Saturday, May 20, 2017

Transportation: Affordable Proximity and the Dilemma for Planners

As noted in another NG post:
...The core urban challenge of our time is ‘affordable proximity’: how can ever larger numbers of people live and interact economically with each other while keeping the cost of living – especially housing – affordable? In decentralized, post-WW2 Sunbelt cities built around the car, commuter rail solutions don’t work and an alternative is needed, especially as we see autonomous vehicles on the horizon....
From New Geography:

Déjà Vu and the Dilemma for Planners
Some planners may be feeling a little angst. A few months ago, the Federal Highway Administration released 2016 vehicle miles of travel data, indicating robust travel demand growth in 2016, up 2.8%. The increase pushed total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) to a new record and boosted travel per capita to levels not seen since mid-2008. That disappointment was compounded by the recent release of 2016 transit ridership data, indicating a decline of 2.3% in 2016, which compounds last year's 1.3% decline. The disheartening news continued with the recent release of Census data indicating growth trends that had many highly urbanized counties loosing population while growth flourished in predominately suburban style counties. The top ten shrinking counties had a transit commute mode share over twice as high as the top ten growing counties. Piling on, other data indicates that millennials are morphing toward more traditional characteristics as "Millennials are starting to find jobs and relocating to the suburbs and smaller cities," according to a recent Bloomberg article. "Everything we thought about millennials not buying cars was wrong," says the title of a Business Insider news story.

Meanwhile, in spite of an improving economy and the millennial generation aging, 31% of all 18- to 34-year-olds remain living in their parents' home in 2016 – 46.9% in New Jersey—a large group that has not yet necessarily expressed their unconstrained preferences with respect to living location and mobility choices.

Meanwhile, the expectations regarding automated (driverless) vehicles, most probably coupled with shared vehicle ownership and the adoption of electric vehicles, have ramped up. The trickle of public attention is now a firehose of media and policy interest as the public begins to grasp the speculated transformative implications.

The planner is left in a dilemma. How in the world do we do long-range planning if we have so badly missed the mark about the future of mobility and housing choice?

Future plans are influenced by four characteristics of interest: planners' aspirations, revealed phenomenon and behaviors, stated preferences of stakeholders and the engaged public, and innovation and change. Each is discussed briefly below.
Planners' Aspirations
Like in any profession, planners carry their own values and life experiences to work in the morning. These experiences and values influence their work. Historically the implications of varying politics was of subtle and nuanced relevance when there was a strong consensus on the critical role of providing transportation capacity, travel safety and cost effectiveness. However, in an era when everything is political, including transportation planning, different values have more significant implications going forward. As noted in a series of essays on planning theory nearly 40 years ago, the political nature of planning is no secret.

"One of the planning profession's most cherished myths – [is] that the planner is an apolitical professional, promoting goals that are widely accepted through the use of professional standards that are objectively correct." (Burchell and Sternlieb, 1978)

The recent past has seen the myth of an unbiased media exposed with explicit enumeration of political party registration, voting preferences, political contribution tallies, and measures of coverage bias. Such revelations show a media well out of sync with the public they serve. A consequence has been the polarization of media and audiences, which reinforces the value differences. Is the planning profession at risk of being similarly unmasked, and could political biases be impacting plans and their prospects for implementation? Can decision makers place full confidence in the objectivity of analyses and plans that are provided by planners? With the acknowledgement of the political nature of planning, should more senior planners be political appointees, or are other steps necessary to neutralize or expose planner biases?

I have always enjoyed the Albert Einstein quote, "The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true," as it alludes to the sin of omission and the subtleties of objectivity. In our ever more politicized world, the politics of planning and planners is more relevant, yet it receives little attention.

Revealed Phenomenon and Behaviors
The foundation of planning practice is captured information about the behaviors of individuals and phenomenon and the use of that knowledge to predict how various policies and investments will perform in scenarios of future conditions. Examples include understanding the noise impacts of infrastructure as facilities are built, the emissions of vehicles in operation, and the travel of individuals when faced with various choices. Planners gain knowledge by observing history, discerning relationships, and extrapolating those relationships to reflect current and proposed future conditions—a process that often includes building and calibrating various models. Part of the current challenge of planning is understanding how valid historic relationships are for application to the future. People had, for example, observed changes in travel behavior and location decisions associated with millennials and extrapolated those to various conclusions regarding future transportation needs. Yet, a growing body of evidence suggests that the magnitude of those changes is not what had been expected, or perhaps hoped for. Many aspects of behavior are not fully understood and changes in demographics, economics, and technology are impacting behaviors in ways that are not reliably predicted based on current levels of knowledge. Our data and models are not always keeping up with changes. Thus, caution should be used in presuming significant variance from historic norms in fundamental travel and location behaviors, as the reversion toward historic trends in travel demand and development trends reveal.

Stated Preferences
"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would've said faster horses."
This quote, attributed to Henry Ford, is often used to characterize the fact that people's aspirations for the future are often constrained by the range of experiences to which they been exposed. While historians debate if this quote originated with Henry Ford, it has stirred discussion about the extent to which people's current aspirations should be a basis for guiding future actions....MORE
The challenge isn't just in the U.S. New Geography has a couple posts on Eastern Europe:

The Evolving Urban Form: Warsaw
Like other major cities in the high income world, Warsaw has seen central area population losses, with all of the population growth taking place outside the urban core, principally in the suburbs and exurbs (Graphic 1). The city's districts were reconfigured so that direct comparisons cannot be made before the 2002 census.
The Warsaw region consists of the city of Warsaw, a county-level national jurisdiction (powiat) and seven powiats in the suburbs and nine in the exurbs. The Warsaw region grew from 3.31 million residents in 2002 to 3.58 million in 2016, a 0.5 percent annual growth rate. Warsaw's slow growth is substantially faster than that of the nation, which has not gained in population since 2002, both as a result of a below-replacement fertility rate and migration to other parts of Europe.

The Central District
The central district (Śródmieście), which includes the central business district (CBD) and the central railway station (Warszawa Centralna) experienced a loss in population of 14 percent from the 2002 census to 2016, according to the Central Statistical Office of Poland.

The skyline of Warsaw (Graphic 2) used to be dominated by the Palace of Culture and Science, which was constructed as a "gift" to the Polish people from Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the early 1950s (though completed after his death). It is sometimes called the "Eighth Sister," referring to its similarity to the "seven sisters" in Moscow that share a very similar "wedding cake" design. Like Moscow State University and Ukraina Hotel buildings in the Russian capital, the Palace of Culture and Science is fully symmetric from the base up. The Palace is located at the very center of Warsaw, adjacent to Warszawa Centralna and even has suburban rail entry structures in the surrounding green area....MUCH MORE
And: The Evolving Urban Form: Budapest

Previously in this series:
In Light of Recent Events, Smart Cities May Not Be. NVIDIA's "Slightly Terrifying" Metropolis Platform

No, Google's Sidewalk Labs Doesn't Want To Take Over Urban Transit. Yet. (GOOG)

"Google wants to build a city" (GOOG)

Trends to Watch: "Can mayors actually rule the world?":
In low-key but very persistent ways technocrats* have been aiming at this target for years and now it seems to be gathering some momentum. Here's a good introduction by Harvard's Diane Davis....

And the slightly snarky:

"Gadabout Urbanist Richard Florida Has a New Book..."
"It advises cities on what to do about problems that result from advice he gave them in his previous books...
See also the post immediately below:
Izabella Kaminska In Conversation With the Financial Times' Auto Industry Correspondent, Peter Campbell on the Prospects for Autonomous Vehicles