Impacts on Transit

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

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

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

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

The report suggests that cities:

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

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

Online Retailing Giant Amazon to Start Collecting Sales Tax Nationwide

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

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

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

Think Out Loud – Urbanism Next on the Radio!

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

E-Commerce is Shifting/Closing Traditional Retail

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

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

 

Scenarios of Technology Adoption in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax rideshare or say goodbye to transit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking the Parking Garage

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

(Source: LMN Architects)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ridesharing is killing transit! Or is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should city officials/planners respond?

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

Drone Delivery Model from UPS

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

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

Graphic of how this would all work is below.

Walmart vs. Amazon II

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

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

 

Walmart vs. Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AV’s – Yes, They Truly Are Coming Soon

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

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

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

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

Losing Parking Revenue May Mean More Money for Cities

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

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

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

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

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

Getting out ahead: Regulating AVs

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

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

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

 

 

Envisioning Future Cities with Automated Vehicles Webinar

 

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

Click here to register

More info on the webinar:

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

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

 

Warehouses Will Be Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-Commerce and the End of Department Stores…

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

DOT Report on Smart Cities Challenge is Out…. (but effect on cities is still missing)

USDOT just published a report on the Smart Cities Challenge process and lessons learned. They list six key categories of these lessons: How we move, How we move things, How we adapt (in terms of how these technologies affect climate change), How we move better (data, sensors, and monitoring), How we grow opportunities for all, and How we align decisions and dollars.

Starkly missing from this list is how all of these issues and technologies are going to be changing city form, development, and design – a key concern of this blog and the work we are doing.  Without this layer of understanding and research, there could be devastating effects upon lives, economies, and regions.  We need to continue to expand the conversation beyond the applications and development of the technologies itself.

No One Likes a Right Hook

Right hooks are just one of many issues that people on bike confront when trying to navigate city streets imperfectly designed for bicycle transportation and it seems that this is one area that autonomous vehicles don’t yet have an answer for, according to this article from the Guardian.  If driverless cars only had to deal with other cars, then behavior and safety could be much more regulated, and in fact the vast safety savings anticipated from autonomous vehicles comes from a reduction in vehicle to vehicle, or even solo vehicle, crashes.  But, cities are also made up of people who walk, bike, and roll, presenting different challenges due to speed, mobility, and the fact that the goal of walking, biking, or rolling is not always to maximize speed.  And these other modes often have their own infrastructure that varies by block and intersection and part of town.  For cycling, infrastructure ranges from simple bike lanes to protected bike lanes to no dedicated infrastructure at all, adding to the complexity.  Figuring out how driverless vehicles will complement biking, especially as a worldwide resurgence in this sustainable and space saving form of transportation is taking place, will be especially important to get right for the sustainability of our cities.

It’s all about the space, about the space

When it comes down to it, transportation is all about the space.  Want to maximize fast movement of vehicles unimpeded?  Allocate plenty of space for cars and limit distractions like other modes or intersections or driveways.  Want to keep driving easy and convenient?  Allocate (actually, legislate) the provision of parking at home, at work, at shopping, and at play.  Want to create protected bikeways that actually feel comfortable for people to use?  Re-allocate street space for that purpose.  Etc.  Even for autonomous and connected vehicles, one of the arguments in their favor is their space saving qualities, from right-sizing the vehicles to the trip at hand to being able to reduce the space in between moving vehicles on the road.

Cities exist as a place where multiple activities come together in a relatively confined area. And space is a finite resource in cities; how that space is allocate will directly dictate what modes of transport are the most efficient, most convenient, most comfortable, and create the most enjoyable, livable environment in which to be a human being.  This mapping project of the “Distribution of Public Space at Urban Intersections” nicely illustrates how urban transportation space tends to get distributed now.  And the space-saving nature of bicycle transportation is an explicit guiding factor, in addition to environmental or health factors, for transportation planning in Copenhagen according to a recent municipal performance report.

