Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Beyond Traffic: Baltimore's chance to jump the queue


Beyond Traffic: DOT Challenge Grant
Transportation will undergo significant changes in the next few years, one of the game changers will be the "Autonomous Vehicle" (AV).

The AV in itself could be a disaster for cities if AV’s would remain privately owned and used like current cars. A commute that could be used as work-time could give sprawl another lease on life because longer commutes would become acceptable if one can do other things than stare at the tailpipe in front.

On the other hand, AVs could become a component of the sharing economy where AV’s are not generally privately owned owing to the insight that a major investment into a device that sits around over 95% of the time is really not a good investment.   

Shared AVs could be dispatched similar to Uber and would essentially be always on the move. Unlike current cars they wouldn't need multiple parking spaces held and built for them but just a few dispatch lots. In other words, a lot of parking space could be re-assigned to better uses. Looking at any Google satellite image of US cities, one can see how much space is currently devoted to storing cars. Much of that land could become real places with, active and productive uses. What a gift for cities! 

The US Department of Transportation, to its credit, has recognized the opportunity. Late last year it issued a challenge grant with a potentially $40 million award:
The grant, the supporters and the applicants
The vision of the AV as it was imagined in the sixties:
Not the future we should want!
A walkable city is also a livable city
The USDOT is encouraging cities to put forward their best and most creative ideas for innovatively addressing the challenges they are facing. The vision of the Smart City Challenge is to demonstrate and evaluate a holistic, integrated approach to improving surface transportation performance within a city and integrating this approach with other smart city domains such as public safety, public services, and energy. The USDOT intends for this challenge to address how emerging transportation data, technologies, and applications can be integrated with existing systems in a city to address transportation challenges. The USDOT seeks bold and innovative ideas for proposed demonstrations to effectively test, evaluate, and demonstrate the significant benefits of smart city concepts. 
The USDOT will make an award of up to $40 Million award for one mid-sized city that can demonstrate how advanced data and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, connect underserved communities, and support economic vitality. 
The initial application was due at the beginning of February and Baltimore is one of 78 cities that took up the challenge. Approximately five cities will be selected as finalists and will receive $100,000 to create a more detailed plan.  The finalists will be announced in March, 2016.

Baltimore has struggled to implement progressive transportation strategies and would be more appropriately called a follower than a leader when it comes to safe pedestrian facilities, a bicycle network or reliable transit. But Baltimore could jump to the front of the queue with a focus on innovation and strategies how to embrace the AV.  Imagine how Lombard Street could be re-designed without all those parking garages, how different Harbor East or Sagamore's "Plank-Town" could look if the didn't have to park thousands of cars!
Baltimore and its engineers, architects and planners need to be at the table when it comes to planning for a future with self driving vehicles in which cities are freed from the unhappy dominance of the car and become better places for people.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

"Beyond Traffic, Challenge Grant: List of applicants
DOT Smart City webinars