Last Reminder about Urbanism Next Conference Call for Proposals!

Here’s one last, just-in-the-nick-of-time reminder that proposals for the 2nd Annual Urbanism Next Conference are due TODAY (Thursday, Nov. 15)! How can technological innovations be harnessed to achieve desired outcomes? How can the private and public sectors collaborate to ensure that desired outcomes drive technological innovation rather than the other way around? Let us know what you think and what you are working on! Submit your proposal here.

Retail and E-Commerce Quick Notes

A few months back, we talked about e-commerce not being the only influence of store closings in the U.S. and referenced a Bloomberg article about consumers’ increasing interest in “experiential retail.”  Well, retailers seem to be responding this holiday season and are looking for ways to emphasize experiences, rather than mere shopping. For instance, as Retail Dive reports,  Target will be offering some 25,000 hours of in-store events, including “toy experiences.” In a similar vein, Walmart will be offering what it is calling “play dates,” allowing children to test out toys in-store. Interestingly, Amazon, which is not in a position to offer this kind of in-store experience—or at least not yet—will actually be mailing out a toy catalog this year. (If that sounds familiar, it might have to do with the fact that it is essentially filling the void that used to be occupied by Toys ‘R’ Us.)

Of course, the biggest e-commerce news of the week is that Amazon announced where HQ2 (and HQ3?) will be. They’ve selected Long Island City in Queens, NY and Crystal City in Arlington County, VA and they plan to bring 25,000 jobs to each locale. (They also announced that they would opening an operations center in Nashville, establishing 5,000 jobs.) There have already been a number of interesting think pieces about the announcement, including Citylab, CNN, and Curbed, among others. While the merits of Amazon’s bidding process are up for update and questions abound about whether the tax breaks are too big, one thing does seem certain—e-commerce is reshaping our cities both literally and figuratively.

Proposals Due Next Week!

The 2019 Urbanism Next Conference Call for Proposals deadline is coming up fast! Proposals are due by Thursday, Nov. 15 at 11:59pm PST. We are excited to carry the conversation we started in 2018 forward, and we want YOU to help shape the agenda. We invite you to submit a proposal for a session or workshop. Click here for full proposal details and submit your proposal here. For questions, please contact Amanda Howell, Urbanism Next Program Coordinator.


Urbanism Next TEDx Talk Now Streaming

On June 22nd, Urbanism Next Center Director, Nico Larco spoke at a TEDx event at the University of Maryland in College Park. The theme of the event was “Get OUTside,” and Nico’s talk was one of many throughout the day that encouraged people to look past their comfort zones, preconceived notions, and existing mindsets to gain a different and better understanding of the world. In discussing the potential secondary impacts of autonomous vehicles on our cities, Nico describes a “second revolution,” one which we may be able to control and influence if we can anticipate the coming technology. The key, he says, is thinking of AVs not as a transportation issue, but as a community issue. The full 15-minute video is now available to watch, and you can also check out Mobility Lab’s coverage of it here!

Submit a Proposal for the 2019 Urbanism Next Conference!

Mark your calendars! We are pleased to announce that the 2nd Annual Urbanism Next Conference will be held May 7-9, 2019 in Portland, OR. The first annual conference held in March 2018 brought together over 500 planners, architects, landscape architects, developers, technology experts, elected officials, academics, and many others.We’re excited to partner with the National and Oregon Chapters of the American Planning Association, the American Institute of Architects, and the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Urban Land Institute Northwest.

Last year, we discussed how technology is changing cities. This year, we will focus on the ways that technological innovations can be harnessed to achieve desired outcomes. What has been tried? What has worked? What has not worked? What should we try next? How can the private and public sectors collaborate to ensure that desired outcomes drive technological innovation rather than the other way around?

We want YOU to help shape the agenda. We invite you to submit a proposal for a session or workshop. Click here for full proposal details. Proposals are due November 15, 2018 (11:59 pm PST).

We look forward to reviewing your proposals and hope to see you in Portland May 7-9, 2019!

Amazon Delivers and Delivers and Delivers

It seems that there is not a week that goes by that Amazon does not make headlines, and this week is no exception. Yesterday, Amazon announced that it would raise the minimum wage of its U.S employees to $15/hr. The new wage will take effect Nov. 1 and will apply to all of its part-time employees, seasonal workers, and workers hired through temp agencies. This is news to celebrate.

However, there is a group that won’t get this raise: contract workers. And that’s notable because there are LOTS of contract workers delivering packages for Amazon as demand continues to increase. While Amazon contracts with USPS and other traditional package carriers like UPS, it has also been steadily ramping up its own delivery services. There’s Amazon Flex, whereby independent drivers use their own vehicles to deliver packages, similar to how other drivers use their personal vehicles to ferry passengers for Uber and Lyft, or to deliver food via UberEats, Postmates, and others. The Flex program promises “great earnings, flexible hours” and the opportunity to “be your own boss.” But is that the reality? In June, staff writer for the Atlantic Alana Semuels wrote about a day spent delivering packages for Amazon Flex and described it as a “nightmare.” (To be sure, that’s one person’s experience, but it’s an interesting one and worth the read.)

In addition to the Flex program, Amazon also contracts with independent courier services who hire drivers to help ferry packages between local fulfillment centers and homes, businesses, storage lockers, car trunks, etc. You might have seen them—many are driving unmarked white vans loaded with packages. (And according to Business Insider, some of the working conditions endured by those couriers leave something to be desired.)

In July, Amazon announced that it was ramping up the game and was creating a program that would help people start their own small business delivering packages (“Delivery Service Partners”). For $10,000 Amazon will help their Delivery Service Partners get started with their small business, beginning with five delivery vans. Interestingly, the delivery partners will be considered full-time employees of Amazon, but the workers those business owners hire won’t be. And in more recent news, Amazon recently announced that it purchased 20,000 Mercedes Benz vans that it will use in this program. (These ones are blue with a big Amazon logo, so there’s no wondering what these vans are up to, unlike those mysterious white ones you might have seen around.)

The image of all those Amazon delivery vans lined up and ready to go is a sight to behold. It is interesting, and noteworthy, that cities seem to have trained so much of their focus on the impacts of TNCs like Uber and Lyft on congestion, while the ever-expanding world of goods delivery gets far less notice. While goods delivery certainly replaces some trips that we otherwise might have taken ourselves, Rick Stein recently pointed out that history has shown that we usually don’t just substitute one thing for another.

