Research – Mobility Lab https://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Thu, 27 Apr 2017 14:46:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Will growth of shared mobility make people more willing to share their own cars? https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/25/shared-mobility-willing-own-cars/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/25/shared-mobility-willing-own-cars/#respond Tue, 25 Apr 2017 17:36:02 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=22101 As many as 95 percent of trips in big cities could be shared with no more than a 5-minute inconvenience for riders, according to a recent report co-authored by Carlo Ratti of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab. Back in 2010, the Albany Times Union did some interesting reporting to delve into why New York State residents... Read more »

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As many as 95 percent of trips in big cities could be shared with no more than a 5-minute inconvenience for riders, according to a recent report co-authored by Carlo Ratti of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.

Back in 2010, the Albany Times Union did some interesting reporting to delve into why New York State residents seemed incapable adopting a sharing mindset when it comes to driving. (Granted, 2010 was before the Uber craze, but even that kind of ride-hailing more often has a taxi feel than a carpooling one.) The paper’s own surveying found very few people carpooling and this article gives a range of the unlimited excuses people can make for their lack of enthusiasm about sharing.

In conversations about mobility these days, sharing is understood as a necessary part of the solution for fixing overwhelming demand on transportation systems. Even (and especially) car companies are beginning to lean heavily on shared rides or shared vehicles as an important component in their future share of the transportation market.

While one kind of shared mobility question may still remain – will people eventually grow accustomed to sharing their private vehicles? – sharing a common, company-owned vehicle does seem to have a growing place.

Walter Rosenkrantz, ‎senior business-development manager at car2go, itself owned by German automaker Daimler, spoke at the Association for Commuter Transportation’s Public Policy Summit last week in Washington, D.C. (which Mobility Lab co-sponsored).

“Carsharing has exploded. It’s kind of here to stay. The more there is out there, the more personal vehicles are going to be shared. Pretty soon it’s not going to make sense to have a car. It’s just going to be easier to get around without a car, so why have one?”

The numbers indeed look impressive. Car2go’s membership surpassed 2 million in 2016. But looking more closely, those are global numbers, and people in the U.S. haven’t always behaved like those in other countries, especially when it comes to transportation. In fact, carsharing revenue in North America is expected to drop – given faster growth in international markets – to just 23 percent of the global total by 2024. And numbers for projected U.S. growth in carsharing can be difficult to come by.

Further, think anecdotally. When I have conversations with residents of the D.C. region and mention the concept of sharing – even in a place as traffic-clogged as the nation’s capital, where there are tons of alternatives to driving alone – I get blank stares. They may as well be saying to me, “I spent $30,000 for my nice car, why would I let someone else tag along on my commute?”

Surprisingly, it appears we have little understanding regarding the fundamental question of whether or not people are even willing to share their own vehicles in the first place.

And if people are willing to share, is that number going up or down? Does “shared mobility” include being in a small, non-transit vehicle with strangers? The pieces of the sharing economy and shared mobility that are working fabulously – AirBnB for home rentals, bikesharing – are not shared at the same time but rather used continuously.

“I’m not sure people think about their transportation [as shared resources]” said the Shared-Use Mobility Center’s Sharon Feigon, who also presented at ACT’s conference. “People join carsharing programs when their car is broken down, they have a major break up [in a relationship], or have just moved to a new city. They try it as temporary thing and it ends up working for them.”

She’s right: it often takes a major life change to get people to think about not just sharing, but the overall way that they move around.  A brief survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that, in 2015, only 44 percent of U.S. adults were familiar with the sharing economy. More specifically:

According to our data, 8 percent of all adults have participated in some form of automotive sharing. 1 percent have served as providers under this new model, chauffeuring passengers around or loaning out their car by the hour, day or week. Of all the categories we examined, this is the one in which consumers would most like to see the sharing economy succeed.

Today, many people simply don’t share their vehicles, for any number of reasons, despite the emergence of some rental-like services like GetAround. But there is hope, because even though nobody wants to share their cars, they all want other people to share their cars.

“Unless you raise parking prices or make it prohibitively difficult to drive, you can’t change the balance,” Feigon added. “[The Shared-Use Mobility Center is] not fixated on whether people do or don’t like to share. There is something healthy about it, given the rise of [sprawl- and auto-driven] loneliness, and land use that promotes pedestrian activity is inherently social and also involves physical activity. Setting up the conditions for that is really good.

“In my own experiences, taking the train, I catch up with people I know. And you don’t have to deal with anybody if you don’t want to. [Taking transit or sharing] can make you more accepting of different kinds of people,” she said.

Other than focusing on people who are making major life changes, one demographic Feigon suggested could be ripe for more sharing is women with school-age children, who drive the most of any category of people and make lots of short trips that conflict with the poor ways we’ve designed our communities.

