a push for federal AV legislation as the GOP is putting a package of bills forward on this topic.  Of issue for Urbanism Next topics is that the bills continue the national trend of dealing with AV regulation in terms of how to accommodate the autonomous vehicle and not on the secondary effects these vehicles will have on our cities.  The GOP package is focused on how the vehicles themselves will be regulated and permitted – for instance, a draft of the bills have an exemption of up to 100,000 vehicles per manufacturer from federal motor safety vehicle rules.

A big question here is what role the feds and/or the states will have in regulation.  A good argument can be made about the problems with a patchwork of regulations across different states that are both cumbersome to manufacturers and a burden for the states themselves to develop – especially with so many unknowns about how this technology will play out.  National leadership makes sense, but we are in a strange situation where this technology is advancing very quickly and therefore giving the states the ability to work more nimbly at a more local level may be prudent.

Again – in relation to Urbanism Next concerns, we would not want to see federal regulations that limit states’ ability to create and experiment with incentives and potential taxation structures that will help promote community benefits.  The goal is to make great places to live and to improve quality of life (and figuring out how AVs fit into that picture), not just to get AVs on the road.

Micro-Transit is not a free-for-all

Micro-transit (privately operated transit) is seeing a new rise as Lyft-Line and Uber-Pool bring together each company’s ride sourcing model with the power of combining different riders along a route.  As more people choose these options, the system becomes more and more efficient as there are greater chances of finding a few people who want routes similar to yours.

While some have envisioned this as a free-for-all where micro-transit now operates from any destination to any destination, eliminating some of the hierarchies inherent to fixed route transit, this is not exactly the case.  Both Lyft and Uber have recently made moves to make their ride services more efficient by having riders walk to higher volume streets.  Lyft has introduced ‘Pickup Suggestions‘ and Uber has their ‘walk to the corner system‘  – incentivizing people to walk to the nearest avenue or arterial instead of being picked up on a more minor street.  This reduces travel time which allows more people to be picked up (without becoming frustrated at the wait).

From a city development perspective, this points to the continued importance of higher volume streets as transit hubs (even if it is not traditional transit) and begs the question of how to make pickups and drop-offs most efficient along these high volume routes (a designated spot on each block?).  There are obvious benefits to having some kind of hierarchy in micro-transit – how should we design streets that can accommodate this?

Image Source: Uber

AV buses coming to Oslo–can be hailed by smartphone app

Oslo, Norway will get AV bus transportation in 2018 (article can be found here in Norwegian). The bus system they are testing out will provide on-demand point A to B transportation in combination with fixed route services. The on-demand service will be linked to a smartphone application that will allow riders to hail the bus—similar to what we see with Lyft and Uber. The buses will carry 15 riders and can be essentially ‘driven’ by the passengers within a designated service area. The test will allow Oslo to determine if AV buses can help the city deal with a growing population without increasing the number of cars.

 

 

AV developers planning for a future without major roadway improvements

A key issue facing cities, states, and the federal government as they ponder the AV future, how do we properly prepare the roadways for AVs? Some suggest putting sensors on roads, but in an already fiscally constrained environment the idea of spending more on our roads for technology that is not yet fully functional is a non-starter.

The major players in AVs today are, not surprisingly, fully aware of this reality. This is why these companies are developing technology to adapt to current roads and current driving conditions rather than pushing for new technology. “Uber, Waymo, Ford, General Motors and others, all of whom have targeted around 2021 for the unveiling of fleets of ride-hailing focused self-driving cars, are developing vehicles with sensors and mapping systems that won’t rely on roadway upgrades.”

And while building smarter roads would make for safer and easier AV travel, it is clear that companies like Ford understand that “you can’t count on that being there, which is why our technical approach is to build the capability completely on the vehicle,” says VP of research and advanced engineering Ken Washington.

The forthcoming Urbanism Next white paper will cover a range local government secondary effects that we expect to see arising from the introduction of AVs. Look for it in the coming weeks.

 

Two tech giants ink deals with two car rental giants

In the last few days, it has become apparent that the owners of the largest fleets of private vehicles, car rental companies, are finding ways into the AV conversation as well. Alphabet (parent of Google and Waymo) recently signed a deal with Avis to manage their fleet.  While Apple signed a deal with Hertz to lease vehicles from the car rental giant to test their AV technology.

The types of ways in which these partnerships may develop are starting become clear, as Avis owns the car sharing company Zipcar. Waymo executives have indicated that this was one the selling points for the Avis partnership. Zipcar already has a distributed fleet of vehicles around many urban areas that are available on demand for people needing a short-term car rental. While neither Apple nor Waymo appear to have signed any exclusive deals here, they are pointing toward, at least in the Waymo-Avis deal, a shared ownership model for cars and AVs in the future.

To Mix or Not Mix, That is the Question

The deployment and impacts of autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy, and e-commerce are going to impact different parts of metro areas differently.  How street space is planned in the suburbs will be much different than in denser, mixed use urban areas or nodes.  For the walkable or bikeable places of our cities – which are increasingly in demand – it is not clear how to make a workable mix of autonomous vehicles and walking/biking human beings.  One solution is to completely segregate the modes since any human can stop a vehicle simply by being present in front of it.  Another approach is to criminalize that behavior (vehicles will have cameras and spatial location and knowledge of traffic light status, after all, making it easy to take a picture and send an automated ticket), and another option is to simply eliminate the car from urban spaces and prioritize walking, biking, and transit since they are the most efficient ways of getting about (and healthy, less polluting, and happy-making).  This article from the Guardian nicely frames these issues.  Which alternate future do you want?

