Trucking industry expected to be AV leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autonomous Transit is almost here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need for Warehouse Space Continues to Grow

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

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

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

Interesting positive trends:

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

Neutral Trends:

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

Potentially Negative Trends:

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

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

“Bigger Growth in Smaller Counties

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

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

Even Brick and Mortar Retail is Being Automated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Urbanism Next Conference: Save the Date and Call for Proposals

SAVE THE DATE!
The 2018 Urbanism Next Conference
March 5-7, 2018
Portland, OR

Propose a session or workshop/charrette. Find more information here.


Conference Flyer

Advances in technology such as the advent of autonomous vehicles (AVs), the rise of E-commerce, and the proliferation of the sharing economy are having profound effects not only on how we live, move, and spend our time in cities, but also increasingly on urban form and development. While there has been a focused effort on research around the technological aspects of AVs, there has been a shortage of systematic exploration of the secondary effects on city development, form, and design, and the implications for sustainability, resiliency, equity, cost, and general livability. The Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon has partnered with the National and Oregon Chapters of the American Planning Association, the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Urban Land Institute to build a national network of thought leaders from the private sector, public sector, and academia to address these topics.

Call for Proposals

With this goal in mind, we are bringing leaders from around the country to Portland, OR to partake in the first annual Urbanism Next Conference. This conference will bring together a truly interdisciplinary group of people from the private, public and academic sectors who play a critical role in the future of our cities. The conference will explore five major themes of how technology related to AVs, the sharing economy, and E-commerce will change our communities: Land Use, Urban Design, Transportation, Real Estate, and Policy and Finance.

Watch this site for registration information and call for sessions and workshops/charrettes.

AV taxi service coming in 2017 (or maybe 2018, we’ll see)

While GM and Tesla may continue to feud publically about whether or not Teslas are already level 4 or 5 AVs, Waymo/Google is claiming to be MONTHS!! away from starting a taxi service in the Phoenix area. The reports indicate it “ is likely to launch first in Chandler” where Waymo has been testing their vehicles.  The choice of Chandler and Arizona as the testing ground are no accident. The wide streets, few pedestrians, and fewer regulatory hurdles have made this a prime test spot for what many expect to be the future of transportation.

While Arizona law currently relies upon a human to be able to be in charge of the vehicle, Waymo appears to be working around this requirement to have a driver by having a human ‘on call’ remotely that is able to monitor the vehicles to respond when things get “sticky.” The push right now by Google execs is to get the Waymo taxi rolling in 2017, but given how far ahead Waymo appears to be compared to their rivals, slipping the start date to early 2018 probably won’t take away the ‘first to AV’ title.

 

 

 

 

Shared Use Mobility Principles

Robin Chase has led an effort to create a set of Shared Use Mobility Principles that can serve as a guide for communities everywhere.  A key aspect of these principles (and one often advocated by this blog) is that the goal is not to simply accommodate these emerging technologies, but that we should all start with community goals and these technologies should be leveraged to achieve those goals.

For cities just starting to look at strategies and approaches to emerging transportation technologies, this – and Seattle’s New Mobility Playbook – are great places to start.

AVs and Public Transt: They may replace short-trips on buses, increase equity and access, and other issues

AVs have real potential to provide easier and more convenient transportation options for people. They have the potential to provide seniors and the disabled access to the world outside of their homes in ways that are now often too expensive to widely adopt. The cost for paratransit, provided by public transit systems, is quite expensive. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that ADA compliant paratransit costs an average of $29.30 per trip in 2010, this is “an estimated three and a half times more expensive than the average cost of $8.15 to provide a fixed-route trip.” And the GAO additionally reports that the cost of paratransit increased by 10% from 2007 to 2010. Consequently, ADA paratransit has the potential to greatly benefit from AVs—which we presume will have substantially lower operating expenses. In the current model of public transit operating expenses are roughly twice that of the capital expenses. And while operating expenses are likely to drop dramatically if we no longer need drivers for paratransit, there still may be a need for assistance on-board AVs that are ADA compliant and utilized for paratransit—but this is an open question.

