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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
“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.
SAVE THE DATE! The 2018 Urbanism Next Conference March 5-7, 2018 Portland, OR
Propose a session or workshop/charrette. Find more information here.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
There seems to be a push for federal AV legislation as the GOP is putting a package of bills forward on this topic. Of issue for Urbanism Next topics is that the bills continue the national trend of dealing with AV regulation in terms of how to accommodate the autonomous vehicle and not on the secondary effects these vehicles will have on our cities. The GOP package is focused on how the vehicles themselves will be regulated and permitted – for instance, a draft of the bills have an exemption of up to 100,000 vehicles per manufacturer from federal motor safety vehicle rules.
A big question here is what role the feds and/or the states will have in regulation. A good argument can be made about the problems with a patchwork of regulations across different states that are both cumbersome to manufacturers and a burden for the states themselves to develop – especially with so many unknowns about how this technology will play out. National leadership makes sense, but we are in a strange situation where this technology is advancing very quickly and therefore giving the states the ability to work more nimbly at a more local level may be prudent.
Again – in relation to Urbanism Next concerns, we would not want to see federal regulations that limit states’ ability to create and experiment with incentives and potential taxation structures that will help promote community benefits. The goal is to make great places to live and to improve quality of life (and figuring out how AVs fit into that picture), not just to get AVs on the road.
(UPDATE: A more recent article tracking the mark-up of the package of bills is here)
Micro-transit (privately operated transit) is seeing a new rise as Lyft-Line and Uber-Pool bring together each company’s ride sourcing model with the power of combining different riders along a route. As more people choose these options, the system becomes more and more efficient as there are greater chances of finding a few people who want routes similar to yours.
While some have envisioned this as a free-for-all where micro-transit now operates from any destination to any destination, eliminating some of the hierarchies inherent to fixed route transit, this is not exactly the case. Both Lyft and Uber have recently made moves to make their ride services more efficient by having riders walk to higher volume streets. Lyft has introduced ‘Pickup Suggestions‘ and Uber has their ‘walk to the corner system‘ – incentivizing people to walk to the nearest avenue or arterial instead of being picked up on a more minor street. This reduces travel time which allows more people to be picked up (without becoming frustrated at the wait).
From a city development perspective, this points to the continued importance of higher volume streets as transit hubs (even if it is not traditional transit) and begs the question of how to make pickups and drop-offs most efficient along these high volume routes (a designated spot on each block?). There are obvious benefits to having some kind of hierarchy in micro-transit – how should we design streets that can accommodate this?
Oslo, Norway will get AV bus transportation in 2018 (article can be found here in Norwegian). The bus system they are testing out will provide on-demand point A to B transportation in combination with fixed route services. The on-demand service will be linked to a smartphone application that will allow riders to hail the bus—similar to what we see with Lyft and Uber. The buses will carry 15 riders and can be essentially ‘driven’ by the passengers within a designated service area. The test will allow Oslo to determine if AV buses can help the city deal with a growing population without increasing the number of cars.
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?
The bad news for retail continues with Credit Suisse’s report that 8,640 stores are projected to close this year. That far eclipses the 6,163 stores that closed at the peak of the recession. The culprit seems to be a combination of e-commerce as well as the over building and expansion of retail.
As similarly reported in previous posts, they are also projecting that a quarter of all malls in the country will close in the next five years with low-end malls being hardest hit. This will not only affect local economies, but it will also leave communities with the task of figuring out what to do with large, vacant and deteriorating buildings in their midsts. The effects of this will unavoidably expand well beyond any mall’s property lines.
Credit Suisse is also projecting e-commerce clothing sales to more than double to 35% of that market by 2030 compared to the current 17%. This sector in particular will be interesting to watch as that shift could mean the closing of stores, but potentially also a shifting towards more omnichannel approaches and smaller ‘guideshops’ replacing current retail models (see Urbanism Next Research Papers for more on this).
STORE CLOSINGS – Full Year Estimates Source: Credit Suisse
While we have been compiling research and articles on this blog for the last few months, we have also been working on our own research. Today marks the start of our publishing a series of brief papers on issues related to Urbanism Next. The intention is to introduce you to some key topics that will be affecting how cities develop as they face ongoing and transformative changes in technology.
The first paper is co-written by Galen Carlson and Nico Larco and is focused on Re-Imagining Retail. Building on earlier posts about the challenges retail is currently facing, we look at the transformation retail is currently going through and the shift from brick-and-mortar, to e-commerce, to omnichannel approaches. The paper describes trends and includes data and resources that can help you understand where we are at, where we are heading, and where you can learn more.
