David Levinson and I authored, “The Shapes of Streets to Come – How New Transport Technology will Reshape Urban Space” which appeared in European Financial Review (registration required) (reprinted below). [PDF version here: TEFR AugSep 2016 – The Shapes of Streets to Come – How New Transport Technology will Reshape Urban Space]


By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek

Autonomous vehicles are coming. At their best, AVs are stimulating an impulse to drive genuine innovation. At its worst, they are a hubris that causes us to overthink the solutions to transport problems in cities.

Big changes are coming for how people will get around in cities across the globe. The most important change will hinge on the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Simultaneously, cities will witness the conversion of the vehicle fleet to being primarily electric-powered (from a grid rapidly converting to renewable energy and off-the-grid solar charging) and new ownership models like shared mobility become more common.

The overall pace of deployment of AVs and their effects will vary by the size of the city, the cost of labour, and the desire for politicians and their constituents to innovate. How all of these factors play out on the multiple stages and multiple scales (e.g. the neighbourhood, metropolitan, and national levels) will prove exciting to watch. The best part is that you not only get to observe how things will play out; you get to participate as well. We preview many of the prevailing tensions of this emerging landscape below.

Autonomous Vehicles

After decades of technological slumber in the automobile industry, self-driving cars are here. Rolling on the roads today in semi-urban environments are cars that can recognise speed limits and adjust their speed instantly. They can maintain a safe following distance from other cars, and brake when needed. They can even recognise the difference between cars, buses, and cyclists. The technology is at the cusp of being widely deployed, something that will take place over the next two decades. Significant other hurdles, however, lie ahead. These impediments include how cultures might adapt (e.g. how quickly will people surrender control, and their comfort with technology), legal regimes might change (e.g. standards, reconciling responsibility in crashes, the role of licensing), and street designs will be altered (e.g. the extent to which AVs will be apportioned separated lanes on different types of roads, and how soon human-controlled vehicles will be prohibited in places). We focus on the last hurdle here.

One of the strongest but often unrealised arguments for the advent of AVs relates to street capacity. Where today a freeway travel lane is typically 3.6 meters wide, with AVs, a standard lane might only have to be 2 meters (just wider than the width of a full- size car or SUV). This alone nearly doubles capacity. Farther into the future, lanes might be dynamically resized rather than permanently fixed in paint. Being automated, these cars can trail one another more closely as well. Instead of following at two seconds or one-and-a-half seconds, they might follow at one second or less, increasing throughput.

Today the average vehicle carries only one or two people, yet the average vehicle has seats for four or six or eight passengers. The fleet is oversized, especially in the US. Americans have a propensity to buy large cars for the few times when they may need it. The extra seats, however, sit unused most of the time. Automation, combined with mobility-as-a-service presents opportunities for new vehicle forms.

New Types and Forms of Cars

Smaller one and two-person vehicles can be the new standard, and larger cars the exception, only summoned on demand when needed. In lower density areas, travel distances remain large, but the use of AVs will allow suburbs and small towns to wring out more road capacity, provide good arguments against road expansion, and claw-back space that has been given over to parking.

A city can start to realise large benefits because it can get more capacity out of that smaller vehicle, more energy efficiency, a greater range for the battery, and so on. One of the more noticeable elements will be a transformation of the shape of the car. Vehicles will begin to sport new designs whose markets will be defined by required use. Consider an enclosed motorcycle that’s electric, quiet, safe, stabilised, and automated. It is safe because, not only is the vehicle designed well, with a roll bar and all that, and because it is driven by a computer with nearly instant reaction times, but because all the other vehicles are also automated. Small cars require less space and it is easy to see how future cars will starkly contrast with their ancestors. Meanwhile, sensors and computers replace the human-facing control functions; electrification is changing the entire motor system, so future cars will be simpler to manufacture and maintain than the internal combustion engine.

Innovations in Related Modes

The complexity of how and when – not if – to accommodate AVs will be further complicated because other modes of transport are re-inventing themselves as well. Different types of mobility-as-a-service are coming on line. These include new forms of taxis and transit services that are both smaller and bigger than a standard bus. Taxis will be more extensively used because the vehicles are smaller and driverless, and so cheaper. In urban areas, there will be more frequent transit services in selected corridors, which will be less expensive to provide as labour is automated away. Elsewhere, today’s infrequent bus and commuter rail services will be replaced by mobility-as-a-service type of options; instead of having a bus that comes once an hour, people will be using taxis – often single passenger taxis, maybe shared ride taxis. While the exact market configuration (who owns, who rents, who shares a ride, who rides alone) will be sorted out over time, it is clearer to see how, like today in Manhattan, people who live in dense cities won’t be owning cars, but instead will subscribe to a service, buy the services on demand, or find it provided by the public as a “free” utility, like the elevator in an office building

Role of Walking and Bicycling

Amidst this uncertainty, bicycling and walking will thrive for shorter and medium distance trips. These might be trips where people yearn for physical activity or just want to be outside. Their use will continue to be constrained by weather and hills, though e-bikes, with electrical pedal assistance, will mitigate some of that. This is one of the reasons we will likely see an increase in the attention devoted to physically powered movement for next few years. It is green and energy efficient. It makes many people feel better. Most importantly, bicycling and walking are modes that are relatively known and proven in selected markets.