Some discussions we’ve had in our workshops over the last 9 months circle back to when elevators switched from being operated by a human in the elevator, to when they were automated. For about 20 years, so I’ve been told, buildings with elevators continued to staff elevators because people were not comfortable riding an elevator without an operator. Today it seems sort of creepy (most of the time) to have an elevator operator—though some places like the Space Needle in Seattle have an operator, this is less about needing someone to operate the actual elevator and more about the experience. Some of the concerns that have arisen in our discussions of AV busses generally is that the bus drivers provide more services to riders than just driving. They assist riders get to where they need to go. They provide a sense of safety to the riders that there is a public employee looking out for them. The general sense that we have gotten from most people we are talking to is that we will likely need to have employees on AV fixed route buses to act as guides, babysitters, and general monitors to provide riders with a sense of comfort on the busses. It is easy to imagine a woman or child (or anyone really) riding a bus getting scared when a creepy person approaches them—the bus driver (now) or transit employee (in the AV) can help provide a buffer between creepy folks and the rest of us.

While AVs have the potential to enhance public transit by providing more efficient fixed route and paratransit services, AVs also have the potential to decimate demand for public transit. Transit systems, bus ridership in particular, are already seeing declines in ridership because of the TNCs (Uber/Lyft)— “Compared to other public transit options, buses are used more for short trips—the kind of trips that ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft tend to make.” The utilization of TNCs for shorter trips need to be part of our planning for transit in the long-run with the increasing presence of AVs or we will have to subsidize all riders on public transit even more. Change is coming…change is already here.

 

Urbanism Next scholars talk about AVs, E-commerce, and city budgets in GovLov Podcast

Urbanism Next researchers Nico Larco and Ben Clark were recently featured on an episode of the podcast GovLov.  GovLov, for the uninitiated, “is a podcast about the People, Policies and Profession of local government.” The goal of the podcast is to “explore policy issues that impact local governments and the innovative solutions being used to address them.” GovLov is produced by ELGL—a fantastic (and at times irreverent) local government professional organization.

Professors Larco and Clark talk about their recently published report on the impact of AVs and e-commerce on local government finance. You can hear more about how we see AVs shaping local government budgets in the future by listening to the podcast, reading the report, or coming to the ELGL Pop-Up conference in Portland, Oregon on Friday September 22—more info can be found here. Ben Clark (of Urbanism Next) and Mountain View, CA Police LT. Saul Jaeger will be talking about practical issues of AV planning and preparations for local governments. And while it is still hard to know exactly how dramatically AVs will impact our urban infrastructure and budgets, starting to think about AVs now is vital for local governments.

 

(Sub)Urbanism Next?

In the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, Alan M. Berger of the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism poses some interesting questions about the future of suburbs.  Berger assumes that the future “lies on urban peripheries” and offers some innovative ideas for making the suburbs more sustainable.  Coupled with excellent research from scholars like Ellen Dunham-Jones and Emily Talen on retrofitting suburbia, Berger brings a unique perspective on how technology might force changes along the periphery of cities.  In particular, Berger thinks about how drones, self-driving cars, and a smarter landscape will affect suburbs of the future.  As we think about how autonomous vehicles, e-commerce and the sharing economy impact cities, it is also important to consider the urban periphery and think about retrofits and new development.  In particular, it is important to consider how to adopt policies to and regulations to allow for the kind of future Berger suggests.

Retail Continues to Shift from Commodity to Experience

As we have reported previously on this blog (and see our report on the topic), the rise of e-commerce is shifting the brick-and-mortar retail model away from stores being simply a place to buy something (as can be increasingly done online) and towards a focus on the customer experience.   While this is happening through omnichannel store strategies (blended online and in-person) and in guide-shops such as Bonobos and Warby Parker, that strategy is now expanding to much larger retailers.