US Federal Government taking more steps toward more robust AV policy

Writing software to navigate the driving characteristics, challenges, and rules of cities around the world is clearly a challenge. Some in the automobile industry are nudging the US Department of Transportation to develop more specific policies for AVs. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has indicated that a new set of voluntary guidelines will be issued by the end of 2018—though they will remain voluntary.

Ford Motor VP Ken Washington is asking the US federal government to do more:
We must have concrete federal guidelines and additional data to inform how we will bring this technology to market in a way that will cause more good than harm.”
Much of current the current talk of AV policy has surrounded the technical aspects of AVs—with very little attention paid to the secondary effects of AVs. Faculty, staff, and students with Urbanism Next are taking this gap in attention seriously. We will be releasing one of the first looks at secondary effects on local government budgets (expenditures and revenues) later this month.

Engineering scholars recognize the complexity of the urban environments as one of their key challenges moving forward as well. For example, they recognize, as compared to highways, AVs in cities require “progress in both transport technology and infrastructure to effectively deal with the increase in operating velocity of autonomous systems as well as the complexity of urban environments…. Different cities have different driving characteristics and traffic rules, and therefore what works in one environment, may need a lot of refinements if it’s applied to a different environment.”

AVs are going to be a global phenomenon, thus adaptation to AVs will take on many forms and we are now at the moment in time where we have the potential to have the most impact on how cities adapt or shape their future with AVs.

Will AVs bring doom & gloom or a big boom to the economy?

Intel and Strategy Analytics researchers are claiming the impact of AVs will yield a $7 TRILLION boost to the economy. They feel that the effect of AVS “could add as much as $2 trillion to the US economy alone by 2050,” according to a recent article in Wired magazine. Much of the money will, expectantly, go to manufacturers of the vehicles but “mobility-as-a-service will supplant the value of vehicle sales as core sources of shareholder value creation” in the long-run the report says.

How do they suggest you get a share of the benefits?

  1. Work in data (“Storing, organizing, and analyzing that data will be a big job”);
  2. Work in IT (“someone needs to tend to these data architecture beasts—not crunching the numbers themselves, but making sure the systems are humming along as they should”);
  3. AV mechanic (“Robocars won’t need you, but they’ll still need mechanics”)
  4. Something we don’t yet understand (“No one has yet predicted how many jobs the autonomous future will create, and that’s partly because the future is so messy”)

Looking Beyond the Personal AV to See a Larger Potential for Citywide Connectivity

The shape of our current urban spaces and transportation networks are shaping up to strongly influence the approach cities and countries are taking toward AVs. The American influence on AV developing, not surprisingly, is pushing somewhat toward a personalized vision of AVs. A number of European countries and cities are taking a more public transit-oriented approach to AV development.

A recent article in the New York Times dives into these differing approaches.

“The coming age of driverless cars has typically centered on Silicon Valley highfliers like Tesla, Uber and Google, which have showcased their autonomous driving technology in luxury sedans and sport utility vehicles costing $100,000 or more. But across Europe, fledgling driverless projects like those by Deutsche Bahn are instead focused on utilitarian self-driving vehicles for mass transit that barely exceed walking pace.

The article further points out that AVs in combination with existing public transit systems have the potential to greatly “reduces the complexity required to make the machines navigate across an entire city.”

AV technology has the potential to extend beyond vehicles on roadways, as a number of Dutch cities are realizing. A number of leaders in that country see a future with “driverless boats” that can ferry passengers around the city and potentially “autonomous boats will be able to automatically dock with each other, creating on-demand bridges and walkways whenever necessary.”

AV Micro-Transit Could help TOD and First/Last Mile

One of the larger concerns with the rise of AVs and ride-sourcing services has been its potential drain on transit riders that could  – even with only a draw on few riders –  make transit itself economically infeasible.  This article from the New York Times discusses the development of AV micro-transit 12 person shuttles that might be just the boon transit has been looking for.

These shuttles are being developed in Europe and focus on slow (20 mph), limited range travel.  While these shuttles would never be able to provide desirable alternatives for cross town trips, they are ideal for getting people to and from transit.  Due to the shared destination/origin point of transit, this type of shared mobility on demand would greatly extend the catchment and draw of main line bus and rail transit.  The limited areas it would travel to and from (around a transit stop) make the technology much easier to attain in the near term.  This provides a hopeful version of the future where AVs might actually help transit oriented development instead of destroying it.

More Retails Closings Projected This Year Than At Recession Peak

The bad news for retail continues with Credit Suisse’s report that 8,640 stores are projected to close this year.  That far eclipses the 6,163 stores that closed at the peak of the recession.  The culprit seems to be a combination of e-commerce as well as the over building and expansion of retail.

As similarly reported in previous posts, they are also projecting that a quarter of all malls in the country will close in the next five years with low-end malls being hardest hit.  This will not only affect local economies, but it will also leave communities with the task of figuring out what to do with large, vacant and deteriorating buildings in their midsts.  The effects of this will unavoidably expand well beyond any mall’s property lines.

Credit Suisse is also projecting e-commerce clothing sales to more than double to 35% of that market by 2030 compared to the current 17%.  This sector in particular will be interesting to watch as that shift could mean the closing of stores, but potentially also a shifting towards more omnichannel approaches and smaller ‘guideshops’ replacing current retail models (see Urbanism Next Research Papers for more on this).

STORE CLOSINGS – Full Year Estimates
Source: Credit Suisse

When Single Occupancy Vehicles Looked Successful

The typical U.S. commute trip fills a multi-seat car with a single human being (25% of capacity) and that car sits idle most of its existence (90% of the time).  This is an inefficient use of our limited roadway capacity, land for storing vehicles, dispersed settlement pattern and provision of services/utilities, use of fossil fuels, etc. But imagine if we look back at the single occupancy vehicle as a golden age of efficiency?

