Category: Uncategorized

NYC at Cap-acity

Photo by Kevin Lee on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Urbanism Next is Hiring!

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

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

Portland Plans E-Scooter Pilot

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

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

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

Ready, set, scoot.

Organizing Streets By Speed

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

More E-Scooter News

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

TNCs already cheaper than driving for some drivers

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

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

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

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

The Urbanism Next Framework

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

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

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

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

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

Partnering to Deliver a Future Proofing Workshop

Source: Fehr & Peers

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

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

Source: Fehr & Peers

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Source: Fehr & Peers
Source: Fehr & Peers

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

E-scooter Fever

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

Source: Lime

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

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

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

Urbanism Next On the Road This Week!

For those of you who are in the College Park or D.C. area this week, we have TWO exciting events coming up. On Thursday, June 21 Urbanism Next Center Director Nico Larco will be on the roster of speakers for the inaugural TEDxCollegePark. They have organized a great lineup of speakers around the theme GET OUTside encouraging audience members to “GET OUTside physically to appreciate the benefits of being connected outdoors as well as metaphorically to get out of your current mindsets, comfort zones, us versus them mentality and stereotypes.” The event will take place at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland from 9am-4pm this Thursday. Tickets are available here. (But if you can’t make it, we’ll be sure to share the video as soon as it’s available!)

On FridayJune 22 Nico will be heading to Capitol Hill for a congressional briefing on the “Secondary Impacts of Autonomous Vehicles” hosted by Rep. Blumenauer. The lunchtime briefing will be held at 2167 Rayburn House Office Building from 12-1pm. The briefing will be open to the public, so please feel free to attend if you’re in the D.C. area on Friday!

Urbanism Next Conference Videos and Presentations Now Online!

Weren’t able to attend the first annual Urbanism Next Conference? Or, you were able to attend, but you didn’t catch all the sessions you wanted to? Well, we have good news! The videos of the plenary presentations as well as slides from many of the sessions are now available online. There were so many great discussions and sessions, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide this window to the conference. Watch Urbanism Next Center Director Nico Larco kick off the conference and then hear what Mayor Ted Wheeler and U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer have to say about emerging technologies and the precipice of change we are on. (Maybe even do so with a cup of coffee in hand to recreate the full conference experience!)

We’ll be highlighting some of the other plenaries, panel discussions, and sessions next week, so stay tuned! (And a big thank you to our University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications videographers for the great job they did capturing so much of it on video!)

Join us in Portland on June 1!

Nico Larco, Urbanism Next Lead, will be speaking at the University of Oregon’s Wings event on Friday, June 1 along with three other UO-affiliated presenters. Wings: UO Presidential Speakers Series is a curated series of talks showcasing research, innovation, and creativity. If you are interested in hearing more about the more research we’re doing at Urbanism Next, as well as checking out the interesting work that the three other presenters are doing, we hope you’ll join us on Friday, June 1 at 5:30pm! More information about the event is available at UO Speaker Series and tickets are available here.

Beyond the Sidewalk

A recent article from Curbed examines our long-neglected pedestrian infrastructure and the variety of solutions that are being tested to improve our most basic form of mobility – walking. Sara Polsky writes about the benefits of pedestrian-centered streets as well as some of the reasons people were relegated to the sidewalk in the first place (hint: it was because of cars).

With transportation contributing over half of the greenhouse gas emissions across the country, cities are starting to invest more in walkable neighborhoods, and in many places their residents are pushing for this change even more strongly. And while some advocacy groups are trying to simply get their city to maintain their sidewalk network, others are starting to imagine pedestrian life without the sidewalk. Here are some of the more radical ideas:

  • Seattle is testing temporary, permeable pavement that can be removed as street trees grow, with the pilot streets serving as pedestrian-oriented spaces.
  • Some American cities are starting to consider the Dutch idea of woonerf, or “shared street,”  where all modes of transportation intermix with each other. This idea has already started to spread across Europe.

Bell Street Park, Seattle

  • Design and tech companies are promoting a variety of design ideas of multi-modal streets or reclaiming parking spaces for other uses including parklets, bike corrals, or café seating. The big names include Pensa, Nelson\Nygaard, and Perkins + Will. Even Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft have partnered with other mobility tech companies to create a collective vision for transportation.
  • Google-incubated Alphabet spinoff is busy building Sidewalk Toronto, a $50 million, 800-acre neighborhood-from-scratch in the Quayside district of Toronto. The neighborhood will exemplify the idea of walkability and mixed-use development.

With the advent of autonomous vehicles, some of these ideas could become even easier to implement. With the expected reduction in parking need and narrower vehicle lanes, more space could be converted from car-only to multi-modal. The Curbed article discusses these ideas as well, and brings up the idea that with ubiquitous sensors, AVs could even operate in a shared street environment.