How cities decide to right-size urban public space as more options for right-sizing transportation modes is perhaps the key question of the next decade.

What’s old is new: Efficient and space saving transportation gains traction

Part of the promise of new technological opportunities within transportation is the opportunity to use space more efficiently.  Connected and autonomous vehicles can travel closer together, ride-sharing can fill a portion of the staggering amount of empty vehicle seats on our streets and thus reduce some vehicles, and ride-hailing transportation may make it possible to reduce overall car ownership and the need for so much parking, freeing up space on streets and in our communities.  Yet, one of the most efficient inventions humanity has ever created also happens to be a space-saving form of mobility – the bicycle.  Cities of all shapes and sizes all over the world are “re-discovering” how space, efficiency, distance, economy, health, and sustainability can be addressed through investing in bicycle transportation. Along those lines, London just announced a massive investment in bicycle transportation, seeking to make it a rational option for both short and commute-distance trips.  Our challenge now, is figuring out how to right-size each form of transportation, from walking to biking to carsharing to transit to AVs, throughout our cities and communities to maximize not only our ability to reach our desired destinations quickly, but also to maximize the efficient use of limited space, as well as addressing issues of equity, health, and the environment.

The Amazon impact – more delivery trips and person-less stores

As online shopping continues to become commonplace, so do the number of delivery trucks delivering those goods directly to consumers, rather than centralized stores.  While there clearly is convenience in this approach, the increase in delivery vehicles on our streets is significant as 10-30% of the time the same package must be delivered more than once because no one is home and many goods are also returned this same way.  The space of our streets is limited – can space-efficient forms of transportation such as bicycles be designed into the center of urban delivery systems?

And at the other end of the spectrum, Amazon is experimenting with personnel-free shopping in urban areas where goods can be purchased without the help of a cashier at all – whether human or self-service machine.  This type of technology may have dual effects on the future of cities – there may be lower need for space for employee parking  (there are none), but what might it mean for cities to lose part of its entry-level workforce option?

Online Shoppers Outnumber In-Store Customers

In the continuing trend of the growing online shopping market-share, online shoppers (109 million) outpaced in-store shoppers (99 million) on Black Friday this year.  Some of these shoppers actually did both on the same day, but the data shows a significant increase in online shopping activity from last year (2015: 103 million online and 102 million in-store).  Actual expenditures online also surged ahead to $3.34 billion – a 21.6% increase over last year. And this does not include the online shopping high point of Cyber Monday that is happening today.

As we have discussed in previous posts, this trend – if it continues – will lead to a significant change in the number, location, and design of bricks-and-mortar stores.  A large change to the organization of cities and the ways we live in them.

Bikeshare as First/Last Mile — Even in Burbs

An analysis of DC Metro area bikeshare shows that a significantly larger share of trips start or end at stops within a quarter mile of the transit stations (compared to other stations in the system).  The analysis postulates that this is due to a combination of typical local use AND trips to or from the nearby transit stop to these stations.  First and last mile travel using bikeshare – and in the burbs no less.

AV’s and Residential Preferences (the city will expand…)

While there has been a good amount of speculation about how Shared AV’s (SAV) will push or hinder sprawl, little of it is based on research.  This new study (presentation linked) by Wenwen Zhang and Dr. Subhrajit Guhathakurta from Georgia Tech uses a sophisticated analysis of travel datasets from Atlanta coupled with home purchase information from Zillow to predict how fleets of SAV’s might shift where people will choose to live. While the study has some aspects to work out (value of travel time, pricing effects of new mobility on housing), the takeaway is a substantial shift in residential preference.