Autonomous Vehicles don’t need drivers, meaning that if we own them personally, many trips by car will be taken with no one inside.  An AV could drop you off at the market and circle the block until you are done.  It could drop you off at work and return home or other remote parking space.  An AV could be summoned to pick up your child at school and take her to soccer practice.  While there is certainly some convenience in any of these scenarios, a good portion of all those trips will have no occupants and thereby taking up limited and valuable space on the street.

This article by Howard Jennings of Mobility Lab discusses three ways to apply the principles of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) to AVs: 1) “policies should always seek to encourage AVs that move more people in fewer vehicles”; 2) “pricing models offered by automotive and tech companies should be structured to make shared AVs, not personal AVs, the model of choice”; and 3) city pricing models should be structured to disincentives the least efficient mode of transportation. including a fee for zero occupancy vehicles.

Urbanism Next Research Papers Series – Re-Imagining Retail

While we have been compiling research and articles on this blog for the last few months, we have also been working on our own research.  Today marks the start of our publishing a series of brief papers on issues related to Urbanism Next.  The intention is to introduce you to some key topics that will be affecting how cities develop as they face ongoing and transformative changes in technology.

The first paper is co-written by Galen Carlson and Nico Larco and is focused on Re-Imagining Retail.  Building on earlier posts about the challenges retail is currently facing, we look at the transformation retail is currently going through and the shift from brick-and-mortar, to e-commerce, to omnichannel approaches.  The paper describes trends and includes data and resources that can help you understand where we are at, where we are heading, and where you can learn more.

Look for additional papers on residential preferences, warehousing, and the effects of urbanism next issues on municipal budgets – coming in the coming weeks.

Autonomous Trucks – And a New Freeway Land Use

Autonous freight is just around the corner as many believe it will be the first transportation sector to shift to autonomous control.  That said, do not expect self-driving trucks to be cruising around cities just yet.  An article from SupplyChain247 looking at the advent of autonomous freight describes the next step like this: “This is likely how driverless trucks will work at its infancy: At the city limit, …[a] computerized truck hands off to a human driver who navigates the city streets to the destination. A human driver will still touch every load.”  Line hauls on the freeway will be autonomous, but this will connect to a transfer station where the an actual driver will climb onboard to make the final delivery, load new cargo, and bring the truck back out to the transfer spot.

Freeways will now need these transfer spots (modified truck stops?) and warehouses may have an even stronger incentive to move out beyond urban development to avoid the cost of the transfer, allowing trucks to come directly into the warehouse.

Sharing (AVs) is caring (for the environment)

Autonomous vehicles have been described as a heaven or hell scenario.  Many of the depictions of the hell scenario center on private ownership of AVs.  A recent report from the University of California Davis and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy provides evidence to back this up.  Looking at three scenarios,  UCD and ITDP shows how congestion and emissions will climb under a Business as Usual or Electrification+Automation (without Sharing) scenario.

itdp

David Robert at Vox provides three lessons from this study:

Lesson one: the carbon work is mostly done by electrification, the urbanist work by ride-sharing

Lesson two: the scenario with the greatest social benefits requires the most policy support

Lesson three: geometry requires sharing

This new research and Roberts’ charge makes it clear:  there is a role for urbanists and policymakers to make the case for sharing.

Ride-Hailing Services are Getting People to Sell Their Cars (some people…)

A recent poll by Reuters/Ipsos (another article here about it) asked people selling their cars (nearly one quarter of Americans during this last year) why they were selling.  Of these people, 9 percent said they were explicitly doing so because they were now using services such as Lyft and Uber as their primary means of transportation.  A similar percentage said they would be selling additional cars and rely on these types of services for transportation within the following 12 months.

While these percentages are small, it could be early evidence of a trend towards less car ownership and truly having mobility as a service take hold.  The ramifications of reduced car ownership and increased use of ride-hailing services are tremendous – large reductions in automobile production, reduction of parking requirements, potential increases in density as the need for parking diminishes, wholesale redevelopment of parking – especially in suburban areas (think of completely redesigning every strip mall in America…).

Recent conversations we have been having with consultants and developers is already pointing in this direction.  Parking use is starting to dip – especially in larger venues as more and more people turn to Lyft and Uber.  Change is coming.

Brick and Mortar Retail Continues to Vanish

To add to the sobering news on brick and mortar retail in our earlier post, new articles point to continued weakness in the retail market and more store closing.  A recent WSJ article lays out what is currently happening and compares it to more historic trends to highlight its magnitude.  As this article is not publicly available, we are going to list a few of the key quotes below:

  • More than 2,880 stores closed from Jan – early April 2017.  That is twice the amount closing last year for the same period
  • If that trend continues, there will be 8,600 store closings this year – much more than closed during the 2008 recession.
  • 10 Large retailers have filed for bankruptcy as of mid April 2017.  This compares with 9 total large retailers in ALL of 2016.
  • Last year, E-Commerce sales increased from 10.5% to 15.5% of all retail.

Retail is experiencing a large transformation – and this will have a strong impact on brick-and-mortar stores – forcing many to close.  This will result in loss of property tax revenue, sales tax revenue, and will force communities to deal with abandoned buildings that bring down values and often increase crime.

Urbanism Next is Hiring! – Please Distribute!

SCI is looking to hire a Program Manager for our Urbanism Next Research Initiative.  This initiative – as you know – is focused on the effects autonomous vehicles, E-commerce and the sharing economy are having and will have on city form, development, and design.

This position will be in charge of managing the initiative which will include organizing research, developing relationships with partners in the private, public and academic sectors, organizing events, grant writing, and leading dissemination and outreach.

We are looking for someone who is a self-starter, smart, a team-player, detail oriented, and comfortable talking to a range of potential partners.  The position will be based in Portland.

