Featuring Roger Behrens
Meeting of the Minds talked with Roger Behrens about planning for hybrid urban transportation systems that include both formal and informal transit services. Roger is an Associate Professor in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Civil Engineering. He is Director of the Centre for Transport Studies, and of the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport (ACET). He graduated with a Master Degree in City and Regional Planning from UCT in 1991, and with a PhD degree in 2002. His current research activities relate to: the integration and improvement of paratransit services; the dynamics and pace of changing travel behavior; the use of transport systems by pedestrians; and the urban form prerequisites for viable public transport networks.
As two officials of a distressed public agency facing down the consequences of a long history of underinvestment, we are acutely sensitive to the need to get things done on a budget. We are also technologists, which brings us to the idea and potential of digital placemaking for mobility infrastructure: the repurposing of web, mobile and other software and hardware tools to bring new value to the places around the physical nodes and artifacts of the transit system.
Digital tools are often limited to a public engagement role in placemaking. We believe that they can play an important role in transit agency efforts to make its physical infrastructure work better for people.
Infrastructure is a place where climate action, business interests, and political will have the potential to intersect. Infrastructure investment tends to be a bipartisan, business-friendly policy, in large part because the need is so great. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States will need to spend $3.6 trillion between 2010 and 2020 to simply maintain our current transportation, water, and energy infrastructure. Yet there is an estimated funding shortfall of $1.6 trillion, or approximately 45% of the total requirement. In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report card, most infrastructure categories received a D+, with only one category, solid waste infrastructure, receiving a B- or higher.
Unlocking the tech sector’s potential in Chicago (and beyond) means confronting segregation and inequality.
The tech field suffers from a costly cycle of inequity. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that, compared to other private industries, high-tech companies hire a disproportionate number of white people and men—68.5% and 64% of employees, respectively. Meanwhile, the STEM workforce in the U.S. is projected to grow exponentially; already, in job-rich Cook County and DuPage counties, tech jobs grew 14% and 18% between 2009 and mid-2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the city’s tech sector grows, so might inequality—unless more leaders like Sales-Griffin step up with creative interventions. Today in Chicago, just 12% of Latinos and 20% of African-Americans have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 44% of whites. The diversity talent gap threatens the tech sector’s vitality.
As cities grapple with urban growth and climate change placing more people and economic activity in harm’s way, the resilience of critical infrastructures, and of the assets that make up these infrastructures, is coming increasingly under the spotlight. However, this is a complex issue, and not all its dimensions are well understood. This article attempts to explore them.
Cities can be thought of as “systems of systems”, where energy, water, communications, transportation, healthcare, law and order, data, and other physical systems (not to mention social, political and economic systems) interact. From this perspective, many issues arise.
Some countries and cities can identify their critical systems and assets (it is, for example, a Federal requirement for cities to do this in the US), but very few can identify how they are linked to each other. As a result, they have no way to identify and manage the associated inter-dependencies. In many cases, as with the grid failure example, the existence of these linkages may not even be fully understood by all the entities affected, and accordingly come as a highly unwelcome surprise. Achieving critical infrastructure resilience therefore requires investing time and effort to identify and maintain relevant and up-to-date data on these linkages.
The Los Angeles River is now center stage in discussions of open space and recreation, active transportation, regional watershed management, ecosystem restoration, climate resilience, and public art transforming the LA region. The river winds through 51 miles of industrial lots, open space areas, and residential neighborhoods. In the most populous U.S. County, the LA River has potential to serve millions of people.
Green buildings support the goals of sustainable communities and vice versa. When office, apartment and retail properties are built and managed sustainably, the surrounding neighborhood benefits. Likewise, a community that enables a sustainable, live-work-play lifestyle enhances the long-term relevancy of green buildings within its borders.
These communities often promote job growth by creating environments for start-ups to thrive. In addition, companies in many business sectors are locating offices in sustainable urban neighborhoods in order to attract the college-educated millennials who live there. As they grow, companies lease office space in buildings they believe will help them attract talented employees—and sustainability is an important part of that appeal.
In 2014, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs announced that the majority of humans were residing in urban environments for the first time in recorded history. As the world’s population centers become more densely urbanized, average temperatures in these areas are on the rise. The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect can be felt on any typical hot and sunny day in cities like Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. In the middle of the city, concrete highways and structures absorb UV rays from the sun and radiate heat into the surrounding area. If you were to venture outside of these cities to less densely populated rural areas, you may find temperatures up to 27℉ lower.
