The world is in the midst of a data explosion. This has the potential to transform cities in many ways by helping to plan for new transport infrastructure and urban growth, and better utilize existing infrastructure and services. Yet, many urban planning experts are finding that cities are not fully benefiting from these opportunities.
The old paradigm of data collection was focused on government as the main data collector. This has changed quickly. Today, exponentially more data is being collected by the private sector than any government, and public sector access to this data is not keeping pace.
“A big problem with how new data sources are being accessed is that everything is done in a one-off manner,” says Jacob Mason, Transport and Evaluation Manager with ITDP, “Each government that tries to get data from a company goes through a negotiation process that can take years and only applies to that particular city and company. At the same time, many in the public sector don’t understand the business perspective, where businesses are reluctant to share data that they’ve spent lots of time and money collecting. And many in both sectors are simply not aware of new tools that would help make the process much easier.”
In April, ITDP, with support from Microsoft, brought together international researchers and practitioners from both the public and private sectors to participate in an Innovative Data Symposium in San Francisco. The Symposium was an attempt to bridge this gap of understanding between sectors and chart a course of action towards better data in a much shorter time period.
Participants from companies including Lyft, Flowminder, Microsoft, and Toyota met with representatives from NACTO, SFMTA, the City of Vancouver, and the World Bank and many other government and NGO groups. They discussed public needs, private sector constraints, new research tools, and potential partnerships. Together, the participants presented their work, with the broader goal of thinking big about how to leverage data for the public good.
City officials described the need to have better information about how people move around the city, as well as better capacity to use data, especially in lower-income communities. They also highlighted the need for better coordination and data standardization within governments. Representatives from the private sector described their constraints to sharing data, particularly with the concern of maintaining a competitive edge.
Researchers presented new tools for accessing data, including scraping publicly available information and using algorithms to ask supervised questions of datasets in a secure manner. Other tools presented include ways to combine and process data from a variety of sources to turn it into useful information, such as combining census data with satellite images of nighttime lights to better understand where people live.
“With origin and destination information, we can see patterns of where people are going. With speed and derived mode data, we can see how they travel. Previously, collecting this information required either expensive unreliable and infrequent surveys, or physically having a person sit on the street and count people, which was also time consuming, expensive, infrequent, and hard to cover an entire city effectively”, says Mason. “With better data, we can start to precisely identify problem locations in the transport network. With frequently updated data, we can quickly assess the impact of a project, such as if a BRT system has actually reduced travel times, for example, without relying on subjective surveys.”
The issue of security was also a focus. Much raw data is highly sensitive and is stored securely to respect privacy and business interests. Researchers at the symposium are developing tools to ensure confidentiality by creating a sufficient level of aggregation. This aggregate data can help cities assess progress, identify issues, and plan accordingly in order to create better, more efficient transit options for their citizens, while protecting individual privacy, and allowing businesses to thrive.
ITDP’s next step is looking to identify cities that have taken proactive steps to better leverage data for decision making, and to develop guidelines for how this might be replicated elsewhere. This includes exploring the notion of “street neutrality”, akin to net neutrality but for data generated via publicly controlled streets. Improving data literacy is another key in better leveraging data, so that governments have the ability to translate information into useful decisions. The group is also looking to create new pilot projects of partnerships across sectors to align interests, and demonstrate new ways of leveraging data.
The BostonBRT Station Design Competition is an ideas competition for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations in Boston. The competition created an opportunity for designers to showcase creative, innovative and inspiring modern design for a critical part of the BRT System: The Station.
BostonBRT challenged the design community to think beyond the traditional bus stop and bring to life exciting new ideas for BRT stations in Boston. Better bus stops, combined with other elements of “Gold Standard” BRT can help transform the transit experience for Boston commuters. The three winners were selected on the following criteria:
- Reflect the character of Greater Boston and its neighborhoods
- Create a sense of comfort and elegance
- Meet the requirements of the BRT Standard and maximizes benefits to future BRT riders
- Allow for integration with other modes including walking and biking
- Demonstrate an effective and reliable rapid transit system.
Covered stations are a core feature of the BRT experience. While traditional buses have “stops” marked only by a sign and sometimes a bench, BRT vehicles come and go from stations that are sheltered, weatherproof, brightly lit, and architecturally exquisite.
What is BRT?
BRT, which doesn’t yet exist in Massachusetts, is a transformational bus system being adopted by cities around the world to carry millions of people comfortably and reliably each day. Because BRT contains features similar to a light rail or metro system, it is much more reliable, convenient and faster than regular bus services. With the right features, BRT is able to avoid the causes of delay that typically slow regular bus services, like being stuck in traffic and queuing to pay on board.
BRT improves upon the standard bus in several key ways, including:
- A dedicated right-of-way: Bus-only lanes make for faster travel and ensure that buses are never delayed due to mixed traffic congestion
- Busway Alignment: Center of roadway or bus-only corridor keeps buses away from the busy curbside where cars are parking, standing, and turning
- Off-board Fare Collection: Fare payment at the station, instead of on the bus, eliminates the delay caused by passengers waiting to pay on board
- Intersection Treatments: Prohibiting turns for traffic across the bus lane reduces delays caused to buses by turning traffic. Prohibiting such turns is the most important measure for moving buses through intersections – more important even than signal priority.