If you know anyone who might be interested, please let us know and share the link to apply – https://tinyurl.com/urbnextpm.  A more detailed position description is also copied below.

More information about SCI can be found here: http://sci.uoregon.edu.

Feel free to distribute to your networks!  Thanks!
Best,
-Nico
SCI Co-Director
University of Oregon

 

A scramble for AV related attention may be wasting public resources

Not surprisingly there are a lot of states (or at least their leaders) scrambling for the attention that AVs can create. A recent article on CityLab points to some of the challenges of regulating and encouraging AV development, testing, and innovation.

For example, Michigan—a state with a long history in the automobile world—is positioning itself not just as a testing ground for AVs, but also a place where AVs can be developed and built (creating a lot of jobs). While other states that do not have Michigan’s automotive history might just be scrambling to get a little attention by allowing AVs to be tested in their states—perhaps in a way that gives away a lot to the developers by lowering regulatory barriers to testing.

The authors of the article point out that “the winning move for states in the competition for AV pilots is simply not to play” but rather to make a strategic decision about whether or not they want to be active or passive players as the technology develops. The scramble for attention could play well electorally but may be a waste of public resources and create distractions or worse.

AVs are coming and cities need to start preparing

In the wake of this week’s Portland charrette/workshop on the potential of AVs to transform urban spaces, a new CityLab article is right up our alley here at Urbanism Next.

A take away from the charrette and the article is that cities need to be proactive partners and be sure they are assertive as we transform to AV transportation. “…if cities aren’t learning anything from these partnerships, local officials and citizens are going to push back and say: Why do tech companies get everything and we get nothing?”

Regulatory capture is a real threat as traditional automakers try to block new comers from entering the auto market, but some sort of regulatory action will be necessary—it just needs to be designed in such a way to keep us safe without stifling completion. CityLab notes that “With federal policy, too, the goals of automakers may not always line up with what’s good for cities. Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Volvo, Uber, Lyft, and others continue to lobby congressional policymakers for a “national framework” regulating safety performance standards, so as to avoid 50 versions of AV requirements.”

What is good for auto companies’ bottom lines, may not be good for cities. The authors of the CityLab article note that “While the industry pushes for national AV standards, cities may want to retain local control over things like speed limits, designating special AV zones, and setting trip fees in order to meet the safety needs of their specific neighborhoods.” Balancing the needs of all levels of government will be a key challenge in the next 3-5 years, being proactive and thinking about these challenges is what Urbanism Next is all about. Benjamin Clark and Nico Larco will be releasing a white paper on some of the financial challenges and opportunities for cities in about a month. Be sure to check back here on the blog for more info on that white paper.

 

Impacts on Transit

Fehr and Peers have been modeling the impacts of autonomous vehicles on transit and their projections are dire.  Coupled with a 12-68% increase in VMT will be a 16-43% decrease in transit trips.  This would severely strain transit systems throughout the country – forcing many to close and constraining the network and service frequency of those that survive.  This has tremendous implications for equity concerns, development patterns, and congestion. The reduction of transit services will compound the traffic problems created by the predicted increase in VMT.  Eliminating transit would create gridlock in many areas as we simply cannot funnel as many people through a road segment in low occupancy cars as we can in a bus, train, or tram.  As Glen Bolen of Otak has said – ‘You can’t fix geometry, it’s fixed’.

New Regulatory Guide for AVs Released by the National League of Cities

The National League of Cities has released a first of its kind autonomous vehicle regulatory guide for cities.  AV technology is advancing faster than many cities expect, and faster than many managers will be able to handle their adoption. The report notes that:

“With the many benefits that AV technology promises, including reduction in traffic deaths, increased mobility for the disabled and seniors, reduced congestion, and enhanced connectivity for all demographics, cities have a unique opportunity to be proactive to not only engage in smart planning for AVs, but to also shape the policy around AVs to ensure such benefits are fully realized.”

The report suggests that cities:

  1. Develop their own safety and privacy guidelines related to AVs. Transparency will be the key to a successful innovation, the report suggests.
  2. Data will have real value to city management. “Cities should consider their data needs, and the relationship they seek to build with AV manufacturers as well as transit platforms and other mobility providers.”
  3. While federal AV policies are likely to be focused on safety, local and state governments have great opportunities to shape policy on how AVs shape our communities. “Cities have an opportunity to come together and lobby their state governments to advance their concerns around the safe operation of AVs in their communities, including insurance requirements and local approval of any proposed AV testing in a city.
  4. Look at procurement policies now to avoid future issues with the new technology. “Cities should assess their current procurement policies, and look specifically at whether these policies might inadvertently erect any roadblocks to purchasing the technology and smart infrastructure necessary to support AV deployment.”
  5. Policy coordination and development is going to have to be multi-disciplinary. “With technology like AVs, cities need to get the right people to the table, which includes urban planners, public works, information technology, procurement policy, and law enforcement. Modifications to existing codes may be appropriate, or cities may have to think about the development of a new autonomous vehicles or smart infrastructure code.”
  6. Be open to dialogue with residents and don’t assume they want AVs. “Cities should engage in an open dialogue between all their residents and respond to varying levels of acceptance of this technology.”
  7. New infrastructure will be needed, make sure it is not left off the table as AVs roll in. Cities should “link funding with new technologies to additional funding for capital improvements as well as existing maintenance.”
  8. Data and analysis will become a bigger part of city management—be prepared. “The data processing requirements needed for cities to take advantage of the data being generated within them is often out of reach of many small and mid-sized cities. Partnering with local academic institutions has given many towns and cities affordable access to the data storage and processing ability they need.”

(Note: scholars, like myself, here at the UO are glad to work with cities interested in exploring this issue.)