Nordstrom recently announced a new store concept called Nordstrom Local which “experiments with new delivery formats, promises an in-store bar with wine, beer, coffee, and juices; eight fitting rooms; alterations; convenient merchandise pick-ups and returns; manicures; and expert image consulting advice from its knowledgeable personal stylists.”  While not carrying substantial inventory itself, the store is connected to local full-service/inventory stores and local warehouses.  It does offers in-store pickups, at-home deliveries of ordered goods, and a place to return items, but the hook is that it offers a place the customer wants to be – in person.  The food and drink, the store design, and the expert stylist advice are focused on bringing people into the store and becoming a gateway to both in-store and online shopping.

Another step towards the continued shifting of the retail market.

Seattle’s New Mobility Playbook

The City of Seattle has just put out its ‘New Mobility Playbook’ that has been a while in the making.  It is a great, concise description of where the city is at, the new transportation technologies that are coming, and how the city is preparing for them.  The report covers the pros and cons of the changes that are coming and does a good job of expanding beyond first order transportation impacts to include things like equity and economics.  (Readers of this blog will note a few missing secondary impacts such as impacts on sprawl, density, and land valuation for instance).

One of the strengths of the playbook is that it is clear about the ‘Principles for New Mobility’ (page 32) – these are the guiding ideals for engaging new technologies and they are based on overall city goals, not anything specifically transportation focused.

The report ends with five key ‘plays’ the city is enacting to preparing for coming changes.  This includes ensuring equity, a focus on active/people-first uses of the right-of-way, reorganizing SDOT, managing data, and being nimble, adapting to and leveraging innovation.

Great food for thought for regions who are similarly planning for coming changes in transportation.  Related efforts can learn from this and hopefully expand upon the secondary impacts.  As we have said repeatedly, it is important to frame these coming changes to transportation as not only being about transportation, but instead about all aspects of how cities work and our general quality of life.

More information about Seattle’s efforts can be found on their ‘New Mobility’ page here.

 

Podcast – Urbanism Next on Streetsblog

For any of you that want to hear more about our thinking here at Urbanism Next, take a listen to the Talking Headways Podcast from Streetsblog ; Talking Headways Podcast: Rise of the Undead Car.  Description below:

Nico Larco, an architecture professor at the University of Oregon and co-director of the school’s Sustainable Cities Initiative, joins us this week to talk about how autonomous vehicles and e-commerce will affect street design, parking, and land values. Also on the agenda: terrestrial drones, zombie cars, delivery bee hives, and the fact that cities just aren’t ready yet for an autonomous vehicle future.

When Are AVs Coming? (10 Car Companies Say Within the Next 5 Years…)

Although this blog likes to focus on the secondary effects of technologies and not on the technologies themselves, the arrival timeline of the technologies will have a profound impact on what secondary effects we will be seeing when.  With that in mind, we are bending our rules a bit to share a recent article that documents the timeline for AVs for the 11 top auto companies.  The level of automation targeted is Level 3 (car drives and human is backup – such as what exists today with Uber cars in Pittsburgh among other places) and Level 4 (car drives and no human backup needed, but in limited environments – often urban ones and not in bad weather).

In short, the predictions are closer than you might think ranging from later this year to 2030 on the far end, but with all manufacturers predicting at least Level 3 Automation within the next five years.  While these will be in limited (probably urban and freeway) environments, it will begin to unleash many of the secondary effects we have been discussing on this blog.  Change is coming fast – we need to prepare.

Here is a quick table based on the findings from the article:

(Click on table for larger view)

Compiled by nlarco/SCI – from https://venturebeat.com/2017/06/04/self-driving-car-timeline-for-11-top-automakers/

 

The Vehicle Mileage Traveled (VMT) is in Beta

“Unfortunately, motor fuel taxes are an increasingly unsustainable source of revenue as fuel efficient hybrid vehicles and completely electric vehicles grow in popularity” — Courtney Moran and Casey Ball.

Federal motor fuel taxes haven’t been increased since Clinton was in his first term as president. They simply aren’t a sustainable form of revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure.

In this context, a number of states are more realistically testing out what the vehicle mileage traveled (VMT). Brookings Institution has a nice report on the topic here. The researchers found that switching to a VMT “would  raise $55 billion a year for highway spending [and] could increase social welfare by 20 percent when compared to an increase in the gas tax to meet the same goal when taking into account changes in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.”

