Research Roundup: Spawl Crawl And Rethinking Peak Hour Commutes, The New Sharing Economy & Smart Mobility For The 21st Century

The organization CEOs For Cities released a widely-cited report last month titled Measuring Urban Transportation Performance: A Critique Of Mobility Measures And Synthesis (71p. PDF). Their research finds that the secret to reducing the amount of time Americans spend in peak hour traffic has more to do with how we build our cities than how we build our roads.

The report explains how the cities studied have managed to achieve shorter travel times and actually reduce the peak hour travel times. Some metropolitan areas have land use patterns and transportation systems that enable their residents to take shorter trips and minimize the burden of peak hour travel.

This runs counter to the conclusions of the Texas Transportation Institute‘s Urban Mobility Report year after year. The CEO For Cities document explains that the UMR approach has completely overlooked the role that variations in travel distances play in driving urban transportation problems.

In the best performing cities — those that have achieved the shortest peak hour travel distances — such as Chicago, Portland and Sacramento, the typical traveler spends 40 fewer hours per year in peak hour travel than the average American. Because of smart land use planning and investment in alternative transportation, Portland has seen its average trip lengths decline by 20%.

In contrast, in the most sprawling metropolitan areas, such as Nashville, Indianapolis and Raleigh, the average resident spends as much as 240 hours per year in peak period travel because travel distances are so much greater. The report’s 20-page Executive Summary is titled Driven Apart: How Sprawl Is Lengthening Our Commutes And Why Misleading Mobility Measures Are Making Things Worse.

In The New Sharing Economy, a study by Latitude in collaboration with Shareable Magazine, the authors look at new opportunities for sharing.

An interesting graph (click to enlarge) plots various endeavors on a market saturation and latent demand scale. The resulting plot points fall into four quandrants, labeled:

Low Interest and Low Prior Success (e.g. bike, outdoor sporting goods)

Done Well Already (e.g. work space, storage space, food co-op)

Opportunities Still Remain (e.g. physical media, digital media)

Best New Opportunities (automobile, time/responsibilities, money lending/borrowing)

This last category, Best New Opportunities, provides the launch point for discussion of car sharing. The report notes that there’s still a large amount of unfulfilled demand for car-sharing. More than half of all participants surveyed either shared vehicles casually or weren’t sharing currently but expressed interest in doing so. For people who share in an organized fashion, cars and bikes were popular for sharing amongst family and close friends but weren’t commonly shared outside this immediate network, relative to other categories of goods.

This intriguing and visually appealing report goes on to point out the new sharing takeaways for non-sharing businesses, including “we-based brands,” the value in social and alternative currencies, and the “contagiousness” of sharing.

Finally, Transportation For America recently released a White Paper titled Smart Mobility For A 21st Century America: Strategies For Maximizing Technology To Minimize Congestion, Reduce Emissions And Increase Efficiency (39p. PDF).

It proposes that improving transportation efficiency through operational innovation is critical as our population grows and ages, budgets tighten and consumer preferences shift.

As Congress prepares to review and reauthorize the nation’s transportation program, an array of innovations that were either overlooked or did not exist at the time of previous authorizations can be incentivized.

Just as the Internet, smart phones and social media changed they way we acquire news, listen to music or connect with friends and family, these same innovations have implications for how we move around. While high-tech gadgets can be a problem when they distract motorists from driving, they open up a whole new world for people using other modes.

But what if we could manage traffic to help drivers avoid congestion before they get stuck in it? What if you always knew when the next bus was going to arrive, the closest parking space or which train car had a seat available for you? The innovative technologies and strategies outlined in the White Paper include:

Making transportation systems more efficient (e.g. ramp meters, highway advisory radio)
Providing more travel options (e.g. online databases to match up vanpool riders, car-sharing services)
Providing travelers with better, more accurate, and more connected information (e.g. computerized vehicle tracking)
Making pricing and payments more convenient and efficient (e.g. EZ passes, electronic benefits)
Reducing trips and traffic (flex-time, consolidating services online)

The report goes on to discuss changes in demographics and make recommendations for federal transportation policy, as well as highlight several intriguing “smart mobility case studies.”