Technology and the “share” economy have promised to make even the most car-dependent places free to pursue other roads.
Governing wrote an excellent piece recently about how technology can be a disruptive force that will redefine the city in this century.
Unfortunately, too many cities are stuck in the past, focusing on road building as the solution to congestion. A National League of Cities poll found that fully half of cities still plan for new highways in their transportation plan.
“Prescribing more roads is particularly troubling in the context of the long-term downward trend of federal funding for transportation infrastructure—a trend that seems likely to continue given public attitudes,” Governing asserts.
The rise of mobile and shared transportation services are enabling cities to be more nimble and less reliant on taxpayers to foot the bill for transportation. Cities that recognize the emergence of technology—and start planning for its impact—may be better positioned to shift capital from road building to redevelopment, for example, of the space devoted to parking cars.
Here is a run down of how tech and shared economy services are helping municipalities like Northeast Ohio rise to the challenge of transportation.
- Car share, the city. Cleveland is a car-dependent place, but, where it aspires to be less so, car sharing can help. For example, at Cleveland State University and Case where owning a car is costly and inconvenient, companies like Zip Car and Enterprise have set up shop. Enterprise has 250 members, according to Case Sustainability Manager Stephanie Corbett, who enjoy the convenience of a car when they need it. Car sharing may bolster Cleveland’s efforts to build more walkable places as it pursues a form-based zoning code. Car share can help in rethinking parking minimums, the culprit of those buildings fronted by a huge lot, and where parking inflates the cost of living space.
- Car share, the suburbs. For the wider Cleveland market, car share companies, Lyft and Uber, are providing taxi-like services previously unavailable. Car share can help link destinations like downtown, where parking is expensive or remote, with the suburbs. In places like Shaker, car share could quickly and cheaply link to the Rapid. Car share helps cash strapped suburbs reduce infrastructure costs by removing the need for 9 to 13 private vehicles from the road, according to one study.
- The “mobile” app. Dallas recently became the first city to formally link car share and public transit—a trend that is certain to resonate with other metropolitan regions. The Dallas Area Regional Transit and Lyft agreed to jointly promote, share a mobile app and integrate their fare system. Car share and public transit cooperation is an exciting development for cities looking to promote more car free living. Meanwhile, Transit App has synched up The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA)'s real-time bus arrival times with Uber.
- More public transit. GCRTA is an essential part of the region’s economy, providing 49.2 million rides last year. The key to growing transit starts in Columbus where state leaders admitted to grossly underfunding transit. It continues with Clevelanders speaking up for transit—as both a place to build and an affordable transportation option for commuters, families and companies. Affordability is a big factor, especially where poverty is high. The Ohio Organizing Collaborative recently surveyed 500 RTA riders— RTA’s proposed rate hike and service cuts concerned them most.
- Aging in place. The decision to take car keys away from an aging parent isn’t easy, and that’s where van pools fit in. RTA announced plans to introduce a van pool and NOACA announced that it will redesign the Ohio Rideshare service this year. Meanwhile, companies like Senior Transportation Connection are serving a need in Northeast Ohio. Until the region figures out how to be less car dependent, van and car pools will be expensive but necessary options for moving the 8 and 80 year old set.
- Big bike share. The lesson from peer cities as Cleveland and Cuyahoga County build their bike share system is go big or go home. Certainly, plans for a county wide, 700 bike system fit that mold. Integration with public transit and a proposed partnership with Cleveland Public Library to make library cards part of the payment option would level the playing field for a big group of ‘unbanked’ Clevelanders who might otherwise get left out.
- Get smart parking. Downtown Cleveland and University Circle may be the first to recognize that on-street parking can be managed with smart meters. The potential to reduce on-street parking becomes more real when a parking meter shoots a message to your phone when it’s available. As it embarks on a transportation demand management plan, University Circle, Inc. President Chris Ronayne has continually noted that students and Circle employees use technology and so, too, can UCI institutions in deploying services like car and bike sharing as they look for less gridlock in the future.
- Fewer drivers. It may sound like Buck Rogers, but driverless cars could be on the road in Cleveland in our lifetimes. Major car companies like Toyota and Google have prototypes on the road. Why this matters to cities? NLC reports that “self-driving technology could allow cities to redevelop at least 50 percent of their current street parking permanently, reclaiming space for sidewalks and dramatically expanding the public realm."