Washington State legislature has been looking at VMT since 2012. They “think it’s a viable approach, but now it’s time to test it.”  “The one-year study, which will involve 2,000 volunteers, would figure out ways to charge car owners a tax based on how many miles they’ve driven within the state, rather than how much gas was pumped.” They are not only testing out the idea of VMT, but the ways in which people would report the mileage driven. The approaches include:

“A mileage permit, where a driver chooses how many miles to purchase. Odometer readings: A per-mile charge would be based on the vehicle odometer. Automated mileage meter: A device installed in the car would report miles driven. Drivers would choose GPS or not. Smart Phone: A downloadable app would use the driver’s phone to record and/or report miles driven.” Drivers can sign up now to pilot the approach to taxes.

Oregon conducted a similar pilot in 2015, with few pilot subjects continuing to opt for the VMT rather than fuel taxes. California, Pennsylvania, and Delaware are also testing out this idea. It may take a few more years to become mainstream, but the inability of Washington, DC (Congress/President) to do anything on raising fuel taxes, coupled with more fuel-efficient cars using few gallons of gas per mile create a situation where leaders will HAVE to do something (hopefully) sooner rather than later.

 

Cities Selling Streets – Hopefully Not a Sign of the Future

San Francisco recently sold a street to a real estate investor to pay off delinquent taxes.  Now, this is not a case of a city selling a publicly owned street as this was part of a gated community and an originally privately owned street.  So the city basically repossessed the street and then sold it at auction to make up the funds that needed to be paid.  But – this idea of selling publicly owned assets to raise funds is not unheard ofHouston, for instance, sold close to $2 million of streets and utility easements to raise funds.

Of concern is this trend coupled with the impacts of AVs and E-commerce on municipal budgets (see our report on this here).  If city budgets become substantially constrained with the advent of these new technologies – not a far fetched idea – streets are one of the primary assets a city has and could sell in order to make up budget shortfalls.  Ironically, this is also exactly the most powerful asset cities have when it comes to AVs and Commerce since – as Jeff Tumlin often says – it is THE operating environment all of these technologies run on.  Will be important to make sure cities are leveraging this asset and not simply selling it off.

AVs and Real Estate – A Guide to Potential Impacts

We have gotten a number of questions about how AVs could be affecting real estate and thought it would be good to do a post that covers some of this.  Below is a brief list of issues to consider.  Look out for an upcoming post that will add e-commerce and sharing economy impacts as well.

  • Parking – if we move towards an even partial model of shared vehicles (i.e. Lyft, Uber, Via, Chariot) there will be a substantial reduction in the need for parking (see earlier posts here and here). Studies have shown this dropping down to as low as only needing 10-15% of current parking spaces (and here). This change would open up a tremendous amount of land for redevelopment (parking is the single largest land use in most cities), hence dramatically increasing supply and – one would think – decreasing land values.  In addition, as parking needs diminish and parking regulations move to requiring less – or no – parking, constructions costs will also drop dramatically.  Parking can cost about 4k$ per spot for on-grade parking and up to 18-20k$ per spot for structured parking, can be a significant proportion of construction costs, and typically requires additional land acquisition.
  • Sprawl – several studies have shown that AVs could increase suburban sprawl as people can drive further, faster and might be willing to accept a longer commute as they can now use their time in the car for things other than driving. If that is the case, there will be an increased pressure on sprawl and the metropolitan footprint would expand dramatically.  Again, this constitutes an overall increase in available/feasible land supply which – given the rules of economics – lead to a drop in land value.  Arguably, this would not be the same everywhere as land that will have all of a sudden become available for development would see large price increases while places that are already close enough or within to cities would see land prices drop due to increased competition.
  • Housing Prices – Given the points above, housing prices should decrease. As land prices and construction costs drop, housing rents and prices will also drop.  This could be a boon for affordable housing concerns across the country (for example, each parking spot included in rent equates to about 225$), but could also cause substantial disruptions to existing markets and developments/projects.
  • End of TODs? – One unknown effect of AVs will be how it changes transit. On the one hand, this new technology could be a boon for transit as it helps solve transit’s perennial first/last mile hurdle. Lyft can get people to the train, light rail, or bus station, increasing catchment areas and boosting ridership.  On the other, riders may simply decide to stay in that Lyft all the way to their destination – especially as the price of the trip drops dramatically as technology replaces the highest cost of the trip – the drivers.  Preliminary reports from New York and San Francisco point to this trend, with transit ridership diminishing as Transportation Network Company (TNC) use skyrockets. Some studies have shown a decrease of up to 43% of transit ridership – potentially the death knell of transit as we know it.  In addition to this concern, is simply the potential atomizing of transit.  What happens when multiple rider/route services such as Via and Chariot (or Lyft-line and Uber Pool –  the carpool versions of Lyft and Uber) grows and we now have 8-12 passenger vans zipping through cities, delivering people directly to where they want to go and not to a bus stop a few blocks or a few miles away. If this happens, the activity/energy clustering and focusing role of transit would diminish as would the price premiums that are associated with transit proximity and transit oriented development.
  • Location, Location, Location? – A looming question with not only AVs but the entire shift to mobility as a service is that mobility will become easier and more affordable. As that happens, the friction of transportation – which is one of the factors that creates the value of location – will diminish.  This does not necessarily mean that current activity centers and draws will reduce in value, but any value based solely on the broader proximity aspects of location may diminish.  This will increase the role of the quality of places and the buzz of related activities in determining location value.

