Newsweek International - - FUTURE OF TRAVEL - by Ellen Dun­ham-jones

Like many Amer­i­can down­towns, At­lanta’s

is pri­mar­ily a job cen­ter with mostly oneway streets de­signed to move com­muters on or off the ex­press­ways as quickly as pos­si­ble. In 2016, the city com­mis­sioned my ur­ban de­sign stu­dents to pre­pare a vi­sion for its down­town for the next 25 years, in­clud­ing iden­ti­fy­ing the best way to build a net­work of walk­a­ble streets and in­creas­ing the res­i­den­tial pop­u­la­tion.

In an area of only 5,500 res­i­dents, we counted 95,000 park­ing spa­ces. We stitched to­gether the frag­ments of pedes­trian-friendly street frontages into a net­work and looked for ways that au­tono- mous ve­hi­cles could en­cour­age its de­vel­op­ment. We over­laid it with an au­ton­o­mous rapid tran­sit sys­tem of driver­less all-elec­tric shut­tles, which are op­er­at­ing to­day on lim­ited routes in more than 40 pi­lot projects around the world. We as­sumed fleets of shared AVS that would be in­te­grated, along with ART, into the ex­ist­ing rail sys­tem. Then we be­gan retrofitting clus­ters of park­ing lots into new mixed-use neigh­bor­hoods.

Along the sig­nif­i­cantly more walk­a­ble, more liv­able streets, we pro­posed a range of ameni­ties to at­tract new res­i­dents: an en­riched arts dis­trict, ur­ban farm­ing and bike-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment, as well as greater af­ford­abil­ity and mo­bil­ity. By build­ing on only half of the sur­face lots and a few ag­ing, low-rise, non­his­toric build­ings, while as­sum­ing that new build­ings would not re­quire park­ing, our plan would ac­com­mo­date 60,000 new res­i­dents by 2041. Two years later, down­town At­lanta is see­ing enor­mous new in­vest­ment— some of which is build­ing on our vi­sion.

The sub­ur­ban con­text of El Camino Real in Sil­i­con Val­ley presents a sim­i­lar abun­dance of sur­face park­ing lots and ag­ing, low-rise build­ings, de­spite suf­fer­ing from an acute hous­ing short­age and af­ford­abil­ity cri­sis. Noted ur­ban plan­ner Peter Calthorpe has pro­posed ad­dress­ing these prob­lems while avert­ing the added con­ges­tion from in­creased zero- and solo-pas­sen­ger AV trips. He calls for chang­ing the com­mer­cial zon­ing to al­low higher den­sity hous­ing and in­stalling ART in ded­i­cated lanes along the 45-mile stretch. His anal­y­sis shows this could ac­com­mo­date more than 250,000 hous­ing units, whose res­i­dents could live with­out a car.

While both of these are hy­po­thet­i­cal plans, they present pow­er­ful vi­sions that can help com­mu­ni­ties dis­cuss the zon­ing, in­vest­ments and reg­u­la­tions that will help them cap­i­tal­ize on AVS to achieve their larger goals. Should com­mu­ni­ties plan to in­vest in ART? How might they en­rich the ex­pe­ri­ence of get­ting to, wait­ing for, and shar­ing rides? Should they con­sider lob­by­ing their state leg­is­la­tors to re­quire tolling the use of streets—es­pe­cially for zero- or solo-pas­sen­ger rides? These dis­cus­sions need to oc­cur ahead of wide­spread AV adop­tion—like right now. ELLEN DUN­HAM-JONES is a pro­fes­sor of ur­ban de­sign at the Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

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