“Impact of Emerging Technologies on Complete Streets” webinar recap

This month our monthly webinar series returned with “Impact of Emerging Technologies on Complete Streets”. To learn more, view the recording of the webinar above, download the PDF of the presentation, or read the full recap below.

A discussion recap

Heather Zaccaro, Health Program Associate at the National Complete Streets Coalition, opened the webinar by providing a brief overview of how new technologies have previously changed the way we build, use, and think about our roads. Advances in transportation technology ranging from the wheel to motorized automobiles have impacted how we allocate space between different modes of transportation, how far and fast we travel, and how we communicate the rules of the road. Heather highlighted the importance of understanding how we can harness emerging technologies, including autonomous and connected vehicles, to improve the safety and mobility of all users of the road regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation.

Next, Rod Schebesch, Vice President of Transportation at Stantec defined the emerging technologies that are changing the face of transportation today. He described shared, autonomous vehicles (SAVs), which can function as driverless shuttles or mini-buses. Potential benefits of SAVs include reducing the need for parking spaces, decreasing congestion, improving safety, and extending the reach of public transit, particularly for older or disabled populations. Rod also explained how Connected Vehicles can communicate with other cars, with sensors on the street, or with traffic management centers. As a result of these new technologies, transportation planners will have increased opportunities to create vibrant streets by allocating more space to pedestrians, bicyclists, and green infrastructure. Rod concluded his presentation by highlighting some steps cities can take today to prepare for these technologies, including eliminating or phasing out parking minimums and introducing ‘zombie taxes’ and other policies to prevent unnecessary AV trips.

“These technologies really have tremendous capability to either bring together or pull apart our communities.”

Cities around the country are already taking steps to prepare for and implement these emerging technologies, and Transportation for America’s Smart Cities Collaborative works with a group of 16 cities on pilot projects and policies, ranging from Los Angeles, California to Lone Tree, Colorado. Russ Brooks, Director of Smart Cities, described some of the projects these cities are working on. For example, Centennial, Colorado launched a first-mile/last-mile pilot project in partnership with Lyft to connect seniors in an underserved neighborhood to public transit. Washington DC and Seattle have also begun compiling data on mobility to inform better planning decisions moving forward, while San Francisco is undertaking an automated vehicle pilot to create a car-free space.

Want to learn more?

Check out the following resources to learn more about emerging transportation technologies:


As always, we received more questions than we had time to address during the webinar. We spoke with Rod Schebesch and with Russ’s colleague at Smart Cities, Robert Benner, to answer some more of your questions below:

What actions can cities take to shape land use for automated vehicles?
Rod Schebesch: 
First, cities need to be educated so that they can understand the potential AV impacts. City planning departments in particular have a great responsibility when it comes to shaping their urban or suburban infrastructure. They can take the lead in forming a planning committee to handle pending requests, as well as in advocating for or establishing policies around AVs. It would also be fantastic if those cities could push their state or provincial partners to make sure they have legislation in place to accommodate AVs in the first place. Ideally, cities could look at developing with a short or long range plan. They could also start by releasing an RFI or RFP to determine the appetite of the private sector to help develop a plan for their city. Specifically, cities can look at passenger pickup and drop off zones; as well as start considering how they want to handle connected vehicle (CV) technology, such as Roadside Units, and the potential data that would then start coming in from those RSUs. Lastly, cities can look at the installation of fiber optics as part of any road reconstruction or rehab project coming up to start preparing their infrastructure for this technology.

What impact do you expect automated vehicles to have on roadway congestion? If automated vehicles are driving back and forth to pick people up and drop them off rather than parking, couldn’t it create more congestion on the roadways?
Robert Benner: 
There’s a very dramatic heaven and hell scenario for AVs, and it largely depends on how they’re deployed. If AVs are deployed in a single-ownership model, meaning people treat AVs as their own personal vehicles, they do have the potential to increase congestion by adding “zombie cars” to the road – empty vehicles that are avoiding parking fees or running errands for their owners. Businesses may replace storefronts for fleets of automated vehicles as well. This scenario increases vehicle miles traveled and adds to wear and tear on our roads. However, AVs could have the opposite effect if deployed in a shared model. Shared AVs operating with multiple passengers at a time can reduce the need for car ownership, which would reduce the need for parking as well. The effect will be a huge drop in the number of vehicles on our roads and the congestion they produce.

What is the impact of the micro-buses on safety for both riders and pedestrians? Will someone need to be monitoring the buses in the background?
These micro-buses, or SAVs, are designed with sensors all around them so that the vehicles can react when or if a person steps out in front of them. Also, these vehicles move at a slow rate of speed – typically no more than 25 mph – and they are wired to sense any conflicts. For instance, if a pedestrian steps in front of a driverless vehicle, the vehicle senses that person and stops in time to avoid an accident. In fact, pedestrian safety would be enhanced compared to human driven vehicles. If the implementation of a minibus on a corridor is well designed, it should enhance the pedestrian realm and experience, as well as the shuttle riders’ experience. And yes, when AVs are deployed, someone will be monitoring their performance remotely.

Many innovative grant-spurred efforts, whether Smart Cities or others, end up picking or targeting the big cities. What can small cities and say, inner ring suburbs do? They have even less capacity and fewer resources even to get started.
In reviewing applications to the Smart City Challenge, we noticed many larger cities were able to hire consultants or dedicate additional staff resources to projects, but over the course of the past year we’ve seen a number of innovative projects take off in smaller communities throughout the country. This includes two of our Collaborative cities: Centennial, Colorado, that recently completed a first mile/last mile partnership with Lyft, and Lone Tree, Colorado, that recently launched an on-demand transit pilot with Uber. We’ve also seen innovative models take off in places like West Salem, Oregon. These areas don’t have the funding or capacity as major cities, but are able to get these projects on the ground quicker than in some larger communities. That said, we are interested in seeing additional funding to these areas to show the power of these technologies throughout an entire community. A dollar in one of these communities can go much further than in larger areas, allowing these technologies to be tested and scaled at a much greater level.

What are your thoughts regarding “shared” street spaces and emerging technologies? All Complete Streets images are showing separate lanes for each type of user but wouldn’t shared roads be optimal?
The images that are out there today are really based on the human driver scenario – so necessarily, they show separate lanes. However, as SAVs are fully deployed, we’ll start to see images and real life implementation of shared lanes. As the transition to AV use matures, we’ll have the ability to gradually take driven vehicles out of a roadway corridor altogether, particularly in urban centers, and to ultimately have pedestrians, cyclists, and SAVs operating in that corridor in a mixed situation. That’s the end goal here.

Stay tuned for future webinars

The next installment in our Implementation & Equity 201: The Path Forward to Complete Streets is coming soon. Stay tuned for more information about our next webinar on public/private partnerships, large-scale development, and Complete Streets at 1 pm EDT on Wednesday, October 18. You can also access all of our previous webinars on our blog.

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