All of this is to say that traditional modes, bicycling and walking will continue to exist and begin to thrive even in the US. This owes to increased population densities in central cities (and trip distances therefore decreasing), increased safety because AVs are less likely to kill them than human driven vehicles are, and a growing inclination to more fully connect with others and their environment.

Infrastructure Needs and Who Gets What Space

How will street space be appropriated in a manner that will allow multiple modes to harmoniously co-exist? Answers to this question will play out differently between and within cities. Fundamental geometric limits ultimately dictate the usefulness of these improvements. Where the intensity of development is higher, several modes will compete for the same space. Different modes can safely mix in the same shared space at slow speeds, as is now found in historic sections of many European cities. Further away from these cores in lower density areas, where space allows, the infrastructure provision for modes will be more segregated.

Typically, local municipalities operate the local streets and state or regional agencies maintain the connecting the backbone. On the backbone, we envision special (managed) lanes for automated cars for a period of time, just as today we have express, HOV, or high occupancy/toll lanes. It may even be the same lanes will benefit all users, as separated lanes will allow reaping the benefits of closer following distances than possible with mixed (human plus automated) traffic. As all vehicles become automated, all lanes will be managed.

Shapes of Streets and Shapes of Cities

The ability for cities to dynamically reconfigure lanes and repurpose streets will be the central challenge. The speed and manner in which cities and regions respond to the onset of these big changes will vary. Some places will move quicker than others. Politics and openness to innovation will be important. But ideas are light baggage, and successful policies will be quickly copied and emulated.

Shapes and patterns of development of communities determine how most people get around. The size and nature of buildings and roads are important. The prevailing perspective is that cities have evolved under different technological and political regimes; they therefore embody the DNA of their continents. Granting exceptions, North American cities have a DNA that is distinct from their Asian, European, or Latin American counterparts. Cities in Europe are smaller in size, they were mostly formulated in an era prior to automobile, and their networks for movement are more multi-modal. It’s sometimes easier to get things done without a car, automated or not. Hundreds of European cities already have an extensive track record severely limiting automobile traffic in historic districts. The Italians call it the ZTL (Zona a Traffico Limitato). We expect European cities will be keener to take back even more street space from the new AV, and use it for landscaping, linear parks, cycle tracks, and high-frequency transit services. Places in other parts of the world will follow suit.

AVs and the Future of Cities

At their best, AVs are stimulating an impulse to drive genuine innovation that will make lives richer and more connected, faster and safer, and more productive. At its worst, they are a hubris that causes us to overthink and over-engineer the solutions to transport problems in cities. Either way, AVs are coming. It is just a matter of when and how.

Political and legal systems in cities will be forced to play catch up with technological systems. The cities that do will win the 21st century. The others are building unnecessary capacity justified by extrapolating the exhausted trends of the past. The aim of transport should be ensuring people and goods can reach their destination safely and efficiently. This requires focusing on what will improve access tomorrow, not what might have increased access yesterday.

Featured image courtesy of the author Kevin J. Krizek

About the Authors

David Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek are the authors of The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport, available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks.


David M. Levinson is Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota and will soon be joining the University of Sydney. He holds the RP Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation.


Kevin J. Krizek is Professor and Director of the Environmental Design Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He also serves as the visiting professor of “Cycling in Changing Urban Regions” at Radboud University in the Netherlands. Krizek was a 2013 fellow of the Leopold Leadership Program and was awarded a 2014 US-Italy Fulbright Scholarship.

The Riderless bike is here to save all urban woes

First there was the April Fools Google video demonstrating the self-driving bicycle.

However, RDRLESS gets the “one-up award” with the notable digs in this spoof video. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“What is unique about our product, is that it completely eliminates the need for a rider.”

“I know should probably ride my bike, its the healthier option. But I love driving  my car to work. …this way, I can do both!”

“It gives me goosebumps to imagine that one day our children will live in a world were no one has to ride their bike, ever again.”