A significant issue to consider in all of this is not only the end state change of AV impacts, but also the transition period.  In terms of real estate, a glaring concern would be projects caught during this time.  Projects that have built parking in consideration of today’s reality may find themselves with decreased parking revenues (that is already happening with Lyft and Uber) and unable to repay long-term mortgages or bonds.  In addition, these projects will be competing with future projects that did not need to build parking and/or benefited from reduced land costs.  The last projects built with today’s constraints – and not future-proofing the coming disruptions – will be the ones most punished by this rapid change.

All of this points to a dramatically shifting landscape for real estate.  A large question is both what direction these changes will take and – as importantly – how quickly will they come about.  Of concern is not only the shifting market conditions, but also the regulations that currently help shape that market and the speed at which those typically change.  What happens if parking utilization needs drop dramatically over a short period of time.  How quickly will parking requirements shift with that? And what kinds of political battles will meet these changes as developers and property owners with existing properties fight these changes to protect their competitiveness.

GM’s Cruise Anywhere is beta testing AV car share in San Francisco

Cruise—an AV company purchased by GM last year—is offering completely autonomous rides to its San Francisco based employees. Currently, the service is offered only to employees. The company has indicated “that some employees are already using it as their primary source of transportation, replacing either personal vehicle ownership, public transit or traditional ride-hailing services completely.” As it is currently operating the app and cares are is “having them use it for the first time and make AVs their primary form of transportation.” A Reuter’s poll from May points toward this same effect of Uber/Lyft already taking place (pre-AV). These findings are pointing toward real viability of a shared automobile future. The market for this exists, people are already accepting shared cars as a viable form of transportation–replace their own vehicles. Thus it is easy to see how with the advent of AVs this reality would be made more financially viable. Lyft and Uber are paying their drivers about 60% of the total fare you pay as a rider. And while a good portion of approximately 60% goes to the upkeep of the cars (maintenance and fuel), it is easy to see why Lyft/Uber are ready to get out of the driver game–reduce expenses, increase profits.

In the case of the Curise beta testing cars, they all do have safety drivers behind the wheel, in accordance with California law, for now. Yet Cruise has indicated that “those drivers have had to take over manual control of vehicles engaged in Cruise Anywhere service only on a few occasions, with the vast majority of the driving done autonomously.” So right now, the beta of the Cruise Anywhere app and service are really just Uber/Lyft for the employees of the company—but it shows where things are going very quickly. Lyft plans on having V service in place this year—see an early post on Urbanism Next written by SCI Fellow Ramy Barhouche.