Online Retailing Giant Amazon to Start Collecting Sales Tax Nationwide

Amazon is going to start collecting sales tax in all US states that collect sales tax on products it sells. Roughly half of all goods sold on Amazon are sold directly by Amazon (and something like half of e-commerce goes through Amazon, so this yields about ¼ of online sales), so this will have some seriously positive impacts for state and local governments across the nation. One of the largest complaints that brick & mortar retailers have had for years is that e-commerce retailers like Amazon have an unfair price advantage because they were not charging sales tax.

It is reported that “This tax loophole also means states are missing out on an estimated $23 billion annually.” That is a big hole, and the move by Amazon is going to slowly plug that hole and start to level the playing field.

As Amazon moves to same/next day delivery they have needed more distribution centers, thus making the sale tax dodge harder and harder for the online giant. The move by Amazon is a foreshadowing of what is to become of online retail and what it means for state and local governments. So while the demise of big box retail seems eminent, the revenue projections may get rosier for governments that are dependent on sales taxes.

Think Out Loud – Urbanism Next on the Radio!

Urbanism Next was recently featured on public radios ‘Think Out Loud’ program.  Although mostly targeted on autonomous vehicles, in keeping with this blog, the interview focused on the secondary impacts on cities. You can listen here or take a look at an article about the interview here.

E-Commerce is Shifting/Closing Traditional Retail

A series of articles together paint a dire picture for traditional brick and mortar retail.  Overall, the structure of retail is changing – online sales are growing, stores are becoming showcases for sales that will happen on mobile devices, and warehouses are continuing to boom.  E-Commerce is continuing its influence and increased its rate of growth from $30 billion per year from 2010-2014 to $40 billion per year in the last three years.  This has led to a disappointing jobs report in March with retail losing nearly 35,000 jobs in that month alone.   This is part of a larger trend of job losses and store closing.  The US currently has more than six times the amount of retail space per capita than Europe and that historic trend is starting to feel like a bubble.  Since October, the US has sees a loss of 89,000 jobs in the retail – more than all of the employees in the US coal industry that was the poster child of economic hardship during the presidential campaign.

All of this, coupled with a booming economy, seems to suggest that we are seeing a categorical shift in retail and not a momentary blip.  Brick and mortar stores will continue to close – and this will continue to create issues for land use, urban activity, tax revenue, and labor.

 

Scenarios of Technology Adoption in the UK

A recent report by RAND Europe takes a closer look at potential scenarios of technology innovation and the impacts on cities and design.

The scenarios touch on several areas of interest:  autonomous vehicles, next-generation connectivity, user apps and Big Data, advanced manufacturing, Internet of Things, and sensors in infrastructure.

The authors look at three scenarios and depict what the future might look like:

  • Driving Ahead:  AVs and shared vehicles lead to a growth in vehicle travel and congestion.
  • Live Local: Digital substitution for travel and environmental concerns limit the adoption of AVs, while road pricing is sophisticated, leading to lower per capita travel.
  • Digital Divide:  Inequality leads to varying rates of adoption of technology; businesses move away from central London, and a peer-to-peer and sharing-based economy emerges.

Focusing on London, this thorough report goes on to look at barriers and enablers for adopting key technology, focusing on legal and regulatory frameworks.  The authors offer a strategic roadmap of policy and innovation investment.

Focusing on these nuanced details is important.  As the authors point out, these technologies will change transportation, travel, and lifestyles, and we need a vision in order to prepare for it.

Read the full report: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1377.html and a summary from Mobility Lab:   https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/22/report-envisions-possible-paths-transportation-technologies-20-years/.

Tax rideshare or say goodbye to transit?

Carlo Ratti of MIT’s Sensable City Lab offers an ominous warning:  tax rideshare, or destroy public transit.

Citing data on the per-mile cost of ridesharing services, and projected costs of self-driving costs, Rotti says ” In the US now, the cost of a car such as Uber per mile is $2.20 ($2.85)…”When you get to self-driving cars and you don’t need to have a person any more, and [when] a self-driving car can run 24/7 and is used more efficiently, the cost per mile is anything between 30 and 60 cents. Now if that happens, nobody will take the subway.” (Bleby, Australian Financial Review)

In his interview with the Australian Financial Review, Ratti brings up important points about pricing rideshare and AVs, and discusses the need to consider city design.

Read more: http://www.afr.com/real-estate/planners-beware-car-sharing-could-destroy-public-transport-carlo-ratti-says-20170320-gv2c28#ixzz4dVxEU4eQ

New Report Aims to Gauge How Adaptable American Cities Will Be To AVs

A recent study by INRIX Research took a close look behind the hype of AVs effect on cities. In their report, they try to determine which type of cities might be better (or worse) hosts for the pending AV invasion.

In their report INRIX looked at the top 50 US cities, compiling data from 1.3 billion car trips to try and determine the types and lengths of trips that would best suit AVs versus the current fleet of vehicles.

Cities ranked higher or lower on INRIX’s scale of adaptability based on typical trip length. With average trip length data INRIX awarded lower scores for cities with longer average intra-city trips and higher scores for cities with shorter intra-city trips. They found that New Orleans, Albuquerque, Tucson, Portland (OR), and Omaha were the most adaptable to AVs. While Detroit, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Forth Worth were the least adaptable.

Link to the full report can be found here: http://www2.inrix.com/2017-autonomous-vehicle-study

Rethinking the Parking Garage

With the large projected reduction in parking needs arising with the proliferation of AVs and particularly shared AVs (around 90% less spots needed) there is a growing question of how we transition between current needs and this looming future.  A new article in Wired looks at how architects are re-thinking parking garages so that they can function today, but can be easily converted in a shifting future.  This will be an important issue for architects and developers to address.