Velo-city 2017, call for contributions

Call for contributions

Scientists for Cycling Colloquium, 12 June 2017,
Arnhem-Nijmegen, The Netherlands

The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), its global network Scientists for Cycling (S4C), Radboud University, Nijmegen (Institute of Management Research – IMR) and the Province of Gelderland (the Netherlands) are pleased to invite cycling researchers from all over the world to participate in the Scientific Colloquium taking place on June 12 prior to Velo-city 2017 Arnhem-Nijmegen.

High quality research papers and/or presentations from all fields of study and disciplinary backgrounds that are relevant to cycling are invited. In addition, a central focus is to foster interdisciplinary networking opportunities for both academics and practitioners involved in research that will strengthen alliances and facilitate the transfer of knowledge to action. The aim is to gather researchers and scientists who are inspired to address and discuss all aspects of cycling in all contexts, including city development, other different mobility contexts and sustainable transport more generally. These domains include but are not limited to, transport planning and policy, transport and traffic, health, engineering and infrastructure, socio-anthropological aspects, logistics, and economics.

Researchers and practitioners involved in research are invited to participate in the Scientific Colloquium—and more broadly in the Velo-city conference—in one or more of the following modes:

  • Full scientific papers (~6,000 words). These will be fully peer reviewed according to academic standards for selected research journals. We have established agreements with the Journal of Transport and Land Use and the Journal of Transport and Health.
  • Extended abstracts (~1,000 words) for researchers to share recent research findings, on-going research, new theories, and exemplary case studies.
  • Panels focusing on contentious and difficult topics to bring together academics and practitioners to confirm and challenge the existing knowledge base, identify research needs, and ultimately inform future research programs.

The deadline for submission for each of the three modes is 15 September 2016. A more detailed description of the submission procedure, deadlines, and additional specifics will follow. Registration costs for researchers participating in the scientific event will be steeply discounted, particularly for those will also be directly participating in the general part of the Velo-city 2017 program.

All submissions will be evaluated by the scientific committee and grouped according to the below themed categories.

Venue scientific colloquium:
DROOMvilla LUX (website)
Oranjesingel 42
6511 NW Nijmegen

S4C Colloquium Nijmegen 2017 Scientific Steering Board

  • Kevin J. Krizek, chair, University of Colorado Boulder & Radboud University
  • Karel Martens, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology & Radboud University
  • Maria Hopman, Radboud University
  • Fariya Sharmeen, Radboud University & Imperial College London
  • Manfred Neun, Chair of the Scientists for Cycling Advisory Board, European Cyclists’ Federation


S4C Colloquium Nijmegen 2017 Scientific Steering Committee and Theme Track Chairs

Planning and policy

  • Karel Martens, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology & Radboud University
  • Susan Handy, University of California Davis
  • Ralph Buehler, Virginia Polytechnic Institute

Engineering and Infrastructure

  • John Parkin, University of the West of England, Bristol
  • Regine Gerike, TU Dresden
  • Peter Furth, Northeastern University


  • Maria Hopman, Radboud University
  • Thomas Gotschi, University of Zurich
  • Bas de Geus, University of Brussels


  • Luis Vivanco, University of Vermont
  • Ruth Oldenziel, TU Eindhoven
  • Peter Cox, University of Chester (UK)
  • Marco Te Brömmelstroet, University of Amsterdam


  • Serge Hoogendoorn, TU Delft
  • Susanne Balm, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences


  • Manfred Neun, Chair of the Scientists for Cycling Advisory Board, European Cyclists’ Federation
  • Erik Verhoef, VU University, Amsterdam
  • Kees van Ommeren, Decisio

Intersection time lapse, Groningen

The autonomous vehicle is coming. Some places will fair with the nature of it better than others. From what on what I filmed in this intersection time-lapse–and based on what I know of the Google Car’s nature of being risk averse, communities like Groningen will likely co-exist with autonomous cars just fine.

IKEA freight bikes

Ikea freight close Ikea freight bike farIn Groningen, the Netherlands, owing largely to the student population and the bicycling-centered nature of everything, IKEA got on board with the ability to self deliver one’s products. For roughly $5 per hour, one can rent a freight bike to deliver new sofas, desks, tables, etc.  to your apartment. Furthermore, IKEA is a ridiculously close 1.7 km from the center of town. That’s taking it up a notch.


Understanding the magic

…and there I was, at an intersection just on the north side of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was a random Friday evening in January; about 28 degrees (F) with a sleet rain gently falling. It was here and at a few other places during my walk to the city center where I tried to peal back the layers of the onion. I wanted to further understand Amsterdam’s cycling success.

I used to say that mild weather was a contributing factor, but as I could no longer take video because my fingers were too frozen and I could hardly make out images of bikes from cars owing to the rain and dim lights (see below), I was prompted to further uncover other explanations.  It was not impressive that Amsterdamers biked in the rain and bad weather. We knew that. What was impressive was the shear numbers of people doing so on a Friday evening (after work) in dark and miserable conditions.