- Platform-level Boarding: The station should be at level with the bus for quick and easy boarding. This also makes it fully accessible for wheelchairs, disabled passengers, strollers and carts with minimal delays.
First Place Winner
The Billow station’s iconic design provides a distinctive brand for Boston’s BRT network and an elevated experience for transit riders. The unique diagonal column alignment allows for generous platform space toward the front of the bus and the double canopies, facing opposite directions, result in a dynamic overall form.
For curb-aligned stations, the diagonal structure creates space for a kiosk in high-traffic locations. By co-locating a coffee shop or fruit stand with a BRT station, a prosaic bus stop is transformed into a lively public space. Moveable café chairs can serve double-duty as a pleasant place to wait for the bus.
The Billow station is at once sculptural and weightless. While the roof is the natural grey of composite concrete, the underside is adorned with brightly colored decorative patterns or murals customized for each neighborhood. These richly ornamented ceilings are recessive during the day, when the hustle and bustle of the city dominates. At night, up-lighting will convert the stations into welcoming beacons.
The crosswalks leading to the stations are extensions of the art featured on the underside of the canopy. Their design will serve as invitations to the stations and help make transit an organic part of the neighborhood.
Second Place Winner
RootBRT is a station experience designed to adapt to a neighborhood community’s desires while ensuring efficient transportation links between under-connected neighborhoods and regional job hubs. A modular construction method reduces costs and guarantees flexibility, with three foundational components (Comfort, Anticipation, and Transition) that can be configured in countless ways to usher users from existing urban fabric into exciting spaces providing interaction, service, and transport.
The integration of information delivery via interactive display (BusRapidBoards, or “BRBs”); pedestrian amenities such as seating, shade, and locally-owned micro-retail; and gold standard fare collection and buses provides each station location and its users with a range of resources to improve physical and social connectivity. With a constant consideration for sustainability and resiliency, the standardized modular structures kept most construction activity off-site, minimizing disruption to the neighborhood while channeling cost savings into higher quality amenities and resiliency features such as stormwater collection, solar PV collection, and reclaimed local materials.
The end result is a station that local residents and business owners are proud to call their own, one that creates stronger connections between neighbors and neighborhoods.
Third Place Winner
The Urban Arbor proposes a new mobility aesthetic, unique for the City of Boston. Visually rooted in the palette, scale, and texture of the Boston context, the Urban Arbor is not just an infrastructural component, it is a social, ecological, and memorable icon for the future Boston BRT and the city as a whole.
Urban Arbor capitalizes on both the characteristics of mobility and of Boston. Mobility often has associations with high-tech, futuristic, structural expression, sleek-ness. Whereas, Boston is associated with the historic, detail, and warmth. The project attempts to negotiate and challenge these two sets of characteristics; being sympathetic to the historic nature of the Boston neighborhoods, while also representing the technological advancements of the BRT infrastructure.
Urban Arbor is characterized by the integration of deep planter gardens, which serve visual, social and ecological purposes for the station. Visually, the planters soften the edges of the station and provide a barrier between the waiting areas and adjacent traffic flows. Socially, the community can help to determine which plants are used and, through a volunteer program, aid in the maintenance of the garden. Ecologically, the roof of the station acts as a rainwater recovery system, allowing stormwater to drain directly into the planter gardens. Integrated solar panels on the roof allow the LED lighting and wayfinding systems to be fully off the grid.
For more information about the station design competition and to see all the entries, check out bostonbrt.org.
While some world leaders deny that our climate is changing, Mexico City is sinking.
Increased heat and drought, exacerbated by the emissions of millions of vehicles in the world’s most congested city, are worsening water shortages in Mexico’s capital. As drilling goes deeper and deeper for more water, Mexico City’s foundation is eroding and causing the city to actually sink—up to nine inches per year in some areas. Climate change couldn’t be more real to Mexico City residents who, even at 8,000 feet above sea level, are seeing its impacts every day: a crumbling sidewalk here, a split in the earth beneath a bus lane there.
Unfortunately, Mexico City is no anomaly. The effects of warming air, intensified storms, and rising seas are already being felt in cities across the globe, more than 90% of which are coastal. In Chennai, India last year, a heavy typhoon caused devastating flooding with an increased intensity that may be the new norm. Rising waters and floods are particularly worrisome for Jakarta, Indonesia, forty percent of which already lies below sea level.
With the U.S. backpedaling on its climate leadership role despite major international agreements already in place, cities are now taking the lead in curbing one of climate change’s biggest culprits: transport, which is responsible for 22% of all energy-related emissions. All over the world, ITDP is working closely with cities that are finding new and innovative ways to boost sustainable transport and reduce reliance on cars. Here are just a few examples:
BRT in the USA
As urban areas grow across the U.S., cities like Boston are turning to bus rapid transit (BRT) systems to efficiently provide mobility to their residents—meaning less cars on the road and fewer emissions. In Boston, ITDP is working with the government to implement a vision for what could be the country’s first Gold Standard BRT.
