Category: Space/Physical Design

Changes in the physical design of the city

Changing Parking Infrastructure with Autonomous Vehicles

While much has been said about the impact autonomous vehicles could have on the demand for parking, less has been said about what to do with the parking we have now, or what we should do with parking that has yet to be built. Parking can be split into three categories: street parking, surface lots, and parking structures. Street parking is addressed mostly through road diets in speculativepieces, and surface lots are equally easy to use as a flat, blank slate to be reinvented into something else. But what about parking structures?

Parking structures are both a challenge and an opportunity for innovative architects. They’re concrete structures with blocky columns, sloped floors, ramps between floors, irregular ceiling heights, and awkward floor plans. None of these attributes make them ideal to remodel and given the uncertainty regarding how much parking we’ll need in coming years cities may feel hesitant to take action just yet.

However, this is not a ubiquitous opinion. A few cities have been recognized for plans to turn parking lots into other uses; while not as difficult to do as parking structures, it demonstrates that cities aren’t thinking they need as much parking as they have on hand. Eventually, more articles will be written about converting parking structures into affordable housing, office space, or other uses. Here is an example of a proposed parking garage in Seattle that is convertible to residential space. For existing parking structures, remodeling their husk into a new use could be difficult and expensive, but not impossible. Hereis an example of a difficult space – an abandoned subway restroom – being turned into a home by a British architect, and herea very skinny corner parcel in Japan was turned into an apartment building. These are not spaces that are considered prime real estate for redevelopment; they are not large spaces, they have funky shapes to work with, and most people would consider it a difficult endeavor to convert the space to something new and useful. But, if we can build apartments in geometrically restrictive triangles and dilapidated public restrooms, surely a rectangular, multi-story building in the heart of downtown shouldn’t be an insurmountable challenge?

Designing new parking structures poses different challenges and opportunities. Some cities are eliminating parking, but others are continuing to face a parking deficit that they don’t think autonomous vehicles will arrive in time to fix, or, that autonomous vehicles will still need lots of space to park (even if the cars are able to park closer together and line up headlights-to-taillights). Though the design of AVs is not completely clear, we know a few ways that parking garages could be more compact because of them. AV-ready garages could be re-designed:

  • Parking spaces could be narrower, since passengers are likely to be dropped off at their destination and never set foot in the parking garage itself, cars won’t need the space to open doors. Aisles could be narrower as well because AVs drive more precisely.
  • Parking spaces and aisles will likely both change sizes to reflect the size of vehicles, which might be stratified into a floor for traditional looking cars (personal use) or for rectangular shuttles (transit storage).
  • Parking garages could use charging capabilities, and could possibly incorporate car wash stations.
  • Loading lines could maximize efficiency and eliminate aisles. Assuming all cars in a garage are automated, instead of the traditional layout of singular rows with aisles in-between, loading lines without space between cars or aisles could be used for maximum efficiency (this would work for shared cars in which the car at the front of the line can be deployed for any rider).

Graphic Source: Designing parking facilities for autonomous vehicles by Mehdi Nourinejada, Sina Bahrami, Matthew J. Roorda

The previously listed considerations account for changes in technology, but not for changes in parking demand. Parking structures should be retrofitted to non-parking uses as demand for parking decreases; turning the more opportune floors of a structure (street level for connectivity, or higher stories for better lighting or views) to people-related uses, like this. To do so, new parking garages need to be re-designed to:

  • reduce the number of columns, and space them so they don’t disrupt the living room that may inhabit the space in future
  • use flat floors
  • eliminate ramps, or use ramps that are easily integrated into a floor plan;
  • Increase ceiling heights to make room for insulation, drywall, and the other building necessities of interior design without becoming too short for comfort;
  • Plan with the future floor plans of housing or office space in mind;
  • Allow for natural lighting. The cars won’t appreciate it, but future tenants will. A concept can be found here.

Although autonomous vehicles aren’t here yet, widespread adoption of ride-hailing services has already seen to decreased revenues for parking lots and garages. Parking lots are being bought and repurposed by developers in large quantities. Green Street Advisors, a California based real estate research firm, projects that parking needs in the US will be cut in half over the next 30 years due to a combination of ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles. It’s time to make plans for our changing parking needs, both from the effects we’re seeing today and the effects we’ll experience soon.

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

How is Sidewalk Lab Planning for Toronto’s Transportation Future?

Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet spin-off that’s building a new smart city on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront, has just announced that construction will begin in 2020. Given that this new neighborhood is meant to be a pilot project to influence the future of cities across the globe, it seems valid to wonder what Sidewalk Lab’s vision of mobility looks like. A recent “Sidewalk Talk” blog post provides insight through a Q & A with one of Sidewalk Lab’s transportation advisors, David Levinson.

Levinson’s viewpoint can be broken down into three key takeaways:

  1. Pricing will be the number one way to incentivize shared AVs over private AVs. Some of the options include congestion pricing, road pricing, or even creating a new type of traffic violation that fines empty cars for circling the block endlessly.
  2. Curbside management will be a key consideration for cities, but may be most easily managed through flexible uses at different times of day.
  3. Curbside management can be generalized as space reallocation. Fewer, smaller cars that move more efficiently can make room for new uses on the road including bike lanes, bus lanes, and drop-off zones.

The article offers insight into Sidewalk Lab’s vision of traffic enforcement as well, displaying a reliance on cameras and bots to capture and record unwanted behavior. While the official Toronto plans aren’t set to be released for at least another year, several articles have reported the plan includes a heavy use of cameras for data collection and monitoring. The use of cameras may make it easier for cities to collect mobility data rather than relying on data sharing from private companies, but it raises questions about privacy and data security.

This article, as well as Sidewalk Lab’s vision statement, seem to point towards a people-oriented mobility future. However, vision statements and hand-drawn streetscapes don’t always translate into the real world build environment. The world will have to wait until development is complete to see if Toronto’s Eastside Harbor really is a strong example for a sustainable, affordable city of the future.

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

 

 

Seeing curbs for what they are: hot commodities

Flexible curbside uses (excerpted from NACTO’s 2017 Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism)

If you’ve ever dropped someone off at an airport on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you know that finding even the tiniest amount of space at the curb to wedge your car into is near impossible. As you battle for curb space, you may not be seeing dollar signs—but cities are starting to. As Karen Hao writes in Quartz, “The humble curb is quickly becoming the city’s hottest asset.” With the rise of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, more and more drivers are looking for places to pull over for periods of time. Add to the mix delivery trucks also vying for that space, and you could be heading for a real congestion headache. Recognizing that this problem is only going to increase as we move towards a driverless future, some cities like Washington D.C. have taken a first step towards treating curbs like commodities—they are inventorying and digitizing them, starting with their loading zones. By digitizing that data, they can begin to measure supply and demand for curb space and charge accordingly. As the author of the Quartz article notes, DDOT started charging higher prices for the use of certain loading zones using the data it had collected.

Curb space is hot and as parking becomes, well, less hot, the loss of parking revenue is going to have an impact on municipal budgets. Charging for curb space could be the way of the future. Want to know more? Join us for the Urbanism Next Conference March 5-7 in Portland, OR and check out the session on the Future of the Curb, featuring Gillian Gillett with the City of San Francisco, and Allison Wylie of Uber. Come hear what they have to say about the city’s hottest asset!

New Report: Rethinking the Street in an Era of Driverless Cars

Communities get few moments to rethink their streets and make decisions that will serve the basic purposes of transportation, address urgent challenges like climate change, rising obesity, social isolation and conflict, and expand opportunities for general happiness throughout society.  Such a pivotal moment is upon us, as autonomous vehicles represent a potentially disruptive technology that can re-make the city for good or for ill.

Urbanism Next has released a new report delineating ways our communities can begin repurposing their most common public space – the streets – to better serve public uses.  Driverless cars may need less parking, narrower lanes, and may be able to occupy bi-directional shared lanes, all leading to a significantly reduced need for road space currently used to move and store vehicles. Where driverless cars are primarily available as fleets where users are buying rides instead of vehicles, the space savings may be more significant.

City planners, policy makers and community residents have a unique, and immediate, opportunity to rethink their streets with purposeful and creative consideration about how this critical public good may best serve the public for generations to come.  Read this Urbanism Next report to learn more.  And to see other Urbanism Next briefs, visit this page.

The Far, Way Off, Hard to Imagine Future of 2019

General Motors just announced that in the far off distance future of 2019 – next year – they are prepared to introduce commercial scale fleets of electric, autonomous vehicles to be used for ride buying, not individual car purchasing.  This may be the most major announcement of its kind to date and significantly accelerates the need for communities to figure out everything, including managing curb drop off and loading, surplus street and surface parking, the re-use opportunities of the public right of way, the impacts on land value and municipal budgets, plus issues of safety, security, etc.