The news about the minimum wage raise is certainly positive, but there are lots of questions that still need to be answered about the widespread impacts that Amazon is having not just on the labor force, but on transportation networks as well.

Could a Cap on Ridehailing Curb Equity Gains?

Though no longer brand new, ridehail companies like Uber and Lyft continue to cause consternation as cities struggle with how to plan for and regulate them. Some cities have opted for trip-based taxes and fees, while others have regulated the number of cars allowed to operate. In August, New York City became the first American city to cap the number of ridehail vehicles permitted to operate each day .

Taxi drivers celebrated this move as a victory against Silicon Valley titans. But some city councilors cautioned that the New York City cap could harm low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, who have historically been underserved or avoided by taxis. Could they be right? My own research on Lyft in Los Angeles suggests: yes. Ridehailing extends reliable car access to low-income neighborhoods, majority-black neighborhoods, and areas with limited access to personal cars. A cap on ridehailing could concentrate drivers in wealthier neighborhoods, driving up prices and wait times in lower-income neighborhoods. In other words, a ridehail cap threatens to undermine the access it delivers to neighborhoods that need it the most.

Lyft serves everywhere. Data from over 6.3 million Lyft trips in Los Angeles reveal that Lyft service is remarkably ubiquitous. In a county with dense urban centers, sprawling suburbs, and remote mountain towns, Lyft trips served neighborhoods home to 99.8 percent of the population.

Lyft is used most where personal car access is lowest. Most people used Lyft to fill an occasional travel need, taking just one trip per month on average. But data also suggest that people took more Lyft trips where its close substitute—the household car—was scarcest and corresponding car travel was most limited.

Ridehail use is highest in low-income neighborhoods. Riders living in low-income neighborhoods relied disproportionately on Lyft, taking 36 percent more Lyft trips per month than users living in high-income neighborhoods. Riders in these neighborhoods made more of their trips on shared and less-expensive Lyft Line compared to riders living in high-income neighborhoods. Over one-third (34%) of users in low-income areas made shared trips on Lyft Line while users in high-income areas used this service less frequently, approximately 22 percent of the time. These results suggest that sharing provides an important low-cost option for cost-sensitive travelers.

Access is improved, yet questions remain, in communities of color. Taxis have historically avoided or refused to serve communities of color. Lyft presents a more promising story. Riders living in majority-black neighborhoods in Los Angeles took more Lyft trips than riders living in neighborhoods with any other racial/ethnic majority group, even after accounting for neighborhood characteristics like density and transit service. At the same time, questions about barriers to ridehail service remain. Riders living in majority-Hispanic and majority-Asian neighborhoods took fewer trips than expected all else being equal; lower use in these neighborhoods may reflect unequal banking access, smartphone ownership, or other barriers that inhibit residents from hailing a Lyft. More research is needed to ensure that all travelers can hail a ride.

Ridehailing provides car access in neighborhoods where personal access to cars is lowest. Capping the number of ridehail vehicles could encourage drivers to concentrate on higher-income neighborhoods, where they may anticipate more demand and longer, pricier trips. Taxis have long ascribed to this model, gathering around downtown hotels and businesses where they anticipate high-paying clientele. In doing so, taxis often avoid lower-income neighborhoods where personal car access is lowest, despite data showing that the residents in these areas rely disproportionately on taxis to travel by car. A ridehail cap could similarly encourage drivers to flock to wealthier neighborhoods, raising prices or wait times in less-affluent or less-central neighborhoods. Higher prices and long wait times in these communities could undermine the access benefits that ridehailing has provided to date. Worse, attempts to draw drivers into these areas through tactics such as “surge pricing”, while an incentive for drivers, could put ridehailing out of financial reach entirely for those who need it the most.

Instead of simply capping ridehailing, cities should consider the holistic role ridehailing can play in the broader mobility puzzle and how different regulations will affect cities’ visions for the future. While ridehailing can and should be regulated—such as to maintain safety standards or require data sharing—it is important that cities understand the wider effects of these regulations and implement equitable policies that will improve access for all.


Why Kroger’s Driverless Grocery Delivery Pilot Is a Harbinger of Disruption

By Rick Stein, Principal and Owner of Urban Decision Group

The largest grocery chain in the U.S. recently announced they are testing driverless grocery delivery in Scottsdale, Arizona.  In the U.S., The Kroger Company is the Walmart/Amazon of the grocery sector.  In other words, this is a big deal.  We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the impacts of AV on the transport of humans, but the earliest, and arguably the most profound impacts, will occur because of rapidly changing consumer expectations.

Image: Nuro

Kroger’s pilot program currently uses an autonomous Prius with a human in the driver’s seat to monitor the car’s performance, but future versions of this service will be completely autonomous.  Kroger is partnering with Nuro, a startup founded by two Google engineers who worked at Google’s Waymo venture.  During this pilot phase, a clerk loads the groceries into the vehicle and then the vehicle delivers the groceries to the customer at their curb where the customer enters a numeric code to open the vehicle.  These are baby steps towards the inevitable – the complete automation of the entire process from ordering to stocking the food pantry in your home.  And oh, by the way, the entire supply chain will be automated as well.  It’s time to make friends with our robot overlords.

This past March, I and two of my colleagues traveled to Portland for the inaugural Urbanism Next Conference where we gave a presentation in which we speculated that the retail industry will likely be the earliest, and most significant adopters of autonomous vehicle technology.  The presentation was well-received and even got some love from the folks at The Atlantic’s CityLab.  At the time, we told those in attendance to prepare for the one-hour delivery of virtually anything within three years or so.  A series of recent acquisitions and partnerships undertaken by The Kroger Company seems to validate the ambitious goals of automating the entire grocery procurement process.  While the timeline for achieving these goals will be impacted by factors such as regulations (including zoning), technology, safety, and the economy, to name a few – make no mistake, it’s coming.

Up until now, all you really needed to do was pay attention to the seemingly daily barrage of articles about Amazon and Walmart competing for the consumer’s attention.  Now we can throw Kroger into the mix as well.  Obviously, there will be other retailers that embrace autonomy in the next couple of years – many, many others.  The battle to bring goods to the market for the lowest price has long been the goal of the largest retailers, but prices can only go so low before producing a good stops making sense.  The war on price isn’t over, but it is going to take a back seat to the next epic fight – the battle over your time.  And this war will be ugly if we aren’t prepared for it.

In 2005, Amazon introduced us to Amazon Prime – a membership-based service that promised free two-day shipping on eligible purchases within the contiguous United States.  Within a few years, we will likely reflect on Amazon Prime as a cute idea.  From this point forward, the consumer’s “time” is squarely the target of the world’s largest retailers.  While a lot of attention is paid to the concept of “experiential retail” as a means of saving conventional brick and mortar retail, the battle over our time will have a much larger impact on us all, regardless of our level of consumerism.

Amazon is currently rolling out a two-hour delivery service from Whole Foods through Prime Now.  Prime Now does not use autonomy/robotics/AI and it is only for items stocked at Whole Foods.  Rest assured, future versions of Prime Now will almost certainly employ all those inter-related technologies and will extend way beyond grocery items.  Each of the major retailers will try to one-up each other to deliver goods to us as fast as is technologically possible. What does this mean for our cities?  Well, it means cities need to be prepared for a level of disruption not seen since the widespread adoption of the automobile and the post-World War II demand for housing produced the modern suburb.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

There are going to be autonomous delivery vehicles on our roads – a lot of them.  You could make the argument that if I purchase goods online and the goods are delivered to me (autonomously or not), then aren’t I simply substituting my trip with another’s trip?  In theory this is true, but we have evidence in the form of humankind’s relatively recent adoption of computing technology, that we don’t merely substitute one thing for another; rather, we tend to add additional tasks into the voids created by technologically-enabled efficiency.  For example, the adoption of electronic spreadsheets reduced the amount of time to complete most accounting tasks.  Calculations that took hours or days to complete could now be done in a matter of minutes or seconds.  Employers took advantage of that time savings and added more and more tasks.  Smart phone adoption is a more recent example of a tool that made us more efficient on one hand, but somehow resulted in us being even more busy than before.  It stands to reason that if we chose to have most things delivered to us, we will use our newfound time to do something else – and that something else may very well be taking a trip somewhere – perhaps a trip to an experiential retailer.

How are we going to deal with all these extra vehicles on our streets and roads?  We don’t have the space or the money to build our way out of it.  Not to mention, there is no evidence that it is even possible to build your way out of traffic congestion in the long run.  Further, we haven’t even talked about the inevitability of existing physical retail buildings functioning as distribution nodes and the challenges this presents to existing zoning.  That is another conversation for another blog post (or book).

The takeaway is this – our cities are ill-prepared to handle the disruption that is coming their way.  The “solutions” are going to be complicated and will impact everything from zoning to transportation funding.  Although cities are on the front lines, this will require an “all hands on deck” approach that includes regional, state, and federal coordination.  The way we manage autonomous delivery of retail goods will likely be an indicator of our ability to manage the autonomous delivery of humans.  It’s the proverbial canary in the coalmine.

AVs in the Pacific Northwest: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in a Time of Automation [New Report]

Urbanism Next is pleased to share a new report: AVs in the Pacific Northwest: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in a Time of Automation (Larco, Howell, Lewis, and Steckler). The policy decisions made over the next 10 years that shape the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) will have significant repercussions for our communities as well as environmental repercussions related to greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change. In recognition of that, Urbanism Next worked with the cities of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC to better understand how new mobility technologies such as AVs could affect greenhouse gas emissions thereby impacting their ability to achieve the goals in their respective climate action plans.

After conducting a literature review, reviewing existing new mobility documents, conversations with stakeholders, and conversations with partners in the public, private, and academic sectors, we compiled a variety of possible implementation actions that we think cities could consider to reduce GHG emissions. We invite you flip through and see what you think. (Please note, while we we think the actions we identified can serve as a starting point for thinking about the impacts of AVs on climate goals and how best to mitigate the potentially negative ones, we know that this will be an ongoing, iterative process as promising practices are developed.) There may be challenges ahead, there are also many opportunities to make positive changes. We hope those opportunities will seized!

This project grew out of a partnership between the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance at the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (CNCA/USDN) and the Cities of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver and was generously supported by the Bullitt Foundation.

Ensuring the Benefits of Vertically Integrated MaaS

Cities are starting to see a vertical integration of the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) landscape.  A number of companies (see examples of Uber and Lyft) are realizing the opportunity to provide multiple MaaS options to their clients and not only focus on one part of the mobility pie.  Rideshare, bikeshare, e-scooters, etc. all have the possibility of on one hand cannibalizing one another and on the other being an entryway to a broader set of possible MaaS options.  By integrating services vertically, companies can offer a broader suite of services and ensure that all transactions are within their platform (and their bottom line).

While vertically integrated MaaS options will have large benefits for users, it also points to a potential future where a few dominant companies offer a Helsinki-like vertically integrated mobility option. As a consumer you may end up needing to decide if you want to subscribe to the Lyft MaaS suite, the Uber MaaS suite, or the Waymo MaaS suite.  A large concern with this is that it will stifle competition and keep small companies out of the marketplace.  Cities can play a lead role in ensuring that this doesn’t happen so that their residents have a wider range of options and the economic benefits of MaaS are not restricted to a few large, key players.

The three things that are necessary for an open MaaS platform are:

  • Shared route/cost/time information– There are already a number of examples of this happening thanks, in large part to Google’s leadership on creating GTFS. A number of apps – including Google’s own Google Maps – let you compare travel options, complete with time and cost information.  The next generation of these apps needs to start thinking about how to show expanded travel options which mix modes (the height of the MaaS vision). It would be great to see a travel option that includes bikeshare from your house to the transit stop, the transit trip itself, and then a scooter option for the last-mile. More and more, this is exactly the types of trips we will all be making in a MaaS world.
  • Uniform payment platform– Critical in making all of this work is a single payment platform that allows easy movement from one mode and service to another. This will facilitate use of the most efficient mode of travel and will allow small companies to compete with larger ones.  While uniform payment has been a challenge in many parts of the US, there are examples abroad that show this is absolutely possible.  For example, OV Chipcard in the Netherlands is a single payment platform that is used by train, tram, bus, carshare and bikeshare companies.  It is simple to plug into the system and from the user’s perspective, makes transportation choices easy to make.
  • Multi-company subscription services – Both of the points above create the opportunity for multicompany subscription services where movement between MaaS modes becomes easy and economically beneficial. The difficulty will be in finding the framing and levers to bring private sector companies along and not have them each create their own transportation fiefdoms.  One large lever will be that, if this shared subscription marketplace can be created, companies will want to join simply to have access to users.  If they are outside of it, their competitors will get the rides.  It is a tricky proposition and will require a good amount of thinking and coordination (both with companies and with regulatory bodies) to make this work, but the potential upside is tremendous for user experience, economic opportunity, and for the overall efficient use of the transportation network.