Less Parking, Less Driving in Mexico City
In Mexico City, the prevalence of easy parking is encouraging driving and contributing to massive congestion and emissions. With ITDP’s support, Mayor Miguel Mancera is now pursuing a sweeping and precedent-setting overhaul of the city’s parking policy—a move that will shift more residents to public transit, reduce pollution, and deliver a crucial new source of transportation funding.
Special Roundels on the Piccadilly Line to mark the beginning of Night Tube service © Transport for London
Founded in 1863, the world-famous London Underground, also known as the Tube, may just be the planet’s most iconic subway system, from its “mind the gap” warning to its circular red logo to its storied history as a bomb shelter during World War II. While it transports a hefty 1.37 billion passengers annually, up on street level, the city’s equally iconic red buses – many of them the ever-popular double deckers – host more than 2 billion passenger trips per year.
Enter Simon Lusby, a senior strategist at Transport for London, the British capital’s transit agency. He’s part of the surface transport team, which means even if the Tube is the symbol of London mobility, he is working daily to make sure the bus system is just as much up to snuff.
Lusby spoke to us about how London’s bus system fits with MOBILIZE Santiago‘s theme Just and Inclusive Cities Become the New Normal, what he hopes to learn from the annual MOBILIZE summit in June, and the future for buses in London.
ITDP: The theme of MOBILIZE Santiago is “just and inclusive cities become the new normal”. How does London’s transport system live up to this ideal?
Simon Lusby: How we’re planning transport needs to be as inclusive as possible. The new approach to street design (the “Healthy Streets Approach”), for example, is all about inclusion of everyone on the street. Not just one mode, not just healthy people, but actually getting more people out there and making spaces available for everyone.
I think London fits within that quite nicely, with that not only becoming the norm but also being the expectation here. Our bus network is very much at that level. For example, it’s already wheelchair accessible and our passengers are representative of Londoners. So from that point of view, I’d say London could be one of the flagship places where “just and inclusive cities” becomes the norm.
What are you hoping to learn from the city of Santiago’s transportation experience at MOBILIZE?
Listening to Santiago, I’m interested in buses. London has a very developed bus network but we need to look to other cities where they’ve had to address many of the challenges we currently face. London is still improving our approach to multi-modal development and that’s what we need to be learning from other cities. That’s what I hope to take away from MOBILIZE – like integration of public transport, particularly with cycling.
What cities around the world are you most interested in today, as in who’s doing the most innovative work in your field?
In terms of bus rapid transit, there is actually a lot of it here in the UK, like in Cambridge and Manchester. I’m more interested in a few key things. One, is integrating buses with cycling. Seattle has done that quite well. Another is thinking about how do you stretch corridors together. How do you get bus transit through a really, really dense metropolitan environment? I’m quite keen to gain some more experience from New York on this. I also want our London Underground users to feel like they are still part of the same public transport network and have options on how they can travel when they transfer to a bus.
You’ve mentioned buses a number of times. How has Transport for London been so successful increasing public transit mode share, especially on buses?
Without buses, there are areas where one has very little public transport. But now there are bus routes everywhere. 95% of households live within 4oo meters of a bus service. So that goes to show that this network we’re covering is more abundant than people had ever thought.
We’ve got control of the bus network and some of the road space, which has been central. Starting in about 2000, Transport for London put in a lot of buses and that made the services far more reliable. Then in 2003 came the congestion charge. People have to pay to enter the center city, which means that there are very few private cars in the city and that helped the bus network again hugely. Simple things like contactless payment – the Oyster card – made it far more seamless between using the Tube and using the bus.
You know the bus is coming during the day. You don’t have to mess around with schedules or anything like that. There’s probably going to be a bus arriving in a few minutes. Unfortunately though, that high frequency costs money and we still have to continue to adapt our network to support the Tube and the new Elizabeth line. It’s an underground train line between Heathrow and east London via Canary Wharf. It will become the city’s main line, carrying twice the capacity of the other lines. But you can’t build one of these every year. It takes a lot of time and money.
With flashy new infrastructure like the Elizabeth line coming in, what is the importance of a bus-based transport for a city that has such an extensive subway system?
That goes back to the original question of inclusiveness. If you pulled out the buses, which are completely wheelchair accessible, you’re no longer inclusive. So we tend to maintain bus lines even directly above Tube lines because you need that accessibility and people rely on it. When you think about how many different layers there are in the Tube, going deep down into the stations, for some people you don’t want to be going up and down all that.
How does Transport for London collect data on bus ridership?
We have our pay as you go fare system, which is a tap-on, tap-off system that uses Contactless bank cards or the Oyster card to understand customers journeys. That means we don’t know the Tube route you took, we just know what station you went in and what station you come out of. From that travel data we can then understand connections like bus to Tube to bus. We’ve also got iBus which allows us to check the speed of the bus. We can then look at the speed of that service for any delays, as well as gaps between service that are impacting on ridership. If something goes wrong on the Tube, like delays, we can calculate fairly accurately how many people will be affected. So we try to take the knowledge we’ve learned on the Tube and apply it to bus.