Author Zhang states that “The transportation system we investigated is Shared Autonomous Vehicle (SAVs) which is a ubiquitous transit system. Our results show that younger households (<40 years old) will move further away from downtown for cheaper housing units and better education resources. Meanwhile, elder households (>40 years old) will move towards the downtown area to avoid long average waiting time.  However, all workers will move further away from their working places. The best interpretation of our model results would be workers will have more freedom in terms of residential location choices, i.e. they can live closer to other education facilities and infrastructures that they need to consume, rather than being constrained by the location of their offices.”

The image below – from the study – sums up how a post AV/ridesource world will have more people choosing to both live and work farther from city centers.  (blue is current household distance from CBD or work, green is AV future distance from CBD or work).  The charts shown are for people under 40 with kids.

It should be noted that this study focuses on SAV’s where wait times are the key factor pushing some people to live closer in and within higher densities (to avoid wait times).  We might rightly assume that privately owned AVs (that eliminate wait times) could push people further out.

This should be a wake-up call to anyone worried about sprawl.

 

Distance of Household to CBD:
(Avg Current = 20.70 miles, Avg w/ SAV Fleets = 22.31 miles)

zhang-hh

Distance of Household to Work:
(Avg Current = 29.48 miles, Avg w/ SAV Fleets = 36.03 miles) zhang-hh

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Uber and Transit

In yet another example of ridesourcing and transit joining forces, New Orleans is looking at using Uber as part of a broader transit strategy.   As we have described before, this seems to be a definite movement with a range of examples of how it is being done.  The article describes how “Atlanta integrates an Uber pickup option in the city’s public transportation MARTA app, while Portland, Oregon includes Lyft pricing on its public-transit app. Around Tampa, riders pay a $3 flat fee for an Uber ride to transit stations, with the agency picking up the rest. Denver is collaborating with Lyft on free rides from its light-rail stations.”

Challenges for Transit

A new report coming out of TIRF from Canada says that “one-third of drivers who used public transportation and 15% of persons who cycled or walked reported they would switch to SDVs (Self-Driving  Vehicles) to commute.”  This would create havoc for transit as that degree of lost ridership would severely cut into the feasibility of transit.

 

 

 

First/Last Mile with Uber

Another article here on Amtrak and local transit in North Carolina coordinating with Uber to help riders overcome first/last mile issues.  An app will show how combinations of rail, bus, and ridesourceing can get people where they need to go. There has been a trend nationally for this kind of collaboration.

Of interest will be transit organizations’ ability to gather data on these trips to see if Uber trips end up replacing transit or if they are really extending the accessibility of transit itself

Will the sharing economy improve or exacerbate urban problems?

CityMetric takes a look at whether the sharing economy can help address environmental and social challenges.  Specifically, how can collaborative economy platforms be used to to tackle the needs of people, families, communities and local governments.  How can we get information back to policy-makers and regulators?

 

America 2021: The future is driverless?

In an interview in the Verge, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx envisions a future of cities with AVs, discussing the implications for regulations and safety.  How will shifts in transportation affect  the rest of society?  How can AVs enhance communities and improve access in underserved communities? Are we prepared for AVs?

 

AVs: Fleets or Private Ownership

This is probably one of the fundamental questions to how the future of AVs will roll out.  This article from Slate looks at three basic scenarios of AV ownership and use: Private ownership (what we have now), fleet ownership for private rides (think Uber/Lyft), and fleet ownership for shared rides (think Uber Pool).

While the article lays out convincing parameters for these scenarios, it doesn’t address the potential for differentiated models based on density.  Cities may lean towards fleet ownership and/or shared rides, but as we move further and further out into the suburbs, fleet management will be more difficult to do efficiently and profitably.  This seems like it would push towards more private ownership in these locations. If so, some of the parking related benefits of AVs – to name only one of many issues – may be uneven across urban areas.