Maybe new street design ideas should start thinking outside the sidewalk box.

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

E-commerce may not be the only influence of store closings in the US

There are various opinions about the role of e-commerce has had on the brick and mortar store and decline of in-store shoppers. Some articles argue e-commerce is the main contributor to store closings today. Further, as technology becomes more advanced and delivery services more efficient (including the adoption of AVs for delivery), the retail apocalypse is definitely approaching. However, other emerging articles are erring on the side that while the phrase ‘retail apocalypse’ makes for an eye-catching headliner, it might not be telling the whole story. If physical stores are actually dying, some argue, why are stores like Dollar General, Ulta Beauty, and Nordstrom Rack still announcing locations of additional stores?

Rather than placing all the blame on Amazon for this new phase of retail, an article published by Bloomberg states that the US was bound to see a shift towards smaller retail footprints because we overbuilt retail space in the 1980s and 90s. The author also assumes that even without the rapid integration of e-commerce, consumer behavior today-particularly of Millennials would still prefer “the experience factor” of shopping. Different from past generations, it is now more important than ever for stores to be “unusual and delightful.” They need to create true destinations for people to enjoy. Perhaps retail isn’t dead altogether, but boring retail is.

Another recent article published in The New Republic also argues e-commerce isn’t the only driving factor of a shifting retail market. The writer postulates that many stores closures and bankruptcies can actually be attributed to an even greater threat… debt, which explains why profitable stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us had to close their doors earlier this year. This article states that in reality, e-commerce might have only played a minimal role in the company’s demise, while the larger issue is that the company acquired an astounding $5 billion debt with interest payments of $400 million per year after it was bought by a private equity firm in 2006.

Whether you agree or disagree with the retail apocalypse and/or the driving factors of a shift in retail, Forbes writer Steve Dennis puts it best, “Who cares?” Yes, while the causes and trends do matter, they only matter to an extent. The impacts of shifts in retail are troubling for communities, regardless of the causes.  The one thing that we should all focus on and know for a fact, is that retail is changing. Is your community ready? How do you see it adapting towards the future of retail space?

 

Planning for a Future with Less Parking: Chandler, AZ Gives It a Go

Source: FreeRideshareLessons.com

The words “Arizona” and “autonomous vehicles” are quickly becoming synonymous it would seem. The newest headline is that Chandler, AZ may become the first U.S. city to amend its zoning code in anticipation of self-driving cars. City planning staff in Chandler have submitted a list of recommended zoning amendments to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which, if adopted, would go into effect June 9. The proposed amendments would allow for minimum parking requirements to be reduced by up to 40% in exchange for the inclusion of passenger loading zones. One passenger loading zone could warrant a 10% reduction in parking, with a cap at 40% and controlling for building square footage. (A complete list of the proposed amendments is available here. Interesting and worth a look!) Planning staff have outlined two primary objectives: 1) allow for more flexibility in parking minimums as demand for parking changes and 2) promote the creation of passenger loading zones.

On the one hand, this news is encouraging—the demand for parking is already changing as a result of the rise of transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber and self-driving cars are anticipated to have further impacts on parking demand—and it is important that planners take these changes into account. Parking is expensive to build and drives up the cost of development. (See Don Shoup for comprehensive research on the high costs of parking minimums.) Making parking minimums more flexible could have lots of positive impacts, such as reducing the cost of developing multifamily housing. Encouraging the development of passenger loading zones also seems like a good idea—by this point, many of us have probably found ourselves stuck behind a TNC driver who is double parked awaiting a passenger…or we’ve been that passenger/driver ourselves. However, these proposed amendments bring up a whole host of questions that are worth considering. For starters, do we want each building to have its own passenger loading zone? How might that impact urban design? Or would we prefer that there be shared passenger loading zones for several developments or perhaps a whole block? And what about the possible impacts on congestion as cars spill out into the road while they wait their turn to enter passenger loading zones for popular destinations? Will that encourage the widening of roads to ensure that travel lanes are consistently moving, and if so, is that what we really want? Indeed, there are so many questions to consider and as of yet, so few answers.

Urbanism Next at National APA Conference

If you’re in New Orleans kicking off the National APA Conference today, here are a few sessions to check out featuring Urbanism Next representatives!

Saturday 2:45 pm
Automated Vehicles: Effects on Urban Development
This deep-dive charrette will highlight presentations from experts and in-depth conversations about how automated vehicles impact land use, physical city design, urban densification or sprawl, and local vitality and activity.

Sunday 1 pm
Planning for Autonomous Vehicles
Autonomous vehicles will begin to revolutionize mobility in communities across the nation by 2020. This session will present the latest research from APA, along with examples of places that are introducing shared autonomous vehicles to reshape development.

