Friday, November 4, 2016

How to plan for the transport revolution?

Recently developer Michael Beatty sat down with transit advocates of the group Transit Choices to discuss the future of mobility on his site, especially after full build out. Shouldn't this site with congested access routes and a large dense development sitting on a peninsula consider fleet type autonomous vehicles and reduce the amount of parking he provides on the site?

Beatty is all for less costly parking that would allow him to build slender and light flooded structures instead of having to "wrap" garages with a one sided veneer of uses. But like any developer, he isn't in the business of pushing the envelope on policies. Instead he needs to find investors, tenants and lenders who build on his lots or lease floors. If they still ask for parking, a speculative promise about fleet operated AVs won't make them sign on the dotted line. He is not alone in planning large long-term developments with today's transportation needs in mind. Sagamore envisions thousands of parking spaces in massive garages along I-95 and COPT's Canton Crossing has already built some large parking structures. In Owings Mills the signature building along the Metro station is a gigantic parking garage.

But pouring money into 25 year investments such as parking structures in light of a potential transportation revolution that may only be 5-10 years away, seems foolish, especially if they are located inside a "wrap", having sloping floors or are otherwise not suitable for adaptive re-use.

Access challenged Port Covington

 What needs to be done to avoid costly blunders? Obviously, a wait and see attitude won't be enough. Whether private cars will be the prevailing way to operate AVs or whether the fleet model will prevail makes a huge difference for cities and developments and it will be decided by the policies that are put in place now. If private car ownership remains at current rates, with the only difference that new cars can drive themselves, all gains that cities made in recent years will be lost by the newly opened access to cheap new land currently too far from cities to be useful for commuters.

In that scenario AVs would make commutes less stressful and potentially even productive by using a vehicle  as an extended home office with no need to keep the eyes on the roadway. Congestion would be reduced by more efficient computerized flow management in which platoons of AVs move down a freeway densely packed and at high speeds.

However, if policies promote a fleet model in which AVs would transport and aggregate people on command similar to Uber Pool, the demand on road surface and car devoted spaces such as parking could be drastically reduced allowing cities to re-dedicate space in the order of 30% to better and higher uses and open spaces, giving cities an enormous boost.
Autonomous transit

To makes this future more likely cities should discourage parking and create transitional means of providing the necessary mobility . Consistently replacing excess car oriented spaces such as surface parking lots or extra lanes would allow local government to fund all kinds of subsidized transport through savings and new revenue sources.

We are currently promoting best practices such as "complete streets". AVs would make current best practices such as protected bikeways, designated bus lanes and complicated signal priority hardware superfluous. In a city of AV's neither pedestrians nor bicyclists would have to fear for their life because AV's would not speed or run them over. Cars could recognize approaching buses and free up a travel lane for them  without any markings. Automated pool vehicles would eliminate inefficient fixed route/fixed schedule routes in low density areas and provide on-demand mobility.

What should Baltimore do?
It is time to not let others take the butter off the bread. Why have automated Uber in Pittsburgh and not here? Why automated buses in Helsinki and not Baltimore? Why aren't Hopkins and MICA joining in research on the design opportunities the AV offers cities and on the various possible scenarios? Why not develop mobility models at BMC which already developed regional transportation models which were used to model forecasts for the Red Line.
Access issues: Harbor East

Port Covington is envisioned with "complete streets" and bike lanes. Why not as a mobility innovation district in which only AV's are permitted? That would make the infrastructure cheaper, reduce the TIF package and save huge amounts on the planned parking garages. During the transition period (if the development would be actually faster than the AV technology) the saved money should be used to provide employees and future residents free mobility passes for Uber, bikeshare, shuttles and innovative transit of any kind such as the already envisioned invigorated water taxi. The municipal Circulator system wouldn't be shrunk but boosted and run on 5 or 7 minute headways as the main way of getting around in the car-free district as is already the case on Denver's 16th street ped corridor with its electric shuttle coming by every 3 minutes or so. In the final build out a fleet based mobility system interfacing with trunk line transit would need a number of changes to streets and developments. Instead of large garages staging areas would be needed for fleet vehicles, car share and van pools. Maintenance facilities and remote parking of fleet vehicles need to be supported and encouraged.
Automated bus

Car free urban zones exist already around the world and represent next to their sustainability and environmental benefits a unique branding opportunity. Car free innovation district could use the "naked street" concept in which streets lose all that ballast that comes from traffic management and become the truly public spaces they once were.

All this could begin tomorrow (or at the latest with the new Mayor) and would put Baltimore on the map as an innovator.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA