Category Archives: accessibility

National Academies of Engineering, Frontiers of Engineering – the Future of Transportation

This past weekend I was at the US-EU Frontiers of Engineering Workshop in Paris. The National Academies of Engineering asked me to co-chair the session on “The Future of Transportation.” Three researchers who are well known in the U.S. dazzled the collection of 50+ other engineers who represented other engineering fields.

Why Traffic Management Works…And Why Coordinated Traffic Management will Work Even Better
 – Serge Hoogendoorn, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands

Nash-Stackelberg Games in Transportation Networks: Leveraging the Power of Smartphones for Traffic Monitoring and Management
 - Alexandre Bayen, University of California, Berkeley

Impacts of the Sharing Economy in Transportation
 - Kari Edison Watkins, Georgia Institute of Technology

Here are two observations based on the session:

1. The last speaker, Prof. Watkins, offered several perspectives in the her presentation that got most of the Q & A session talking about issues of how to harness car travel; there was even a focused discussion about the role of cycling in all of this. Yes, some of the world’s brightest engineers were talking specifically about spurring more cycling as part of our transportation system for almost 15 minutes  (really, I had little to do with this).

2. A key element of Watkins’ presentation stressed elements of the “shared economy” and implications for transportation—in terms of sharing space and information.

For us transport folks, there are seemingly endless implications of the shared economy. One framework might be to approach this by thinking about different elements of non-auto using behavior vis-à-vis different considerations that are important for adoption.

Different elements of transportation and transportation information, of course, include: Transit information (e.g., when is the next bus), Bike and Car sharing (e.g., where are the stations), Cycle tracks (e.g., how do people use the network), Ride sharing or slugging (e.g., sharing space in a conventional car), Destination knowledge (e.g., where is the closest pizza)…the list can go on.

Considerations that are important for adoption would include:

-Are there general safety fears of the transport device being used (e.g., am I using someone else’s car whose brakes don’t work)?

-Are there specific safety and security fears with procuring access to the transport device (i.e., do I have to meet someone I don’t know to get a hold of the device)?

-Are you concurrently sharing a physical space with another person (e.g., sitting shotgun in their car)?

-How much reliability of the trip is needed (e.g., you absolutely need to get there now)?

-To what degree can the information exchange be public, done via open wiki or otherwise open source?

-To what degree would my anxiety about sharing space (e.g., a spot in their car) be overcome via forms of social media (e.g., leveraging facebook and 6 degrees of separation.

…the list can also go on.

The main point: to successfully leverage all the different forms of the shared economy for transportation, different forms of transport information have different criteria to “make it work.”

Where to Position Cycling in the Future Transportation Context for Cities

In order to properly position cycling amidst the larger transportation context in cities, we need to know more about what that future context of cities looks like. Just as every city or community has carved their unique path leading to its current situation, pushing that vision 50 years out is likely going to yield wildly disparate futures. Each path is shaped by a unique history, set of current conditions, culture, resources (which may or may not be available), and some unforeseen advents in technology. The future of Houston (United States) will be a stark contrast to Madrid (Spain), which will in turn not resemble Shanghai (China). And, the role of cycling in each will vary considerably.

There are several phenomena to consider in these discussions. A first has to do with the nature of growth in megacities (those with more than 10 million people) versus the growth that will be absorbed by other, smaller to medium sized cities. The second has to do with the predominant morphology of future growth. Will future development be comprised of high-rises or will it likely hover around a more manageable six stories? What will be the role of infill development? Third, what type of spatial interaction patterns will likely result? Are residents going to continue to geographically expand their circles for social activities and work or will there be a return to more localized interactions? No single projection seems to be winning out.

It is helpful to consider some prevailing global conditions to inform these discussions. There are more than a few trajectories to suggest that cities are destined for outward expansion; this suggests a decreased role for the benefits of immediate geography. The ubiquitous use of information and communication technology is the largest driver in this trajectory. As people rely increasingly rely on virtual social networks, they will rely less on their local and geographically based social networks, again, spurring, long-distance travel, if they chose to travel at all. In the transportation community, we have been talking for two decades about how telecommuting and delivery services will substitute for trips to get goods (e.g., clothing, food) and to go to work. While e-commerce comprises an approximate 5% of total retail sales (in the US), it is a phenomenon that has been increasing steadily[1]—and will inevitably to do so, thereby contributing to a trend people have less concern about living closer to services.

