Transportation and Infrastructure
Emerging trends and shifts within the transportation and infrastructure sectors are among the most pressing for planners to be aware of. These trends are quite literally changing how we get around, how we access critical services, and where we live and work. Within these sectors, a revolution in the decarbonization is underway. When paired with similarly impactful trends such as the emergence of new modes of transportation, microbility and autonomous vehicles, major changes in public transportation, and the effects of digitalization, planners should be prepared to act to ensure communities are ready for a future that is fast approaching.
Technological innovation in the transportation industry is driving the adoption and popularization of decarbonized transportation options and the necessary supportive infrastructure to support decarbonization, as well as a broader diversification of transportation modes.
In many U.S. cities, companies are in the process of piloting autonomous vehicles for ground transportation of goods and passengers. Cities will likely have to plan for sharing sidewalk space, changes in congestion, pedestrian safety, and security of goods. Ground-based autonomous passenger vehicles have the potential to either reduce private car ownership through shared mobility models or increase private car ownership and traffic; therefore, cities need to plan early for balanced integrations of these technologies. PAS Report 592, Planning for Autonomous Vehicles, is a comprehensive discussion of the ways in which planners can best prepare for autonomous vehicles in their communities today.
European cities such as Oslo and Paris have been converting their downtown districts or city centers to car-free areas. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many U.S. cities have converted some of their streets into shared streets or pedestrian zones as well; some will stay permanently. Giving cities and streets back to the community as places where people can spend their leisure time has been a trend and should continue to be considered by planners when planning for healthy, environmentally responsible communities. To read about open street pilots in the U.S., check out the April 2021 Planning Magazine article "Our Post-Pandemic Future Could Be a Lot Less Car-Centric."
Cargo bikes, the latest trend in the bike world, aim to resolve the practicality of using a bike for everyday errands. European cities such as Vienna and Copenhagen have been deploying cargo bike programs for years. Sales in the EU are growing at a rate of around 50 percent per year. These are signals that make us believe that this could become a trend in the U.S. as well. Cities such as Madison, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, have launched e-cargo bike programs for municipal employees. The Boston Transportation Department has partnered with Cornucopia Logistics on a pilot program to carry out cargo bike delivery services between small businesses and their clients, from business to business, or from supplier to business. The remaining question, however, is how we can accommodate cargo bikes and ensure safe and efficient use. As they are bigger than conventional bikes, they might require wider cycling lanes and additional safety features to ensure not just the rider's safety but also their potential passengers' safety.
Bogota, Colombia, is nearing completion of a pilot project with ClearRoad, a U.S.-based transportation and technology company that is using smartphones as the link to monitor movement along select streets within a congestion-pricing district. ClearRead is one example of the new technologies that can facilitate congestion pricing as a solution to traffic and street use. Oregon is experimenting with a road usage fee where drivers pay a fee based on the number of miles driven, and New York City is assessing and planning for a congestion-pricing zone in Manhattan. There is general openness to private-sector innovation around the issue of congestion, but equity concerns, such as rerouting delivery trucks through lower-income communities, require further consideration by planners.
curb management tech
Increased dependence on e-commerce, food delivery, and ridesharing services has created conflicts over curbside space and a concomitant need to change curb pricing models that have not changed for decades. Cities around the country are taking steps to organize and monetize their curb space. Transportation planners can use curb management tech to manage congestion improve safety and generate revenue for the city. It will be crucial to implement equitable curb management solutions that don't harm the most vulnerable. "Create a Curb-Management Framework in 7 Steps," from the January 2022 issue of Planning Magazine, discusses some key strategies for curb management in a time of technological change.
Decarbonization of transportation
The use of several non-petroleum-based fuel alternatives such as natural gas, biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity is increasing. Efforts are underway to make the production of these non-petroleum-based fuels. While the electrification of transportation has been a growing trend, planners should keep watching the decarbonization developments around hydrogen and other non-petroleum-based fuels and their pros and cons.
Decentralized public transit
Public transit agencies across the country have been struggling since the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first two years of the pandemic, many people shifted to other means of transportation, such as cars or bikes, due to fears of virus spread. Public transit operations will have to adapt to a new normal; schedules built around 9-to-5 rush hours won't work in this new reality. Statistics show that not just the times of when people use public transit have changed but also the destinations. While most daily commuters used to go from residential areas to downtowns or central business districts during typical rush hours, today people take the bus to go from one neighborhood to another to have lunch with friends or to do their grocery shopping. Centralized transit systems won't be able to meet these new demands.
In addition to electric cars, electric bikes are booming in the U.S. and across the globe. Different types of funding and tax credit programs are available at different government levels. For example, with the Connecticut Clean Air Act of May 2022, the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate will also include $500 rebates for electric bikes.