Fast, Funny, and Passionate
These six bite-sized presentations will both entertain and inform you, capturing the flavor of today’s planning by making you laugh — and think. This grouping is ideal for those interested in learning about how transportation, mobility, and technology impact the world we live in.

Monday 1 pm
Getting Ahead of Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars are coming — and fast. Hear from a public works director, national researcher, and national consultant who examine two key areas where planners should be focusing on autonomous vehicle impacts: street design/management and parking-garage design/management.

Monday 4:15 pm
Impacts of Emerging Technology on Development
Examine emerging technologies – autonomous vehicles (AVs), e-commerce, and the sharing economy – and the profound impacts they may have on parking, residential preferences, housing prices, and transit-oriented development.

Share your takeaways, thoughts, and insights with us on Twitter at @UrbanismNext, and happy conferencing!

Spending Bill Includes $100m for AV Research

Did you hear? The most recent spending bill includes $100m for research on autonomous vehicles. A good chunk of that money ($60m) will go towards grants that test the “feasibility and safety” of autonomous vehicles, and those funds will only be available to local governments and academic institutions. Congress has also earmarked $1.5m to look at the impacts that autonomous vehicles may have on employment, with a particular eye on truck, taxi, and other commercial drivers. Considering that the U.S. Dept. of Commerce published a report in August 2017 that suggested that as many as 15.5m people work in occupations that could be affected by the introduction of autonomous vehicles, this investment seems critical to getting out ahead of these changes before industries are upended. As we say over here at Urbanism Next, AVs are not a transportation issue, they are an everything issue…labor included.

Amazon not fulfilling their end of cities’ investments?

A recent study published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) might have communities rethinking the costs and benefits of investing in Amazon warehouses.

The report announced that US state and local governments have offered Amazon a total of over $1 billion in tax revenue to lure Amazon warehouses to their communities. Amazon has expanded their operation from 10 warehousing centers in 2000 to approximately 100 centers across the nation today. Why are cities investing so heavily in Amazon locations? Warehouses can employ anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people, which is fairly enticing for cities that have high rates of unemployment or lack a diverse economic base. Not to mention the attractive contributions that Amazon provides to communities where their employees live.

But, the new EPI’s report argues that the job growth generated by Amazon warehouses is merely an exaggerated perception. Many cities may notice the percentage of warehousing sector employment increase (30%), but Amazon warehouses are not a silver bullet to significantly boost the overall employment rate. In fact, the report discovered that in some counties the total employment rate had actually decreased since Amazon warehouses opened.

The release of the study comes at an interesting time. Last fall, Amazon announced their search for a second headquarters (HQ2). Over 200 cities applied for the bid. The new headquarters was estimated to generate over 50,000 jobs and add $5 billion to the local economy. Cities offered amazing and enticing planning strategies to competitively attract Amazon to select their proposal; many offered millions of dollars in tax incentives, promises to invest in rapid transportation modes, and some even offered to de-annex land for Amazon, and the list goes on. But latest EPI report raises questions about these incentives and enticements; it joins a small but growing chorus of people who expressed concerns about offering Amazon deals that may be too good to be true.

The EPI Report urges local communities to slow their roll on handing out tax incentives to Amazon and to stop looking for such short-term solutions. Their advice to cities? Focus on long-term strategies and more traditional investments to spur economic development—specifically, invest in efficient transportation and quality public education.

Urbanism Next Conference Session Highlighted in Citylab

Quick post-conference update! We are working on a full conference report and will soon have videos of the plenary speakers to share, but in the meantime we wanted to highlight an article that Citylab’s Laura Bliss wrote about “The Ama-zoning of America” session. (We are delighted that she was not only in attendance but that she also moderated one of the plenary discussions! Link coming soon…)

In “The Ama-zoning of America,” panelists Rick Stein (Urban Decision Group), Kelly Rula (Seattle Dept. of Transportation), Justin Robbins (HDR), and Jason Sudy (OHM Advisors) discussed the future of car-oriented suburban retail…or perhaps the lack thereof? Check out the article for a full write-up!

Ending the Search for Parking

Photo by Raban Haaijk on Unsplash

Angela DeLuca
ENR/Urbanism Next Research Fellow, School of Law, University of Oregon

Inevitably, at almost every presentation on how emerging technologies will impact cities, someone will suggest that Americans love their cars and will never give them up for shared transportation or autonomous vehicles (AVs). Our broad response is that people used to love riding horses as well. If there are less expensive transportation choices that allows the commuter to be productive during their commute, then people will utilize these choices.

The automobile has been a fixture of American life since the explosion of automobile ownership after World War II. Cities encouraged this trend by requiring parking minimums on new buildings. However, the policy of providing abundant parking is being called into question and a paradigm shift in transportation choices is calling for a change in our parking policy.

Transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, are of one of the driving forces shaking up the traditional parking market. The ride-hail economy offers users the convenience of a private vehicle transportation without the additional burden of parking.  TNCs have exponentially increased their services in the last four years. In Chicago, TNC rides quadrupled in the last three years. On a typical weekday in San Francisco, 5,700 TNC vehicles are in operation, accounting for 15% of all intra-city vehicle trips and 20% of all local daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT). TNC trips are concentrated in the densest and most congested parts of San Francisco.

Airports are already feeling the price pinch of TNC operations. Airports generate 25% of their operating budget from parking fees. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline Report, Fresno Yosemite International Airport is losing an estimated $180,000 per year in parking revenue. Leigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania saw a decrease of $123,000 in parking revenue in the 2016 fiscal year. At Dallas Fort Worth, parking revenue is nearly $4 million lower than was projected for fiscal year 2017. Buffalo Niagara International Airport is estimating a loss of $2 million from TNC operations.

Other parking markets are starting to see the beginning of this shift as well. The two highest markets for private parking spaces are New York and Washington D.C. In D.C., a parking spot was recently sold for 10% of its purchased value eight years ago. In New York, parking space rentals are in the hundreds per month, instead of in the thousands. And according to a recent news report from San Diego, Ace Parking contends that TNCs are responsible for as much as 50% reduction in parking revenue with restaurant and nightclub parking valets being hit the hardest.

So, what does this mean for the parking industry? The need for abundant parking is coming to an end as people increasingly utilize TNCs and as some move away from private vehicle ownership altogether. Parking spaces come at a cost, especially to renters. A study of 23 recently completed Seattle-area apartment buildings showed that 15% of rent in Seattle stemmed from the cost of building parking. The same study showed that parking requirements increased rent on average by $246 a month. At the surveyed developments, only 63% of the parking spaces were utilized at the peak of demand. In addition, more units were rented in the developments than there were cars in the parking lots, illustrating that not all tenants owned an automobile.

Cities are starting to take notice of these shifts. Summit, New Jersey, for example, forewent building a new parking structure and instead entered into a transportation deal with Uber. Summit is located 30 miles from Manhattan and the city transit center is a hub for commuters who work in the city. The City addressed its parking shortage at the transit center by offering commuters free or discounted rides through Uber. One hundred commuters who have purchased parking passes are eligible for free Uber rides to and from the station. Additional riders can pay $2 per trip each way. The program is estimated to cost the city around $167,00 per year in contrast to the $10 million price tag of a new parking structure. Unlike the parking structure, the new program is also flexible to changes in future if the use of AVs and TNCs expand.

The way the average American commutes is changing. The rising generation is calling into question automobile-centric policy that has supported the inflated parking market. As Summit’s Mayor Nora Radest said “… our program is the first of its kind in the United States… [o]ur innovation has the potential to shape how municipalities think about and implement parking options in the future.” The days of the single-driver commute might be numbered and new models of mobility and innovation may very well be shaping the emerging commuter market and thus, the parking market.  

Conference Interviews to Check Out!

We were fortunate enough to have Mobility Lab as a media sponsor for the conference, and Mobility Lab’s Paul Mackie interviewed Nico Larco of Urbanism Next last week. They covered a lot of ground, including transportation demand management, infrastructure funding, changes we can expect to see this year, and how the Urbanism Next Conference even came to be!

We were also happy to have the organizers of the The Mobility Podcast with us last week. Check out the conversation they had with Nico Larco and Becky Steckler, Urbanism Next’s Program Manager, as the conference kicked off. In addition, don’t miss the discussions they had with plenary speakers Susan Shaheen and Robin Chase! Lots to mull over.

Have a read, have a listen, and let us know what you think!

This Week’s Don’t Miss Stories

Things are happening faster than we can write about them these days! As a result, we are starting a series called “This Week’s Don’t Miss Stories.” We’ll round up the stories we’ve read this week that we think are especially interesting and of note. Here’s a snapshot of what we read this week…

Autonomous shuttle service launched in San Ramon, California last week. EasyMile became the first autonomous vehicle to make use of California’s new regulations around driverless testing and use of AVs on public roads. EasyMile may soon be running service between BART and Bishop Ranch, a 585-acre office park where approximately 30,000 work every day, in the hope of improving the first/last mile conundrum. (Contra Costa County says that it wants to have in the vicinity of 100 autonomous buses by 2020!)

Amazon and Uber may be heading towards a package delivery showdown that could disrupt the global logistics industry, reportedly worth $8.1 trillionScroll down to read through the interesting comparison infographic they’ve put together for statistics about Amazon, Uber, and the state of the trucking industry. (It’s e-commerce, the sharing economy, and the advent of autonomous vehicles all in one.)