Because the future seemed so, well, far into the future, most communities, from elected leaders to developers to livability advocates, don’t even know where to start in thinking about all of these things.  The GM announcement is not an announcement about just transportation, it is an announcement about everything that has to do with how and where we live, making the upcoming Urbanism Next conference much more critical for all communities, whether in attendance or not.

Town Seizes Control of Its Own Streets

One of the biggest assets any city owns is its streets.  And since no driver likes to be stuck in traffic, the predominant fix to congestion for the last 60 years has been to expand the street right of way to add more lanes.  Time and again, this new road space only leads to more car trips and the very congestion street expansion was supposed to fix.

There are a a lot of new experiments going on across the country about this problem, often by re-allocating some of this public space for other public uses like bike, pedestrian, or transit spaces, or to re-purpose parking and lanes for leisure (think parklets) or ecological function. These types of efforts recognize the trade-offs in use of the street and figure that if a community can’t solve congestion, it can at least provide more efficient transportation alternatives and better use of this public space.

But what if a community simply banned excess cars to eliminate congestion, thereby taking a more active role in the management of its street right of way? Not banned cars to create a car-free utopia, but simply banned excess cars?

This is the idea of Leonia, New Jersey, which is upset by being a vehicle shortcut preferred by navigation systems like Google Maps and Waze. The excess ‘outsiders’ are causing severe traffic issues and the approach of Leonia is to give tickets to anyone outside the community driving in certain areas at certain times.

While I have significant concerns about a city banning outsiders as disturbingly exclusionary, especially on the use of public streets for legal purposes, what is intriguing in this story is the appetite to seize greater control of the public right of way to help carry out the community’s values, which in this case is congestion-free streets.

While the approach of banning outsider’s cars from public streets seems misguided and unnecessary (just do traffic calming to reduce speeds locally and they won’t be attractive for commuters), proactively deciding how the street right of way will be accessed is a critical issue for cities beginning to think about how autonomous vehicles alter their future.

AV companies require access to the right of way to operate and right now may be a unique opportunity for many cities to decide what parts of town are accessible by what types of vehicles. AVs will require local maps that include where they can and cannot go, so while it may not be wise for a community to outlaw non-residents from its public streets, cities can restrict what types of vehicles can go where.

This is an important consideration as autonomous vehicles roll out much faster than most cities are planning for their implications on traffic, land use, or general quality of life issues.  Cities must remember that they own the transportation pipeline – their streets – that AVs will depend on and utilizing this asset to achieve community goals is something that cities can proactively control.

 

NACTO Outlines Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism

Capacity of an example street redesign

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is a leading source for progressive cities wishing to adopt cutting edge street designs that challenge the conventional norms of a car-first transportation system. It should be no surprise that NACTO has already begun thinking about how streets should be used once autonomous vehicles arrive on the scene. The first module of Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism was released at the end of October, focusing on street design, curbside management, and new mobility systems.

The Blueprint starts by outlining six principles for autonomous urbanism:

  1. Safety is the top priority
  2. Provide mobility for the whole city
  3. Rebalance the right of way
  4. Manage streets in real time
  5. Move more with fewer vehicles
  6. Public benefit guides private action

These principles provide the framework for the rest of the ideas in the blueprint. In the online preview, safety is key in new ideas for street crossings. Pedestrian islands and slow vehicle speeds can allow for pedestrians to cross anywhere along the street, rather than needing to use designated crosswalks. Protected bike lanes are also championed as important design elements to increase the safety of using the most efficient form of transportation.

Rebalancing the right of way features in two sections of the preview. The first highlights the fact that bikes and transit can move far more people than single occupancy vehicles, and thus recommends prioritizing the use of the street for bikes and transit. The second explores the concept of curbside management, where space that was formerly dedicated to parking can serve a variety of uses throughout the day, ranging from delivery zones to restaurant seating.

Overall, the ideas are progressive in supporting a reduction of single occupancy vehicles and an increase in walking, biking and transit. While street designs can play a role in this behavioral shift, it is acknowledged that policy will be a crucial component as well. Only time will tell if cities can effectively regulate autonomous vehicles use in order to achieve desired outcomes, and if they will be able to afford to transform their streets in order to take advantage of the possibilities of autonomous urbanism.

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.

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.

(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.

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.