What Highway Removal Could Do For Our Cities

In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in the hopes that a national highway system would unify the country, allowing for the easy transportation of people and goods. Since then, highways have been a catalyst for economic growth in many ways, but they’ve also had serious ramifications in urban areas. New initiatives are calling for the reorientation of cities toward people by removing highways that cut through city centers, and evidence has shown that doing so can make our cities more efficient, improve traffic and help reduce inequality.

 

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 kick started the construction of more than 41,000 miles of highways, which required a $25 billion investment from the federal government. Since the federal government was focused on encouraging growth at the time, it funded 90 percent of project costs, minimizing the financial burden on state and local governments. Today, our highways are largely funded by gasoline taxes, which doesn’t leave a lot of money for infrastructure repairs. As a result, many cities are finding it cheaper to remove deteriorating highways, rather than repair them.

 

Removing highways from densely populated areas may sound like a recipe for traffic disaster, but many cities are finding that it actually makes traffic more efficient. This is due, in part, to the theory of “induced demand,” which, to borrow from “Field of Dreams,” means “if you build it, they will come.” People use highways because they’re an option, but take them away and those same people may be more inclined to use public transportation, walk, or bike. Furthermore, a 2011 study from the University of Connecticut found that while “highways offer value in carrying vehicles long distances at high rates of speed…they’re inefficient in a city environment, where bottlenecks form around on-ramps.” The same study also found that city-street grids have been rendered ineffective in the presence of highways, and when those highways are removed, they’re surprisingly proficient at efficiently distributing a large amount of traffic.

 

Reduced congestion isn’t the only benefit of removing highways; there are economic benefits as well. Freeing up the land these highways occupy means that the spaces can be converted into parks, housing or businesses. Additionally, a study by the Seattle Department of Transportation, found that removing highways often leads to increased property values in the area, as neighborhoods once obstructed by highways become more attractive to buyers.

 

Several U.S. cities have already taken the initiative to remove highways from their downtown areas, with positive results. Portland, for example, demolished their Harbor Drive highway and replaced it with a 37-acre park, leading to the revitalization of the city’s waterfront area and drastically increased property values. Milwaukee witnessed a similar phenomenon when they removed their Park East Freeway. The freeway’s demolition created three entirely new neighborhoods, and new developments have resulted in more than $340 million in investments for the city.

 

The highway is still an incredibly important component of transportation infrastructure for people living in rural areas or places that are underserved by transit, but it’s less effective in a densely populated city.. While highways were responsible for ushering in an era unprecedented economic growth, our cities have outgrown these systems. By removing old highways, cities can turn their focus back to the people, and create a new infrastructure that works for them.

 

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

What If Employers Made Sustainable Transportation a Commuting Requirement?

We’ll need something really remarkable to significantly increase public transit’s slice of the transportation pie. In a previous article, I outlined how improving user experience would be a step in the right direction for ridership. But how can we take a leap? How about making transit the only option? Or one of few. That may sound extreme, so let me set the stage. There would be no mandated mode of transportation for all citizens, but instead picture an incentivized sustainable transportation program for businesses. In this scenario, job offers would come hand-in-hand with a simple stipulation: to have this job, you must take sustainable transportation to work.

It’ll start with the executive who wants their business to make a positive impact on the community, going beyond creating jobs and revenue. We’re talking about socially responsible organizations with leadership that understands why supporting sustainable practices is good for business and good for the planet. These businesses are nothing new to us – Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and will be using 100 percent renewable energy for all operations in 2017. In fact, nine out of 10 CEOs believe that commitment to sustainability translates to real impact.

But responsibility doesn’t begin and end at the doors of a business, factory, or distribution center. An employee’s effect on the planet includes their mode of commute. Currently, 76 percent of Americans drive their cars to work alone, and the EIA estimates that vehicle gasoline consumption results in about 1,105 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in a year. That’s close to 60 percent of the total U.S. transportation sector CO2 emissions. If businesses cut down their commuter carbon footprint, we’d see clearer roads, clearer skies, and clearer corporate consciences.

To make this a reality, we have to address a fundamental economic concept – incentives. And they matter both to businesses and their leadership. Unfortunately for the environment, sustainable practices often come with a price tag. Just look at the list of the World’s Most Sustainable Companies in 2016 – 87 percent of them provided a monetary bonus to executives that met their sustainability goals. Requiring a specific type of commute would pose a change to recruitment and employee benefits, which is no light undertaking. For forward-thinking cities, a good place to start will be to provide tax incentives at the city, state, and federal levels to those businesses willing to run this type of transportation program.

commutetax

So how about logistics? As long as employees have a smartphone, keeping track of their commute is easily achievable. With a customized mobile app, they’d check in and verify that they took a bus, metro rail, carpool service, rideshare, bike, etc. Since every city has different infrastructure and unique modes of transportation available, the flexibility allowed by mobile app development would give each business the freedom to partner with and subsidize their own preferred sustainable modes. Even the program requirements could vary from business to business – maybe some only have employees use specific transportation modes 2 or 3 days a week.