This video shows employees using the service:

 

Trucking industry transition to AV will put job pressures on more than just truck drivers

In a post a few days back here on Urbanism Next we talked about how the trucking industry unions were expressing concerns about AV trucking for safety and other reasons. It is pretty clear there will be substantial job losses in the trucking industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are more than 1.7 million employed in the trucking industry—though this is very broadly defined. There were about another 1.5 million employed in peripheral jobs in the industry in 2016.


These jobs, as indicated in the table, pay well on average for people without a 4-year degree. The elimination of these jobs will have substantial equity concerns over the long-run. The BLS has estimated that the trucking industry will grow by about 4.7% between 2014-2024. This growth will be tempered by AVs, which are not yet on the market. The impact on wage growth in trucking will be substantial and the overall growth of this sector as a place to attain a job. However, when we start to think about how AV trucking will impact job or wage growth we have to think about not just the people behind the wheel, but also all of the people that support those individuals as they drive across the country.

RTS

A recent article on the ‘Machines with Brains’ blog points the struggles that many non-trucking, but trucking dependent industries, will face in the near future. They provide examples of when new highways are built, diverting traffic from once busy thoroughfares to new routes. When the trucks stopped rolling through some sleeping towns in rural America, the revenue and customers disappeared as well. Now, imagine what will happen with that Peterbuilt truck rolling across Iowa no longer needs to stop for food or coffee? As the Quartz article points out: “The machines won’t get tired and they won’t need to eat breakfast, meaning the towns and truck stops built to serve the needs of humans drivers could one day be irrelevant.” They point out that truck stops employ 2.2 million people nationwide. Even if the AV truck transition is slow, there are a lot, I mean a lot, of jobs at stake.

 

 

Semi image source: https://flic.kr/p/UoJFTD

 

 

The Backlash against AVs before they take any jobs

Labor unions and political leaders from around the world are already seeing the future of AVs, and they are laying the groundwork to oppose the job losses that are likely.

The Teamsters, a union that represents a lot of truck drivers, is warning that terrorists may use AV trucks as mobile unmanned bombs. “Teamsters are the safest and most experienced drivers in the country…We want to alert the public of the risks that corporations … are willing to take at the expense of working people.” They fear that not only could the AV trucks be intentionally used as bombs, but that careless corporate interests could haul hazardous materials carelessly.

The AFL-CIO transportation lead, Larry Willis, has “said Congress is progressing too quickly without understanding the full effects of autonomous vehicles, which ‘are likely to cause massive job dislocation and impact worker safety.’”

The fears of job losses due to AVs is likely to be substantial—perhaps 4 million or more, largely hitting drivers of buses, taxis, and trucks. Unions have “successfully lobbied for the [US] House to include a 10,000-pound weight limit in the legislation,” which would exempt semis, for the moment, from AV trucks from being legislated in the same way as passenger cars

Meanwhile, India’s minister for Road Transport has stated that “We won’t allow driverless cars in India…I am very clear on this. We won’t allow any technology that takes away jobs.

The struggle between jobs and technology is real and will have real impacts. The totality of the impact, in the end, is hard to judge at this point.

Lyft will launch AV rides by the end of this year

Lyft announced, on July 21st, 2017, that their customers will be able to summon AVs, on some Boston roads, by the end of the year. Test drivers will accompany the customers and cars, during the testing period.

Rather than building its own vehicles, like competitor big firms, Lyft designed a ‘common software interface’ that partner automakers can use for their cars. This means that riders in Boston could be using vehicles built by a range of manufacturers (GM, Jaguar, Land Rover, etc).

The sensors will be collecting information and interacting with their surrounding as the vehicles begin picking up passengers. This will progressively contribute to a centralized source of data controlled and analyzed by Lyft. The insight will then be shared with partner automakers. It’s still unclear if the carmakers will also receive any revenue from Lyft, for their service.

Tech and automotive executives are expecting AVs to play a key role in the future of transportation, which could prevent 95% of traffic accidents, due to human error. Yet, the AV industry still faces State regulatory obstacles. The lack of uniform procedures and expectations could hinder the progress of AVs. Key House subcommittee members unanimously approved a bill, in June 2017, that will make it easier for federal regulators to develop the rules for AVs.