This interview is the part of the MOBILIZE Santiago Speaker Series. In this series, we will feature interviews with researchers from VREF’s Future Urban Transport where will discuss their work in sustainable transport and reflecting on MOBILIZE Santiago’s theme: Just and Inclusive Cities Become the New Normal. To learn more about MOBILIZE Santiago and how you can register to attend the summit in Chile, visit mobilizesummit.org.
Transportation scholar Daniel Chatman’s latest research builds on two decades of experience looking largely at the U.S. context. Chatman has studied how people get to their jobs and what that means for metropolitan economies. He has investigated traffic patterns, job sprawl, and mortgage subsidies for homes in high-density neighborhoods with good transit access. In 2013, he and a co-author argued that transit could be producing as much as $1.8 billion annually in economic benefits for cities.
Daniel Chatman will be speaking at MOBILIZE Santiago on urban development and dynamic cities, including national social housing policies and the integration (or lack thereof) of transit and access.
ITDP spoke to Chatman from office at the University of California-Berkeley, where he teaches in the Department of City and Regional Planning, to discuss his work and reflect on this year’s MOBILIZE theme, “just and inclusive cities become the new normal”.
ITDP: Your research has shown that transportation can allow for higher densification of cities and therefore higher productivity due to agglomeration economies. Are U.S. cities finally waking up to those benefits?
Planners throughout the United States are all being trained to believe things like smart growth and public transportation is a good idea however, cities don’t necessarily believe this is true. And the reason cities don’t is because people don’t, and the reason that people don’t is because people have their own concerns. They’re focused on their immediate impact of various kinds of funding and investment decisions, and those are neighborhood-level impacts in many cases. In some cases, people do believe and are willing to support massive sales tax increases, for example, in places like Los Angeles and Seattle.
And yet, as to whether that support ends up translating into actual major changes in densification of cities and in ridership at all, that’s a separate question. We have a lot of regulations that get in the way of those benefits being realized.
The fact is that, yes, in the United States, we have higher productivity in denser cities that have better transit systems. But if you look at those cities, you also have increasing income polarization. We have both of those things partly because housing is really expensive in those same places.
Planners tend to be on board because they believe in the power of cities. But sometimes our vision of beautiful cities with great amenities is a vision that’s more geared towards higher-income people, so you want to be careful about it.
How can we convince cities that parking reform is one of the best ways to improve equity in cities?
Off-street parking requirements increase the cost of housing, especially in dense environments. It’s not uncommon to see construction cost requirements for structured parking of $60,000 per space. That’s a lot of money.
Those requirements are an equity issue because of the housing cost, but they’re actually more pernicious than that, because they change the sort of housing that’s developed in the first place. Developers are more likely to build luxury housing in response to having to provide two parking spaces per unit.
There is some evidence that parking requirements in some places are a bigger constraint upon densification than anything else. That is to say, it isn’t the height requirement, existing zoning allocation, or the by-right density, it’s the parking that stops people from developing as densely as they would.
What sort of impact do you think that federal funding, or lack thereof in the current political climate, will have on transport planning in U.S. cities, and can they move forward anyway?
There are lots cities that were already moving ahead without federal funding, which is now a smaller fraction of all new transit starts anyway. Even though I’m critical of how transit projects have been funded by the federal government, it’s not as though putting all the money into roads is a good solution either.
The current political climate is going to have a negative impact on city sustainability. For example, the Trump administration was considering this trillion-dollar infrastructure plan the Department of Transportation put out a 50-slide list of potential projects. Most of it was maintenance and construction of roadway facilities. I don’t think that’s a positive thing, but I do think that it’s not going to have as big of an impact as it might have 20 years ago, because of the fact that cities have been looking for, at the state and at the local level, alternative funding sources and are increasingly relying on them.
Ultimately, the smaller cities will be the ones who feel the pain more, because it’s the bigger cities and the more affluent states that are going to get away with these sorts of tax increases that fund transportation. The outlying areas will suffer more.
This interview is the part of the MOBILIZE Santiago Speaker Series. In this series, we will feature interviews with researchers from VREF’s Future Urban Transport where will discuss their work in sustainable transport and reflecting on MOBILIZE Santiago’s theme: Just and Inclusive Cities Become the New Normal. To learn more about MOBILIZE Santiago and how you can register to attend the summit in Chile, visit mobilizesummit.org.
There can be an 80% cut in CO2 emissions if cities embrace 3 revolutions (3R) in vehicle technology: automation, electrification, and, most importantly, ride sharing.
Analysis from ITDP and UC Davis shows 3R synergy provides 40% reduction in urban vehicle transportation costs globally by 2050. Ride-sharing and renewable energy sources critical to its success.
As the transportation trends of passenger vehicle automation and electrification continue, new research concludes that adding extensive ride sharing to the mix could reduce CO2 emissions from all transportation sources around the globe by more than 80 percent. The report, “Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation,” examined these three revolutions in urban transportation and found all three together could cut the cost of vehicles, infrastructure and transportation system operation by more than 40 percent.
“When it comes to cars, what we learned early in life still holds true—sharing makes everything better,” said Lewis Fulton, a Co-director at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, and lead author of the report. “All the futuristic automotive technology being developed could make our cities more livable and the air more breathable—but only if we take ride sharing seriously.”