Lyft is testing a monthly subscription plan. The subscription service is targeted at users who spend upwards of $450/month on Lyft rides. According to Lyft CEO Logan Green, “a subscription to Lyft could cost something along the lines of $200, which gets you 1,000 miles of traveling around.” This doesn’t sound like the greatest plan if reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is a goal. Sure, you could argue that these high-frequency users are already spending the money to travel as much as they are, indicating they aren’t price sensitive, so perhaps this change won’t make much of a dent on VMT. However, this could very well encourage less frequent users to up their usage if they’re on the cusp of thinking it could be worth the cost, thereby driving up VMT.

The Museum of Ice Cream provides insights into the future of retail—spoiler—it’s about the experience. The Museum of Ice Cream lures customers to its New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco locations with a pool of sprinkles, among other innovative (and scrumptious?) experiences. This is an especially interesting look at the future of retail and raises the question about whether it’s even about the retail at all. In this case, you pay $38 just for admission (that’s the “museum” part), but what if more retailers start considering charging for the experience altogether? No more simple browsing without paying a price of admission? Perhaps that may never come to pass, but it’s interesting food for thought as we consider the future of retail and where we may choose to spend our time, if we can afford it…

TNCs (and eventually AVs) will help facilitate healthcare access

Uber has launched a platform to help facilitate access to healthcare. While many people miss appointments because they cannot get to a doctor (claimed to be more than 3.6 million).

The experiences of healthcare providers using TNCs to get patients to care has been mixed. The director of consumer health initiatives at MedStar Health has said that “Uber has helped us drastically reduce appointment cancellations. It’s great to be able to quickly request a ride with so that in need patients can make an appointment they’d otherwise miss.” And a working paper from a University of Kansas Economist has shown that TNCs entry into a city’s transportation market “reduced the per capital ambulance volume by at least 7%”.

However, research in the JAMA Internal Medicine has demonstrated that free ride services using TNCs “may not be as effective as previously thought.” So as Uber rolls out its platform it may be challenged to sustain the connections with those that most need a ride with their technology–specifically as it relates to the digital divide and access to the technology needed to Uber/Lyft. Though there is evidence that government use of smartphone applications have been shown potential to help bridge the digital divide.

ICYMI: The future has arrived

It’s true. The future is here. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is officially permitted to operate as a Transportation Network Company (TNC) in Arizona. Why is this a big deal, you ask? Because Waymo is operating fully autonomous vehicles—that’s LEVEL FOUR AUTONOMY. The Arizona Department of Transportation granted Waymo’s permit on January 24, less than two weeks after the application was filed. This means that Waymo can begin charging passengers for rides, something it hasn’t done since it began testing its autonomous vehicles in April 2017. According to Digital Trends, Waymo’s fleet of vehicles is comprised of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids, which are plug-in hybrids with an all-electric range of 33 miles. If everything goes according to plan, Waymo will start offering paid rides via an app (yep, just like Uber and Lyft) in Phoenix later this year.

Image: Waymo

Speaking of Uber and Lyft, this could spell competition for them since driverless cars are widely believed to be the thing that will make ride-hailing profitable with the elimination of driver wages. (According to Quartz, Uber paid ~$8 billion to drivers in earnings and bonuses in the 4th quarter of 2017.) Of course, Uber is famously working on its own driverless fleet, as is Lyft, though neither is yet operating fully autonomous vehicles. Waymo hasn’t announced a price structure, but chances are good that they’ll be competitive with what Uber and Lyft are currently charging.

The race is on and now is definitely the time for cities to get up to speed and get those regulations in place. As of now, there hasn’t been any mention of Waymo’s TNC roll-out prioritizing ridesharing, just ridehailing. What happens if they are all private rides? Will we be able to make the switch to shared after the fact? It increasingly seems like we are on the brink of Robin Chase’s Heaven or Hell scenario. Now seems like the perfect time to be convening experts from across the country to explore these questions and plan for the future…which is upon us. The Urbanism Next Conference kicks off Monday, March 5—there’s still time to register, but if you can’t make it in person keep an eye on our blog for updates!

 

The AV retail experience is coming

Today, you have to travel to the store. In the future, with e-Palette, the store will come to you!

Akio Toyoda, President and Member of the Board of Directors for the Toyota Motor Corporation recently announced the e-Palette; a fully electrical autonomous vehicle (AV) that can be used for just about anything including being an at-your-door retail “store”. Toyoda states the e-Palette will not be any “ordinary” electrical AV—it will extend beyond the mobility of people and will fill a societal need to mobilize services and commerce.

The e-Palette will be revolutionary in the retail market because not only will it deliver a customer’s order, but potentially a range of options – truly bringing the store to you.  Imagine ordering a pair of shoes and having multiple pairs of those shoes in a variety of sizes arrive at your door for you to try on. There will be no driver or need to travel your local centers of commerce. While this may be unimaginable today, it might very likely be the next generation’s retail experience. Toyota, along with partners like Amazon, Uber and Pizza Hut hope to launch the e-Palette by 2020.