“That was not the biggest category of drivers 50 years ago,” she laughed.

We often hear how technology alone won’t change behavior; rather, it takes true willingness of people. But with getting people to share, technology may currently be a helpful motivator.

Along with that hope, it’s a safe bet that more research about the willingness of people to share and, specifically, what could make them share seats in their own cars, is equally critical.

Photo, top: car2go cars parked outside of a light rail station in Austin, Texas (Lars Plougmann, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Biking in Arlington gets a boost from Safetrack and warmer winter weather https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/biking-arlington-gets-boost-safetrack-warmer-winter-weather/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/biking-arlington-gets-boost-safetrack-warmer-winter-weather/#respond Tue, 18 Apr 2017 19:21:06 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21964 Has there been an increase in biking in Arlington due to Washington D.C.’s region-wide SafeTrack initiative to repair Metrorail? It’s a difficult question to answer at this point. BikeArlington has already reported that there were increases up to 75 percent over 2015 daily averages in bike traffic at the Rosslyn-Custis Trail bike counter during the... Read more »

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Has there been an increase in biking in Arlington due to Washington D.C.’s region-wide SafeTrack initiative to repair Metrorail? It’s a difficult question to answer at this point.

BikeArlington has already reported that there were increases up to 75 percent over 2015 daily averages in bike traffic at the Rosslyn-Custis Trail bike counter during the first surge back in June 2016.

How much were this and other increases caused by SafeTrack or simply a product of a trend of bicycle traffic building up steadily over the years?

I took a look back at 2013, 2014, and 2015 data (see the graphs I created at the bottom of this article) in order to compare cycling daily averages from these times to the SafeTrack surge averages in 2016 and 2017. I controlled for weather to some extent, since it has such a significant impact on cycling and walking.

It seems that the only major difference from previous analyses is that increases in later surges are attributable to trends over the years of increasing winter ridership.

For the Surge 8 through 11 time period (in 2016, from August 27 to December 20), trail use had shown a decrease over the same time period from 2013 to 2014, but then it steadily increased after 2014 (except during Surge 9 on the Mount Vernon Trail). This could be attributed to some of the increase in winter ridership during SafeTrack to overall increasing trail use since 2014.

Ideally, this is the desired effect too. As transportation options become more plentiful and more well known, it makes sense that, over the years, cycling numbers increase.

Looking at the Surge 12 (which ended in February 2017) time period, however, all previous years showed a decreasing trend, with the SafeTrack surge creating quite an increase in ridership, going above even the 2013 numbers. Part of this can be attributed to an unseasonably warm February.

How much of this increase can be attributed to SafeTrack versus summer-like weather?

In the fall, trends stay fairly steady. SafeTrack caused quite an increase in traffic, and David Patton, Arlington County’s bicycle and pedestrian planner, says, “[Over] seven years of data for [the Custis Rosslyn bike counter], there is about a 3.5 percent compounded increase [for bikes]. It’s not a straight line – highly conditioned by weather – but on a slow upward trend.”

Henry Dunbar, program director of Bike Arlington, added, “It’s really difficult to pinpoint how much direct effect SafeTrack had on bike ridership. A lot of the original mode switching likely went back to riding Metro after the early surges proved to be not that disruptive, but we won’t know for certain until some more in-depth surveys are done. For now, the bike counter data alone can only tell us so much.”

The pattern over the years is very curious too: decreasing ridership in the summer, followed by stable ridership in the fall, and increasing ridership in the winter, until January.

Stable and increasing ridership are understandable, as Americans become more multi-modal.

The decreasing summer trends are questionable, also because they are not steadily decreasing. This means that there could be an anomaly in one of the years that is causing this shift. Is it really decreasing as people choose not to bike, or is it all due to external factors not accounted for?

The patterns surrounding Surge 12 are quite curious as well. The initial surge was thought to have caused such a large increase due to its novelty, but Surge 12 has none of this novelty, and compares in magnitude to the increase of Surge 1.

“This is interesting,” said Dunbar. “I have to wonder if that wasn’t aided by a stretch of really nice weather.”

W&OD Cyclists

W&OD Bon Air West Counter Cyclists

Rosslyn-Custis Cyclists

Rosslyn-Custis Counter Cyclists

Mount Vernon Trail Cyclists

Mount Vernon Trail South Airport Counter Cyclists

Photo: Capital Bikeshare user in Arlington by DOT DC; Graphics by Angela Urban.