“The idea that every city resident needs his or her own car for every trip is a disaster for cities,” said Jacob Mason, Transport Research and Evaluation Manager at ITDP. “If passenger vehicles do not become predominantly shared with other people making similar trips by 2050, our cities will be choked by congestion and defined by sprawling land development and the massive emissions this system generates. But, with policies encouraging trip sharing, public transportation, cycling, and walking, the future can be cleaner and less expensive.”
The new report was produced by the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Released the week before an international climate change meeting begins in Bonn, Germany, it compares the environmental and fiscal impacts of three scenarios involving new transportation technology:
- Business-as-usual (BAU) scenario—Through 2050, we continue to use vehicles with internal combustion engines at an increased rate, and use transit and shared vehicles at the current rate, as population and income grow over time.
- 2 Revolutions (2R) scenario—We embrace more technology. Electric vehicles become common by 2030, and automated electric vehicles become dominant by 2040. However, we continue our current embrace of single-occupancy vehicles, with even more car travel than in the BAU.
- 3 Revolutions (3R) scenario—We take the embrace of technology in the 2R scenario and then maximize the use of shared vehicle trips. By 2050, cities have ubiquitous private car sharing, increased transit performance—with on-demand availability—and strengthened infrastructure for walking and cycling, allowing maximum shared trip efficiency.
Sharing Reduces Carbon Emissions
As long as electric vehicles are mostly powered from low-carbon electricity sources and not carbon-intensive sources like coal or other fossil fuels—an underlying assumption motivating the electrification revolution—the 3R scenario would generate 0.7 gigatons of CO2 emissions worldwide annually by 2050, as opposed to 4.6 gigatons in the BAU scenario emissions and 1.7 gigatons in the emissions in the 2R scenario. Transportation costs would plummet, costing about $8 trillion annually in the 3R scenario, as opposed to $13 trillion in business as usual or $14 trillion in the 2R scenario.
The upcoming Bonn climate talks focus on the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which targets a 2°C cap to an overall temperature change from global warming. To achieve this target, all nations must cut their CO2 emissions in half by 2050. The 3R scenario will meet this benchmark and possibly go further; researchers saw potential for this scenario to provide a cut in emissions reduction large enough for only a 1.5°C increase.
For some of the world’s leading polluters, the projected carbon emissions reduction by 2050 under the 3R scenario would be significant:
- BAU: 664 megatonnes (MT) CO2 emission
- 2R: 156 MT
- 3R: 72 MT
- Europe (European members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development):
- BAU: 483 MT
- 2R: 67 MT
- 3R: 32 MT
- BAU: 778 MT
- 2R: 254 MT
- 3R: 115 MTT
- BAU: 479 MT
- 2R: 259 MT
- 3R: 108 MT
“If our cities support electric, automated and shared transportation, the future will be cleaner, healthier, and more affordable for everyone,” added Jacob Mason. “It’s essential that we prioritize clean air transportation policies now, or we risk fully experiencing the consequences of climate change by 2050.”
The 3R scenario would also dramatically reduce the number of passenger vehicles on the road by almost one third, from 764 million currently to approximately 535 million in 2050. This is only one quarter of the business-as-usual and 2R scenarios which both result in 2.1 billion vehicles by 2050. Fewer vehicles, coupled with less vehicle travel, lessens the need for roadways, parking garages, and related infrastructure, opening up cities for more infrastructure that supports pedestrians and bicyclists.
The Revolutions Have Already Begun on the Street
Oslo, Norway’s capital, has embraced the importance of zero-emission vehicles. More than 30 percent of all new cars sold in the city are electric, a direct result of the government’s policies. There is no sales tax on electric vehicles, free parking, free tolls, bus lane access, and free transport on ferries. The government has also built more than 2,000 charging points within the city limits.
Oslo has led Norway’s national embrace of electrification–by the end of 2016, more than 100,000 electric vehicles traveled Norwegian roads. And while sharing is moving steadily forward in Oslo, the government is also working towards removing all passenger vehicles from its city center.
“Electric cars and automation are important, but they will not change much about how we move about our cities and could even make traffic congestion worse,” added Lewis Fulton. “The progress we see both in Norway and on the West Coast of North America is heartening. With a major increase in ride sharing in both taxi-like vehicles and micro-transit, we could cut traffic by at least 50%. Electrification and sharing will also be critical for cutting CO2 emissions.”
Vancouver BC, Canada, is the largest market in the world for car sharing. Nearly one in four Vancouver residents are members of one of the four car share companies in the region, with nearly 150,000 residents sharing about 2,000 cars. Vancouver has also integrated sharing into a number of functions of the city. Many city agencies are using car-share to replace government vehicles and car-sharing is replacing parking requirements, saving money and freeing up more street space for people.
Another North American city leading in ride sharing is Los Angeles, which has a goal to remove 100,000 cars from its roadways over streets over the next 5 years. The city also plans to add 10,000 new bike share bikes, attract 34,000 new public transit users, and add 8,400 vehicles to various car sharing programs. Advocates are proposing public-private microtransit systems integrated with public transit—like Kansas City has done—and developers are already planning new, people-centered uses for the city’s vast car parking infrastructure.
