From the Smithsonian Magazine:

 

Alan Berger, a professor of landscape architecture and urban design at MIT, … as co-director of MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU), recently helped organize a conference at the university titled, “The Future of Suburbia.” The meeting was the culmination of a two-year research project on how suburbs could be reinvented. …

One such technology is the autonomous car, which is what Berger talked about. A lot of media attention has been paid to the prospect of fleets of driverless vehicles constantly circulating on downtown streets, but he says the invention’s greatest impact will be in the suburbs, which, after all, have largely been defined by how we use cars.

“It will be in suburb-to-suburb commuting,” Berger says. “That’s the majority of movement in our country. As more autonomous cars come online, you’re going to see more and more suburbanization, not less. People will be driving farther to their jobs.”

With truly autonomous vehicles still years away, no one can say with much certainty if they will result in people spending less time in cars. But Berger does foresee one big potential benefit—much less pavement. Based on the notion that there likely will be more car-sharing and less need for multiple lanes since vehicles could continuously loop on a single track, Berger believes the amount of pavement in a suburb of the future could be cut in half. You would no longer need huge shopping center parking lots, or even driveways and garages.

… interdependence between suburbs and downtowns is at the heart of how Berger and others at the CAU see the future. Instead of bedroom communities of cul-de-sacs and shopping malls, the suburbs they’ve imagined would focus on using more of their space to sustain themselves and nearby urban centers—whether it’s by providing energy through solar panel micro-grids or using more of the land to grow food and store water.

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Full article here.

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A comment from Geof on Autonomous Vehicles and City Building:

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Silicon Valley is just about the worst place to invent the future city. Because it isn’t one.

Where zoning limits houses to a single storey; where the sidewalks that exist are sunbaked deserts; where the only way to get around is by car; where public space is lacking; where there are no streets in Jacobs’ sense, only freeways and roads resembling country lanes; where the goal of travel is to move from gated private space to Utopian private space (e.g. the Google campus, with its fleets of free-to-use bikes for internal trips only): there, autonomous cars look like the solution.

I can easily imagine automated cars navigating Mountain View. The chaos and unpredictability of Vancouver is another matter. I think Mr Price’s question is right on the money: when cars succeed there and fail elsewhere, the engineers will think it is the city at fault, not the imaginary islands where the cars were invented.

 

Sand Hill Road, often shortened to just “Sand Hill“, is an arterial road in Menlo Park, California, notable for its concentration of venture capital companies. The road has become ametonym for that industry; nearly every top Silicon Valley company has been the beneficiary of early funding from firms on Sand Hill Road.

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Sandy James: This piece has just come out from Ryerson on the issue of autonomous vehicles. I took one look at this and wondered what people in fifty years will say when they look back on this type of video-will they think the same as we do now looking at those early videos of the benefits of the 1950’s highway construction across the USA?

What is notable is that walking and accessibility really do not get prime points here, and the interfacing between this new technology and peds/bikers gets no shrift.

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pricetags: Given how easy it will be for pedestrians and cyclists to frustrate the flow of AVs, knowing that the vehicles will always stop and accede the right-of-way, will there be pressure to prohibit any other users than cars on the roads except in designated places like crosswalks (on the light) and separated cycletracks?

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969 Burrard St & 1019-1045 Nelson St

This is my second article on Good Friday about a development application that saves or restores a church. And I’m not even Christian. Also, I recommend this article be enjoyed accompanied by Geoff Berner’s song Higher Ground

From the City’s website (bolded font is my doing):

The City of Vancouver has received an application to rezone 969 Burrard Street & 1019-1045 Nelson Street from CD-1 (445) (Comprehensive Development) to a new CD-1 District. The proposal includes:

  • restoration of First Baptist Church;
  • new church ancillary spaces, including a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, offices and a cafe;
  • a new eight-storey building containing 66 social housing units, owned by the church;
  • a new 56-storey tower containing 294 market strata residential units, with a cafe at ground floor;

Other key parameters of the proposal include:

  • a combined total new floor area of approximately 561,881 sq.ft.;
  • a floor space ratio (FSR) of approximately 10.83;
  • 497 underground vehicle parking spaces.