Look for additional papers on residential preferences, warehousing, and the effects of urbanism next issues on municipal budgets – coming in the coming weeks.
Autonous freight is just around the corner as many believe it will be the first transportation sector to shift to autonomous control. That said, do not expect self-driving trucks to be cruising around cities just yet. An article from SupplyChain247 looking at the advent of autonomous freight describes the next step like this: “This is likely how driverless trucks will work at its infancy: At the city limit, …[a] computerized truck hands off to a human driver who navigates the city streets to the destination. A human driver will still touch every load.” Line hauls on the freeway will be autonomous, but this will connect to a transfer station where the an actual driver will climb onboard to make the final delivery, load new cargo, and bring the truck back out to the transfer spot.
Freeways will now need these transfer spots (modified truck stops?) and warehouses may have an even stronger incentive to move out beyond urban development to avoid the cost of the transfer, allowing trucks to come directly into the warehouse.
SCI is looking to hire a Program Manager for our Urbanism Next Research Initiative. This initiative – as you know – is focused on the effects autonomous vehicles, E-commerce and the sharing economy are having and will have on city form, development, and design.
This position will be in charge of managing the initiative which will include organizing research, developing relationships with partners in the private, public and academic sectors, organizing events, grant writing, and leading dissemination and outreach.
We are looking for someone who is a self-starter, smart, a team-player, detail oriented, and comfortable talking to a range of potential partners. The position will be based in Portland.
If you know anyone who might be interested, please let us know and share the link to apply – https://tinyurl.com/urbnextpm. A more detailed position description is also copied below.
Fehr and Peers have been modeling the impacts of autonomous vehicles on transit and their projections are dire. Coupled with a 12-68% increase in VMT will be a 16-43% decrease in transit trips. This would severely strain transit systems throughout the country – forcing many to close and constraining the network and service frequency of those that survive. This has tremendous implications for equity concerns, development patterns, and congestion. The reduction of transit services will compound the traffic problems created by the predicted increase in VMT. Eliminating transit would create gridlock in many areas as we simply cannot funnel as many people through a road segment in low occupancy cars as we can in a bus, train, or tram. As Glen Bolen of Otak has said – ‘You can’t fix geometry, it’s fixed’.
A recent report by RAND Europe takes a closer look at potential scenarios of technology innovation and the impacts on cities and design.
The scenarios touch on several areas of interest: autonomous vehicles, next-generation connectivity, user apps and Big Data, advanced manufacturing, Internet of Things, and sensors in infrastructure.
The authors look at three scenarios and depict what the future might look like:
Driving Ahead: AVs and shared vehicles lead to a growth in vehicle travel and congestion.
Live Local: Digital substitution for travel and environmental concerns limit the adoption of AVs, while road pricing is sophisticated, leading to lower per capita travel.
Digital Divide: Inequality leads to varying rates of adoption of technology; businesses move away from central London, and a peer-to-peer and sharing-based economy emerges.
Focusing on London, this thorough report goes on to look at barriers and enablers for adopting key technology, focusing on legal and regulatory frameworks. The authors offer a strategic roadmap of policy and innovation investment.
Focusing on these nuanced details is important. As the authors point out, these technologies will change transportation, travel, and lifestyles, and we need a vision in order to prepare for it.
Read the full report: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1377.html and a summary from Mobility Lab: https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/22/report-envisions-possible-paths-transportation-technologies-20-years/.
With the large projected reduction in parking needs arising with the proliferation of AVs and particularly shared AVs (around 90% less spots needed) there is a growing question of how we transition between current needs and this looming future. A new article in Wired looks at how architects are re-thinking parking garages so that they can function today, but can be easily converted in a shifting future. This will be an important issue for architects and developers to address.
[This post is slightly outside of the central focus of the blog – secondary effects on city development and design – but the issue of labor shifts due to the rise of autonomous vehicles is both important in itself and we believe could be a rallying cry to raise awareness of the effects of new technologies on cities. Concerns about labor need to be addressed and can help raise the visibility of concerns about changes in land use, design and development.]
A recent report titled ‘Stick Shift’ by the Center for Global Policy Solutions is one of the first comprehensive attempts to address the widespread effects of automated vehicles on the labor market. In line with many early predictions, AVs will lead to large shifts including a loss of more than four million jobs. While troubling in itself, this is compounded by the fact that these are jobs that are currently giving a wide swath of the population with low levels of education an alternative with decent pay that is keeping families out of poverty. This is especially troubling for minority populations “who are overrepresented in these occupations and who earn a ‘driving premium’—a median annual wage exceeding what they would receive in non-driving occupations” (given their level of education).