This is an important moment where cities should be shifting their thinking from how to deal with a continuing series of mode innovations (e.g. e-scooters being the latest one) to a more expansive and forward thinking approach that is focused on outcomes and on creating a broad platform that can accommodate current and future transportation options in a level playing field.

Retail Closures, Vertical Warehouses, Distribution Blimps, and Flying Cars

Here is a roundup of a few interesting bits of news that cropped up in the past week…

In another installment of major retail closures, Sears Holdings announced that it will close an additional 46 Sears and Kmart locations this fall. This came on the heels of Lowe’s announcement that it intends to close all Orchard Supply Hardware store locations by early next year. The Sears and Kmart stores are scattered throughout the country while Orchard Supply’s 99 locations are concentrated in California, Oregon, and Florida. All told, that’s a lot of large retail space that’s about to be vacant…how will those spaces be adapted?

Perhaps they will become vertical warehouses if Amazon’s pending patent application is approved. If a multistory distribution center that looks like a skyscraper sounds a bit unbelievable, check out the story about Amazon’s additional patent application for an airborne fulfillment center that looks like a blimp. The e-commerce giant intends to use drones to access the flying warehouse. Just imagine what THAT air traffic might look like…

And speaking of air traffic, Japan is reportedly working with Uber and Boeing to make flying cars a reality. (You have to see it to believe it. Check out the embedded video to see what the future of flying cars might actually look like.)

More news coming soon!

Upcoming TRB Webinar on Emerging Technologies and Transportation Revenue

Curious about the impacts of emerging technologies on things like parking revenue, traffic fines, registration fines, and other transportation revenue streams? Well, the Transportation Research Board is organizing a webinar about these very questions on Thursday, September 6 from 1-2:30PM ET! This webinar is based on a workshop that was presented in January at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board and will feature Urbanism Next Center Director Nico Larco. Bruce Schaller, who recently published a report on “The New Automobility” that has garnered a fair bit of attention, will also be presenting. (See here and here for some interesting responses to his findings.) Additional details about the webinar can be accessed here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the impact of emerging technologies on municipal finance, check out the Urbanism Next white paper on this topic that was published last year!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Autonomous Vehicle

By Matt Hoffman, VP of Innovation at Enterprise Community Partners

The housing and community development sector is looking in the rearview mirror as it tries to tackle the affordability and opportunity challenges that face millions of Americans – and it is about to have a head-on collision with an autonomous vehicle.

As we work to address the 7-million unit housing shortage in the U.S. and enable people to live where they have access to good-paying jobs and high-quality schools, we need to look beyond the bricks and sticks, amortizations, and tax credits and start figuring out how self-driving cars and a whole suite of mobility, data, and communications-related technologies are about to transform how and where we live and the implications that will have for low-income people and communities.

The combination of technology and data applications being applied in urban environments, loosely referred to as “The Smart City,” has initiated a slew of policy and planning work in cities and regions across the country that provide an opportunity to shape an inclusive and equitable future for lower-income citizens and communities.

New technology-enabled forms of mobility are the biggest driver of urban transformation. Until recently, options for getting from point A to point B (too far to just walk) were limited: privately owned car, taxi, and public transportation (bus or subway). But the onset of the shared economy, enabled by digital technology and ubiquitous mobile devices and high bandwidth networks, has introduced a nascent multi-modal network that includes options such as shared private cars, e-bikes, e-scooters, shared pedal-powered bikes, and soon autonomous cars and buses.

As we continue to try to build our way out of the affordability shortage, we need to do it in the context of what the market will look like over the next decade and beyond. If people can move more efficiently, at lower cost, and on-demand throughout a city, what implication does that have for how real estate is used and valued and how affordable housing is produced, preserved, and allocated? Is location in the city core or in a high-resourced neighborhood as valuable if the access or proximity to that place is not as distant or isolated as it previously was? What does transit-oriented development mean when the transit network becomes dynamic, on-demand, and comes to wherever you are?

While we don’t have a crystal ball that tells us what cities will look like 10 years from now, we do know that technology will continue to be more pervasive, less expensive to deploy, and generate some unexpected (and maybe unintended) outcomes. Identifying and applying core principles that derive greater equity, inclusion, and social and economic justice in our society will help steer us to better outcomes regardless of what technologies get deployed.

Put People First: Especially as cities plan and design transportation systems and make zoning decisions that dictate where new housing can be built and its density, these decisions must be made in the context of how people actually live and what resources they have. There has to be a balance between what we want to see and the reality of how life plays out, especially for those lacking resources. How do we help unhoused and underhoused people find permanent housing that also enables a commute to a job in less than 30 minutes? How do we help the senior citizen living alone in need of some light assistance but not appropriate for a nursing home and not able to afford an assisted living facility? How do we keep the child connected to her network of social supports where she has grown up? We must make the systems we build, both digital and analog, fit people’s lives and not build to suit the technology’s capability just because we can.

Solve Problems, Don’t Search for Them:  So many technology applications seem to be solutions in search of a problem to solve. Yet the problems in the social sector are right in front of our faces: affordable housing, quality education, access to fresh food, living wage jobs, climate change, and mobility. If cities define their problems well and ask companies to bring their best solutions regardless of technology or analog function or preference, then we are likely to get better outcomes than asking for a specific technology to do X, Y, or Z. If we lead with problem-solving, then we will evolve to a city of meaning, purpose, and justice. If we lead with technology, then we are likely to end up with a dystopia.

Get the infrastructure right: Infrastructure, especially hard infrastructure that requires rights of way (roads, bridges, water/sewer, fixed rail) is extremely expensive and only gets built and rebuilt once every few generations. Decisions we make today will likely last upwards of a century. But some infrastructures, such as transportation and power are becoming more flexible and dynamic, less constrained. As cities face decisions today on critical infrastructure projects, they need to consider how needs will change over the next decades especially regarding technological and climate change influences. That means running scenarios for multiple futures and determining how any given investment will respond. It also means testing for resiliency and how infrastructure can withstand and adapt to changing climate and market conditions.

Rigorously measure outputs and assess externalities: As solutions are put in place, outputs should be measured in real time and routinely evaluated. These metrics need to be considered and structured for in advance. Assessments for externalities need to be conducted to ensure that unanticipated costs or problems are not being generated.

Open the process to citizens: Governments should view citizens as their partners, not just customers. As Smart Cities evolve and produce immense volumes of data, those data sets should be made public in real-time so citizens can help identify problems and generate solution options. Imagine the creativity and brainpower that could be unlocked if people were invited to participate in making their communities as great as possible. Rather than viewing government as something to tolerate and where citizens are essentially passive consumers of government services, rules, and regulations, we could start to shift to a partnership model where citizens felt empowered to bring solutions as well as complaints.

Let’s collectively flag down that big self-driving bus barreling down on us and hop on board. It and the other emerging Smart City technologies can help redefine what is possible for a more equitable, prosperous, just, healthy and sustainable society. It may also help us solve the housing affordability challenge.

NYC at Cap-acity

Photo by Kevin Lee on Unsplash

It is official—after much anticipation, the New York City Council voted to impose a year-long cap on for-hire vehicles and will not issue any new vehicle licenses for the duration of the cap period, although they have made an exception for wheelchair accessible vehicles. (Of which there are not nearly enough.) During the upcoming year, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) will also be tasked with studying whether to adopt vehicle utilization standards or regulations…essentially, they will determine if there should be permanent regulations in place limiting the number of for-hire vehicle licenses issued, much the way that taxi medallions have been regulated for decades. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Uber and Lyft lobbied pretty hard against this bill, arguing that a cap on the number of vehicles will decrease vehicle availability leading to longer wait times and, possibly, higher fares. Despite their efforts, the bill passed 39-6.

According to the NY Times, the number of for-hire vehicles in the city has increased to 100,000, up from 63,000 in 2015 when Mayor de Blasio tried, and failed, to institute a cap. This time around, there was support not just from taxi drivers who have seen the value of their medallions plummet but also many of the independent contractors who drive for the TNCs. (The Independent Drivers Guild was heavily involved in the campaign to pass the bill.) In addition to imposing a cap on vehicles, the NYC Council also voted in favor of giving the Taxi and Limousine Commission the ability to establish minimum payments for for-hire drivers—a big win for drivers.

For a window into the for-hire driver’s view, I suggest checking out the Independent Drivers Guild’s FAQs about the cap, which provides a easy-to-digest summary of what they’re anticipating the cap will mean. (They anticipate the demand for leasing to skyrocket under the cap as new drivers look for ways to acquire vehicles.) The Rideshare Guy, a go-to source of information for rideshare drivers, also posted a summary of the suite of bills that passed yesterday and how to decipher them.

The passage of these bills comes on the heels of a new report published by Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant and former DOT commissioner, who did some serious data crunching and determined that “Private ride TNC services (UberX, Lyft) put 2.8 new TNC vehicles miles on the road for each mile of personal driving removed, for an overall 180 percent increase in driving on city streets.” He also concludes that TNCs primarily compete with transit, walking, and biking, not other private vehicles. (This does to seem to be in line with a growing body of research that finds that people are using TNCs in place of trips they might otherwise have made by transit, walking, or biking.)

Robin Chase, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, thinks we are far too focused on the trips being replaced by TNCs and are missing the bigger picture: 72% of trips taken are taken by private vehicle. TNCs and taxis only account for 1.2% of total trips nationwide. Why aren’t we asking what other modes people might have used for a trip if they hadn’t used a personal vehicle, she wonders. Presumably some fraction of those personal vehicle trips could have been made by walk, bike, or transit. All of this focus on the impacts that TNCs are having on congestion is glossing over the fact that congestion was already an issue long before TNCs arrived, she argues. Instead, we should institute fair user fees across ALL modes, private vehicles included, which is one of Shared Mobility Principles that have been committed to by a growing number of agencies, private companies, and advocacy groups. (Notably, NYC recently enacted a surcharge for taxis and TNCs in Manhattan for rides south of 96th Street, but did not manage to institute the much-discussed congestion zone, which would have required private vehicles to pay a daily use fee during busy times—with the idea that the funds would help raise money for the subway.)

It will be illuminating to see how the vehicle cap plays out in NYC over the coming year, and what findings the TLC arrive at. But one thing does seem clear…there may be enough political support to cap TNCs in NY but the private vehicle will live to see other another day without a congestion fee or a cap.


Urbanism Next is Hiring!

Urbanism Next is growing! We are hiring a Project Manager to oversee a variety of research projects, as well as to develop the Urbanism Next Clearinghouse, a national online resource. If you’re interested in emerging technologies and the impacts that they are having on how we live, move, and spend our time, then this may be the job for you! These are exciting, challenging, constantly-evolving issues and there’s lots of work to do be done. We hope you’ll consider joining the team.

For a full description of the position, check out the job posting here. The first review of applications will take place August 21, but the position will remain open until filled.

What Could Off-Road AV Technology Mean for Urban Street Design?

Land Rover has just announced Cortex, their investment in off-road AV technology, and Wired summarized the project in a recent article.

Outdoors enthusiasts have expressed skepticism in people’s willingness to give up conventional vehicles since it would mean losing the ability to adventure in places that are only accessible by rough, unpredictable roads. So far, experts hypothesize that AV technology will need a highly controlled road space with smooth surfaces and freshly painted markings, but this clearly poses challenges to adoption since many roads, even in cities, don’t fit these criteria.

While AVs capable of all-terrain navigation are obviously useful for reaching a favorite mountain hike, they could also provide additional benefits in more developed areas. For example, shared streets could become easier to implement since clearly designated lane markings wouldn’t be needed to keep the vehicles on track. Cities could change up the street space by adding planters or street furniture without requiring navigational software updates for all the cars in town. Plus, cities could save a lot of money if roads don’t need to be maintained in pristine conditions all the time.