This rezoning application is being considered under the Rezoning Policy for the West End and the West End Community Plan.

The project is called First Baptist Church (FBC) for now. I live close to this property. I think 56-storeys at the highest point downtown in earthquakey Vancouver is a little high but I can live with it if it’s structurally well-built. This building does not obstruct view corridors and falls within the dome skyline.
Currently the entrance is quite unwelcoming with fencing and a big, flashing, lighted sign at Nelson & Burrard. It’s unclear where to enter and not wheelchair accessible. The plans for creating an open, accessible space with a cafe look inviting. The sidewalk on Nelson may be widened as the left turning lane west of Burrard is not well used.
The developer is the First Baptist Church. The builder is Westbank. The architect is Bing Thom. The Traffic Consultant is Peter Joyce of Bunt & Assoc. I spoke to him and others at the Open House – which PT Guest Editor Thomas Beyer covered.
What I object to strongly is the amount of car parking they plan to include. They want 120 parking spaces over the minimum required for a total of 497. (Do we still have minimum parking requirements in downtown Vancouver and why don’t we have a maximum number permitted?)
The overall parking ratio is 1.4 – in the centre of downtown Vancouver at the corner of Nelson & Burrard. That means 1.4 parking spaces for every 1 unit. It’s 0.4 for the rental building and a whopping 1.6 for the strata.
To give you some perspective, these days in Metrotown many high-rises will have a parking ratio of about 1 or less. Portland is building high-rises with 0.6 or less. Some high-rises are proud to be at 0. Granted, this high-rise plans to have a number of 2-3 bedroom suites. Still, allowing so much car parking downtown encourages too much driving and drives up costs. This much car parking doesn’t meet any of our City goals.
I have worked with numerous developers over the years interested in having all access carsharing in their buildings – even before there were incentives from the City to minimize parking requirements for doing so. It’s a popular amenity for buyers. FBC is not including any carsharing as they have no interest in reducing minimum parking requirements. This leaves their buyers with fewer convenient, transportation choices.
The plan is to have 6 levels of subterranean parking. The cost of adding 6 floors underground is staggering in concrete and steel. For developers, the reduced construction time with fewer levels can be a considerable savings for them as well. Housing rates are so expensive in Vancouver that even if the intention is to sell posh 2-3 bedroom suites, the higher cost of the units from additional parking doesn’t make sense to me. Many downtown families have 0 or 1 car and carshare when they need 2 on one day.
Also, units will be sold with parking spots – not unbundled (where the buyer gets to choose to buy a unit with or without a parking space).

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On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
 
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
 
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it.

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“Leaders in the Shadows: The Leadership Qualities of Municipal Chief Administrative Officers” is the title of a recent book by David Siegel, a Professor of Political Science at Brock University. Yes, it’s about city managers – those who stay out of the limelight, but who directly influence the decision-makers, making recommendations that they are then charged with implementing, hence influencing both the inputs and the outcomes.  All very ‘Yes, Minister.’
It’s a perfect phrase for those whose names you didn’t read about or may not even know, but who must have influenced the Premier in her decision to announce the building of the Massey Bridge as a done deal, prior to the transit referendum in 2014.
These Leaders in the Shadows have contacts up, down and across the decision-making apparatus, notably those in the Gateway initiatives.  They then have to provide the justifications for a policy or project, even if the stated reasons aren’t actually the ones that determined the decision.  (Which in the case of Motordom is sometimes just the need to keep feeding the machine with multi-billion-dollar projects on a regular basis.  See ‘Sunshine Coast Connector.’)
The Massey Bridge proposal had no relationship (or even mention) in the regional transportation plan, or for that matter in any of the current provincial transportation plans. The previous Minister, Kevin Falcon, had even ruled it out.  But the LitS can come up with a new set of justifications.  Hey, it solves the worst congestion in the province!  Plus whatever other arguments are needed to justify a $4 billion exercise in excess. (Sure, throw in another lane; we can get this sucker up to at least ten.).
So far they’ve been able to avoid having to explain just how the decision-making actually worked and what factors went into the process – or did not.  Here’s an obvious one:

Did you take into account the possible impacts of new technologies and new ways people will be using vehicles – whether automated vehicles, car-sharing or Uber-like ride-sharing? If so, do share the results.