There is also a political dimension to this issue as “The top five states with the greatest percentage of workers in driving jobs in rank order are Mississippi (3.70 percent), Wyoming (3.64 percent), West Virginia (3.60), Idaho (3.45 percent), and North Dakota (3.44 percent).” How this type of change plays out in light of our current national narrative on work is difficult to predict, but would seem to only exacerbate current red state/blue state tensions.
The report ends with a series of policy recommendations that are necessary but also difficult to imagine in the current political climate. This collision of new technologies and real world pain and disruption in the labor market will somehow, however, need to be addressed.
Walmart seems intent on not losing out to Amazon and is investing heavily in E-Commerce to keep themselves competitive. The WSJ article states that while brick-and-mortar sales are slowly rising, online sales have skyrocketed up 16% over the last quarter (and that quarter was a 21% rise from the quarter before).
In a separate article from SupplyChain247, Walmart’s CEO talks about the future of retail. In short, in his view we will all be shopping online, will want to know the sourcing of our products and will want to make sure social and environmental sustainability is being considered.
In a recent interview, Ford CEO Mark Fields talks about the company’s expansion into various modes and shifting the focus from cars to people. Fields talks about several aspects relevant to Urbanism Next including commercial vitality in cities and accommodating multiple modes while focusing on people rather than vehicles.
The article goes on to wonder is the US is not ‘over-stored’ with “23.5 square feet of retail space per person compared with 16.4 in Canada and 11.1 in Australia.”
Of note in the article as well was the graph below, showing the change in share price of Walmart vs. Amazon. The picture is even grimmer if you look back 10 years. Walmart stock has risen 48% during that time versus Amazon’s 2,024% increase.
As a follow up to our last post on how large investments in AV technology by automakers may be somewhat of a gauge as to how real and soon this technology will be arriving, we recently came across this rundown of investments and advancements in AV’s by large firms. This text comes from the late 2016 Rocky Mountain Institute’s ‘Peak Car Ownership’ report.
“Apple is likely working on an advanced electric autonomous vehicle and recently invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing.
Google has been testing electric autonomous vehicles in Mountain View, California, and Austin, Texas, for many months and recently expanded to Arizona and Washington.
Uber recently began testing autonomous Ford Sedans and Volvo SUVs in Pittsburgh. CEO Travis Kalanick called autonomous vehicles providing Uber rides “existential” to the company’s survival.
GM, which recently invested $500 million in Lyft, is testing autonomous electric Chevy Bolts in San Francisco.
Tesla may be close to launching a mobility service. Morgan Stanley recently indicated that Tesla is in good position to launch its own electric, automated, on-demand mobility service by 2018 and modeled this insight into its relatively high valuation of the company. More recently, CEO Elon Musk released his “master plan part deux,” which details Tesla’s plan to launch an electric automated mobility service.
Daimler’s carshare subsidiary, Car2Go, has autonomous ambitions.
Volkswagen’s $300 million investment in European TNC Gett signals that it too is entering the mobility services market.
Ford CEO Mark Fields recently announced that Ford will mass produce autonomous vehicles (with no steering wheel) for use in ride-hailing services by 2021″
On this blog we are not in the habit of talking about the pace of AV adoption as we focus mainly on the secondary effects of this adoption. That said, we are often asked if AV’s are imminent or even a true pending reality.
While we cannot say for certain when AV’s will be fully out and part of our daily lives, we believe the investments that have happened around AV technology by the large auto manufacturers should give any skeptics pause. The string of these types of investments over the last 18 months was just expanded significantly as Ford just bought a majority ownership of Argo – an AV startup – for $1 Billion.
While it is no guarantee, a $1 billion investment seems to be a fairly good indication that AV’s are no longer anywhere near the realm of science fiction. They are coming – and we would guess they are coming soon.
This makes the lack of planning and visioning of the secondary effects on cities, that much more pertinent and critical. Much work to be done.
For anyone who has tried to re-purpose municipal parking into something else, it is likely they have faced resistance due to lost revenue. And with projections of autonomous vehicle adoption significantly reducing the need for parking, what will a city do? According to a recent report by Morgan Stanley, the answer is: make more money. They estimate that the introduction of autonomous vehicles will generate a half trillion dollars for municipal budgets, offset by only $1.3 billion from lost revenue such as parking fees and fuel taxes. This and other recent reports on some interesting ways to think of how municipal resources could be re-allocated for better and higher uses, such as reducing from 42% the amount of time police officers spend on issuing traffic citations, can be seen in this article in Governing.