If you are interested in learning more about how AVs will have impacts on cities check out Urbanism Next’s recently released report on the impact of AVs and e-commerce on cities. You might also be interested in Nico Larco’s recent post on AVs and Streets.

The post was written by SCI Fellow Ramy Barhouche.

Waymo is thinking seriously about bicycles

Waymo, Google’s AV-focused arm created in 2009, is thinking seriously about bikes. Nathaniel Fairfield, Waymo’s  principal software engineer, has been collecting and tracking data on cyclists, to help AVs predict their road movements. In addition to these results, Waymo programmed their cars to pass bikes in accordance with state laws. The predictability of cyclists and pedestrians is one of the bigger challenges that AV creators are facing.

Carnegie Mellon University Associate Professor Anthony Rowe. Image source: Margaret J. Krauss/WESA

According to a survey conducted by a cycling and pedestrian non-profit – ‘Bike Pittsburgh’, cyclists felt safer around AVs than around human drivers. However, according to Prof. Anthony Rowe, AVs still need some additional help to detect cyclists. Bikes are not as predictable as cars. They can act like cars on the side of the road, then change and act like pedestrians walking on the sidewalk.

Rowe and his team are developing bike instruments that provide cars with information to predict cyclist movement, to avoid collisions. The instruments will eventually be embedded in a mobile phone on the front of the bike, once the program is more developed. Rowe’s bike, pictured above, is outfitted with a range of sensors that are helping his team to learn more about cyclists behavior and movements.

The post was written by SCI Fellow Ramy Barhouche.

Impact of AVs and E-Commerce on Municipal Budgets [REPORT]

The Impact of AVs and E-Commerce on Local Government Budgeting and Finance (Clark, Larco and Mann) is a new report from us here at Urbanism Next/SCI that takes you through a city’s budget —both revenues and expenditures — and describes the areas that will be affected as AVs become commonplace and e-commerce takes on an even larger role in retail. City leaders have to start planning for this future now if they want to have a voice in what AVs/e-commerce will do to their cities.

While E-Commerce is already disrupting local economies and AVs create a “potential rat’s nest of a budgeting challenge” (Fung 2016), our report starts the process of untangling that rat’s nest.  This report provides the foundation for future work in this area around a finer grain analysis of municipal budgets and consideration of future revenue sources for the infrastructure changes that are sure to arise with the integration of AVs and more widespread e-commerce.  Stay tuned for more.

 

 

AVs and Streets – A Guide to Potential Impacts

We have been asked numerous times about how the introduction of AVs (and E-commerce) might affect streets.  As cities make plans for future expansions, changes to their street network, the inclusion of various modes/complete streets, and overall street design – what should they be considering when they include thinking about AVs?

Here is a short list:

Curbside space allocation for pick-up and drop-off – This will become a large issue as demand for this space will increase substantially – especially at peak travel times.  It could also cause significant disruption to transit and bike networks as AVs compete for curbside access and cut across bike and transit lanes.

E-Commerce Delivery – Similar to above, as e-commerce expands, there will demand for curb space and places to temporarily park vehicles as deliveries are made.  In addition, we will probably be seeing a large increase in delivery vehicles (an expansion of a specific kind of freight) which will affect streets and corridors?

Separation of Modes – As AVs have algorithms that don’t allow them to hit people (a fantastic development), a corollary will be that anyone walking or biking in the street can cause mass disruptions to the transportation network.  A “critical mass ride” of one.  This had led to calls for stronger separation between modes – a disastrous proposal – imagine our streets starting to look like China’s where there are fences between modes.

Drones on Streets – Not the flying kind (those are probably further off in the future) but the terrestrial ones.  Picture an Amazon truck parking in a neighborhood and sending off twenty delivery AV rovers.  Will those drive in the street? On the sidewalk?  How will they affect other modes? What should we suggest or try to regulate?