With respect to the impact of automated vehicles, we can be pretty sure that no serious work was done, if other jurisdictions are any indication – as noted in this piece from today’s New York Times:

Self-Driving Cars May Get Here Before We’re Ready

Even though fully autonomous cars could be ready for the road within the next decade, only 6 percent of the country’s most populous cities have accounted for them in their long-term plans, according to a study from the National League of Cities, an advocacy and research group. …

Google, Uber, Tesla and a host of automakers have been moving at full speed to develop driverless technologies. Although the federal government has expressed support for autonomous vehicles, it has so far left regulatory decisions to state and local governments.

“Paradoxically, despite a lot of cities’ thinking this technology is coming, very few have started to plan for it,” Mr. Mitchell said.

 

In the case of Massey we can reasonably conclude that it is being planned in spite of whatever technology might bring or the consequences of road pricing and the ability to regulate traffic volumes through market mechanisms.  But shovels have to be in the ground by the time the 2017 election rolls around.
Prediction: the Massey Bridge may be one of the greatest boondoggles in a province that historically has had no shortage of them. Read more »

A thought experiment that intrigued Clive Rock – from the BBC:

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Mike Hearn … a Zurich-based software developer is both an ex-Google engineer and one of the leading Bitcoin software developers.  …

Emancipated automobiles sounds like a crazy concept. But the man advocating the idea goes further: he thinks they’ll have babies. …

At the heart of his vision is the idea that once driverless cars become commonplace, most people won’t want or need to own a vehicle any more.  And in a world dominated by self-steering taxis, each ride becomes cheaper if the vehicles are autonomous rather than owned and run by major corporations.

Instead of controlling which car goes where via proprietary software, the cars would communicate with people and the surrounding infrastructure via a new internet-based commerce system, he dubs the Tradenet.

“You would be using an app that goes onto Tradenet and says: ‘Here I am, this is where I want to go, give me your best offers,'” the developer says.

“The autonomous taxis out there would then submit their best prices, and that might be based on how far away they are, how much fuel they have, the quality of their programming.

“Eventually you pick one – or your phone does it for you – and it’s not just by the cheapest price, but whether the car has a good track record of actually completing rides successfully and how nice a vehicle it is.”

The car, in turn, would communicate with the sensor-equipped roads it drives on, offering its passengers the ability to pay extra to go in faster lanes or unlock access to shortcuts – the cost of which would be determined by how many others wanted the same thing. . More here. .

More realistically – from SustainableCitiesCollective: 

What Do Driverless Cars Mean for Suburban Planning?

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Probably the biggest change is the demise of the large parking lot. These huge slabs of asphalt dominate suburban commercial landscapes, often taking up 80 percent of commercial parcels. They dominate the streetscape, and arterial suburban roads are lined with them. Without personal vehicles to park, there’s no need for a parking lot. That land could be put to productive use.

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With a transportation system that’s five times as efficient, too, there’s little need for wide arterial roads packed with single-occupant vehicles. As well, without human drivers, there’s no need for “forgiving engineering” focused on driver psychology and driver needs. We can narrow lanes from 12 feet (freeway width) down to 10 feet or even 9.5 feet and have the same vehicle capacity and speed. There would rarely be a need for roads wider than 2 lanes in the suburbs.

So, we can wave goodbye to parking lots and wide arterial roads.

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I’ve mentioned every so often that Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia, was my source for the concept of “Motordom.”  In “Fighting Traffic,” he tells the story of “one of the biggest public relations coups of all time” that led to the reshaping of cities and the car-dominant design of urban regions.  Emily Badger tells the story of the story in the Washington Post: 

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The myth of the American love affair with cars

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For decades, Americans have been in love with the automobile — or so the saying goes. This single idea has been a central premise of transportation policy, pop culture and national history for the last half-century. It animates how we think about designing the world around us, and how we talk about dissidents in our midst who dislike cars.