The e-Palette has the potential to bring the convenience of retail to an entirely new level and it could have positive impacts such as reducing the number of single-occupancy trips per day and decreasing vehicle miles traveled per person. As people drive less, motor vehicle lanes could be reallocated to additional sidewalk space for pedestrians or to increase areas for curb access. But the e-Palette could have negative implications as well, such as the deactivation of downtowns, increased store closings, increased rates of social isolation and disengagement from the larger community among residents.

In response to these concerns, what are critical strategies cities can plan for to incentivize active downtowns, retail centers, or plazas? Additionally, the e-Palette will inevitably require new tax policy and mobile-retail regulations in general. How will the e-Palette concept be integrated into the budgetary needs of a city?

If you are interested in learning more about thee-Palette, you can watch the press conference here.

 

Interested in learning more about the retail apocalypse or the role of e-commerce in cities of the future? Join us at the Urbanism Next Conference where a series of leading scholars and practitioners will present their research on “Are stores doomed?”

Practitioner and Policy-Maker Perceptions of Planning for Autonomous Vehicles

In less than one month’s time, practitioners and policy-makers across the country will convene in Portland, Oregon to learn about, explore, and discuss a variety of topics related to transformative technologies, urbanism and planning.

What lies ahead for communities across the world is anyone’s guess—and the ‘guesses’ vary quite a bit. That’s just what Dr. Kristina M. Currans and Dr. Tara Goddard—Assistant Professors from University of Arizona and Texas A&M, respectively—are interested in. In the weeks between now and the conference, Drs. Currans and Goddard will be administering a 6-10-minute survey aimed at understanding practitioner and policy-maker perceptions of planning for autonomous vehicles.

The researchers plan to share the synthesis of their findings after the conference. In the meantime, they have made it available to the general public. Learn more and take their brief survey here!

Alexa, schedule a Whole Foods delivery

Photo by Anne Preble on Unsplash

That’s what some Amazon Prime members in Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Virginia Beach might be saying today after Amazon announced that it will begin offering free two-hour grocery delivery from Whole Foods. As you might recall, Amazon rocked the grocery world when it announced it was purchasing the upscale grocery chain in August last year. Now, some customers will have the option of ordering natural and organic products from their local Whole Foods store and having it all delivered for FREE within two hours. According toBloomberg Technology, 90% of Amazon Prime’s 90 million users live within 10 miles of a Whole Foods, so the announcement of a free delivery service perhaps should come as no surprise. And from a cost standpoint, you can see how this would pencil out—instead of pulling items off a shelf in some distant warehouse that then have to be transported to local destinations, goods will come directly from a nearby store right to your doorstep.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

This convenience does not come without implications, of course. For one thing, we could see an uptick in delivery traffic in the cities where this program is rolling out. (Did I mention that delivery is FREE?) Increased delivery traffic could result in increased congestion, particularly in dense areas, as drivers look for loading zones or possibly double park to drop off orders. (Even more reason why cities need to start digitizing those curbs.) There’s also the question of what this will do to suppliers. As Bloomberg’s Olivia Zaleski mentions, shelf space at Whole Foods could get a whole lot more expensive as suppliers compete for placement. And then there’s the competition that other grocery stores will experience–just this week, the Portland-based upscale grocery chain New Seasons announced that it will be closing a Sunnyvale, CA store it opened less than a year ago and will not be building the other California stores it had planned. They cited “growing pressure from new business models, including stores offering in-store pick-up of online orders and meal kit delivery services” as contributing to the decision. Imagine how much tougher it could get for them now that a direct competitor for their retail market can offer fast and free delivery.

Let us not overlook the equity implications of this announcement either. If you can afford an Amazon Prime account, you likely live within 10 miles of a Whole Foods, as noted above. Now you can get free delivery of fresh, organic foods. But what if you can’t afford an Amazon Prime account? E-commerce promises convenience, and perhaps no other company understands “that the most important value in American retail today is what’s is technically known as ‘consumer convenience'” than Amazon. But convenience comes with a price tag that many people cannot afford. How do we move into the future without widening the gaps between haves- and have-nots even more?

Join us for discussions about the equity implications of emerging technologies and what to do about them at the Urbanism Next Conference next month!

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!

Driverless Cars are Here (Just with Drivers) – TNCs

We often get the questions about when AVs will arrive – and although that date seems closer and closer — (see our post here about car manufacturers plans, here about level 4 automation in Phoenix last November, here about GM’s request for federal approval for a fleet of level 4 AVs to be rolled out in 2019, and here for an article about Waymo’s recent order of thousands of Pacifica vans they will be deploying as AVs around the country) — we like to point out that AVs, or more precisely the model of how we will use AVs, is already prevalent throughout the country in the form of TNCs.