There is one last benefit to more adventure-ready AVs. If people no longer need to hold on to their conventional cars for their outdoor adventures, the transition to a fully automated vehicle stock could happen sooner, meaning cities will exist in the confusing transition period for less time.

Steph Nappa is a Master’s Candidate in Community and Regional Planning and an Urbanism Next Fellow at the University of Oregon.  She is examining how to re-design city streets to prioritize bicycles, pedestrians and transit in an era of autonomous vehicles.

Shaping Transportation Through Pricing

Cities are beginning to consider the potential impacts that autonomous vehicles will have on their transportation systems and whether those impacts can be shaped to support city goals. A recent article from The Economist explored how pricing can be used to shape the outcomes of autonomous vehicles.

The article offers ways that AVs can mitigate certain negative impacts created by cars over the past century. The negative effects that vehicles and vehicle infrastructure have inflicted upon cites, like congestion, sprawl, and ecological damage, could all be reversed through the reallocation of space that is currently dedicated to cars. Alternatively, these problems could get worse if the use of AVs is not effectively managed.

As the article states, “It all depends on the rules for their use, and in particular the pricing.”

It is suggested that road pricing will become more feasible due to an AV’s ability to recognize where the vehicle is at all times, allowing for better congestion management. Ride pricing can also be used to reduce congestion, making peak trip times more expensive.

In suburban job centers, public transit systems that have prioritized commuter movement into the central city often no longer match commuting trends of the region. While AVs provide a cost-effective opportunity for ride sharing companies or transit systems to move people more efficiently between suburbs, they could also encourage sprawl by allowing people to live even further from their place of work. Again, pricing mechanisms can be used to discourage this behavior.

Lastly, the current auto-oriented transportation system dedicates large amounts of valuable land to parked cars. If AVs reduce the need for parking, this land can be repurposed for higher value uses, and in some cases can even transform the land to provide valuable ecological functions. The Economist argues that the current overuse of space for parking is due to an improper pricing scheme. Essentially, the negative externalities of cars have not been appropriately included in their cost of use. The authors close on the hopeful note that this time around, cities may have learned from their mistakes and will price AVs appropriately to achieve their desired outcomes.

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.

Portland Plans E-Scooter Pilot

As Portland’s Willamette Week writes, the scooters are coming. Portland’s Bureau of Transportation recently announced that it was accepting applications for shared electric scooters after putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive, thirty-five page permit application. (Read it in full here.) The permitting process is preparing the city for a 120-day pilot period which could start as early as the end of July, according to a PBOT spokesperson. After witnessing the scooter invasion in places like Santa Monica and San Francisco where scooters appeared virtually overnight, to the consternation of many city officials, Portland staff were motivated to get a permitting policy in place ASAP. Here are some important highlights of the application:

  • E-scooters will be capped at 2,500 TOTAL throughout the pilot period.
  • Every company holding a permit to deploy scooters will be required to deploy a minimum of 100 scooters or 20% of its local fleet in historically underserved East Portland neighborhoods as defined by the City’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan.
  • In addition to requiring safety and complaint histories, the application process also requires companies to submit a user equity plan and an economic opportunity plan.
  • Companies must adhere to a data sharing agreement.
  • AND there will be $0.25 per-trip surcharge assessed by the City.

Yes, you read that right. The City of Portland is assessing a per-trip surcharge, and according to Sightline Institute’s Michael Andersen that’s just fine. Andersen argues that over-regulating scooters (like capping the number of scooters) is a bigger risk than overtaxing them. This is a thorough and interesting piece…definitely recommended reading. While only time will tell how this all plays out, this permitting process appears to holds promise, especially if the equity components are realized.

Ready, set, scoot.

Organizing Streets By Speed

Our transportation options are expanding tremendously.  Innovations in new mobility ranging from dockless bikeshare, to dockless e-scooters, to hoverboards, to terrestrial drones, to microtransit, are bringing a wide range of new players into the streetscape.  All of these modes are going to need to integrate with existing pedestrians, cyclists, transit, freight vehicles, and – of course – the automobile.  The question is where each mode should live and what areas of the street should be open to each mode.

Historically, we have divided the street by mode: pedestrians on the sidewalk, bikes in the bike lane, cars/freight/transit in the vehicle travel lanes.  A few mixes have been allowed (bikes on sidewalks or in vehicle travel lanes for instance).

The proliferation of mobility options is forcing us to reconsider how we organize the street.  And given the speed at which new options keep arising, reorganizing the street each time a new option arrives, or creating designated lanes for each mode is becoming unfeasible.

What if, instead, we reframed our current thinking of streets to go from a separation by modes, to a separation by speed.

Modified from image created by Sabrina Ortiz, Univ. of Oregon

Our sidewalks can continue to be defined by the speed of pedestrians.  Into that can now also be introduced terrestrial drones and low speed hover boards.  The former bikelane can now become a zone for anything moving up to 15 mph.  E-scooters, faster moving hoverboards, low speed delivery vehicles, low speed AV microtransit shuttles could all exist in this area.  Further into the street we could have a zone of 15-35mph that accommodates legacy cars, AVs, transit and freight.  And finally, we could potentially have a zone (on some streets) that accommodates the highest speed vehicles – and with connected vehicle technology could act as a dedicated (or at least prioritized) lane for high occupancy and high speed transit and freight.

Reframing the street this ways can give heightened status to a range of lower speed mobility options and increase the real-estate for these modes on the street.  It can create more efficient street flow in much the same way a boulevard does as it separates travel by speed.  It also provides a model that easily accommodates new mobility modes as they arrive.

As mobility changes, our streets will need to change as well – a great opportunity to improve the experience for all users and to re-balance the space currently given over to the automobile.  New, better options exist.  We need to make street that work for them.