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WMATA Metrobus data projects explore effects of fare payments, disruptions https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/wmata-bus-techies-data/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/wmata-bus-techies-data/#respond Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:23:23 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21941 Other presenters at Transportation Techies’ Bus Hack Night shared projects to help riders better understand their local bus routes Though the D.C. region has one of the busiest bus systems in the country, with more than 120 million trips in 2016, it’s still part of the nationwide movement to stem recent bus ridership declines. As such, WMATA is... Read more »

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Other presenters at Transportation Techies’ Bus Hack Night shared projects to help riders better understand their local bus routes

Though the D.C. region has one of the busiest bus systems in the country, with more than 120 million trips in 2016, it’s still part of the nationwide movement to stem recent bus ridership declines. As such, WMATA is looking to better understand how to provide reliable, efficient service that keeps daily riders and draws others back.

Catherine Vanderwaart of WMATA’s Office of Intermodal Planning is working on just that. Speaking at Tuesday’s Transportation Techies meetup, “Bus Hack Night,” she presented a wide range of findings pulled from multiple aspects of bus performance and rider behavior.

bus transaction time - wmata

Chart by Catherine Vanderwaart, WMATA

Vanderwaart presented the time costs of fare payment and her findings that tapping a SmartTrip card averages two to four seconds per transaction. The time it takes passengers to pay by cash or reload their card varies widely, however, taking anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds per person, which can impact a bus’s dwell time at a stop, and therefore its overall performance. Because this dwell time accounts for 19 to 25 percent of a bus’s run-time, according to another WMATA staff member, speeding up the payment and boarding process could make a noticeable difference along some routes.

Given its unique service changes, WMATA’s ongoing SafeTrack campaign has provided abundant information on how riders react to disruptions. Vanderwaart’s office has collected data on the shuttle buses (called “bus bridges”) that connect closed stations to better understand how to deploy them. Since, prior to SafeTrack, self-reported data only existed on established routes, the agency at first faced delay issues with its shuttles, but eventually established methods to automatically track shuttle ridership. With more robust tracking during each surge, WMATA now has a better sense of how to space out the bus bridges and improve their service.

surge 4 shuttle times

A day of shuttles from Surge 4. Chart by Catherine Vanderwaart, WMATA.

Vanderwaart also presented lessons from last year’s system-wide rail safety shutdown, which provided a unique chance to examine reactions on bus ridership. Using anonymous SmartTrip data from the previous 30 days as a baseline for typical ridership, Vanderwaart compared it with those riders’ behaviors during the shutdown to determine how people shifted their commutes. Those who typically combine bus and rail dropped out of the system that day – avoiding transit or working remotely – but a large number of new or infrequent users tried the bus. Overall, Metrobus saw 20,000 more riders, a 5 percent increase, than on a typical day.

Turning around bus performance

JD Godchaux, of civic tech group NiJeL, worked with TransitCenter to convert New York MTA buses on-time performance into an advocacy tool for better bus policy. Bus Turnaround NYC collects historical data on every bus route in New York and provides a performance report card. These categorize the problems facing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus system and help explain why it is losing ridership despite a growing population. Now, Bus Turnaround is developing report cards for the buses of every elected official’s district in the region, to draw attention to the need for a better bus network and the ways to fix it.

Back in D.C., the District Department of Transportation’s District Mobility project has helped to visualize the broad concepts of congestion and reliability and their effects on accessibility. The site’s tools show the most crowded roads, bus routes, and even individual stops, as well as on-time performance in an effort to define and measure the idea of urban mobility.

What’s in a wait?

On the ground, there are a number of tools in development to help passengers understand the services available to them and how long one can expect to wait for a bus.

  • Michael Eichler of WMATA shared Metrobus Explorer, which maps the Metrobus system and shows users how they can navigate it from any point. By selecting an individual stop, or drawing a box around a group of them, users can identify routes and the frequency of buses at each location and get a sense for how the tangle of lines translate into bus lines.
  • Mobility Lab’s Michael Schade built a similar tool that maps all of the region’s transportation operators. Users can select agencies to see their service area, and select individual routes to highlight and to pick out their stops in order to see how they fit into the region’s larger transportation network. Schade built this using MapZen’s Transitland project, a “community-edited data service” that aggregates the feeds of transportation services around the world, which MapZen’s Dave Nesbitt briefly demoed.
  • MetroHero, Max Grossman, and Daniel Turse are all building tools to estimate bus wait times and when to expect them. Turse’s wait-time tool uses PlanItMetro’s historical data, which includes bus positions but also time between stops, dwell time, and what every bus did at every stop, such as skipping one. With that, the tool helps users determine how wait times vary for any route across the region and by time of day.
  • Grossman’s DC Latebus uses WMATA’s live bus position information to visualize bus lateness along every segment of a route. By comparing arrival times at each stop to the published schedule, the tool measures median deviation to show which parts of every route are most likely to bog down your bus. Grossman and Turse’s projects launched a discussion of how to measure bus delay, especially taking into account how riders might ignore schedules and focus more on frequency.
  • MetroHero‘s bus-tracking tool, a beta webpage in the same fashion of their original Metrorail app, shows current bus positions along their routes, and allows users to click on each one for performance information. Users can also click on specific stops to see estimated arrival times, and how many stops separate them from each predicted bus.
  • Ranjani Prabhakar of Fehr & Peers dove into the gritty details of traffic planning by explaining the Poisson Distribution that planners can use to predict the probability of events over time, such as if cars traveling behind a bus might be backed up into the “upstream” intersection. By understanding the flow of traffic on any stretch of road, and how buses travel along them, planners can work out the likelihood that a bus stop’s location will cause nearby vehicles to actually increase congestion.