(Source: LMN Architects)

 

AV’s Effects on Labor – It isn’t good…

[This post is slightly outside of the central focus of the blog – secondary effects on city development and design – but the issue of labor shifts due to the rise of autonomous vehicles is both important in itself and we believe could be a rallying cry to raise awareness of the effects of new technologies on cities.  Concerns about labor need to be addressed and can help raise the visibility of concerns about changes in land use, design and development.]

A recent report titled ‘Stick Shift’ by the Center for Global Policy Solutions is one of the first comprehensive attempts to address the widespread effects of automated vehicles on the labor market.  In line with many early predictions, AVs will lead to large shifts including a loss of more than four million jobs. While troubling in itself, this is compounded by the fact that these are jobs that are currently giving a wide swath of the population with low levels of education an alternative with decent pay that is keeping families out of poverty.  This is especially troubling for minority populations “who are overrepresented in these occupations and who earn a ‘driving premium’—a median annual wage exceeding what they would receive in non-driving occupations” (given their level of education).

There is also a political dimension to this issue as “The top five states with the greatest percentage of workers in driving jobs in rank order are Mississippi (3.70 percent), Wyoming (3.64 percent), West Virginia (3.60), Idaho (3.45 percent), and North Dakota (3.44 percent).”  How this type of change plays out in light of our current national narrative on work is difficult to predict, but would seem to only exacerbate current red state/blue state tensions.

The report ends with a series of policy recommendations that are necessary but also difficult to imagine in the current political climate.  This collision of new technologies and real world pain and disruption in the labor market will somehow, however, need to be addressed.

The Blight of Failing Malls – A Rising Burden of E-Commerce

A new article from Business Insider looks at the continuing decline of indoor malls around the country.  Of the 1,300 malls in the US, a staggering 310 are ‘in high risk of closing’.  The largest culprit is the loss of anchor tenants like Macy’s, JC Penny, and Sears – all of which have been seeing large numbers of store closings in part due to the rise of e-commerce (see earlier post about this).

The article discusses the range of consequences of these closings including a rise in crime, increasing blight in the surrounding area, and the loss of municipal revenue coupled with a rise in costs for needed fire and police services.  Dead malls – and the e-commerce that is contributing to their demise – have large repercussions for cities.

As e-commerce expands and potentially reduces the number of strip malls as well (in addition to enclosed malls), these repercussions will amplify.  A recent conversation with the planning director of a suburb city focused around the devastating effects the reduction of strip malls and commercial activity in his city would have on municipal revenues.  This was especially difficult as he saw limited abilities, compared to more urban locations, for suburban cities to redefine themselves and create vitality, draws, and their associated revenues.

Ridesharing is killing transit! Or is it?

A new report released by Schaller Consulting looks at the impacts of app-based ride services (or Transportation Network Companies –TNCs– like Uber and Lyft.)  And the findings are interesting, but complicated.

As the author of the report pens in “Turns out, Uber is clogging the streets.” Although “Uber promised to take 1 million cars off the road in New York City,” since June of 2016, passenger volumes for TNCs have tripled up to 500,000 per day. TNCs drove 600 million miles and subway and bus ridership fell.”

If what we are seeing is a first hint of a larger shift of TNCs siphoning off transit trips, then the implications could be large and painful.  Transit would decline, equity could become more of a problem, and many cities would start to run into exasperated issues during rush hour as everyone who would be on transit was now in cars – a large geometry/roadway capacity problem in big cities.  Imagine most of the people on NYCs subways all of a sudden trying to move along streets in individual cars.

And the scale and speed of the growth of TNCs should give us pause – tripling of trips in just a few months is a growth rate where unintended consequences will sneak up on us quickly.

But Laura Bliss at CityLab encourages us to consider the nuances in the Schaller report, asserting that TNCs fill gaps where taxis are hard to come by or transit access is less available.  In many ways, they are  increasing mobility and accessibility.

Both Schaller and Bliss encourage cities to avoid being complacent and to get out ahead of these issues. The same will be true for AVs.

How should city officials/planners respond?

  • Make transit more appealing
  • Implement road pricing during times of congestion
  • Make TNCs pay more for streets to encourage customers to use transit instead
  • Reduce demand for single occupancy vehicles in general
  • Demand more detailed data from TNCs to gain a better understanding of the dynamics

Drone Delivery Model from UPS

Drone delivery is on the horizon and could take a bit off the edge of the congestion cliff that will come with increased AV use and increased E-commerce.  UPS just tested a delivery model where a drone, attached to the top of a truck, can deploy to deliver a package while the driver continues on to do their own delivery at another site.

Some large caveats exist with the ability to use this in urban areas (as opposed to the rural example they describe).  That said, this is one step closer to the package delivery model where trucks become mini-distribution hubs and a fleet of drones go to and from a parked vehicle.  Obvious implications for trip generation, for potential design changes to buildings (say hello to your new rooftop mailbox!), and for distribution of warehouses in cities.

Graphic of how this would all work is below.

Walmart vs. Amazon II

Walmart seems intent on not losing out to Amazon and is investing heavily in E-Commerce to keep themselves competitive.  The WSJ article states that while brick-and-mortar sales are slowly rising, online sales have skyrocketed up 16% over the last quarter (and that quarter was a 21% rise from the quarter before).

In a separate article from SupplyChain247, Walmart’s CEO talks about the future of retail.  In short, in his view we will all be shopping online, will want to know the sourcing of our products and will want to make sure social and environmental sustainability is being considered.

 

Walmart vs. Amazon

In a continuation of how investment may be a sign of things to come (see two previous posts), Warren Buffett just divested from nearly $1 Billion of Walmart stock.  He cited the rise of e-commerce as part of his reason for doing this and said “Its a big, big force, and it has already disrupted plenty of people, and it will disrupt more.”