More E-Scooter News

The e-scooter business just keeps heating up, it would seem. The most recent news, announced this morning, is that Uber is investing in Lime as part of a $335 million financing round for the bikeshare and e-scooter company. GV (Alphabet Inc.’s venture capital arm) is leading the deal and values Lime at $1.1 billion. (FYI, Lime’s rival Bird Rides is apparently valued at $2 billion.) As part of the partnership between Uber and Lime, Uber will be making e-scooter rentals available through its app. That means the company that started as a ride hail service now offers customers access to bikes as a result of its recent acquisition of Jump, as well as soon-to-come e-scooters. (Uber isn’t the only one expanding its offerings—Lyft is purchasing the bikeshare company Motivate, which operates the Citi Bike program in New York in addition to other bikeshare programs.) One of the reasons that Uber cited for being interested in Lime is because the company already has scooters available in several major cities. However, Uber has apparently also filed an application in San Francisco to introduce its own scooter service. It will certainly be interesting to see how that unfolds but suffice it to say, the wave of e-scooters is building speed rapidly…and likely coming to a city near you.

TNCs already cheaper than driving for some drivers

For some cities, using Uber is cheaper than driving. This is the future of TNCs and AVs.

This is the finding from Mary Meeker’s (of Kleiner Perkins) internet trend 2018 report. She notes that there is 2x year over year growth in rideshare rides, with 20% of those rides being taken using shared rides (UberPool)—in markets where that service is available. She also notes that public transit use is up 30% since 1995—though use has been flat or declining in more recent years.

These trends are clear for areas where parking and insurance rates are high, but “When you move somewhere where everyone has their own driveway and parking is earlier to find, the reverse is more likely to be true.”

One of the more interesting things in the report, to me at least, is that the cost of operating and maintaining vehicles has increased as a share of personal spending over the last 45 years. The complexity of vehicles has increased. Based on what we know about AVs’ complexity, it would seem as though their complexity will be substantially higher, perhaps pushing toward fleet ownership, where economies of scale could make that cost of ownership lower if you’ve got a lot of cars rather than just the one. Clearly, this is speculation, but with evidence that people are increasing their use of TNCs, becoming more willing to share their rides, and that in some cities TNCs are already cheaper than car ownership, then it becomes safer to assume that the AV world and the world of shared-mobility will collide sooner than many expect.

The Urbanism Next Framework

One focus of the work of Urbanism Next has been to try to understand and organize the various impacts of emerging technology on cities.  We have done this through conducting and gathering specific research, developing and disseminating reports, through our conference and through the building of a national network of partners in the public, private and academic sectors.

Through this work, we have developed a long list of impacts we should all be considering when looking at the effects of new mobility, e-commerce and the sharing economy will have on cities.  While this was a helpful first step, we saw a strong need to organize these impacts in a way that makes them easy for us to understand and relate to each other.

What we are presenting here today is a draft of what we are calling the Urbanism Next Framework.  This framework organizes impacts based on four key areas – land use, urban design, transportation, and real estate – and relates those to the implications they will have on equity, health, the environment, the economy, and governance.

This framework is helping guide our research efforts, helping us understand gaps in knowledge, and helping us make links between the various areas impacted by emerging technology.  We are currently engaged in various projects, including work with NSF and the Bullitt Foundation, that is based on this framework and we will be sharing the outcomes of this work – that deepens the information in the framework further – shortly.

As mentioned, this is a draft document, so we look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts about how this resonates with you and about how it might be modified and improved.  We hope this framework can help organize both city responses and research about emerging technology impacts and can help all of us push ahead in these important tasks.

Partnering to Deliver a Future Proofing Workshop

Source: Fehr & Peers

We already know that transportation network companies (TNCs) are shaping our mobility choices and behavior in all kinds of ways…perhaps you’ve read about how people are increasingly substituting pricey ambulance rides with TNCs…which got us thinking about the myriad ways that medical institutions are already being impacted by emerging technologies and how the advent of autonomous vehicles (AVs) might further impact them. How does a medical institution, a transportation microcosm of both people and goods movement, plan for the future in the face of disruptive technologies? That’s the question that a recent ‘Future Proofing’ workshop for staff at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), a premier medical, teaching, and research institution, attempted to address. Urbanism Next’s Becky Steckler partnered with the transportation planning and engineering firm Fehr & Peers on the workshop to assess the implications of current transportation trends on UCSF in 2035 assuming a reasonable range of AV fleet adoption, and to identify the most problematic potential effects/outcomes UCSF wants to avoid.

The workshop sought to educate UCSF staff on the current state of emerging technologies, including TNCs, AVs, and autonomous delivery technologies, and provide them with an opportunity to rank potential implications as well as identify gaps. The primary focus of the workshop was the impact that these disruptive mobility trends will have on the practices at UCSF. (It is worth noting Fehr & Peers has developed a nifty tool that approximates the relative magnitude of the effect of these trends on vehicle trips, parking demand and curbspace demand, based on different AV adoption scenarios. Check out a snapshot below of the results for one of the scenarios that UCSF tested and/or learn more about the effects of autonomous vehicles on their webpage here).

Source: Fehr & Peers






Here’s what the workshop participants identified as key implications of emerging technologies on UCSF’s future planning efforts:

  • Plan for decreased parking demand
  • Plan for increased passenger loading demand
  • Rethink the function of certain streets
  • Explore opportunities to further centralize delivery processes off-campus
  • Consider the need for new infrastructure to support emerging delivery technologies
  • Understand how the long adoption periods of AV technology will affect campus planning
  • Acknowledge importance of partnerships with diverse groups in preparing for technology and policy changes
  • Consider and develop UCSF’s position on city, state and federal regulations with respect to emerging technologies

As you can imagine, these are all BIG issues and we’re all still trying to figure out what the solutions should be. However, it is important to acknowledge and commend UCSF for recognizing the need to “future proof.” If we’re planning cities, or even our hospitals, for the ways thing look today then we are already behind.

Source: Fehr & Peers
Source: Fehr & Peers

AVs to bring the Grocery Store to You

By the end of 2018, you may have groceries at your doorstep without a driver. Kroger is working with Nuro, a company started by former Waymo employees, to develop a self-driving delivery vehicle for groceries. Kroger already delivers groceries in many markets it serves, so this would a service that would allow the company to no longer send out drivers. This may be evidence of some of the first jobs lost due to AVs, but depending on the demand for this service it could be just the start of adding more jobs (people selecting and bagging the groceries for the AV delivery).

Kroger’s Delivery AV (Andrew Brown/The Kroger Co. via AP)

While the second model, being worked on by Robomart, in development is a mobile grocery store. Robomart would bring the store to you. Based on the public images of the vehicle in development, this vehicle would primarily stock fresh fruit and vegetables. They are counting on people’s hesitation to allow others to select fresh fruits and vegetables.