Then I came across this–a powerful (yet somewhat related) distillation of what is going on.  I am glad I am not the only one who is mildly confused. The quest continues.




Museum of Parking, mountain west style

CU-Boulder is joining the ranks of other universities by opening the rocky mountain branch of the Museum of Parking.  The signature branch from the University of Minnesota documented here, albeit of the surface parking variety.

As has been reported on and extolled by the Transportationist, this is exciting news for those in the local Museum-going community. [the following is adapted from the Transportationist:] The new facility will help 21st century university faculty, staff, and students study the details associated with the storage of cars, as practiced in 20th century America, taking advantage of CU’s location in a dynamic setting–but this time in a facility intimately connected with the practice of American sports (football). The site will be a living laboratory, not just for the observation of other people parking cars in the traditional mold, but also enabling students and visitors to park cars, by themselves, for a more than a small fee. The value for transportation engineering courses is immeasurable.

Insights into Boulder’s protected bike lane reversal

My current hometown, Boulder (CO), has reportedly been one of the forefront communities for bicycle planning since the mid 1990’s. It is  one of the reasons my family and I decided to move here in 2007. But I have  gone on record questioning whether its reputed position is deserved, particularly over the past few years; legacy affects live on for years. From a sideline perspective (and nothing more), it appears as if city council has lost their “gusto” for aggressive cycling types of initiatives.

The recent dust-up–or more than that–to reverse the protected bike lanes on Folsom street in Boulder, reaffirms this assertion.

In what could easily provide the foundations for an interesting case study in city politics, ‘supposed’ progressive planning, and bicycling,  an article in the ColoradoDaily sheds light on the inner baseball that went on and how the project came undone. I suspect that some facts or perceptions might be slightly mis-represented here, but at least it provides a start.

ps. In reading the recap, remember one of the proverbial tag-lines describing Boulder’s population: “Boulderites are among the most liberal of all people–but only about things that don’t directly affect them.”

How bicycling can save the environment…according to one report

A new report (commissioned by: Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI); European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF); Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA)) was just released showing that a 10 percent shift in urban cycling globally would save $25 trillion and cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 11 percent by 2050. A summary is here.

The report provides a thorough run-down of current cycling rates (by country) and possible projections. The focus on e-bikes is a welcome addition. After all, two-wheelers (a variation of e-bikes) are the most rapidly growing form of urban mobility in rapidly  developing cities of Asia and increasingly Latin America and Africa. The outstanding question, however, is:  are they often stepping stones to eventual full-blown automobility? Then, are their safety, nuisance, pedestrian-clash impacts greater than those of traditional cars? Motor-assisted versus pedaled two-wheelers are different worlds and present emerging issues, even in Holland.  And, while bikes are becoming more like cars and vice versa, things that resemble bikes still have huge social, cultural, and other hurdles to overcome. 

Here are other notable quotes from notable people about the report that can be found at a third party account of the article.

“The conclusions that if we could increase cycling for more urban travel we could reduce carbon dioxide is intuitively true,” Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said. “The importance of the report is that it begins to put numbers on the order of magnitude concerning what such a shift could mean if it came to pass. The degree this can succeed depends upon the degree to which the political climate will permit us to move away from the present BAU (business as usual).”

Ralph Buehler, associate professor of urban affairs at Virginia Tech, called the report “daring” because it comes up with big-picture estimates of global bike use at a time when data on global cycling trends are poor, particularly for developing countries. “The nice thing is, it gives us a look into what’s possible,” Buehler said. “They estimate that bike trips will replace more carbon-intensive trips, and that’s where the carbon dioxide emissions savings will come from. I think the estimates sound reasonable to me.”

Susan Shaheen, director of Innovative Mobility Research at University of California-Berkeley, said the feasibility for a broad urban shift toward cycling depends on the city. “Increased investment in infrastructure that promotes safety and separation from automobiles would likely make scenarios envisioned in this report more plausible,” she said.


Colorado public radio, Going Dutch

Reported from Colorado Public Radio on my first “full, live Howard Stern type” interview this morning….

Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins consistently turn up on lists of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. But when it comes to cycling, Americans arguably have nothing on the Dutch.

 In the Netherlands, almost everyone rides a bike — to school, to work, to shops. Cycling, says University of Colorado environmental studies professor Kevin Krizek, is part of the DNA of every citizen in the Netherlands. And yet, there have been very few academic studies of Dutch bicycling.

Krizek has just begun a three-year research project to find out why the Dutch are so fond of cycling. He hopes his findings will help inform urban planners in the United States.