Photo: A Metrobus picks up passengers in Rosslyn, Arlington, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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Disparity across D.C. region’s commute times a “serious equity problem” https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/17/disparity-across-d-c-regions-commute-times-serious-equity-problem/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/17/disparity-across-d-c-regions-commute-times-serious-equity-problem/#respond Mon, 17 Apr 2017 16:33:58 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21900 An analysis from the Washington Post, with transit-mapping software provider Mapzen, highlights several severe disparities in the availability of reliable, frequent transit options for parts of the D.C. region. The animated map lays out shifting isochrones, or areas reachable within similar time frames, that reflect projected transit travel times during a given period of the day.... Read more »

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An analysis from the Washington Post, with transit-mapping software provider Mapzen, highlights several severe disparities in the availability of reliable, frequent transit options for parts of the D.C. region. The animated map lays out shifting isochrones, or areas reachable within similar time frames, that reflect projected transit travel times during a given period of the day.

Washington Post reporter Faiz Siddiqui notes that the map shows serious revelations regarding commuters’ proximity to the District and their ability to reach frequent transit:

… [D]ata shows that wealthier neighborhoods and suburbs have an easier time tapping into it, while residents of poor and lower-income neighborhoods on the eastern side of the District and, farther east, across the border in Maryland face longer and often more-complex commutes.

… Most striking, commuters in some areas in Southwest and Southeast Washington and close-in Prince George’s have longer trips to get downtown than more transit-connected locations dozens of miles away from the White House.

Speaking to the Post, Mobility Lab’s managing director Howard Jennings expressed concerns that the disparities in transit access will only worsen with the coming cutbacks to Metrorail’s operating hours, set to come into effect in June. “People who are used to being rail riders, who are not bus riders, you’re going to have a real shift there in awareness of options. The onus is really going to be on providers of information.”

mapzen faiz - mvj

Faiz Siddiqui, John Muyskens, Howard Jennings, and J.D. Godchaux look over the Mapzen visualizations at Bus Hack Night. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

Using Mapzen’s Mobility Explorer and Transitland interfaces (both featured at last week’s Bus Hack Night at WMATA headquarters), The Washington Post also constructed an in-depth display of who exactly “gets left behind” by these changes. District residents in Wards 7 and 8 east of the river, for example, comprise the most concentrated areas of low-income households who are also regular transit riders.

Using the isochrone mapping technique, the Post analysis shows just how these neighborhoods would be cut off from late-night transit access under Metrorail’s new late-night schedule. Clicking from “PM rush” to “Late, no Metro” shows many areas east of the Anacostia requiring 45 to 60 minutes of travel to reach downtown.

See the full set of visualizations here, which include current peak-hour commute times and projected travel times under the new late-night schedule.

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Inspiring transit ridership requires meeting people where they are https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/31/inspiring-transit-ridership-requires-meeting-people/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/31/inspiring-transit-ridership-requires-meeting-people/#respond Fri, 31 Mar 2017 19:08:42 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21766 Preferences and need are major factors that influence whether people take public transportation. And communicating to those people in the places they visit throughout their day is a key to improving and inspiring transit ridership. A new report from the American Public Transportation Association, Who Rides Public Transportation?, reveals insights that will be useful to... Read more »

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Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 2.19.59 PMPreferences and need are major factors that influence whether people take public transportation. And communicating to those people in the places they visit throughout their day is a key to improving and inspiring transit ridership.

A new report from the American Public Transportation Association, Who Rides Public Transportation?, reveals insights that will be useful to transportation professionals whose jobs require them to understand who rides transit, where they are going, and why they choose it.

The report finds that 71 percent of all transit riders are currently employed (as of the time of the survey). Putting this in context by adding work-commute trips to shopping, dining, and other social trips, APTA suggests every trip creates an economic benefit.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 2.31.51 PM

Trip purposes – All transit users

 

Other interesting findings from the report about why people use transit include:

Differences across exact modes

Rail riders have a higher income, on average, than bus riders. As seen in the figure below, more people ride rail based on preference, since their income allows them to choose between multiple options. Bus riders, who generally have lower incomes, indicate need-based reasons for using transit in higher percentages than rail riders.

