Connected Cities, Transportation

Transportation is one of the slowest changing industries, and is not often disrupted. So the last major disrupter arguably was the automobile, which by displacing walking, the bicycle and the horse, not only had a profound impact on how we travel, but also changed our spatial economy through its influence on land use patterns.

Now, suddenly, the advent of big data and new technology, along with shifting social and environmental priorities is fundamentally changing how we prefer to travel, what a car is, how we use it, and what supporting infrastructure is necessary to support it. We have the potential to create a more equitable platform that provides greater opportunities to all sectors of the population.

Big data is enabling us to more accurately predict demand and understand travel patterns, enabling more efficient infrastructure choices and uses, potentially reducing costs, and enabling the concurrent reprogramming of scarce funds to meet more pressing needs.

With the sharing economy including cars and bikes, you no longer have to be able to afford the whole vehicle, and can pay as you go, purchasing only the part that you need to use, perhaps enabling access to employment that was not previously accessible.

If everyone doesn’t need their own car (and the average personal car sits idle 22 hours a day) – do we need all that parking? What else could that land be used for? Affordable housing? Economic development?

If people don’t have to buy the whole vehicle, and just the part they need – aside from having more employment opportunities – how might they invest in themselves and their families differently with the savings of not having to own a car? Better education? Better housing?

For elderly populations, driverless vehicles represent an opportunity for more lifestyle choices, while providing relief and flexibility to their caretakers (perhaps enabling them to retain a job they might otherwise have to give up).

Shifting cultural preferences to both the sharing economy and the increasing interest in active transportation are driving the pursuit of “complete streets” – using the public right of way not just for automobiles, but rethinking design standards to  incorporate all users including transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians in a safe environment.

Linkages between health/wellness and active transportation are increasing the demand for active transportation facilities to promote healthier communities and reduce healthcare costs.

Uber is changing the standards for customer service and convenience, and affording income opportunities.

Real time pathfinding based on traffic conditions provided by Waze is optimizing the use of the entire street network to accommodate peak period travel.

The net results of the disruption: improved efficiency, more opportunity, increased affordability, enhanced health, greater equity. All of these are essential ingredients for sustainable communities and enhanced quality of life. Just remember, people thought the horse could never be replaced by the car. In the end, it did not take very long for that to happen at all.


Mendes_Diana_201404_11Diana Mendes is senior vice president and director of Americas transit at AECOM.

Originally published Jul 8, 2015

Author: Diana Mendes