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.
One approach – employed by cities from the Bay Area to New York City to D.C. – is to require large employers to offer tax-free transit benefits to their employees. These “commuter benefits ordinances” are relatively new – the first was adopted in 2009 – but have the potential to dramatically expand access to transit, especially to workers in lower-paying jobs who are currently less likely to receive tax-free transit benefits. Early evidence from the Bay Area suggests that requiring employers to offer the benefits can lead thousands of people to switch to lower-impact modes of commuting.
Comparing chargers to gas pumps is no longer appropriate (or accurate); chargers are not just “power faucets,” they can have significant information processing and analysis capabilities and have multiple high-level connectivity options to various entities. Clearly, the charger talks to the EV (mostly over power line communications, PLC), but at home, for example, the charger can talk to the Smart Home Energy Management System (EMS) that views the EV as an additional smart appliance (albeit one that can double a family’s energy bill). In fact, we have created a “modular brain” (a HW module with embedded SW) that transforms the “dumb” charger to a smart and connected one.
A crescendo of calls from transport safety bodies are demanding the repeal of a widely used, but arguably outdated method for setting speed limits.
As AV technology is developing at an accelerated pace, so has the understanding of how this technology can be applied and the business models that will encourage its adoption. Data and testing have shown that AVs will make the road safer for its citizens, improve traffic congestion, and create efficient ways of moving people from place to place. The data from the pilot will create an opportunity to learn about traffic behaviors and bring insight to how these technologies and service models can be deployed more broadly.
Featuring Roger Behrens
Meeting of the Minds talked with Roger Behrens about planning for hybrid urban transportation systems that include both formal and informal transit services. Roger is an Associate Professor in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Civil Engineering. He is Director of the Centre for Transport Studies, and of the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport (ACET). He graduated with a Master Degree in City and Regional Planning from UCT in 1991, and with a PhD degree in 2002. His current research activities relate to: the integration and improvement of paratransit services; the dynamics and pace of changing travel behavior; the use of transport systems by pedestrians; and the urban form prerequisites for viable public transport networks.