These forces combine with a seemingly insatiable appetite—at least for Americans—in variety seeking and comparison shopping. Prices and variety of goods will continue to play a strong role in purchasing decisions. This pushes large variety stores (e.g., big boxes) to get bigger and the trips to them less often but of greater consumption. The desire for variety is not limited to work or consuming goods. It extends to services such as schools and enrichment programs. Parents are increasingly maximizing their utility for the best overall school and fit; school districts increasingly offer this option via open enrollment. This trend diminishes the role of neighborhood schools and corresponding localized travel patterns. It, in turn, increases the burden on parents or school transportation districts to shuttle children across town.

While there are some convincing signs that the car—in its current form of a relatively lumbering machine, powered by a combustible engine, and driven by a human—might not be long for this world, the car will still be here to stay. The freedom, convenience, and privacy it provides is unparalleled with too many residents wedded to the services it provides. Furthermore, transportation networks, in most cities, are surface oriented, very mature, and predominantly structured around car travel. But cars will be increasingly smaller, propelled electrically, and driven autonomously. This will in turn increase mobility patterns for children, the elderly, and the disabled. It will ease the overall process of traveling by car, therefore leading to patterns of more and long distance travel which will facilitate exurbanization. These compelling forces paint a consistent picture of outward expansion that is less concerned about localized services. It generally weakens the central pull of cities—or neighborhoods—as activity centers.

But I believe there are other and more compelling factors to suggest that cities—and more specifically the geographic pull of neighborhoods—will ultimately win out in this tension. The ills of the traditional suburban model are now well exposed. There will always be individuals seeking both access to the big city but also pastoral living conditions; but these proportions will dwindle. On the other hand, I remain unconvinced that high-rise living is the ticket to the future. Skyscapers are less environmentally benign than is often considered[2]. This is has to do with aspects of their physical construction (e.g., being resource intensive and costly, lacking natural ventilation systems) and their effects on adjoining properties. Notwithstanding their density gains and other pleas[3], skyscrapers tend to be architecturally sterile and bereft of magic to feed human’s hunger for enchantment.

Future communities will necessarily be cognizant of their energy demands and their psychological effects; medium sized cities and towns are intrinsically better scaled for future energy realities but also humans’ intrinsic desire for belonging to a unique and localized sense of place. These places will be urban in the traditional sense of the word: compact, dense, mixed-use, and composed of neighborhood centers distributed throughout. A central transportation advantage lies in the scalability of this model. A neighborhood provides a sense of identity; several neighborhoods and a commercial district make a town; many towns comprise an average-sized city; many cities will form large metro regions. There is little new to this model. Its not a nostalgic call to return to traditional ways of occupying the landscape, just one that I think has staying power.

Traffic congestion will persist—and cyclists will still need to wrestle with it and its safety elements—but its overall burden to individuals will be less. It will be a different flavor of congestion given the increased use of smaller vehicles and sensors to better facilitate traffic management. Owing to automatic cars, people will multi-task in their cars even moreso than the average Italian does while driving and talking on their cell phone. Smartphones provide real-time information to endless services, easing the process by which different transportation services might be availed to the average traveler.

Then, if we believe in the diminishing role of gas to propel cars, this erodes the gas tax—a central source of funding for roads at all levels (at least in the United States). Local municipalities, realizing the demise of federal funding, will assume heightened responsibility for surface transportation, resulting in decisions that are better informed by capital, operating and maintenance costs and more equitably distributed across a variety of travel modes. Europe already does this well. The rest of the world will catch up in such thinking.