Thirteen percent of U.S. households have incomes less than $15,000. But that number rises to 21 percent in households that use transit – meaning transit is crucial for low-income households. They use it to get what they need, to go to doctor’s appointments, to go to school, and to run all of their other errands.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 2.36.58 PM

Reason for transit use by transit modes

 

Another notable statistic is that rail riders are twice as likely as bus riders to cite taking transit due to the cost of parking. Relatedly, roughly 16 percent of bus riders use transit because they do not have a car (as opposed to the 1 percent of rail riders who say the same as their main reason for riding).

Rail riders typically have better access to cars, and thus care more about parking costs.

Bus riders, with significantly lower incomes, cannot afford these luxuries, and rely on transit for most of their needs, such as errands, school, and appointments.

Rail riders use transit more for work and recreation than bus riders. Rail riders are also more likely to be employed than bus riders, by almost 15 percent, so it makes sense that they would be using transit to get to work more.

Bus riders use transit more often than rail riders for need-based reasons, ranking about 5 percent higher than rail riders in using transit for appointments, school, and other reasons.

City size

Population differences also distinctly affect the reasons that people take transit. Larger cities see more transit use for work and recreation, while smaller cities use it for school, medical needs, and other purposes.

Following trends mentioned above, more than 70 percent of major city transit riders are employed, as opposed to the 40 percent of riders in small cities.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 2.45.00 PM

Trip purpose and population

 

In addition, 20 percent of big-city transit riders earn a household income of $100,000 or more, nearly four times the percentage of high-income riders in small and mid-sized cities. In small and mid-sized cities, 45 percent of transit riders earn less than $15,000, while only 20 percent of big city populations do so.

This points towards what we see above with bus and rail riders. In big cities, people use transit for reasons aligned with preference, such as speed, convenience, and traffic, and smaller cities use it for need-based reasons.

Of interest are the two dominant and polarized reasons for taking transit in smaller cities: 26 percent cited convenience over driving, and 30 percent cited no access to a car.

Possible lessons

All of these trends are of interest for transportation demand management agencies looking to offer more transit options to new riders. For example, if connecting with existing transit riders is the goal, one can target rail riders, more employed than bus riders, through employers. Communicating with bus riders, who ride for more need-based reasons, could happen in community centers, doctor’s offices, or schools.

APTA’s report found that, in larger cities, riders mostly take transit to work and shopping and dining areas, whereas in small cities transit is used at a higher rate to reach schools and medical establishments.

These trends carry implications for TDM programs regarding how and where to best engage riders.

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Report envisions possible paths transportation technologies may take us in next 20 years https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/22/report-envisions-possible-paths-transportation-technologies-20-years/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/22/report-envisions-possible-paths-transportation-technologies-20-years/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:20:08 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21642 A version of this post originally appeared on contributor Hannah Budnitz’s blog, Go-How.com. As in the United States, how people will get around Great Britain in the near future is especially unclear given a number of emerging technologies. A recent report from RAND explored this uncertainty, offering three alternative visions of the future of mobility,... Read more »

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A version of this post originally appeared on contributor Hannah Budnitz’s blog, Go-How.com.

As in the United States, how people will get around Great Britain in the near future is especially unclear given a number of emerging technologies. A recent report from RAND explored this uncertainty, offering three alternative visions of the future of mobility, which are intended to cover the spectrum of probability, rather than a forecast of reality. The aim of the project, according to one of the report’s authors, was to review emerging technologies that influence transport efficiencies, and envision the multiple potential futures that might encompass the actual future.

Why? The one certainty in this crystal ball-gazing is that technologies affecting transport, which have not changed substantially for decades, are changing now and will change not only how we travel, but also our lifestyles, even our societies. So we need to have vision if we are to be ready for it.

It is not only the giants of the tech world that realize this. Did you see Ford’s Superbowl ad? The car company is promoting a vision of mobility for the future where it would be selling a lot more than just cars. Will it be selling “mobility as a service?” Car manufacturers have to offer different models of ownership, operation, and efficiency if they are to stay in the transport game in the future.

Transport planners have to change their tactics too. Cost-benefit analyses for investment in infrastructure currently calculate 60 years into the future – an unhelpful timescale when technology is changing so quickly that predicting possibilities for even 2035 is challenging. Also, transport appraisal has never been much good at predicting social impacts, but if we don’t want the RAND report’s dystopian vision of a “Digital Divide” – where income inequality separates who has access to major technologies – planners need to correct that fault quickly. More investment in adaptable infrastructure should happen as well, so as to not lock society into 60 years of something that will be obsolete in 20.