(photo via Robomart)

Like the Domino’s Pizza AV delivery pilot project, these uses of AVs are likely to be coming soon to all types of goods and services that currently have brick and mortar presence in our lives.


Online sales can now be taxed after Supreme Court rules in South Dakota v. Wayfair

State and Local budget officers around the country released a collective sigh of relief this week as the Supreme Court ruled in their South Dakota v. Wayfair ruling that online retailers can be forced to collect sales tax. In a ruling from 1992, known as the Quill ruling, the Supreme Court had previously ruled that retailers without a physical presence in a state didn’t have to collect sales tax for catalog orders. The thought for many at that time had been that sales tax collection was too complicated for small catalog (and eventually online) retailers to charge the correct rates and remit payment accurately. As Supreme Court Justice Kennedy noted in his majority opinion, “States may not impose undue burdens on interstate commerce.” In the past, the collection of sales tax was seen as an undue burden on interstate commerce, but with the advent of technology and spread of online retail, this challenge became less and less of a burden.

As the Tax Policy Center points out, this “new” ability of states and local governments to collect taxes is not a new tax at all, but rather this tax revenue is “a tax that most consumers already owe.” (You are typically asked how much you purchase online when you file your income tax return and asked to pay for uncollected sales tax–though most people ignore this request.) As we have previously written about here on the Urbanism Next blog, the amount of tax that has gone uncollected because of the previous Quill ruling, some estimate this to be as high as $34 BILLION annually (for the whole US). In the Wayfair ruling Justice Kennedy was right to note that “Quill creates rather than resolves market distortions. In effect, it is a judicially created tax shelter for businesses that limit their physical presence in a State but sell their goods and services to the State’s consumers, something that has become easier and more prevalent as technology has advanced.” Online retail was/is creating market distortions, as any local retail could have told you for the last 15 years or so. And finally, Kennedy notes that the US government could no longer rely upon an “anachronistic rule that deprives States of vast revenues from major businesses.” This realization that online retail is just retail will help fill holes in state and local budgets that have been growing and growing. The Quill ruling was, for some online retailers, creating an incentive to not invest in brick-and-mortar retail because they didn’t want to comply with the sales tax provisions. With the Wayfair ruling now the law of the land, there may be some real positive outcomes for establishing some physical storefronts online retailers that they had been hesitant to do.


Naturally, states that have taken advantage of the no sales tax business are not particularly happy about the ruling. New Hampshire is home to Wayfair and other online retailers has seen its political leaders calling the Wayfair ruling ‘disastrous.’ Perhaps for them, but not for the rest of the country.





However, the Wayfair ruling doesn’t resolve all sales tax questions. The Tax Policy Center notes that “While the Court gave states broad leeway to collect sales taxes, it left many questions unanswered. For instance, should tax be collected based on the location of the seller or the buyer? If the latter, should it be based on a billing address or a shipping address? Should small firms be exempt from the requirement to collect tax? If so, how should small be defined?” This means that Congress can and should act soon to clarify these questions so that states and local governments can begin to plan more appropriately for their future. Until Congress acts, the states have the authority to enforce and collect sales taxes as they see fit. For the most part, states have indicated that they will only collect sales taxes for future sales, but that doesn’t mean a state could look backward and collect on sales from prior years. Given that most online retailers didn’t collect the sales tax, they may be liable for paying them nonetheless, which could pose a hardship on those retailers. This backward question seems like one that would be politically hard to justify for many states and local governments, but only time will tell how tenaciously it is enforced.




E-scooter Fever

At the beginning of May the mobility company LimeBike announced it was shedding the word “bike” from its name. In their announcement, the company described its pivot as “a subtle shift that means big things for the world of smart personal mobility.” Along with revealing its name change, Lime also announced the release of its Lime-S electric scooter, powered by Segway. Lime, which started in 2017 with dockless bikes and e-assist bikes, officially entered the e-scooter game along with the likes of Bird, Skip, Spin, and Goat. (Apparently a four-letter name is popular in the world of new mobility…Uber, Lyft…perhaps another reason for Lime to drop the onerous additional four letters?) Lime seems to have meant what it said that its name change could mean big things for the world of personal mobility. Just last week Axios published a scoop on Lime noting that the company intends to expand its business to ultra-compact cars and hopes to begin offering customers the opportunity to rent an ultra-compact car, like the Renault Twizy, as early as Q4 this year.

Source: Lime

And what about those e-scooters? According to the scoop, Lime deployed its e-scooters with just three weeks of prep work (much to the chagrin of many San Franciscans…) and broke even in just two weeks. TWO WEEKS. That’s a pretty quick turnaround. Furthermore, Lime estimates that by the end of the year the e-scooters will have a gross margin of $12.40 and a payoff period of just one month. What that means is that the heat is likely about to turn up as Lime, and its competitors, race to deploy the e-scooters in as many as cities as possible.

The companies aren’t the only ones racing either. Companies like Lime and Bird are paying independent contractors to recharge their scooters and according to a recent article in The Atlantic, e-scooter charging (a.k.a. Bird Hunting or Lime Juicing) has become a pretty competitive business. And for good reason. Getting into the business appears to be fairly easy…the registration process is simple, the requirements are relatively minimal, and once you’re registered the chargers are shipped to you. After that, it’s up to you to round up the scooters, charge them, and return them to the “wild.” Lime said more than 60% of its scooters in San Francisco, Austin, and San Diego are charged by freelancers and the average charger makes $30-50 per day by charging seven scooters. That doesn’t sound like a bad way to make some quick cash, so it’s perhaps no wonder that so many people are rushing to get into the market. (The Atlantic article is definitely worth a read for a peek into the interesting world of scooter charging.)

As always, questions about who benefits remain. Even though the costs of entry to the charging game are relatively low, you still have to have an address and a bank account in order to register. (You may also need to have access to a vehicle, according to Lime’s site.) And in order to ride one, you have to have a driver’s license and a card you can connect to your account. How can we ensure that the personal mobility revolution serves everyone and not just those who are more likely to be well-served already?

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 speculative pieces, 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. Here is an example of a difficult space – an abandoned subway restroom – being turned into a home by a British architect, and here a 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


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!