The article goes on to wonder is the US is not ‘over-stored’ with “23.5 square feet of retail space per person compared with 16.4 in Canada and 11.1 in Australia.”

Of note in the article as well was the graph below, showing the change in share price of Walmart vs. Amazon.  The picture is even grimmer if you look back 10 years.  Walmart stock has risen 48% during that time versus Amazon’s 2,024% increase.

AV’s – Yes They Are Truly Coming (Cont.)

As a follow up to our last post on how large investments in AV technology by automakers may be somewhat of a gauge as to how real and soon this technology will be arriving, we recently came across this rundown of investments and advancements in AV’s by large firms.  This text comes from the late 2016 Rocky Mountain Institute’s ‘Peak Car Ownership’ report.

  • Apple is likely working on an advanced electric autonomous vehicle and recently invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing.
  • Google has been testing electric autonomous vehicles in Mountain View, California, and Austin, Texas, for many months and recently expanded to Arizona and Washington.
  • Uber recently began testing autonomous Ford Sedans and Volvo SUVs in Pittsburgh. CEO Travis Kalanick called autonomous vehicles providing Uber rides “existential” to the company’s survival.
  • GM, which recently invested $500 million in Lyft, is testing autonomous electric Chevy Bolts in San Francisco.
  • Tesla may be close to launching a mobility service. Morgan Stanley recently indicated that Tesla is in good position to launch its own electric, automated, on-demand mobility service by 2018 and modeled this insight into its relatively high valuation of the company. More recently, CEO Elon Musk released his “master plan part deux,” which details Tesla’s plan to launch an electric automated mobility service.
  • Daimler’s carshare subsidiary, Car2Go, has autonomous ambitions.
  • Volkswagen’s $300 million investment in European TNC Gett signals that it too is entering the mobility services market.
  • Ford CEO Mark Fields recently announced that Ford will mass produce autonomous vehicles (with no steering wheel) for use in ride-hailing services by 2021″

 

AV’s – Yes, They Truly Are Coming Soon

On this blog we are not in the habit of talking about the pace of AV adoption as we focus mainly on the secondary effects of this adoption.  That said, we are often asked if AV’s are imminent or even a true pending reality.

While we cannot say for certain when AV’s will be fully out and part of our daily lives, we believe the investments that have happened around AV technology by the large auto manufacturers should give any skeptics pause. The string of these types of investments over the last 18 months was just expanded significantly as  Ford just bought a majority ownership of Argo – an AV startup – for $1 Billion.

While it is no guarantee, a $1 billion investment seems to be a fairly good indication that AV’s are no longer anywhere near the realm of science fiction.  They are coming – and we would guess they are coming soon.

This makes the lack of planning and visioning of the secondary effects on cities, that much more pertinent and critical.  Much work to be done.

Losing Parking Revenue May Mean More Money for Cities

For anyone who has tried to re-purpose municipal parking into something else, it is likely they have faced resistance due to lost revenue.  And with projections of autonomous vehicle adoption significantly reducing the need for parking, what will a city do? According to a recent report by Morgan Stanley, the answer is: make more money.  They estimate that the introduction of autonomous vehicles will generate a half trillion dollars for municipal budgets, offset by only $1.3 billion from lost revenue such as parking fees and fuel taxes.  This and other recent reports on some interesting ways to think of how municipal resources could be re-allocated for better and higher uses, such as reducing from 42% the amount of time police officers spend on issuing traffic citations, can be seen in this article in Governing.

Mall Foreclosures Up 11% – Due in Part to E-Commerce

Mall foreclosures continue to rise as retailers face more and more competition from E-commerce and a large rush away from enclosed malls.  Many owners are letting their loans default instead of trying to restructure as they see no easy future in a shifting economy.

These declining/failing properties not only cause problems for tenants, but also for the surrounding properties.  “If a mall closes or goes into decline, you’re going to see declining property values in the area,” commented Arthur C. Nelson, professor of Urban Planning and Real Estate Development at the University of Arizona. “The mall is a marker.”

One of the early casualties in the shift to E-commerce.

Getting out ahead: Regulating AVs

On the heels of USDOT announcing 10 pilot designees for testing AV technology, one state is getting out ahead of AVs.  Legislation proposed in Massachusetts would ” allow self-driving cars on public roads, but impose a mileage-based tax on their use, allow some large municipalities to ban them, and require all such cars to be zero-emissions vehicles.”  (Boston Globe, January 19, 2017)  As pointed out in the article, AVs currently fall into a legal gray area in Massachusetts and many states.

APA reports that Michigan, Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah have statutes regulating AVs. (“Michigan joins small number of states with self-driving car laws.” – APA blog)

Article: “Mass law would tax autonomous vehicles by the mile,” by Dan Adams, Boston Globe, January 19,2017.

 

 

Envisioning Future Cities with Automated Vehicles Webinar

 

Mark your calendars for OAPA’s (Oregon American Planning Association) webinar on Automated Vehicles on Tuesday January 24th at 12-1 pm PST

Click here to register

More info on the webinar:

“Automated Vehicle (AV) technology promises to reshape the transportation system and the built environment in ways not seen since the introduction of the automobile over a century ago. By revolutionizing the nature of personal mobility and removing the need for passengers to be in the car at all times, AVs have the potential to dramatically impact roadway design and the built environment to yield urban spaces that are safer, more efficient, and attractive. However, unlike America’s first experience with the automobile, it is hoped that policy makers will recognize and take advantage of this opportunity to reshape our urban areas in ways that promote safe, sustainable, and people-centered environments. AV technology offers an opportunity to balance what have long been seen as conflicting goals of safer and more efficient transportation systems and urban environments founded upon the principles of sustainability and human-centered design. But the twin goals of efficiency and urbanity can be achieved only through proactive planning and investment by federal, state, regional and local transportation agencies.