 

Slower Cars in Cities? AV’s and games of ‘Chicken’

This article looks at the very real possibility that AVs will actually move slower in central cities than cars do today.  This is based on two notions – first, the idea that AV’s risk averse algorithms will understandably slow them down or stop them whenever a pedestrian or cyclist crosses the street.  Second, the idea that pedestrians and cyclists – now sure that  cars will be stopping – will step off the curb or into traffic whenever they please, creating havoc for the efficiency of automobiles.  Author Adam Millard-Ball asks us to imagine AVs trying to get through Manhattan while obeying all traffic rules and stopping with every pedestrians crossing at will.

The article points to a key issue regarding AVs in dense environments and how the interaction with other modes will severely hamper some of the largely claimed increases in speed.  It would seem that these increases will most probably exist in suburban and exurban areas, but not as much in central cores.  How does the speedy highway leading into the city deal with the congestion glut as cars enter slower networks downtown?

Transit in Boston Using Paratransit Ridesourcing

In another positive story about transit and ridesourcing working together instead of in competition, Boston’s MBTA is using Bridj on-demand shuttle service for late-night trips.  This is a strategy to compensate for recently limited late-night service.  Not only will this fill a need, but also lets the agency gather data on use that can lead to more efficient future service.

ride share bridj for commuters boston
Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe

The Future of Transit (is looking brighter)

A few positive developments for the future of transit today!  As we have discussed before – the question of transit + ridesourcing (Uber/Lyft) as opposed to transit vs. ridesourcing will be one of the most fundamental questions to how cities develop in an AV future.  If there is collaboration, accessibility can increase tremendously without (as much) increase in congestion or a push towards sprawl.  If they are in competition – and ridesourcing triumphs in a way that makes transit unfeasible – we are in for the darkest of futures (see previous posts for more on this).  So now – onto the news:

In Seattle, Uber is endorsing the cities $54 Billion (with a ‘B’) transit ballot initiative.  Uber has not traditionally endorse ballot initiatives one way or another, but the fact they are supporting transit, coupled with the partnerships they are developing with cities to work cooperatively in the mobility world points to a promising future.  Of interest in the article is also Uber’s Seattle General Manager’s quote that Uber’s mission is to “reduce congestion and pollution by moving more people with fewer cars, and provide better mobility options for all people living in the region.”  Uber and transit combining to be mobility/accessibility companies, and not ridesource and transit individually, is a large step in the right direction.

In that same vein, this article talks about AV paratransit being developed in Hillsborough, Florida – launch expected in 2017.  Could be a great option for hardest to serve and for first/last mile access to transit.

 

 

Love Affair (with the car) Over?

This article looks at what cars mean to us culturally and how that would change with AV’s.  It reads as a bit of a swansong – a distant echo of people lamenting their relationship to their horses was about to change as cars first took over cities.

As strange as it may seem to those of us who came of age pre-2010 – and it remains to be seen – but it is hard to imagine the eight year old of today growing up to a moment in their early twenties when dumping thousands of dollars into a car seems like a good idea – not with uber, lyft, car2go, car share, bike share, etc etc out there.

AV’s, E-Commerce and Retail

This article talks about how the combination of AV’s and E-Commerce will create havoc for the retail industry.  More of our shopping will go online while bricks and mortar stores will start to act more like distribution warehouses as AV’s are sent to run errands and pick up things we need.  This will have large implications for how retail works in urban areas – where it is located, how much of it we need built, and a shift (already occurring) from retail being based on a need to retail being proposed as an experience.

Large implications for activity centers throughout urbanized areas as many of them have retail as a core vitality generator.

Transit + Rideshare II — Shared Mobility and the Transformation of Public Transit

Related to the previous post, here is another positive push for transit and shared mobility working together and not in competition.  This report put out by TCRP talks about how transit agencies can re-imagine themselves as mobility agencies that use a wide range of mobility options (typical transit, paratransit, rideshare, ridesourcing, carshare, bikeshare, etc).  Excellent thinking and research in there.

There is also an accompanying webinar recording here that summarizes the report.  This webinar talks about all of the possible, progressive futures, but also warns how detrimental a future with only AV cars (and no transit/paratransit) would be.