Category: Space/Physical Design

Changes in the physical design of the city

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.

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?

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

 

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.

Transit + Rideshare (not Transit vs. Rideshare)

In another hopeful move that transit and ridesourcing services like Uber and Lyft will be combining efforts to better provide accessibility and mobility for all, FTA this week announced nearly $8 million in grants – mostly to transit agencies – to incorporate mobility-on-demand into their agencies.  Take a look at the funded projects here.