“By 2050, two out of every three people on the planet will live in cities,” said Lewis Fulton. “We need to make sure that these cities of the future accommodate everybody, and the key is how the 3Rs reduce the number of cars and their smog.”
Which of the two images above shows a public space? Technically both. But they are two very different approaches to what makes a public space, and they beg larger questions for all cities. Which public space is more inviting? Which one looks like a place for all people? Which public space gives more back to its city?
The images show Philadelphia’s South Street, a vibrant mix of shops, restaurants, and residences at the border of Center City’s hustle and bustle and the tightly packed rowhouse neighborhoods of South Philly.
On the left: South Street on a typical Saturday. Although the street looks physically crowded, it is hard to see how many people are actually present, because the entire streetscape is taken up by parked cars or kept clear for those driving in cars.
On the right: South Street on an exceptional Saturday, September 24, during Philadelphia’s first open streets event, Philly Free Streets. As people walking five abreast illustrate, the street is full of life. And yet there are no visible street vendors or food stands, like at Philadelphia’s Night Markets, the typical city approach to draw pedestrian crowds. The people are not holding protest signs, nor are they dressed in costumes as part of a parade. They are simply walking down the street, in the middle of the street. That is the power of open streets.
Open Streets are Public Spaces Brought to Life
What is the purpose of an open streets event? At first glance, walking down a street might seem redundant. After all, most urban streets have sidewalks. But prioritizing street space for people-powered movement speaks to a much deeper purpose than simply changing the use of a street. When people walk, they exercise without thinking about it, become less stressed, and add years to their lives. When people walk in the street without fear of getting hit by a car, they open up their minds to their surroundings: family, friends, and neighbors walking around them; flowers and trees they’ve never noticed before; or the history embedded in building architecture, all of which glides by at an easy pace.
On foot, people can pause at any moment without worrying about parking (or double-parking). They can casually check out a shop or glance at a restaurant menu. Taking a moment to make a call, text a friend, or look something up online no longer becomes a life-threatening choice when made at an open streets event. Without car exhaust, the air will be cleaner to breathe. Without honking horns, conversations and laughter will be more pleasant to hear. Infuse an open streets event with activity and cultural programs, and suddenly people will be invited to dance, jump rope, create art, play music, or simply sit back and watch it all unfold. There is near unlimited potential in the streets that is unlocked simply by putting people first.
Growing Momentum to Take Back the Narrative of the Streets
Philly Free Streets was Philadelphia’s first open streets event, which took over South Street and extended up along the Schuylkill River to Fairmount Park for nearly ten miles. In doing so, Philadelphia joined in a growing movement of over one hundred cities and towns around the world.
For example, New York City’s Summer Streets shuts down Park Avenue in Manhattan for tens of thousands of participants a few times every August. Recently, Nairobi, Kenya and Pune, India have hosted open street events. Los Angeles hosts CicLAvia periodically throughout the year for over one hundred thousand people and across a wide variety of neighborhoods. In Guadalajara, Mexico, Vía RecreActiva gives arterial streets over to nearly two hundred thousand every Sunday, and Santiago, Chile, opens up an entire network of streets during CicloRecreoVía to about four hundred thousand every Sunday. Finally, the mother of all open streets events is held in Bogotá, which started in 1974 and has grown into the 80-mile-long Ciclovía, in which over one million people take to the streets every Sunday and holiday throughout the year.
Although these events are only temporary in nature, they are essential to rewriting the narrative of the street. Open streets are an intervention in the face of a city’s addiction to cars and a real-time chance to experience the argument in favor of streets as truly public spaces. As more cities host open streets at increasing frequencies, more people will be exposed to a new way of experiencing their city. Soon enough, the once-radical idea of people-prioritized streets takes on a mainstream reputation. Simultaneously, the century-old narrative that streets are for cars alone starts to fall apart.
Above all, open streets events let people live briefly in an alternate reality where their city prioritizes streets for people. This alternate reality challenges what people experience in their daily life, and argues that streets where people come first are not only possible but better than the current reality.
Connect Temporary Changes to Permanent Transformations
This new outlook can be accelerated beyond temporary events by advocating for a wide variety of small, incremental changes that share the same DNA as open streets. Examples include converting under-used or dangerous road space into space for public plazas, widened sidewalks, protected intersections, and protected bike lanes. When proposed as a demonstration or on a pilot basis, these incremental projects are much quicker, more cost-effective, and above all, more acceptable to the public than the often expensive and controversial capital projects that takes years or even decades to construct – often with unintended consequences only apparent after completion.
Open streets events can work in tandem with these pop-up and pilot projects by highlighting the changes during an event that educates participants or even connects them along the route of the event to a pop-up. In Minneapolis, Open Streets MPLS seized the opportunity of their event to connect cyclists to pop-up interventions such as protected intersections and protected bike lanes along the route. Afterwards, organizers collected feedback from participants.
