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June 22, 2018

Communities can expect a rapid change in transportation in the near future. This will affect how we build, rebuild, and fund transportation.


Jim Madaffer spoke to the Transit Authority of Marin this month about the radical change that could be in store for transportation planners over the next 25 years. Here is a summary of the presentation. 


We are at the tipping point of “redefining mobility” for generations to come. Safety is one of the prime areas of focus for vehicle technology. In recent years, as more technology has become standard on cars, the accident rate on our highway system has declined. The promise of connected vehicles and self-driving cars is exciting: zero fatalities. Will we be ready for the many issues that arise with this new mode of transportation? What will this new technology mean for insurance carriers, public agencies, transit facilities, freight carriers? 

Except for fixed rail and the major corridors, transit as we know it today may not exist in 25 years. 

Elon Musk is developing a vacuum tube transportation system that can move passengers between Washington, D.C. and New York City in just 29 minutes. We need to begin preparing for how new transportation innovations will affect the way we plan transportation and  parking requirements. 

Many architects and developers are anticipating changes ahead by building parking garages that can easily be converted into other uses. Parking demand may decrease by 70 to 90 percent, which means urban planners and city councils will need to shift parking requirements for developers. 

Because of online shopping, the retail industry has become quite familiar with disruption. The introduction of autonomous vehicles could mean another shift in real estate strategy for retailers. 

There is never a better time than now to look around, reassess current capabilities and consider if we are optimally positioned to meet the needs of our communities, not just for today but in the future. 

At least a dozen automakers are already working on perfecting self-driving cars and several have secured partnerships with tech firms to develop the technology needed. Companies such as Uber, Lyft, Waymo, BMW, GM, Mercedes, Ford and more are competing to introduce the first fully autonomous car. When that happens, everyday lives, roads and how we plan will change forever. These companies are already driving fully autonomous vehicles today in several U.S. cities. 

Millennials will have a huge impact on the future of transportation and they cannot be ignored. There are more of them than any other generation and they are very different. We need to understand and plan for them. We also need to get them involved. Trends among Millennials show they are driving less. The jury is still out on whether it’s likely to continue, but Millennials are actively engaging in the sharing economy.  

A recent study by Transwestern states by 2030 private car ownership will drop by 80 percent. It’s likely that by 2030, 8 out of 10 people won’t own a car anymore. Even if Transwestern is off by 50%, this will be a game changer – 2030 is only 12 years away. 

Fully autonomous vehicles could also reduce traffic congestion and accidents, currently 94 percent of which are due to driver error. 

Cities will need fewer multi-lane streets, less street parking and signalized intersections. Municipalities will be faced with figuring out ways to repurpose busy city streets for additional retail, outdoor restaurants and public space. 

The trend of declining public transit ridership may continue.  For most transit routes, it might be more cost effective to use autonomous pool car sharing services such as Waymo, Lyft and Uber than operating a bus. 

Features such as curbside pickup and ride-share lobbies could be in demand as autonomous vehicles spread. 

Gas stations may be transformed into electric car charging stations. Autonomous vehicles could completely transform and fully automate the industrial supply chain, bringing a new dimension to ports and to goods movement in general.

There’s no doubt automated vehicles will affect, and possibly eliminate the need for, car dealerships, gas stations and auto repair shops. Electric vehicles are forecasted to surpass gas-powered vehicles by 2040.

As these vehicles become more widespread, there will be pressing questions in communities about important topics like safety, data protection and reliability.

Connected and driverless cars will generate a huge amount of data; who owns it? How will your privacy be protected? How secure is your system from outside influences?

Communities are experiencing a sea change in transportation unlike anything since Henry Ford invented the assembly line.

Car ownership may transition to something closer to a timeshare, with cars that can run errands for you while you are at work, take your kids to soccer practice, or even be shared with others when not in use. Some say this will make better use of the asset sitting in your driveway for hours a day.

In our new sharing economy, we envision VMTs going up, GHGs going down along with car ownership.  One recent study recently says in a future shared economy of autonomous vehicles, the work of nine cars today will be handled by just one car tomorrow.  That means less congestion, more miles traveled, and fewer lanes needed. All these issues will be sorted out over the coming months and years. Not decades — no, it is too far along for that. Make no mistake, the genie is out of the bottle.

Why is now the right time for autonomous and connected vehicles to become a reality? There is no simple answer. But we believe the public is ready to accept the benefits of the new technology in a way that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago.

Smart cities are also part of this technological transformation we are experiencing. We’ve all heard the term “smart cities,” but what does the term really mean? There are a variety of definitions. We would generally define it as using technology to improve city efficiency and quality of life. But it’s much more than that. Becoming a smart city means saving money. Becoming a smart city is an economic development driver. It can bring businesses and jobs to cities. A smart city can also support Climate Action Plan goals. It means having a robust network connecting all the dots in your city.  In short, at their best, smart city technologies help governments be more efficient and save money while improving quality of life for everyday people.

There’s lots of companies out there who want to sell you a gizmo or a gadget to become a smart city. We encourage you to be strategic in your approach. What are the priorities that make sense for your agency?  Becoming a smart city requires an action plan. Make the revolution in technology  work for your city – because we guarantee other cities are already working on these issues right now.

To lead our cities into the future, we must grapple with all these changes and more as they create tectonic shifts in how we live, work and govern. It will never be easy, but it is exciting to be positioned on the precipice of a new era that can facilitate meaningful changes.

We encourage you to boldly lead your city into an uncertain but exciting future, because the future is here. We can all work together as we quickly move into the new future.