Mall foreclosures continue to rise as retailers face more and more competition from E-commerce and a large rush away from enclosed malls. Many owners are letting their loans default instead of trying to restructure as they see no easy future in a shifting economy.
These declining/failing properties not only cause problems for tenants, but also for the surrounding properties. “If a mall closes or goes into decline, you’re going to see declining property values in the area,” commented Arthur C. Nelson, professor of Urban Planning and Real Estate Development at the University of Arizona. “The mall is a marker.”
One of the early casualties in the shift to E-commerce.
“Automated Vehicle (AV) technology promises to reshape the transportation system and the built environment in ways not seen since the introduction of the automobile over a century ago. By revolutionizing the nature of personal mobility and removing the need for passengers to be in the car at all times, AVs have the potential to dramatically impact roadway design and the built environment to yield urban spaces that are safer, more efficient, and attractive. However, unlike America’s first experience with the automobile, it is hoped that policy makers will recognize and take advantage of this opportunity to reshape our urban areas in ways that promote safe, sustainable, and people-centered environments. AV technology offers an opportunity to balance what have long been seen as conflicting goals of safer and more efficient transportation systems and urban environments founded upon the principles of sustainability and human-centered design. But the twin goals of efficiency and urbanity can be achieved only through proactive planning and investment by federal, state, regional and local transportation agencies.
This webinar will review the innovative work Florida Department of Transportation and Florida State University are doing to take the first steps toward envisioning the future in an AV world, a future that can yield attractive, people-friendly, efficient and safe urban environments. In addition, this webinar will identify near and medium-term infrastructure investments and policy decisions that could enable a smooth transition to a transportation system dominated by AVs. Few understood and foresaw the massive impact the automobile would have upon travel behaviors, transportation systems, and the built environment over a century ago. This session hopes to prepare and equip local governments with the tools necessary to take advantage of this remarkable opportunity to reshape the built environment into more livable communities.”
And the milestones keep coming. Las Vegas just made active the country’s first AV public transit shuttle. These type of fixed lines routes (transit lines) are obvious choices as early adopters as the environmental variables are limited. The bus is small – 12 passenger – and the route is short but it is yet another step towards full automation of the transit system.
This type of vehicle is potentially going to be doing the heavy lifting for paratransit and shared trips in the near future. Picture something like this coming to pick you up next time you use uberPOOL or Lyft Line.
USDOT just published a report on the Smart Cities Challenge process and lessons learned. They list six key categories of these lessons: How we move, How we move things, How we adapt (in terms of how these technologies affect climate change), How we move better (data, sensors, and monitoring), How we grow opportunities for all, and How we align decisions and dollars.
Starkly missing from this list is how all of these issues and technologies are going to be changing city form, development, and design – a key concern of this blog and the work we are doing. Without this layer of understanding and research, there could be devastating effects upon lives, economies, and regions. We need to continue to expand the conversation beyond the applications and development of the technologies itself.
Right hooks are just one of many issues that people on bike confront when trying to navigate city streets imperfectly designed for bicycle transportation and it seems that this is one area that autonomous vehicles don’t yet have an answer for, according to this article from the Guardian. If driverless cars only had to deal with other cars, then behavior and safety could be much more regulated, and in fact the vast safety savings anticipated from autonomous vehicles comes from a reduction in vehicle to vehicle, or even solo vehicle, crashes. But, cities are also made up of people who walk, bike, and roll, presenting different challenges due to speed, mobility, and the fact that the goal of walking, biking, or rolling is not always to maximize speed. And these other modes often have their own infrastructure that varies by block and intersection and part of town. For cycling, infrastructure ranges from simple bike lanes to protected bike lanes to no dedicated infrastructure at all, adding to the complexity. Figuring out how driverless vehicles will complement biking, especially as a worldwide resurgence in this sustainable and space saving form of transportation is taking place, will be especially important to get right for the sustainability of our cities.
When it comes down to it, transportation is all about the space. Want to maximize fast movement of vehicles unimpeded? Allocate plenty of space for cars and limit distractions like other modes or intersections or driveways. Want to keep driving easy and convenient? Allocate (actually, legislate) the provision of parking at home, at work, at shopping, and at play. Want to create protected bikeways that actually feel comfortable for people to use? Re-allocate street space for that purpose. Etc. Even for autonomous and connected vehicles, one of the arguments in their favor is their space saving qualities, from right-sizing the vehicles to the trip at hand to being able to reduce the space in between moving vehicles on the road.