“This ‘love affair’ thesis is like the ultimate story,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia, who warns that we need to revisit how we came to believe this line before we embrace its logical conclusion in a future full of driverless cars. “It’s one of the biggest public relations coups of all time. It’s always treated as folk wisdom, as an organic growth from society. One of the signs of its success is that everyone forgets it was invented as a public relations campaign.”

… the story Norton disputes, which he has written about in the book “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” is the history that says that we’ve built car-dependent cities and suburbs because that’s what Americans wanted, the story that says all our surface parking lots and spaghetti interchanges are a pure product of American preferences.

“When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”

Media at the time recount pedestrians ranting against the automobile as an intrusion and an undemocratic bully. Newspapers contained cartoons portraying rich drivers in luxury cars running over working-class kids. Three-quarters of traffic fatalities at the time were pedestrians.

In 1923, 42,000 people in Cincinnati signed a petition to put an ordinance on the ballot that would have forced all cars in town to include a speed governing device to prevent them from traveling faster than 25 miles an hour.

“All of that history,” Norton says, “has been lost.”

So, too, has the history of how the auto industry responded. In the mid 1920s, Norton says, the industry began a concerted effort to fundamentally recast the problem: Cars weren’t intruding on a public domain long freely used by pedestrians; pedestrians were wandering into roads that should be reserved for cars.

The auto industry effectively codified this idea in the crime of “jaywalking,”which remains with us today.

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What cars gained through sheer force — the right of way in public space — the auto industry reinforced with a model municipal traffic ordinance. The code, drafted by a committee chaired by a Cadillac salesman, further formalized the basic governing assumption, which remains with us in cities across the country today, that streets are for cars, not people.

Today, even when we grumble about the misery of commuting in traffic, the culprit, invariably, isn’t the car itself — it’s the insufficient infrastructure that can’t quite contain it. It’s the highways that need widening, the roads that demand higher speed limits, the traffic lights that could use synchronizing.

Now, about 86 percent of Americans get to work every day in a private car – a statistic that’s often interpreted to mean that the vast majority of us chose to travel that way.

This conclusion conflates preferences with constrained options. “I actually drive most of the way to work,” Norton admits. “I do it because the choices stink.” To extract from today’s ubiquitous parking garages, drive-through restaurants and busy roads a preference for cars ignores all the ways that public policy, industry influence and economic incentives have shaped our travel behavior.

“If you locked me in a 7-Eleven for a week,

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Said Tara Grescoe: “The more I read about self-driving cars, the more I realize that nobody knows what they’ll mean for our cities.”

More evidence (something else that never occurred to me) from CityLab: 

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How Driverless Cars Could Make Traffic Dramatically Worse

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A new simulation-based study of driverless cars questions how well these two big secondary benefits—less traffic and more comfort—can coexist. Trains are conducive to productivity in large part because they aren’t as jerky as cars. But if driverless cars mimic the acceleration and deceleration of trains, speeding up and slowing down more smoothly for the rider’s sake, they might sacrifice much of their ability to relieve traffic in the process. …

… if we want riding in a driverless car to be as comfortable as riding in a train, we need to consider the possibility that more traffic will be the result. Le Vine and company conclude:

Our findings suggest a tension in the short run between these two anticipated benefits (more productive use of travel time and increased network capacity), at least in certain circumstances. It was found that the trade-off between capacity and passenger-comfort is greater if autonomous car occupants program their vehicles to keep within the constraints of HSR (in comparison to LRT).

The work is a reminder that the full benefits of a driverless-car world might take quite some time to materialize—and that we should prepare for the challenges, too. Le Vine acknowledges that congestion might very well clear up once every vehicle in the fleet is autonomous, or even once there are enough to create driverless platoons. Until then, however, the traffic outcomes are much less predictable and very possibly negative.

Consider, for instance, that these simulations didn’t include pedestrians. Doing so no doubt would have led to even more starting and stopping, and thus more delay. And if seatbelts remain mandatory in driverless cars, that might require smoother acceleration and deceleration; much of the comfort of a train ride, after all, is the lack of seat restraints. Traffic behavior would also change if manufacturers offer people several driving profile options—say, from ultra-smooth to aggressive.

All the more reason to think driverless cars will complement, rather than immediately replace, public transportation in cities.

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