Electric vehicles (EVs)
EV adoption is projected to grow at a rapid pace in the next three decades, and several major automakers plan to electrify their entire offerings in the next 10–15 years. Planners need to think smartly about accommodating EV-related infrastructure, such as charging stations, in their cities and communities. For more on electric vehicles, check out "Electric Vehicles Are on the Rise. Is Your Community Ready?" from the July 2021 issue of Planning and the October 2022 issue of Zoning Practice, "Preparing for the Electric Vehicle Surge."
end of the conventional gas station
Local, state, and federal governments are trying to catch up with the transportation electrification trend by providing the needed infrastructure. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Energy announced the new $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, which provides funding to expand the electric charging network across the nation over five years. As a result, the nature of where and how we fuel our cars is changing. While there are different types of charging stations with different time requirements for a full charge (see APA's PAS QuickNotes 100, "Electric Vehicle Charging Stations"), charging an EV still takes longer than filling a gas tank. A rethinking of vehicle fueling stations toward offering EV charging facilities with parking in places where people spend time, such as homes and residential buildings, office buildings, shopping malls, and entertainment, may make conventional gas stations obsolete in the far future.
While electric charging along bus routes or on-site solar panels for streetlights are not new, roads that can directly charge EVs are the latest experiment. Multiple pilots have been going on in Europe for a few years. In 2022, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) entered a five-year agreement with the company Electreon to pilot a one-mile-long wireless in-road EV charging system in Detroit. The system will allow EVs to charge while driving or idling.
Free public transit for all
Many transit agencies are trying to get their riders back by lowering prices or offering transit for free. Cities across the U.S. have piloted free transit, ranging from Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, to Boston and Columbus, Ohio. These programs help riders save money and make transit more accessible to low-income residents while speeding up the boarding process and allowing for more reliable transit. Some cities offer only certain routes for free (e.g., Boston), while others provide their entire transit system for no cost. Some of these pilots show that the price of transit is not the main reason why some people still prefer driving to using transit. Factors such as the first-mile/last-mile issue and inconvenient schedules, frequencies, or routes play a larger role in such decisions. Either way, free transit is a positive step toward making cities more accessible and inclusive for all.
The use of green hydrogen for passenger trains could be a game changer for climate-friendly or climate-neutral transportation — both for rail operations and potentially even heavy commercial transport. Germany is attempting to make the operations of Deutsch Bundesbahn, a national railway company, climate neutral by 2024. The first hydrogen train arrived in late 2022, with a pilot project underway through 2023.
Micromobility and alternative transportation choices
Micromobility in the form of bikes, e-bikes, and electric scooters is expected to have a strong post-pandemic recovery. Due to the increasing popularity and use of these lightweight, usually single-person vehicles, planners need to meet the demand for micromobility by rethinking designs and plans, including bike plans, street and sidewalk management plans, bikeway design, and policies related to the "first-mile/last-mile" problem. The challenges related to micromobility are discussed in more detail in PAS QuickNotes 86, "Managing Shared-Use Micromobility."
Mobility Service Providers
Innovations in vehicle technology and the rise of mobility service providers (TNCs and MaaS) has resulted in a wide range of transportation options. City streets will need to be multipurpose, adaptable, and flexible to accommodate rapidly changing transportation preferences, but planners should focus on encouraging options that are the safest, most accessible, and environmentally friendly and that can be deployed in equitable ways.
phasing out of combustion-engine cars
Decarbonization and electrification of transportation and the trend of electric mobility has been accelerating. Global developments in energy markets, the improvements of battery technology, tax rebates and other monetary incentives to purchase electric vehicles (EVs), and the growing interest in climate action are driving the adoption of electric transportation. While this trend creates major shifts in the automobile industry, it is starting to have visible impacts on the built environment and policies as well. At least five U.S. states, along with the EU, have announced that by 2035 they will ban the sale of combustion-engine cars. All new cars and light trucks sold will have to be zero-emission vehicles by then.
universal basic mobility
Cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland are launching pilot programs that give everyone access to basic mobility services, such as transit or shared mobility projects, to advance related social and economic development goals. Planners should learn from the communities that are implementing these programs to discover the effects they will have and determine if similar programs may result in equitable socioeconomic outcomes in their own communities.
Recent blackouts and unreliable electric grids in the U.S. highlight the urgent need to improve grid resilience so that an increasing number of EVs can be charged without interrupting energy supply elsewhere. While a stable electric grid will be crucial for these and other electrification efforts, EVs can also help stabilize the grid. With evolving vehicle-to-grid technology, EV batteries can ultimately take on a dual purpose. In addition to powering EVs, they can be integrated into the grid and help balance peak energy times by serving as an energy storage option that can be charged or discharged as needed. In addition, they can be used as backup power supplies during power outages.
