Mobility is not about a car or a bus, it’s about accessing the resources we need in a timely manner or being in contact with people we want to interact with, for any number of reasons. We have already seen how technology can enable remote access to information and some basic medical care, how people can work remotely from an office base or enable a web of delivery services to avoid the need for individual transport to and from a location. New technologies, both those we label as mobility and those we call Internet based, will continue to evolve and further alter what we think of as mobility.
It is more than ironic that well into the 21st Century, the one great disruptive change in personal mobility is built upon the increased use of the internal combustion engine. Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft have become major players in the provision of personal mobility, primarily in urban areas. The problem with TNCs – and I say “problem” because it relates to what I perceive as their most negative impacts – is the essential auto-centric nature of the industry.
To plan for the transition to automated vehicles, cities and county governments should develop building and zoning codes that not only accommodate adaptable parking but encourage it by design. This can include amending building codes to require infrastructure that makes transforming garages into inhabitable buildings possible. As automated vehicles begin to enter the marketplace, cities should consider incentives and other programs to begin the conversion of ground level parking to commercial uses.
Is it out of the realm of possibility that the privatization that happened with other critical infrastructure in prior years in the US could also happen with the nation’s road network? It is a controversial and seemingly impossible thing to consider. Yet it is a question that only something as large and transformative as the autonomous vehicle can answer.
If cities wish to obtain the environmental, public health, and quality of life benefits of electric vehicles, they will need to plan for the dramatic expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Relative to most U.S. cities, Boston and the core municipalities that surround it have a rich eco-system of transit options: four subway lines, over 150 bus routes, an extensive commuter rail system, ferry service, a growing network of bike lanes and paths, and a multi-jurisdictional bike share with over 200 docking stations. Yet these resources are spread unevenly across the area with previously red-lined neighborhoods still lacking the services that other parts of the city rely on. Meanwhile, traffic on the highways that lead into the city is legendarily congested, proving not that we need more roadways but that more transit capacity and reliability is needed to provide people with transportation choices that they can rely on in lieu of their personal cars, and particularly if switching away from private vehicles leads to lower emissions.
The field of transportation planning needs new blood. We need new thoughts, new approaches. The traditional methods of policymaking are not working because, as already stated, we are not engaging the public in a sufficient or sufficiently meaningful way. We are also not sufficiently engaging other industries, which means that we are not inviting our traditional ways of thinking to be challenged. We need to overcome this insularity by creating policymaking contexts that bring together elected and appointed officials, diverse members of the public, and cross-industry experts.
In free floating car sharing systems, the freedom that members enjoy represents the biggest challenge for operators. While operators focus on maximum utilization of their assets, car drop offs don’t always flow as they should, and there are often popular areas where cars are routinely unavailable. A main contributor to this problem is that cars are often parked in neighborhoods where they sit idle for hours or even days.
We create trend reports on the evolution of BRT that describe its physical characteristics and what seems to be working and not working in different places. We see that, in general, the highest capacity BRT corridors are performing better than the best performing light rail, and that metros have more capacity and speed than most of the BRTs. Our understanding is that BRTs are an excellent option to complement other mass transit in cities as part of integrated transport systems.
Biofuel programs seek to reduce carbon emissions and certain criteria air pollutants, but they also serve to support the continued use of internal combustion engines. Greenhouse gas reduction and fuel economy programs similarly target overall reduced emissions, but do not in themselves change how consumers move from point A to point B. Bans and limitations on internal combustion engines and zero emissions vehicles programs do much more to change the nature of transportation, but do not supplant the number of vehicles on the road.
Each holds forth the promise of cleaner air from reduced emissions, but when might they actually have a realistic and measurable impact and what other changes might be required to achieve the other global objectives?
Cities are under increasing pressure to innovate in order to attract businesses and people, and remain economically strong, and their success or failure could largely depend on their future transportation systems. Transportation systems are like arteries. When running smoothly, a community is likely to thrive and prosper. System breakdowns and blockages lead to quality of life issues such as traffic jams and pollution—problems that can quickly put an economically vibrant community into cardiac arrest.
But while providing consumers with convenient options, the popularity of these new mobility services bring their own set of issues, and have the potential to put even more pressure on already highly stressed transportation systems. Uber and Lyft, for example, are putting more cars on already congested roads. In New York City, it is estimated that these services account for a 14 percent increase in the number of vehicles on the street.