Micro Transit Corridors – Lyft and Uber are pushing shared rides (Lyft-Line and Uber Pool) and are already incentivizing people to make their pick-up and drop-offs happen along arterials or more heavily travelled routes to reduce the vehicles efficiency (see this earlier post).  This will define micro-transit routes throughout the city.  Where will these be? Should cities help define the routes? How will it affect all modes moving through these areas?

Reduction/Elimination of Parking – We are already seeing a reduction of parking use in some venues as Lyft and Uber takeoff (see this earlier post, and this one).  As this happens more and more – research says we will need 10-15% of current parking spaces – what happens to the onstreet parking?  Is it transferred to other modes or additional lanes?  What happens to the buffering role it currently plays in many streets?

Changes to Available ROW – Building on this last point, if AVs need narrower lanes (they are better drivers than we are) and potentially can increase throughput through some streets (see point on this below) and therefore allow a reduction in necessary lanes – how will we use the available ROW.  This is especially critical as available ROW seems to be one of the larger limitations to increasing dedicated infrastructure for transit, bikes, and pedestrians.

Increase in VMT – Most modeling of AVs we have seen show an increase in VMT, but this is more dramatic in scenarios where we all have our own vehicles vs shared fleets.  This is especially so if we don’t tax empty cars (zombie cars) driving around as they wait for their owner or go do errands on their own.  How will this increased VMT affect other modes, congestion, etc? How can we make sure we limit it?

Efficiency of Streets (for cars) – AVs in theory will be more efficient, require less space and be able to move faster.  Many models have been created that show connected vehicles zooming towards each other at intersections and just barely missing as they efficiently move people and goods.  What this fails to recognize is that one of the larger impediments to this type of free-flow movement is the fact that multiple users exist in the right-of-way.  Pedestrians and bikes would not work well in these scenarios.  This leads to thinking that there may be two worlds of cars on streets – those where they dominate (definitely freeways, but will that also start including arterials and collectors…) with free flow of vehicles and other areas where other modes are considered as well.  Will the mixing of modes be frowned upon because it is such a limitation to this efficiency?  Will some areas ban bikes/peds?

Street as a Utility – This is more of a meta-concept, but the idea is that we need to stop thinking of the street as a public space that we can all use whenever and however we want, but instead should think of it as a utility that has limited capacity.  Related to how we pay for the amount and time of our electricity use (in places), we can think of streets similarly.  This might lead to something like a geometry tax (you are charged for how much space you take up on the roadway divided by the number of people in the vehicle – a great deterrent to zombie cars).  — Stay tuned for an upcoming post focused on this topic!

Finance – We have done a quick pass at how these technologies will be affecting municipal revenues and – in short – it will not be pretty or easy (see our report here and see analysis of parking/car related revenue impacts here).  A lot of disruption (for example the drastic reduction of parking fees and traffic tickets while we are needing to pay for retraining large groups of the population who used to work in retail or driving jobs). Limited budgets will affect everything else government tries to do and services it provides – streets included.

 

Parking garages are already becoming dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal AV Legislation???

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

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

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

(UPDATE:  A more recent article tracking the mark-up of the package of bills is here)

 

Micro-Transit is not a free-for-all

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

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

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

Image Source: Uber

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

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

 

 

AV developers planning for a future without major roadway improvements

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

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

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

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

 

Two tech giants ink deals with two car rental giants

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

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

To Mix or Not Mix, That is the Question

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

US Federal Government taking more steps toward more robust AV policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Retails Closings Projected This Year Than At Recession Peak

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

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

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

STORE CLOSINGS – Full Year Estimates
Source: Credit Suisse

When Single Occupancy Vehicles Looked Successful

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

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

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

Urbanism Next Research Papers Series – Re-Imagining Retail

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

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

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

Autonomous Trucks – And a New Freeway Land Use

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

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

Sharing (AVs) is caring (for the environment)

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

itdp

David Robert at Vox provides three lessons from this study:

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

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

Lesson three: geometry requires sharing

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

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

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

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

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

Brick and Mortar Retail Continues to Vanish

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

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

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

Urbanism Next is Hiring! – Please Distribute!

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

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

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

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

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

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