Putting the above factors to work as a visionary, I believe the land use-transportation future for most cities—big and small—is best captured in the following depiction. They will be oriented around central tenets of walkability, still allow car travel, and connected by rail lines. These urban places will exist on a much smaller scale than what is familiar to most people in big cities today, built on a much finer grain. Specifically, cycling will provide a much needed and valued connective tissue to bond both land uses and the other three predominant modes (walking, transit, car). Residents who live in urbanized areas—which would comprise more than 60% of the world’s population—would have a wide array of travel options available to them; many of these travel modes would rival one another in attractiveness or convenience. This means that common origins and destinations would be served by one or more of the following services: private auto, light rail, heavy rail, local bus, bus rapid transit, car-sharing, bike-sharing, walking, and of course, private cycling. Certainly not all services will be ubiquitous; however, most places would have two or more attractive travel options arranged in a seamless labyrinth of sorts where redundancy between modes is encouraged to the extent that resources allow.

These conditions culminate in environments not only accepting of bicycling but also help articulate a central role for it. I’m not going so far as to suggest that cycling will be the catalyst for a 21st Century urban renaissance[4], nor will it be the predominant form of transport (outside of select communities in Northern Europe). But, its status as a fringe mode will eventually be forgotten and cycling’s future will rest in its ability to “get along” and mesh with these other modes.


[1] See report and table at: http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/pdf/ec_current.pdf

[2] http://bettercities.net/news-opinion/blogs/michael-mehaffy/14138/more-low-down-tall-buildings

[3] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/03/how-skyscrapers-can-save-the-city/308387/

[4] http://www.archdaily.com/409556/why-cycle-cities-are-the-future/

The future of cities, some reflections on reflections from Kunstler

James Kunstler’s first book, The Geography of Nowhere, was a strong force in exciting my interest in city planning. But the more I learned about the nature of cities and their dynamics, the more I saw through his journalistic view of the world. His ideas are persuasively presented, but typically barren of justifications and evidence. That is fine. He is a journalist and I am an academic.

This more recent essay from Kunstler (now two years old) is not all bad, however. He weaves together a variety of drivers on which to base a coherent and persuasive vision for the future of cities. I appreciate where he ends up. Though, there are more than a few outstanding questions:

-Are skyscrapers really not environmental?

-What about the semi-reliable predictions that the future of global population growth will reside in the equivalent of 10 new megacities of 10 million inhabitants each year for the next 20 years.

-Is there available real estate to develop at only the suggested 6 story level for such gargantuan growth? I have not run the numbers but I suggest not.

-A central premise of his arguments rests on the decline of cheap oil and water. Will this really be the case in 30 years? Have we not been hearing of such for the past 30 years? And, if it does become more scarce, who is to say that government subsidies–or lack of taxes–won’t diminish the impact.

-And, I certainly don’t get the impression that Harvard GSD is anti-new urbanism. Maybe I am missing something (again).

Do you live in a city?

A couple of observations about the following diagnostic chart that was  recently released on NPR. Its a really good start. It would be fun to have a few more cultural or socially constructed elements as criteria–as opposed to the primary elements being those of the built environment. Right now, there are more or less three that are not built-environment centrci: starbucks, applebees, pets as livestock. But, notice that it all starts with transportation: how do you get to work. This is telling.

And, from bike you go straight to having animals? I guess there is some psychological/sociological research out there about such? Then, I question if the Applebee’s criteria is all that telling?

Do You Live In A City? Hm. Let's Find Out

Top three things for Denver Regional Council Scenario Planning

I was privileged to participate as an expert panelist in Denver Regional Council’s  Scenario Planning Workshop earlier in the month. During my 20 minute presentation to the “public” group session, I stressed three points–further demonstrated by the below slides.

1. As it relates to urban planning and future scenarios, we need to scrutinize trends (socio-demographic, travel consumption, etc) prior to hanging one’s hat on those trends that favor particular outcomes.

2. Accessibility should unquestionably be a guiding “Measure of Effectiveness” for scenario planning.

3. There might be a large potential by aiming to increasing land use mix and density in certain key areas around Denver to better “internally capture trips and maximize likelihood for cycling.

DRCOG Metro Vision 2040 Kickoff

This coming June 7 & 8, I will be participating in:

DRCOG METRO VISION 2040 KICKOFF

Thursday, June 7, 12:30-5:00pm – History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway, Martin Room, 4th floor, Denver

Metro Vision is the Denver region’s plan to protect and enhance quality of life by guiding growth, transportation and environmental quality into the future.  The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) adopted the original one-page vision statement that is the foundation of the Metro Vision plan in 1992. Now 20 years later, DRCOG is conducting a major update of the plan to address new challenges and opportunities facing the region.

At the June 7 kickoff event, you will:

  • Get an overview of the two-year process for developing Metro Vision 2040
  • Learn the preliminary results of the Metro Vision 2040 Listening Tour – DRCOG is conducting a series of focus groups, interviews and an online survey to identify key issues the Metro Vision 2040 plan should address
  • Hear commentary from a panel of national experts on regional planning and scenario analysis, including Reid Ewing, University of Utah, Paul Waddell, University of California at Berkeley, Uri Avin, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Kevin J. Krizek, University of Colorado.
  • Help DRCOG design alternative future scenarios to explore for the Denver region
  • Network with Federal representatives from the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration

This workshop is being supported by the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, and is part of the Denver region’s Sustainable Communities Initiative.

Land Use Impacts of Transportation Revenue Mechanisms

On June 5, I will be participating in the below:

Land Use Impacts of Transportation Revenue Mechanisms
Urban Land Institute | Transportation Policy and Finance Project  Expert Workshop

June 5, 2012
ULI offices, Washington, DC

Workshop goals
‐ Explore, through structured small and large group discussions, the impacts of
various transportation revenue options—including tolls, vehicle miles traveled
(VMT) taxes, and congestion pricing—on land use, development patterns, and
societal equity.
‐ Elevate the importance of land use as various transportation policy and
revenue choices are debated at the federal, state and local levels over the
coming decade.

Background: Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. began building a world‐class, nation‐spanning, expressway system—the Interstate Highway System—funding this system with taxes on the
consumption of motor fuels. But what if tolls had been chosen instead? Would it
have made a difference for U.S. cities and metropolitan land use patterns?
Today, policy makers are facing a similar decision point. Taxes on motor fuels
are a declining revenue source, and the use of tolls and other alternate funding
mechanisms is on the rise. Revenue‐generating mechanisms, such as variable
tolls, appear to promote economic efficiency by better matching price to demand.
By changing the link between the travel and costs, these mechanisms may also
have impacts on land use and development patterns.   This workshop and other related activities are designed to explore these impacts, and their implications for equity, and to suggest directions for future research and exploration.

Participants Invitees have been carefully selected for their land use and transportation
expertise. Expected workshop attendance is 14‐16 people.

Outcomes Workshop conclusions will be combined with other research in a widely
disseminated report targeted at policymakers.

Freeway lids…still making news

NPR (in San Diego) reported yesterday of the potential for freeway lids to re-connect communities. The idea–which obviously carries a high price tag (but not ridiculously so considering other transport projects)–still holds good value because it provides land and space (in places without land and space) in addition to the connectivity benefits. Oh, and it also provides endless pedagogical benefits

Gravity model no more ?

If Nature and Science are the proclaimed “rock star” journals, then it behooves us to pay attention to how some of the research published there might pertain to our specific field (It is not often that transport or other planning applications appear in these venues).Here is an idea that might grow some legs: A universal model for mobility and migration patterns.

 

Marta C. González,Amos Maritan

 

484,96–100 (05 April 20 doi:10.1038/nature10856

Unveiling the hidden self-similarity in human mobility.


The authors appear to rightfully “taking down” the tried and true gravity model based on, among other things:

-the size or “attraction” component of either the origin or destination matters less,
-the often used K-factors are site specific,
-impedance functions are too often borrowed,
-it is too difficult to calibrate to local settings and if you don’t, it is prone to big time error.

I have not read the details of their prescribed solution. It sounds good. But, it is interesting (and refreshing) that these improvements are coming from fields not directly tied to either land use or transport. We need more of that.