Transportation Network Companies like Uber, Lyft, Via and Chariot are examples of exactly how we will be using AVs, just with drivers in them.  The mobile apps, the on-demand nature, the sometimes limited contact with anyone easily map onto the AV future.

The implication for this is that we can be studying the impacts of TNCs to get a sense of what the impacts of AVs will be.  Recent reports from Bruce Schaller, Susan Shaheen, and UC Davis’ 3 Revolutions on the impacts of TNCs on travel behavior and mode choice can be seen as early predictors of the future we will have with AVs.

For cities wondering what the future will look like, it has already arrived.  Just take a look at TNC impacts.

And Here Comes the Backlash… UPS and Teamsters Debate AVs

We have often said that the largest barrier to the roll-out of AVs will not be state of the technology, but instead the backlash to it.  Our work has focused on understanding the impacts of emerging technologies on cities and we firmly believe that these impacts, if not well structured and guided, might be detrimental to cities.  If cities and communities suffer – or fear they are going to be negatively impacted – we will start to see resistance to the technologies en masse.

As a case in point – UPS is currently in contract negotiations with the Teamsters and one of the key issues on the table is that UPS agree to not pursue the use of drone technology or autonomous vehicles.  From conversations we have had with transit agencies around the country, this is a similar issue coming up in labor negotiations nationally.

Labor and industry will need to figure out a path forward that takes into account the needs of workers and the reality of competition (as other companies that are pursing AVs may outcompete those that don’t).  This all points to a need to think proactively about the implications of these new technologies – going beyond transportation and beyond labor as well – to understand how we can best shape an emerging technology future.

Amazon Expanded Delivery Services Will Impact Warehousing

Amazon has been developing a program they call ‘Seller Flex’ which allows them to do deliveries for third party suppliers (this is Amazon delivering packages for products they do not stock, but offer through their website).  This will largely be competition for FedEx and UPS who currently do most of these types of deliveries.

The implications for warehousing is that individual sites around the city that stock different goods will now be more integrated into a network of warehouses.  This means space needs could be reduced, efficiencies could improve and there will start to be added benefits of having various key warehouses located near each other so that Amazon can more easily access and service them all.  Amazon will be streamlining delivery while not having to own all of the individual warehouses or merchandise themselves.

Early registration pricing for the Urbanism Next Conference 2018 ends Monday, February 5

The last day for early bird registration for the 2018 Urbanism Next conference is next week – Monday, February 5, 2018! Join us in Portland, Oregon March 5-7, 2018 to engage in dialogue about how technology is transforming our cities.

The conference will focus on the secondary impacts on real estate, land use, urban design, and transportation as a result of emerging technologies including autonomous vehicles.

Highlights:

  • Learn about the implications of emerging technologies for equity, the environment, the economy, and governance.
  • Hear from Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, ZipCar Founder Robin Chase, Nelson\Nygaard’s Jeff Tumlin and many more
  • Engage with architects, planners, landscape architects, developers, academics and others in interactive workshops

Please visit the conference site for additional details about speakers, schedule, and accommodations and to complete your registration.

Special rates are available for members of the AIA, APA, ASLA, ULI, and academics. Conference organizers are applying for continuing education credits for the American Institute of Architects (LU/HSWs) and the American Institute of Certified Planners (CMs). ASLA members are eligible to self-report hours per the requirements of their state licensure boards.

Future of jobs and the end of the cashier

Seattle may not have the SuperSonics basketball franchise anymore (this still burns me up—but that is a story for another day and a different blog) –or the headquarters of Boeing—but they do have supersonic convenience store checkout now. Amazon, based in Seattle, now has its first Amazon Go store up and running. This brick and mortar Amazon store location just requires shoppers to “Simply present the Amazon Go app at the gates and start shopping.” A range of technology (cameras and sensors) is used to monitor shoppers as they browse and shop. When the shoppers are done selecting their goods they just leave the store and get charged to their Amazon accounts.

Amazon Go store in Seattle (credit: www.theguardian.com)

Some shoppers at the store described the store as an experience that they just had to experience for themselves—“It’s at the cutting edge of AI and machine learning and I wanted to experience it for myself,” said one shopper. And while this may be novel for the shopper, it is a real threat to a lot of jobs (cashier being the 2nd most common job title in the US). This threat to employment is no longer in the far off distance of 2 or 3 years from now, as might be the case for truck drivers, but has actually already occurred. These types of shifts could be the end of a lot of jobs, but stores could also use as a way to improve customer services on the floor—and probably get shoppers to buy more as their employees focus on upselling rather than asking at check-out if “I found everything I was looking for.”

 

 

 

 

Podcast Double Feature – Urbanism Next on The Mobility Podcast and Convenience Matters

Here’s some food for thought to listen to on your commute home today – how might autonomous vehicles transform your commute next year? Urbanism Next’s Nico Larco and Becky Steckler share their thoughts on that question and more in two recent podcasts.

First, hear Nico’s discussion with The Mobility Podcast during the 2018 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting:

When we adopt new and innovative approaches to mobility, Nico Larco says we should pull back the curtain first. As the Co-Director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, Larco helps public and private entities understand the potential impacts of autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, and ecommerce on cities.

In this wide-ranging discussion, Larco describes how he evaluates these technologies as transportation issues in order to understand their secondary impacts on health, livability, and housing.

Next, check out Becky’s conversation about New Vehicle Technologies and Urban Design on Convenience Matters:

Emerging technologies are having profound effects on how we live, move and spend our time in cities, but also increasingly on urban form and development itself. Listen in as we discuss the secondary impacts of emerging technologies on urban design and transportation.

Register Now for the 2018 National Urbanism Next Conference

Early bird registration for the National Urbanism Next conference is now open!

Join us in Portland March 5-7, 2018 to engage in the dialogue about how technology is transforming our cities.

Highlights:

  • Learn about the secondary impacts of emerging technologies on land uses, urban design, transportation, and real estate markets and the implications of these changes for equity, the environment, the economy, and governance.
  • Hear from Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, ZipCar Founder Robin Chase, Nelson\Nygaard’s Jeff Tumlin and many more
  • Engage with planners, architects, landscape architects, developers, academics and others in interactive workshops and charrettes

Please visit the conference site for additional details about speakers, schedule, and accommodations and to complete your registration.

Special rates are available for AIA, APA, ASLA, and ULI members.

Stay connected on the latest news by following us on our Twitter and Facebook pages

Twitter: @urbanismnext

Facebook: Urbanism Next

We are grateful for the support of our partners and sponsors:

For questions, please contact Program Manager Becky Steckler, beckys@uoregon.edu

2018 Supreme Court ruling may help (or continue to hurt) state and local finances

Early last year Amazon indicated that they would finally start collecting sales tax in states that assess sales taxes, with the one caveat that they would only collect sales taxes on items that they sold or fulfilled. Only half of the goods sold on Amazon are sold by the e-commerce giant, leaving the rest of the goods (potentially) untaxed.

The Supreme Court has ruled that e-commerce retailers cannot be compelled to pay the sales taxes in states they don’t have a “physical presence.” With a $100 billion in e-commerce for the 2017 holiday season alone, e-commerce has a huge and growing footprint. State and local governments’ have been struggling as more commerce moves online—and the revenue from those sales disappears as brick & mortar close their doors. This year the Supreme Court has the potential to upend the long-running feud between state and local governments and online retail. While the court was certainly within its right to claim that the “requirements…the court decided, were indeed undue burdens that would ultimately harm the national economy” when they ruled on the Quill (mail order office supplier) case in the 1960s. However, technology has clearly reduced the regulatory compliance costs associated sales tax collection burdens—in that computers can easily match rates with each transaction and assure state/local compliance.

Beyond the regulatory burdens, “state and local governments will lose about $34 billion in revenue in 2018 because of the physical presence requirement” that was set forth in the Quill case. The physical presence rule has also hampered local economic development because “it discourages [online retailers] from establishing a brick-and-mortar location (and creating jobs) in a new state and being liable for collecting its sales tax. Online retailers also enjoy state services — like roads that allow their products to be delivered efficiently to customers — without contributing to their upkeep.” It is clearly far past time to recognize that e-commerce is just commerce.

 

 

 

Amazon’s Moves Directly Affecting Brick and Mortar Companies

In yet another sign of Amazon’s strength and impact on cities, a recent article tracked the way moves by the company had direct effects on other companies’ stocks.  When Amazon announced the purchase of Whole Foods, Kroger and Target lost value (10-20% of their value) with a second drop happening a few months later as Amazon announced it would be lowering prices in their Whole Foods stores.

This type of impact on competitors’ stock prices happened most dramatically when Amazon announced it was considering getting into the prescription business.  At that point CVS and Walgreens, the two largest pharmacy chains in the country, dropped a whopping 30+% over the next few weeks.

This trend was repeated with auto parts, delivery, and prepared food companies as Amazon announced moves that were viewed as competition for these industries.

The takeaway for our purposes is not so much a focus on the stock price, but on the notion that the stock prices are reflecting a perceived market shift away from these brick and mortar companies and towards the online retailer.  For cities this translates to store closings and increases in direct deliveries and warehousing.  The trend we have seen the last year, with more than 6,500 store closings – the highest ever in the US, will most probably continue into 2018.  Certainly something for all of us to be paying attention to and preparing for.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.