Targeting businesses will be the most effective strategy to increase public transit’s market share, and it has the potential to improve the quality of transit service. While we know that frequent riders appreciate the new consumer technologies being brought to the transit sector, like mobile ticketing, we continue to see reports of decreased ridership. Tapping into the business market would enable us to reach a new, larger segment of potential riders – urban employees.

Now you’re probably picturing crowded public buses during rush hour and skeptical about the idea of piling even more people onto them. Transit capacity would be an obstacle initially, but there’s no doubt we’d see private, dynamically routed transportation services like Bridj fill the excess need while public transit adjusted and improved. Any sustainable option would qualify to participate in incentive programs like these, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if one day we saw Lyft buses or Uber shuttles.

If sustainable transit won the support of businesses, public transportation would not only see an influx in riders, but also a subsequent increase in farebox revenue. Higher profits from transit fares might seem like a drop in the bucket, but in the long term, increased ridership would likely result in increased public transit funding support on local ballots. The same citizens and organizations who rely on sustainable transit to get to work will want to see improved options and efficiency for their commutes. The result? Better transit service and infrastructure – from more bus routes, bike lanes, and light rails, to updated technology and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Implementing sustainable business practices isn’t a radical idea. Taking actions to decrease your personal carbon footprint (hybrid vehicles, recycling, reusable grocery bags) isn’t a radical idea either. So let’s try and take a more critical look at where those two notions overlap. Sustainable commutes are everyone’s concern, from cities and businesses down to individuals. I said we’d need something remarkable to make a significant change in public transit, but maybe this concept is just simple enough to do the trick.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below – let’s get the conversation rolling.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward

What Transit Is Still Missing: An Improved Experience

In recent years, the transportation sector has seen countless innovations. From testing the first autonomous buses and cars to the widespread use of ride-sharing mobile apps, the industry is embracing big data and smart technology more than ever before. We’ve also seen large numbers of riders enthusiastically adapt to new and improved transportation experiences, and even save money while doing so. A study by the Shared-Use Mobility Center found that the people who use shared modes of transportations are also more likely to use public transit, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation overall.

Public transit agencies have watched with some trepidation as their riders began to experiment with new transportation experiences enabled by technology, and worried they might lose riders to new alternatives. Some transit agencies have begun to employ new technologies like mobile ticketing and advanced trip planning, but others are slow to adapt. By improving the transit experience, their aim is to retain existing riders and to convince many of the “supportive non-users” to give transit a try. These are the 73% of Americans who vote in support of using their tax dollars to create, expand, and improve public transit infrastructure, most of whom do not actually use it (only 5% of commuters use public transportation).

Providing a better journey from start to finish has the potential to change people’s perceptions and begin closing that gap. Transit agencies can start by looking to the technologies being implemented elsewhere in the transportation sector to hone in on the experience riders in the future will come to expect and value.

When you take a step back to consider what these recent industry developments have in common, reliability and convenience stand out as the top trends. Today’s travelers are accustomed to on-demand service. If they don’t hop into their own car and drive directly to their destination, they instead hail someone else’s car to pick them up and take them straight there. Either way, it’s both convenient and reliable.

Autonomous buses, on the other hand, promise a future of smarter, more connected transit systems. This development covers the need for reliability – a benefit touted by developers of self-driving technology. But a fixed route bus system, autonomous or not, still can’t completely satisfy the future rider’s need for convenience if the bus stop is too far away from their house or destination.

Drawing from these innovations in transportation, we can imagine what a better public transit user experience might look like in coming years.
 
Bus Stops
 
RELIABILITY IS SMART & SEAMLESS
 
There’s no question that emerging technologies will play an enormous role in the transportation industry moving forward. By implementing IoT sensors and big data management systems, transit providers could track and communicate the precise location, arrival time, and passenger capacity of every vehicle in their fleet. How might that be useful to you and I? A quick glance at our smartphone app between bites of toast would allow us to make a choice between the bus two minutes out with standing room only or the one 10 minutes out with plenty of seats. Furthermore, what if the agency, who is tracking the same information, could offer you a dynamic discount to wait for the later bus with the intent of improving the experience for all its riders? That’s even better!

Once you’ve created a connected bus or train system, it would be a waste not to expand those individual networks to encompass multiple modes of transportation. From there, riders could have an array of public, and even private, transit options and information at their fingertips. Add in standardized mobile payments across the board, and the result is seamless transfers between bus, train, car share, ride share, and more.
 
CONVENIENCE IS COMFORTABLE & PERSONALIZED
 
To reel in those accustomed to a personal vehicle, mass transit also needs to offer a mode of transportation optimized for convenience. In the future, high-capacity, fixed-route buses and trains could be supplemented with fleets of smaller, dynamically routed shuttle buses. This would allow a more personalized and flexible journey. Instead of opting for a crowded bus with standing room only during rush hour, a commuter could choose to pay slightly more and board a carpooling shuttle. It would pick them up closer to their home, and perhaps only carry 15 to 20 other passengers – a much more relaxing experience.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has predicted that widespread use of autonomous fleets, similar to the one in our scenario above, has the potential to remove nine out of every ten vehicles on city streets, and eliminate the need for on-street parking. Current car owners might find this option to be a nice middle ground between the comfort and convenience of their personal vehicle and the affordability and efficiency of mass transit.