Decarbonization and technological change, along with social and political shifts are leading to a new era of infrastructure innovation.
In July 2021, the first pedestrian bridge was 3D-printed and installed in Amsterdam. Other recent projects include projects such as 3D-printed high speed rail infrastructure connecting London with Birmingham. 3D printing could prove to be an attractive solution to multiple challenges the U.S. is currently facing, from the housing crisis to the infrastructure crisis. It may also resolve issues such as supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and labor shortages.
The latest innovation in the evolving 3D printing industry is 4D printing, which adds a fourth dimension: time. 4D printing uses smart materials inspired by nature that can change their shape over time. As flowers open during sunlight or close during rain, smart materials respond to external stimuli like heat, light, pressure, and others. This combination of 3D-printing technology and material sciences introduces movement to the printed products without the use of mechanics. Depending on the materials, they may bend, twist, shrink, or expand. While this technology is still in its very early development stages, its application would be a game changer in multiple industries: medical, manufacturing, construction, automotive, consumer goods (e.g., furniture — imagine that IKEA chair building itself), and also infrastructure. For example, self-repairing infrastructure systems could be one application relevant to planning, as could flexible stormwater pipes that expand during extreme rain events and contract as needed.
AI and Infrastructure
The deployment of AI systems for urban tech and different urban infrastructure systems is growing. AI systems have multiple existing and potential applications in cities and urban infrastructure. Planners need to understand these applications and know how and where to implement them. APA's PAS Report 599, Smart Cities: Integrating Technology, Community, and Nature, explains how planners can handle some of these technological developments in their communities in sustainable and equitable ways.
Data centers make cloud computing possible, and to manage latency, data centers need to move closer to end users. With the increased amount and speed of data processing this will require, data centers are moving closer to users and into communities. Post-COVID, some cities have started to repurpose abandoned office buildings into data centers or colocation centers. Colocation centers are a type of facility owned by companies that rent out the space and equipment to host data centers. Planners should not let the invisibility of these land uses prevent their integration into our existing urban ecosystems. For example, waste heat from data centers can be used to generate energy for district heating systems. "Data Centers Evolved: A Primer for Planners" from the July 2021 issue of Planning Magazine discusses the rapid growth of data centers nationwide, and what it means for communities today and into the future. The zoning implications of data centers are explored in depth in "Zoning for Data Centers and Cryptocurrency Mining," the June 2022 issue of Zoning Practice.
With COVID-19, many aspects of life have transitioned to online formats, and internet access has become even more important. This has resulted in a widening digital divide impacting education access and quality, employment, and other areas. Increased awareness of the impacts of the digital divide has led to an increase in funding for digital equity and inclusion. Most of the funding is coming through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, under the Digital Equity Act section. The expansion of broadband internet and cybersecurity measures to reduce digital vulnerability are currently the top priority measures. PAS Report 569, Planning and Broadband: Infrastructure, Policy, and Sustainability, explains how planners can address this challenge in their communities. This dynamic is further explored in the APA podcast, "How COVID-19 Has Underscored the Digital Divide."
Fixing and retrofitting American infrastructure
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was signed in November 2021, provides $1.2 trillion for transportation and infrastructure spending. This combined with ARPA funding gives cities the opportunity to refocus their spending on urgently needed infrastructure repairs. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, in the U.S., every two minutes a water main breaks, wasting six billion gallons of treated water every day. In addition, over 40 percent of public roadways are in poor condition. And there are many more examples of crumbling infrastructure that needs improvements. Based on an analysis of mayoral speeches by the National League of Cities, fixing and repairing roads, bridges, and water systems along with installing broadband internet are the top priorities for mayoral spending in the coming years. Additional priorities include economic development and mixed-used developments in downtown and central business districts and investments in safety (including crime prevention and criminal justice reforms).
The trend of removing highways that created harm in or destroyed surrounding communities has gained further attention. The U.S. Department of Transportation has now established the $1 billion Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program. Over five years, it will support efforts to reconnect communities that were harmed by past transportation infrastructure projects, replacing that infrastructure with projects that will bring people together and connect them with opportunities, including education, healthcare, and jobs. Funding is available for planning grants, capital construction grants, and technical assistance. Applications were due in October 2022 and winners will be announced in early 2023.
Transition from 4G to 5G to 6G
In the near future, most communities will have transitioned from 4G to 5G. Meanwhile, the development of 6G, the sixth generation of wide-area wireless technology, is underway. The 5G (and in the farther-out future 6G) network will be the backbone of the Internet of Things, including connected and autonomous vehicles and other smart city infrastructure and services. "Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You?" from the July 2020 issue of Planning discusses the rollout of 5G, and the implications it has for planners on the ground
APA's foresight research is made possible in part through our partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.