Meanwhile, a lot of the buzz is around fully autonomous vehicles, which will probably be electric and shared as well. The RAND report’s “Driving Ahead” scenario focuses on this technology, whilst the UK government is investing heavily to be a world leader in its development. The UK research agency Transport Systems Catapult offers some thoughts on this future, summarizing the many potential benefits of going driverless.

However, it is clear from discussion around the report’s release that it is not only the difficulty of transition that may threaten an autonomously-driven society. Land use planners face a capacity conundrum. If autonomous vehicles result in much less parking adjacent to homes and commercial uses, what should that land be used for instead?

Other questions crop up as well. The vehicles themselves still need to be off-road some of the time, stored and maintained. Where is that going to happen? How do streets need to be re-configured for picking up and dropping off instead of parking? If the reduced travel cost and additional productive time offered by autonomous vehicles attract more use than the additional road capacity their efficient movement frees up, is the answer to build more road infrastructure?

The RAND report specifically ignores the need for new infrastructure. But even roads aside, all the scenarios require more electricity and information technology infrastructure, built to be as resilient as possible in the face of frequent severe weather and other disruptions.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Freight drivers may not be out of a job if the complicated work at either end of the journey becomes ever more involved with shared loading and consolidated delivery. Children may be able to play on the streets again as space is freed from parking, and if autonomous vehicles can be better trusted with their safety. And if policy makers and planners and transport practitioners are proactive about standards, regulations, taxation and investment, we can push the future to better resemble the RAND report’s more utopian “Live Local” vision, where a cost for driving replaces the gas tax and mobility is not only a service, but an equitable one.

Photo: A highway in the UK (Matthew Wilkinson, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Fully autonomous vehicles may make us safer, but could add to traffic https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/20/autonomous-vehicles-safety-add-traffic/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/20/autonomous-vehicles-safety-add-traffic/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:18:32 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21604 Split of benefits and costs could spark much-needed national transportation discussion Just what a future transportation system with autonomous vehicles looks like isn’t completely clear-cut. However, Kara Kockelman, a University of Texas-based leading academic on the subject, has predictions for their economic impacts. In a South by Southwest presentation last week, she put forth a... Read more »

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Split of benefits and costs could spark much-needed national transportation discussion

Just what a future transportation system with autonomous vehicles looks like isn’t completely clear-cut.

However, Kara Kockelman, a University of Texas-based leading academic on the subject, has predictions for their economic impacts. In a South by Southwest presentation last week, she put forth a rapid-fire, yet nuanced, synopsis of the numerous studies she’s completed with UT students on an approaching autonomous future.

“I don’t think these cars are going to help us with congestion. I think they’re going to make it worse,” Kockelman said, adding this this will be an area that will require crucial legislation. “But I think they will save us on safety.”

Safety is certainly a top selling point upon which auto and tech experts will rely as they push autonomous vehicles as a future transportation solution.

The nearly 33,000 U.S. traffic deaths and 6 million crashes in 2014, according to Kockelman, created a cost of more than $500 billion. Driver error caused more than 90 percent of those crashes, and she said AVs would dramatically reduce that number, since at least 40 percent of those deaths resulted from alcohol, drugs, fatigue, and/or distraction.

With 100 percent adoption of AVs, the country would gain $488 billion annually in “pain and suffering” avoided from car crashes. That equates to $1,530 each year per person in the United States.

The congestion side may be a much trickier message for auto and tech experts to pitch to the public. Kockelman calculated that, in 2014, traffic created 7 billion hours of delay and caused $160 billion in economic loss.

On top of that, the bonus of “productivity en route” would be a $645 billion gain to the economy each year.

Add together the two economic gains – pain and suffering plus productivity – and the country would save a whopping $1.4 trillion in costs. On the per capita side, that comes to $4,419 per person in the country.

However, Kockelman balances the positives with the many consequences that would likely domino throughout society, including:

  • Longer travel distances, including people more likely to take induced driverless trips to destinations they currently wouldn’t drive to due to stress or other factors
  • More driving trips by people who are presently unlicensed or have barriers to driving
  • Less air travel by passengers
  • Less rail travel by freight
  • Possibly larger, less-efficient vehicles for longer trips, and
  • More sprawling land use
SXSW AV

Kockelman and Loftus-Otway presenting at SXSW. Photo by author.

Kockelman continued, saying these side effects could, in turn, increase congestion and infrastructure damage in many places. This would create a need for “systems to be operated more efficiently, equitably, and sustainably, including incentives for ride-sharing and non-motorized travel, route guidance, credit-based congestion pricing, and micro-tolling.”