Cities exist as a place where multiple activities come together in a relatively confined area. And space is a finite resource in cities; how that space is allocate will directly dictate what modes of transport are the most efficient, most convenient, most comfortable, and create the most enjoyable, livable environment in which to be a human being. This mapping project of the “Distribution of Public Space at Urban Intersections” nicely illustrates how urban transportation space tends to get distributed now. And the space-saving nature of bicycle transportation is an explicit guiding factor, in addition to environmental or health factors, for transportation planning in Copenhagen according to a recent municipal performance report.
How cities decide to right-size urban public space as more options for right-sizing transportation modes is perhaps the key question of the next decade.
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.
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?
In the continuing trend of the growing online shopping market-share, online shoppers (109 million) outpaced in-store shoppers (99 million) on Black Friday this year. Some of these shoppers actually did both on the same day, but the data shows a significant increase in online shopping activity from last year (2015: 103 million online and 102 million in-store). Actual expenditures online also surged ahead to $3.34 billion – a 21.6% increase over last year. And this does not include the online shopping high point of Cyber Monday that is happening today.
As we have discussed in previous posts, this trend – if it continues – will lead to a significant change in the number, location, and design of bricks-and-mortar stores. A large change to the organization of cities and the ways we live in them.
An analysis of DC Metro area bikeshare shows that a significantly larger share of trips start or end at stops within a quarter mile of the transit stations (compared to other stations in the system). The analysis postulates that this is due to a combination of typical local use AND trips to or from the nearby transit stop to these stations. First and last mile travel using bikeshare – and in the burbs no less.
CityMetric takes a look at whether the sharing economy can help address environmental and social challenges. Specifically, how can collaborative economy platforms be used to to tackle the needs of people, families, communities and local governments. How can we get information back to policy-makers and regulators?
In an interview in the Verge, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx envisions a future of cities with AVs, discussing the implications for regulations and safety. How will shifts in transportation affect the rest of society? How can AVs enhance communities and improve access in underserved communities? Are we prepared for AVs?
This article looks at the very real possibility that AVs will actually move slower in central cities than cars do today. This is based on two notions – first, the idea that AV’s risk averse algorithms will understandably slow them down or stop them whenever a pedestrian or cyclist crosses the street. Second, the idea that pedestrians and cyclists – now sure that cars will be stopping – will step off the curb or into traffic whenever they please, creating havoc for the efficiency of automobiles. Author Adam Millard-Ball asks us to imagine AVs trying to get through Manhattan while obeying all traffic rules and stopping with every pedestrians crossing at will.
The article points to a key issue regarding AVs in dense environments and how the interaction with other modes will severely hamper some of the largely claimed increases in speed. It would seem that these increases will most probably exist in suburban and exurban areas, but not as much in central cores. How does the speedy highway leading into the city deal with the congestion glut as cars enter slower networks downtown?
This article looks at what cars mean to us culturally and how that would change with AV’s. It reads as a bit of a swansong – a distant echo of people lamenting their relationship to their horses was about to change as cars first took over cities.
As strange as it may seem to those of us who came of age pre-2010 – and it remains to be seen – but it is hard to imagine the eight year old of today growing up to a moment in their early twenties when dumping thousands of dollars into a car seems like a good idea – not with uber, lyft, car2go, car share, bike share, etc etc out there.
USDOT Secretary Foxx says we may be the last generation to own cars as technology and ridesourcing takes off. One big motivator- we get to save a large chunk of the 18% of household budget that currently goes toward car ownership.
Zack Kanter’s post on AV’s is a well researched take on what the rollout of AV’s will look like. He describes the steps we will move through and some of the immediate fallout of these steps. Good series of citations (for those looking for more than opinions about these things).
The Urbanism Next Blog is focused on how changes in technology are reshaping the ways we live, move, and spend our time in cities. We are interested in emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles (AV’s), the rise of E-Commerce, and the proliferation of the sharing economy. While other parts of the blogosphere are looking at the technological aspects of these advances, we are interested in the effects the they will have on cities and city design.
Urbanism Next is meant to be a source for those interested in technology and the built environment and is particularly targeted towards urban designers, architects, planners, landscape architects, and developers. Visit the blog for links to relevant articles, commentaries on emerging trends, and critical thinking around the future of our cities.
The Urbanism Next Blog is part of the Sustainable Cities Initiative’s (SCI) Urbanism Next Research Initiative at the University of Oregon.
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