I spoke last week with Njogu Morgan, a post-doctoral researcher specializing in transportation equity in Africa, specifically South Africa, where he is based. As a historian, his research centers around how we can use historical context to better understand current transportation system inequities and access. He’s starting a new research network of emerging and developing scholars who are interested in mobility issues from a historical perspective.
I caught up with Manuel Santana Palacios last week to discuss his recent research as a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley at the Department of City and Regional Planning with Dan Chatman. His research looks at equity within the bus rapid transit and private transportation networks in Barranquilla, Colombia and Cape Town, South Africa. His interviews with residents shed light on the tension between what planners and policy makers think will best serve residents and the factors that drive transportation behavior among residents. A few takeaways:
- Planners arrive with an assumption that large-scale transportation infrastructure project solves vexing challenges that are most pressing for residents such as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and safety when in fact, what residents really need are shorter travel times and affordability.
- Trunk-feeder BRT systems deliver more equitable outcomes in cities with long trunk corridors. This particular urban form compensates for additional transfer times which are often induced by the trunk-feeder BRTs.
- We need to seize this moment to really deliver transportation that meets the needs of residents. Otherwise, getting them to return to public transit after Covid-19 is over will be really difficult.
“For a long time we’ve talked about how everybody’s moving to cities […] but I think the pandemic is making people rethink that a little bit if they can get broadband in a rural community.” – Rob McCann, Founder, Clearcable
I spoke last week with with Rob McCann, the Founder of Clearcable, an Ontario-based supplier of broadband connectivity. I discussed how the pandemic and stay-at-home orders have impacted the supply and demand of broadband among their clients throughout North America. My key take-aways from this discussion:
- Clearcable saw its broadband usage jump 25% immediately following the stay-at-home orders in March. His explanation of how Clearcable was able to absorb this instant demand spike is a clear example of the rewards of long-term infrastructure planning.
- I was intrigued by his explanation of how cities can derisk the economics of rural broadband connectivity by entering the market as Open Access networks or fully competitive ISPs.
- Rob believes the pandemic and work-from-home options have slowed urban migration trends and, indeed, presented broadband connectivity as an antidote to the rural-urban migration that has characterized so much of the discussion around urban sustainability over the last 20 years. Do you agree or disagree? Please add your comments below.
I spoke last week to Adrian Benepe, former commissioner for the NYC Parks Department and currently the Senior Vice President and Director of National Programs at The Trust for Public Land.
We discussed a lot of things – the increased use of parks in the era of COVID-19, the role parks have historically played – and currently play – in citizens’ first amendment right to free speech and protests, access & equity for underserved communities, the coming budget shortfalls and how they might play out in park systems.
I wanted to pull out the discussion we had about funding for parks and share Adrian’s thoughts with all of you, as I think it will be most timely and valuable as we move forward with new budgets and new realities.
What is the Role of Chief Resilience Officers in Responding to COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter Protests?
I spoke recently with Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy about his work with Resiliency Officers around the world through the Global Resilient Cities Network. My four takeaways from this 9-minute video:
- As Stewart says, COVID-19 “ripped the bandaid off” to show the weaknesses and frailties of our cities and towns. Chief Resiliency Officers (CROs) around the world are well positioned to assist Mayors in mitigating/recovering from Covid-19 and responding to the protests and civil unrest across our cities.
- Their interdisciplinary, holistic role is exactly what’s needed right now as we tackle the enormous task(s) currently at play in cities throughout the world. Not surprisingly, cities, and even states, are creating more resiliency officer positions. Louisiana, for example, has recently created a State Resiliency Officer position.
- Resiliency’s baked-in focus on equity and racial justice sets up resiliency officers to quickly engage and assist Mayors offices as they respond to the protests and call for racial justice.
- Resiliency officers are seeking to expand their network to engage with leaders (across sectors) focused on this work through the new Cities for Resiliency Recovery network. More information is here.
Laetitia Dablanc is a Director of Research at the University Gustave Eiffel/IFSTTAR and a member of MetroFreight, a VREF Center of excellence in urban freight research. I spoke to her recently about lessons learned from the COVID-19 lockdown in Paris.