“We’re going to see a lot more travel, but hopefully we’ll travel together, so that will avoid congestion,” she said. Kockelman added that improved technology should make tolling more efficient and that better public transportation and true ridesharing (as opposed to Uber- and Lyft-like ride-hailing) will be keys along the autonomous path.

Perhaps most importantly, she and her co-presenter Lisa Loftus-Otway, also from UT-Austin, said AVs offer a momentary chance to have a national conversation about transportation in the U.S. – something that has never truly happened on this scale.

“We’ve never really had an honest discussion on what transportation costs us,” Loftus-Otway said. “Terminology matters and [for example, we] shouldn’t call it a gas tax. It’s really a usage fee. Growing up, I never really knew how we paid for transportation. I guess I used to think the road fairy paid for it.”

Hopefully the AVs that appear in the near-term will help people better understand how transportation works. And then again, it may take some deliberate, and creative, outreach to help people understand the issue.

“Hopefully you all have been inside [an autonomous vehicle],” Kockelman told the audience, before laughing, “I have … and it’s pretty boring.”

Photo: Busy freeway (Rafael Castillo, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Capturing major DC events on bike and walking counters https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/17/bike-ped-counter-major-events-options/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/17/bike-ped-counter-major-events-options/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:18:27 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21595 Bike/ped traffic counter spikes for disruptive events emphasize importance of transportation options Arlington has 38 bike and pedestrian counters along its trails and bike lanes, six of which capture how many people cross the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., every day. Two counters are located on Memorial Bridge, two on Key Bridge, one on Roosevelt... Read more »

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Bike/ped traffic counter spikes for disruptive events emphasize importance of transportation options

Arlington has 38 bike and pedestrian counters along its trails and bike lanes, six of which capture how many people cross the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., every day. Two counters are located on Memorial Bridge, two on Key Bridge, one on Roosevelt Bridge, and one on the 14th Street Bridge.

The counters provide a look at what kind of bike/ped activity occurs on bridges into D.C. when there have been major events that disrupt street traffic and create crowding on transit. The bike and pedestrian daily counts can show how people are thinking as to when they resort to two wheels or their own feet.

How did the numbers of people in Arlington traveling by bike or foot compare to bike/ped ratios on normal weekends or holidays, when commuter traffic is more typical? Looking into this change could clarify how residents seek alternatives when major events disrupt transit and car traffic.

counter events

The events

Of the recent events captured in counters, the Women’s March induced the highest turnout by far, with a nearly 500 percent increase in bike and pedestrian traffic above the average weekend day or holiday. Meanwhile, Trump’s Inauguration doubled typical counts.

The travel ban protest, on January 29, 2017, drew about a 40 percent increase. As a small-scale event organized with little advance notice, the protest is still a notable recent event, as it drew thousands into the streets of downtown D.C.

The Pope’s visit to DC and Obama’s inauguration both induced a mild increase in traffic. In these cases, as with the Trump inauguration and Women’s March, much of the crowd likely came from out of town. It seems, though, that street closures around the Pope’s visit encouraged many to attempt a bike ride. Also notable: the Pope visited in September, when the weather was much more comfortable for riding.

Overall, pedestrian traffic seems less responsive to events than bike traffic. Perhaps the speed of biking allows bicycles to better replace transit and driving options. In each case, there are multiple reasons why more people might be biking or walking across the Potomac. In many instances the event closures force drivers or transit riders to switch modes in order to get to their usual destinations. In other cases, the events draw new visitors and curious Arlington residents into the District, who may augment normal counter figures.

The total attendance numbers are important to recognize: The travel ban protest, at an estimated 5,000 in attendance, was small, as a reactive protest organized in just two days. Meanwhile, Obama’s 2013 Inauguration drew 1,000,000 attendees, and Trump’s Inauguration and the Women’s March brought in at at least 250,000 and 500,000 respectively. The Pope’s visit to D.C. doesn’t seem to have cut and clear attendance numbers, as he traveled to multiple destinations within the District, but he spoke to a crowd of 11,000 people on the White House lawn on September 23, 2015.

Weather is another significant factor that should be recognized: Trump’s inauguration faced cold rain, and Obama’s 2013 ceremony was cool and cloudy. The Pope’s fall visit, however, was largely sunny and temperate.

The Memorial Bridge counters do not distinguish between bicyclists and pedestrians so that counter was only included in the total counts, but not in the individual bike and pedestrian breakdown. For the percent increase calculations, traffic counts on the day of the event were compared to weekend and holiday averages for the same month they occurred in (excluding the days of the events themselves).

Regardless of the exact reasons for the new biking and walking trips, the raised counts highlight the availability of additional travel options that can ease the impacts of major events on the D.C. area.