This vast increase in temperature isn’t only an issue while the sun is out. Nighttime temperatures in urban areas have been found to be as much as 22℉ higher than air temperatures in neighboring, less developed areas. The UHI effect is exacerbated by removing green spaces, which leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution levels. Removing green spaces puts a strain on other critical urban infrastructure such as the energy grid, water quality and public health systems. Redeveloping underutilized land, such as vacant lots or former industrial and commercial sites, presents excellent opportunities to rethink UHI mitigating factors such as the urban tree canopy, green roofs, and other issues related to site design and building materials. Land recycling presents an opportunity to design from the ground up in anticipation of the our changing climate and the demands it will place on all of us.
The recent explosion of technology integration with the transportation industry has rapidly disrupted traditional transportation legacy planning methodologies. The number of options and the traveler information available to the everyday citizen has created a new dynamic in which anyone can call a car or request product delivery at the touch of a button. Cities across the nation are developing new smart city initiatives to integrate open data with new transportation systems so that people can move more freely in their communities. New public transportation systems are being thought of as critical foundational systems to the smart city initiatives that will get people out of their cars and into reduced carbon footprint transportation systems. Soon, artificial intelligence will be operating the nation’s transportation systems at maximum efficiency, and with reduced operating costs compared to the use of human capital.
However, as technological innovation continues to progress at light speed, the country’s underserved communities are continually left behind. With the United States projected to be a majority minority country by the year 2044, governmental policy and resources must be adjusted to meet the demands of our rapidly changing demographics.
As the leader of a transportation agency, there is no shortage of people ready to tell me how technology is going to revolutionize the way we do business. Autonomous vehicles, on-demand sensors, drone-based package delivery, solar-powered roads, road-straddling super-buses (that one turned out to a bust); it’s a veritable cornucopia of real and not-so-real revolutions. And within that world of technophiles, there’s a subset waiting to tell me (and you) about how wireless communications will underlie and enable all of those revolutions to our transportation systems. As with so many things in life, they’re totally right, and yet it’s so much more complicated.
The current hype about autonomous vehicle is accompanied by a surge of interest from shared mobility operators. Ridesharing providers such as Uber, Lyft and Didi are investing heavily into AV technology. Earlier this year, Uber announced its partnership with Daimler to bring self-driving technology to the market. Didi has opened up an artificial intelligence lab in Mountain View, the backyard of many autonomous vehicle competitors. Lyft’s collaboration with GM is well known and this month they announced an investment from Jaguar Landrover to bring autonomous connected vehicles on the road.
The buzz clearly indicates that the autonomous revolution is imminent. The engineering communities are excited about solving some of the technological challenges, which will ensure data sharing and interoperatability. Governments and cities are trying to grasp the implications of AVs on the road and provide the right regulatory frameworks. Amidst all of this excitement, we shouldn’t forget the impacts this revolution will have on people and that we will have to solve some real operational challenges.
Rhyzome Networks has undertaken a project to upgrade the equipment used for wireless access in order to create stronger connections between the root access points and the repeaters. Our new network does not rely on the original projects wireless mesh and fibre combination, and instead uses wireless point-to-point and fibre for the backhaul of information and the aging 7181 access points will be swapped out in favor of Aruba units.
Our journey into telecommunications began in 2009 as an initiative to provide a backhaul for Festival Hydro’s smart metering system. That project led us down a path to offering wireless and fibre optic connections. It became clear early on in the project that the infrastructure we were putting in place provided us with the opportunity to create a robust backbone that would support the offering of affordable internet and other connectivity options in a community that was, at the time, largely overlooked by the big players in the Canadian telecommunications space.
As historian Mark I. Gelfand has noted: “No federal venture spent more funds in urban areas and returned fewer dividends to central cities than the national highway program.” A micro example of the devastating effect of the highway system developed through the core of Indianapolis is Cruft Street, with a dead end abutting I-65 near the I-65/I-70 split (completed in 1976) in the Garfield Park area of Indianapolis. Forty-two percent of houses in the area have incomes below $25,000, and 13.5 percent live on less than $10,000 a year. The low income demographic of the area results in 22 percent of adults over age 25 having no high school diploma and 81 percent with no college degree.
An examination of the Cruft Street neighborhood has spurred many nonprofit organizations in Indianapolis to question how the public sector can support the role of arts and culture in revitalizing the Cruft Street neighborhood.
When thinking about the cities of the future, I know that they will be more connected, and I strongly believe that they must be more inclusive. We can’t have the Internet of Everything without the Inclusion of Everyone. Already today, a growing number of cities are using smart technologies to better connect people to places and to each other – and more importantly also connecting people to opportunities for better and safer lives.
Unfortunately, what still causes a significant amount of friction in our cities and prevents inclusive growth is the dominance of cash. In fact, close to 85 percent of all consumer payments in the world are still done with cash or checks. This means that far too many people are trapped by default in an informal economy. They lack the financial services to guard themselves against risk, save for themselves, plan for their children’s futures, and build better lives.