Applying this strategy to a long-term scale, the content and projects highlighted by open streets events can tie into a comprehensive plan. This is starting to be the case in cities like Los Angeles, where CicLAvia links up with the city’s Mobility Plan 2035, passed early this year. CicLAvia routes are designed for streets that have been targeted for improved biking and walking infrastructure, which ultimately reinforces a larger network for active transport. By connecting the ephemeral yet mentally impactful open streets events with less press-worthy but more substantial short-to-long-term citywide efforts, cities can be more intentional about transforming their streets by strategies far greater than the sum of their parts.
Nneka Njoku, Communications Associate from ITDP Global, reflects on her transport experience as a millennial in the Twin Cities and interviews fellow millennials to hear their views on the issue.
“My impression of the United States was Route 66. I’ve seen so many photographs. And I had this idea that you can ride in the car and go wherever you want to, and there’s so much freedom to go wherever you want. But here I have a bicycle.” – Qingyun Wu, Chinese native who lives in Flushing, Queens, New York City [The New York Times]
Wu’s idea of a car-centric America is not just specific to a global impression of the United States, but is representative of the United States’ current transport culture. There were almost 256 million registered passenger vehicles in the US in 2013 and the use of passenger vehicles is the most popular transportation method in the country. Wu lives in New York City, which is known for its public transportation infrastructure, and New Yorkers are often the focus of the many analyses we’ve all seen showing that young Americans are less interested in cars, and less likely to own a car, than their parents were. However, in most American cities, there are still few, limited, or no public transportation options. Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, are midsize Midwestern cities known as the Twin Cities, and a more typical example of American cities. Does this trend still hold? The Twin Cities, with a city population of 700,000 and a metro area population of three million, is known for its extremely cold and snowy winters, the Mall of America (largest shopping mall in the USA), the birthplace of Prince, the Twins baseball team, corn farming, and thousands of lakes, 11,8421 to be exact. There is also a lively art and music scene, beer breweries, artisanal food scene, ethnic diversity, and growing sustainable transportation options. The cultural landscape is both urban and American.
In 2014, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the population of millennials in the Twin Cities rose 25 percent between 2007-2014, attributing this growth to an affordable cost of living, vast housing options, quality universities, and quality job availability. The study also stated that millennials in the area are, indeed, driving less. Car ownership is not the social marker it once was, and young people are open to using a variety of transportation options provided they are fast, easy, and efficient. Unfortunately, like many cities in the country and around the world, the Twin Cities’ infrastructure does offer enough of these necessities quite yet.
As a millennial who used to live in Minneapolis without a car, transport determined the decisions I made daily about my professional and personal life. I lived in Uptown Minneapolis, which played a large role in where I looked for work, which ended up being a 20-minute walk or a bus ride in the aforementioned winter. I was able to shape my life around being car free, while staying mobile. However, I was in the minority of my friends. Even though we lived in the city proper, getting around was still harder and slower for me than for them and I regularly felt the weight of not owning a car (especially in the winter). However, the decision to go carfree or car owner is hardly as simple as cultural norms, bitter winters, or as Wu suggests, a sense of freedom.
“The times I have visited Chicago, I really enjoyed using the city’s public transit. I didn’t have to travel more than 7-8 miles to my next destination and the transit there was always readily available. Now, though, I live in Saint Louis Park which is one the first cities that border Minneapolis. With my friends, family, and work being spaced throughout the Twin Cities, I find driving to be a more efficient use of my time.” Russell was a heavy user of public transit during college, and told me that if personal and professional commitments don’t cause one to travel as much as he does, it is not necessary to have a car in the Twin Cities. In order to improve public transport, Russell thinks that having more train lines would be ideal, but in the meantime more express buses to surrounding cities would be helpful. Ultimately, Russell’s dream transport scenario involves moving to a denser, accessible city. At the moment, Russell relies solely on the car to move around but he feels that other influences could change that. “Changes in job locations and/or gas prices could be a driving factor to use metro transit. I have a car because it allows me more time to do the things I like but it would be great to live in a city that wasn’t too spread out where I could travel easily and efficiently by train.”
Michon is a realtor and consultant for a real estate app developer. Her sources of income pull her to many different locations in the Twin Cities and suburbs. “I have a car because I have to drive to lots of different properties and be in back-to-back meetings. Taking public transportation is not possible to be in all those places on time,” she explains. However, her job with the app developer is located in downtown Minneapolis and she often commutes via the bus and/or light rail due to high parking rates downtown, even though she suffers from motion sickness. “I wish I could take the bus as I think the commute is relaxing, but the bus makes me really sick no matter what tricks I try. I do still take the rail since it’s close to my house, I don’t get sick, and I don’t have to pay for parking downtown.” Michon thinks that the Twin Cities could improve their transport infrastructure by offering more light rail lines and making the commute to the suburbs easier. When asked if she thinks it necessary for a millennial to have a car in the Twin Cities, she felt that it was circumstantial. “I think it depends on their job situation. There are public transport options as well as alternative sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Having a car is a big expense so any young person can save a ton of money by using other forms of transport.” Saving money is a huge deal for young Americans especially as an increasing number of them are crippled with student loans.