Photo: Pedestrians and a bicyclist on the Arlington side of the Memorial Bridge, looking eastward into D.C. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com)

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Transit as a lifelong habit: Early transit use informs choices later on in life https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/transit-lifelong-habit-study/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/transit-lifelong-habit-study/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 15:31:33 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21514 Travel choices are a habit, and not just one for a day-to-day consideration. A new study by Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein found that people who lived near reliable transit options early in their lives, such as in their 20s and 30s, were more likely to choose transit later on. Writing on Planetizen, the authors... Read more »

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Travel choices are a habit, and not just one for a day-to-day consideration. A new study by Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein found that people who lived near reliable transit options early in their lives, such as in their 20s and 30s, were more likely to choose transit later on. Writing on Planetizen, the authors note this held true even when people later moved to areas where transit was less reliable. These people were also more likely to live “car-light” lifestyles, owning fewer cars than average.

The study, “Rembrance of Cars and Buses Past,” published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, used a survey of households maintained since 1968 in order to follow transportation choices over long periods of time.

According to Smart and Klein, the study has implications for how planners address ridership rates and regard investments in reliable transit, many of which also apply to potential transportation demand management programs.

“Planners should consider transit as a long-term investment in neighborhoods and the people who live there. By encouraging exposure to transit at an early age (for instance, through free or reduced transit passes for students, recent transplants, or new hires), transit agencies and advocates could “plant the seed” for future ridership. These long-term benefits may be difficult to quantify and incorporate in cost-benefit analyses, though our research suggests the payoffs may be substantial.”

While many campuses might offer some kind of discounted transit pass already as a way to manage near-term issues of parking crunches, these findings support a longer-term justification. In the D.C. region, the unlimited Metro passes offered at American University and Howard University may be influencing transit riders decades down the line, so WMATA might consider the program an investment in future ridership.

The authors also point out that the findings could have considerable implications for younger people currently moving into cities at higher rates. Even if they eventually move to less-dense areas as they have families, they may take transit at higher rates than others and will likely own fewer cars.

Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com

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Single people in many metro areas becoming more car-free, with some exceptions https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/03/singles-metro-areas-car-free/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/03/singles-metro-areas-car-free/#respond Fri, 03 Mar 2017 17:16:06 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21428 Ed.: In part 2 of her ongoing analysis of car ownership rates in the U.S., urban planner Sarah Jo Peterson examines how one-person households, or singles, have been buying more cars or going car-free in the first half of the decade. Below is an excerpt of her piece, which you can read in its entirety... Read more »

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Ed.: In part 2 of her ongoing analysis of car ownership rates in the U.S., urban planner Sarah Jo Peterson examines how one-person households, or singles, have been buying more cars or going car-free in the first half of the decade. Below is an excerpt of her piece, which you can read in its entirety here.

The transportation choices of Americans who live alone are important not just because singles make up more than one quarter of all households. Between 2010 and 2015, the 32 million one-person households in the United States became both more likely to live car-free and to have multiple cars. (Yes, a one-person household with two-or-more cars is a thing!) The transportation lifestyles of singles are shifting, even volatile. Moreover, their choices are an indicator that transportation lifestyles are polarizing across the states, and also across some of the largest metros and their core cities too.

Singles let go of cars in half of the 50 largest metropolitan areas by population between 2010 and 2015. Singles in 15 metros shifted to car-free living by more than 1.0 percentage point and by more than 2.0 percentage points in the metros encompassing Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. In just 11 metros were singles more likely to have more cars in 2015.

A number of metro areas show lower car-ownership rates among singles, while others have higher polarization (more car-free and more owners of multiple cars).

Like for the states, shifts tended to be towards the extreme transportation lifestyles. In the 25 metros where singles shifted away from cars, 22 metros showed increases in car-free living. Only in the metros encompassing Louisville, San Diego, and Atlanta were the shifts predominantly about dropping down to only one vehicle. Singles made living car-two+ more common in seven of the 11 metros with more cars. Only in the metros encompassing New York, Boston, Raleigh, and Cincinnati was the predominant shift a move from no car to one car.

Eleven metros experienced strong shifts away from cars, where living car-free went up and car-two+ went down. The eleven are the metros encompassing Hartford, Detroit, Milwaukee, Providence, Washington, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Riverside. Six metros polarized between 2010 and 2015: proportionally, more singles were living both car-free and car-two+ in the metros encompassing Indianapolis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas, and Charlotte.

Strong shifts towards more cars (car-two+ up and car-free down) only showed up in the metros encompassing San Antonio, Pittsburgh, and San Juan. Only in the metros encompassing Memphis, New Orleans, and Dallas did singles embrace living car-two+ by more than one percentage point.

Read the full post, which explains how, in some instances, singles led cities away from high car-ownership rates, here.

Photo: Townhouses and parking in Chicago (Ian Freimuth, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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