My take aways from this 6-min video:
- She estimates that the lockdown resulted in a 30% reduction in VMT, but the effect were not lasting. Traffic is already back to pre-lockdown levels in Paris.
- The Parisian government rapidly deployed improvements in data management, traffic enforcement, bicycle lanes, and the subsidy for companies acquiring electric vehicles has been doubled – all in the last few months.
- The demand for bicycle delivery services (UberEats, etc.) has led to an expansion of gig-based jobs in this sector (and increased use of those new bike lanes!). Laetitia thinks freight companies have an opportunity here to attract these part-time, temporary workers to be full-time, longterm workers in freight if the right training programs can be established.
My take-aways from this interview:
- The world swapped commercial real estate for residential real estate overnight, and as Robert says, our homes are now our castles. The ripple effects this will bring to the workplace and the real estate economy will be far spread and difficult to unwind once the pandemic is resolved. This is a pivotal moment for digital connectivity – Robert calls it the “big bang moment for online.”
- Among the many problems commercial real estate has right now – elevators are definitely one of them. Robert describes this is ways I hadn’t thought of, and I don’t look forward to.
- Business travel will lose its cool – which could be a net benefit for climate change, but will require business development teams and convening organizations (ahem…like ours…ahem) to recalibrate our business models and not just for the short term.
I spoke last week with Hugh Martin, Chairman & CEO at Lacuna Technologies. My three key take-aways from this 8-min video:
- The hand-wringing over whether streets temporarily closed to vehicle traffic during COVID-19 should be permanently closed or not is unnecessary. Technology could allow us to dynamically manage our streets in the way Hugh describes.
- Before we take the next step with drone delivery, cities and the FAA need to come to a conclusion on who controls, and in what manner, the airspace above cities.
- Private mobility operators are benefitting (sometimes even with profit!) by the free use of public infrastructure assets like streets (and, one day, air). These assets are built and maintained with tax dollars, but if they are ending up on the assets ledger of private companies, it stands to reason that cities could conceivably capture some of that value for their own revenues. If we can figure out #1 and #2, then we could figure out #3.
Kenya consistently ranks among the countries with the highest traffic fatalities in the world – #18, according to the World Health Organization, and some estimates put it even higher. One of the most alarming statistics is that 1 in 10 traffic fatalities in Kenya is a child.
I recently spoke with Dr. Anne Kamau, Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, about her research on transportation and children’s safety. Her research, funded by the Volvo Research and Education Foundations (VREF), is in collaboration with Dr. Regina Obilie Amoako-Sakyi at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
Unloading commercial real estate burdens, bringing supply chain components back to North America, and preserving cash
Could organizations unload 50% of their real estate burdens post-pandemic? Should essential components of supply chains be brought back to North America? And what’s the best thing companies can do in an environment like this?
I spoke late last week with Marc Mercier, a senior partner at the law firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP in Toronto. Marc works across multiple business sectors, including public and private finance, and his work gives him special insights into the rapidly changing economic crisis that governments and companies are dealing with right now. His thoughts on business continuity and supply chains is particularly prescient for this moment in history.
I spoke yesterday with Benjamin Schmidt, PhD, an AI expert and President of Roadbotics, a company that uses AI to help cities monitor and manage their road infrastructure. I asked him about what he’s seeing in the AI community right now, how AI might be able to help cities through this crisis, and what kind of timelines he’s expecting for these changes.
“What we’re trying to do is help cities get a very clear perspective of how many people in their jurisdiction have what symptoms, and where they are. And we feel like if we can do that effectively, efficiently, rapidly and inexpensively, cities are in a much better position to deploy their resources appropriately.” – Kitty Kolding, CEO, Chrysalis Partners
With testing availability still limited throughout the country, cities, counties, and states need to find innovative ways to survey their citizens to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. Kitty Kolding’s company, Chrysalis Partners, has developed a new data collection tool called the Covid-19 Symptom Collector, which is designed to fill this gap. This interview was recorded on April 13, 2020.