On-demand, self-driving shuttles, might be further down the line, but transportation providers are taking steps toward personalization even today – particularly with mobile technology. Transportation mobile apps have rolled out updates with intuitive and predictive features, optimized for each individual user. These days we’re accustomed to our apps adjusting to our preferences and location in real time, but the aim is for transit to offer a similar experience some day.

With the transportation sector rapidly transforming around it, public transit can harness the success stories of others in the industry and finally reach a population who rarely gives it a second thought. If they won’t come to the bus station, perhaps the bus station should just go to them. The more transit agencies pull from outside of the box – or the bus lane – the easier it will be to reach a new market of travelers.
 


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Do Parking Apps Really Alleviate Parking Problems?

Everyone’s been there. You’re circling the city block, head on a swivel, to catch any sign of white backup lights – an indication that the stars have aligned to free up a single parking spot. This slow and frustrating search for parking accounts for an estimated 30% of city traffic, and it’s not doing drivers, cities, businesses, or the environment any favors. That’s why leveraging innovative mobile technologies to improve on-street parking is the holy grail – for everyone. Mobile apps have emerged over recent years in attempts to combat the urban parking conundrum. As more and more cities adopt smarter parking solutions, we’re seeing the ways in which this technology is succeeding, falling short, and revealing future opportunities.

Many parking apps provide real-time information on parking availability, accept mobile payments, send reminders when your meter is low, and allow you to extend your allotted time. They often work by registering your license plate number, and then inputting your parking location with a unique code. Interestingly, it’s not only in the world’s densest urban areas that these apps have been implemented. Parkmobile, a domestic leader in the space, is used in over 600 locations across 37 states. Internationally, ParkMe boasts availability in 4,200 cities across all 7 continents – though that raises the question of whether Antarctic users are human or penguin. These types of apps can be found everywhere from college campuses to Main St. in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Drivers and cities must both benefit if parking apps are to succeed. For drivers, this technology can give peace of mind, create a more streamlined traveling experience, and help save money on gas and parking itself. From reserving a spot in advance to viewing available street parking in real-time around your destination, apps are delivering measurable value to drivers every day. On the other hand, cities benefit by reducing traffic congestion and harmful fuel emissions. Additionally, parking management has the opportunity to implement dynamic pricing based on demand by harnessing data analytics and utilize smart management systems that allow for easy monitoring of an entire parking network.

Perhaps the strongest draw for cities, however, is increased revenue – a result that doesn’t always excite users. Some intelligent parking technology can detect when a car leaves, clearing away any unused time to optimize income. Greater user compliance will also make cities more money, according to Parkmobile’s Chief Executive Jon Ziglar. Ziglar seems to suggest that drivers would be more likely to pay for on street parking if a few keystrokes on their phones replace the chore of digging for loose change under the seat. While these may be aspects of the profit equation, Parkifi, a Denver-based startup, transparently advertises that their app will increase revenue by up to 20% through parking violation enforcement alone. With smarter, easier enforcement, cities can crack down on violators. But the greater goal is that parking apps’ ease of use will decrease the number of violations overall.

 

street parking

 

Of course, with benefits come speed bumps – technically enabling on-street parking is no joke. There is an array of different technologies, but no one solution that fits every city. Some users are running into inaccurate information on their apps – spots showing available on the app but full in reality. Then perhaps the biggest complaint: parking enforcement issuing undeserved tickets due to confusion over whether a spot was paid for with a mobile app or using the physical parking meter. With any new technology, there’s a learning curve that needs to be considered. Transitioning from quartered meters that clearly read, “EXPIRED” when time is up, to a system that requires enforcement officers to navigate mobile software is a significant change. To keep users happy, cities need to invest properly in training, and further down the line, in updated infrastructure.

So imagine this: you check your transit app in the morning and reserve a parking spot near the train station. After parking, you take the train into the city and order a Lyft to drive you the last mile from the station into work. Everything is paid for through the same app; you never even touch your wallet. Parking apps are a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to the future of connected cities and transit, especially considering that 86 percent of the U.S. population still relies driving their own vehicle alone on their commute. Collaboration between public and private sectors will be key in coming years as cities and companies explore and navigate smarter solutions. Transit agencies are already working on integrating additional transportation options like rideshare, carshare, and bikeshare services within their mobile transit apps. The result for commuters is a more convenient and flexible travel experience. Many of these agencies would also like to allow their users to pay for parking within the same app using their transit funds account. In short, parking apps will help complete the seamless commute.

Parking app developers saw a need, or more, a frustration and have already taken notable strides in making city parking more efficient. Users are empowered with on-demand information and mobile payments, while cities are seeing greater compliance and decreased operational costs. As the bugs are worked out, the learning curve surmounted, and adoption becomes more widespread, we’ll see smart parking technology span beyond the confines of private apps and integrate into the broader vision of connected cities and transit.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.