This webinar will review the innovative work Florida Department of Transportation and Florida State University are doing to take the first steps toward envisioning the future in an AV world, a future that can yield attractive, people-friendly, efficient and safe urban environments. In addition, this webinar will identify near and medium-term infrastructure investments and policy decisions that could enable a smooth transition to a transportation system dominated by AVs. Few understood and foresaw the massive impact the automobile would have upon travel behaviors, transportation systems, and the built environment over a century ago. This session hopes to prepare and equip local governments with the tools necessary to take advantage of this remarkable opportunity to reshape the built environment into more livable communities.”

 

Warehouses Will Be Everywhere

As we continue to trend towards e-commerce and a range of delivery methods for products, warehouses – one of the key infrastructure elements of delivery – are going to both shift and proliferate.  A report from Colliers looks at these shifts broadly, but pertinent to this blog, there are sections on First Mile and Last Mile of delivery that outline the changes we will be seeing in the built environment.  Some takeaways:

  • Large consolidation of distribution facilities is happening as this facilitates logistics and the implementation of automation
  • Due to this consolidation, the size of facilities is greatly increasing – ‘First Mile’ facilities (these are distributions centers that are first accepting parcels from suppliers)  greater than 1 million square feet are becoming more commonplace. — Picture a single facility as large as 4-5 New York City blocks or 16-20 Portland blocks.
  • ‘Last Mile’ facilities (distribution centers that ship directly to customers) – on the other hand are locating in order to shorten and speed up final deliveries.  This is leading to smaller distribution centers (50-75,000 square feet) scattered around urban areas.

A great graphic that shows the complexity of new shopping and delivery methods is below.  Many forms of delivery and each has its own land use and transportation implications.

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First Driverless Transit Shuttle in U.S. is Up and Running

And the milestones keep coming.  Las Vegas just made active the country’s first AV public transit shuttle.  These type of fixed lines routes (transit lines) are obvious choices as early adopters as the environmental variables are limited.  The bus is small – 12 passenger – and the route is short but it is yet another step towards full automation of the transit system.

This type of vehicle is potentially going to be doing the heavy lifting for paratransit and shared trips in the near future.  Picture something like this coming to pick you up next time you use uberPOOL or Lyft Line.

E-Commerce?? – Depends on What you Are Shopping For

A new study in Transportation Research Record by Zhen et al. looks at the relationship between online versus in-store shopping based on the types of good you are shopping for.  Based on a survey of shoppers in Nanjing, China, they differentiate between experiential goods (ones with “traits that cannot be determined until the product is used” – such as clothing) and search goods (ones  “that consumers can ascertain fully before use” – such as electronics).  Unsurprisingly, they found more online purchasing happening with search goods than exchange goods.  A few other takeaways:

  • Cost consciousness is related to lower in-store clothing and electronics purchases
  • Shopping enjoyment increases in-store purchases for daily goods, but not for electronics – so “a particular shopping attitude does not always affect purchasing behavior for different products in the same way.”
  • More education is related to less in-store shopping and more online shopping for books and clothing

In terms of the effect on the overall transportation system, the results are not clear cut.  They state that “If returns of unsatisfactory products and freight transportation are considered, online purchasing generates even more travel demand. Therefore, transportation planners should expect growing challenges associated with the proliferation of Internet sales.”

E-Commerce: Brick-and-Mortar Slide Continues – 12% Drop in Store Trips This Past Holiday

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal documents the continued rise of e-commerce coupled with the inevitable slide of brick-and-mortar stores.  A few key numbers:

  • Overall, online holiday sales increased by 11% over the previous year while brick-and-mortar sales increased only 2.7%
  • JC Penny brick-and-mortar sales dropped by nearly 1% while its online sales grew by double digits.
  • Amazon was the clear leader in online sales with 38% of all online revenue

Probably the most striking number for the subject of this blog, brick-and-mortar shopping traffic (as in the number of times people went into stores) declined by 12%.  That number – if it continues – will inevitably lead to a drop in the amount of brick-and-mortar stores and major shifts in land use and transportation demand.  This will potentially also decrease the vitality and activity around commercial areas.

AV’s Future is Shared (at least initially) – Views from CES 2017

CityLab has posted a report from this years Consumer Electronics Show and – unsurprisingly – the roll-out of AV’s seems to be focused on shared fleets and they will focus on freight and high occupancy transport.  Cost seems to be the largest factor early on with AV technology being cost-prohibitive for individual ownership (although Tesla might have something to say about that).  Another reason is simply the ability to monitor and modify cars and algorithms – much easier to do roll-out and testing in limited contact points via larger shared fleets.

This is not to say that shared vehicles are the only future for AV’s – but thier initiation happening as shared vehicles is promising and gives a bit of time to figure out how best to promote and cement that future over individual ownership – probably the most critical issue in avoiding a dystopian future.

Chrysler Portal - Self Driving Car - Jae Hong/AP
Chrysler Portal – Self Driving Car – Jae Hong/AP

E-Commerce and the End of Department Stores…

Macy’s and Sears are closing stores throughout the country (250 stores in total) as trends continue to push against traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers.  While nobody suggests bricks-and-mortar will completely disappear, this is yet another step in the continuing shift away from traditional retail.  Previously considered anchor tenants that drove (almost literally) shoppers to large malls, the retail landscape has shifted towards smaller, more nimble, and often e-commerce linked retail.  This will have large implications on the amount of retail in the country, its distribution, and the size of parcels/spaces.  From recent discussions we have been having with industry experts, it seems that a quality sort is just beginning, where size and location of retail may start to give way to quality of experience and place.