“My car is everything!” Tarkor exclaims. Similar to Russell, Tarkor’s professional and personal commitments are spread out within the Twin Cities. “Living in Brooklyn Park doesn’t allow me immediate access to the light rail or efficient public transport. On top of that, I have one job in Osseo, another in Blaine [both suburbs of the city 14 miles away from each other] and I spend a lot of time socially in Minneapolis. I have used a bike to get around, which is actually pretty easy to do in Minneapolis with all of the bike trails and the greenway. I relied on the metro system and used the bus a lot in college to get to work downtown every morning. I remember shopping at places on University Avenue (St. Paul) because it was easy to catch the 21 to the 16 [buses] from the University of St. Thomas.”
Looking towards the future, Tarkor spoke of plans to expand infrastructure in the Twin Cities and how that would change her transport behavior. “I know there are talks of expanding the light rail to neighboring suburbs such as Brooklyn Park and Burnsville [17 miles from Minneapolis]. I think this is an excellent idea. For me, I would definitely use that when going out in the city. I also think that having buses run more frequently from the suburbs to Minneapolis would be great. Sadly, my car is the only form of transportation I use currently, but if there was more access to public transportation, I would definitely use it more.” Tarkor generally loves having a car for the convenience, the alone time, efficiency and the opportunity to store things such as a change of clothes and yoga mat for trips to the gym or groceries- “[when I took the bus in college] I specifically didn’t run errands late for safety reasons and I always made sure I traveled light. Now that I have a car, I don’t worry about those things!” However, when I asked Tarkor what her ideal transportation situation would be in the city, she told a different story- “because I truly do care about the environment and hate the maintenance of having to keep a car, I would love to live in a city where I could get by on just walking, biking, and public transportation. It would probably be a lot cheaper and would make life so much easier. Until then, I guess I’ll dream about it!”
A few things stand out to me about these accounts, which I’ve found to be typical of young Americans’ attitudes toward cars. First, a car is still, for many, a practical necessity, but its not about status the way it has been for previous generations. Most young people in cities would be happy to take transit instead of driving, if it was available and efficient. While the Twin Cities does have a variety of sustainable transportation options, whether or not you can depend on them alone for mobility is about where you live, work, and play. And for most people, those answers are different than the routes that transit has been designed for – a single commuter going to and from the city center during rush hours. If American cities are to make the kind of strides they need in sustainable mobility, they’ll need to increase frequency, options, speed, and reach of bus and trains that are the backbone of the system, and they’ll need to supplement fixed route transit to accommodate daily needs: car share, ride share and bike share are all options that millennials are already using, cities could get a lot out of expanding and improving them. Restrictions on driving, such as high gas prices and parking regulations, also do quite a bit to move young people to alternative modes. Americans are making huge cultural progress by moving beyond the car-as-status model, and if we want to take advantage of that, we must plan our cities and transport systems to meet this demand, and show the next generation that sustainable transport is the new status symbol.
BostonBRT and ITDP are calling for submissions to a station design competition to encourage creative visions of what a bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Boston. Winners will receive cash prizes and a travel package to ITDP’s international MOBILIZE Summit in Santiago, Chile.
Bus rapid transit (BRT) is being considered for the greater Boston area as a means to deliver high quality rapid transit to underserved areas. A critical component of a good BRT system is the station – the most visible part of the system – a symbol of that system. It is the interface between the movement of the system and the status of the neighborhood. At stations, passengers board and alight the vehicle, buy tickets, validate them and enter to wait. Passengers look for information. Buses have to approach and align with the correct place in the station. Stations are where everything comes together in the BRT system and the efficiency of the station design and the technologies built into the stations is of primary importance to success of the system. And while they are important components of the transit system and need to be designed for to ensure buses achieve operational efficiency, they also need to be designed for people and for the community.
A station design competition is being held to encourage creative visions of what a BRT system in Boston could look like. Iconic, aesthetically welcoming and pleasing stations will serve as anchors in their communities and inspire Boston to think big about improving the daily commute.
The BostonBRT Station Design Competition is an ideas competition for BRT stations in Boston, implemented as part of the larger BostonBRT campaign to improve transit in Greater Boston. The contest seeks BRT stations that inspire, create a sense of civic pride, and deliver a world-class transit experience. Proposals will be judged by a community panel and the public around the design objectives of station area, rider experience, and feasibility.
Entrants will be required to submit concept-level designs for center platform BRT stations (See examples in Design Precedents, shown above). The first place winner will receive a cash prize of $4,000 and two travel packages to ITDP’s MOBILIZE conference on June 28-30 in Santiago, Chile. Second place will receive a cash prize of $2,000, and for 3rd place, a cash prize of $1,000.
The goal of the design competition is to develop a station concept that accomplishes the following:
- Reflects the character of Greater Boston and its neighborhoods
- Creates a sense of comfort and elegance
- Meets the requirements of the BRT Standard and maximizes benefits to future BRT riders
- Allows for integration with other modes including walking and biking
- Demonstrates an effective and reliable rapid transit system
Entrants must register by April 5, and submissions are due April 12. The winning design will be announced at an event on May 10th.
The contest will be administered by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) and sponsored by the Barr Foundation. Full list of design specifications, submissions and evaluation process available at http://www.bostonbrt.org/station-design-contest
Questions? Contact email@example.com.