A challenge and an opportunity
We stand on the brink of a historic shift. A report commissioned by The Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles argues that Autonomous Vehicles will spread across the globe even faster than the automobile in the 20th century.
While this new frontier makes new demands on city streets, unfunded maintenance challenges public managers to do more with less.
As stated in California Senate Bill No. 1 (SB1) that allocates over $50 billion into California's transportation infrastructure over the next decade, California cities and counties face a $78 billion shortfall over the next decade to adequately maintain the existing network of local streets and roads.
These are the ingredients for a perfect storm: public administrators do not have the resources to manage existing systems, let alone pioneer new ones.
But...all ingredients for a bright future for our city streets are also within reach. California SB1 has set aside $15 billion for local street and road maintenance alone over the next decade.
Modern technology exists to stretch these public dollars efficiently and equitably. Capable and dedicated planners, engineers, and technologists exist across agencies and industries to implement systems using open technology and public data infrastructures.
What's missing is a layer of coordination, historic collaborations, and a California state of mind willing to pioneer the new.
This model has already been proven by the California Data Collaborative (CaDC) in addressing California's water reliability in the face of the worst drought in 600 years. The CaDC model has allowed academics, private sector technologists, and visionary water managers from agencies serving millions of Californians to deliver the first assessment of Governor Brown's statewide water efficiency targets for less than 5% of the $3 million state budgeted as well as to poise themselves to optimize scarce water and public financial resources now and into the future.
The time is now for pioneering local transit and public works agencies, and other mobility and technology experts to form a Streets Data Collaborative (StDC). The StDC will coordinate by defining and adopting data standards and leveraging the battle-tested public data infrastructure built for the CaDC.
This data infrastructure will not only allow the StDC to rapidly design and deploy software and research, but also pool transdisciplinary talent and resources to achieve economies of scale and navigate this historic shift in how we manage city streets.
Through integration, analytics, and imagination the StDC can deliver creative and pragmatic approaches to ensuring the performance of the single largest public asset, our streets. Powered by ARGO 501(c)3.
Local Street Maintenance
"The Department of Transportation and local governments are held accountable for the efficient investment of public funds to maintain the public highways, streets, and roads, and are accountable to the people through performance goals that are tracked and reported."
California SB1 allocates $15 Billion in funding for local street and road maintenance over the next decade. Another Billion dollars is allocated for pedestrian and bike infrastructure. However, this funding is conditional on performance tracking.
The state of the art in street quality evaluation, the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), remains an expensive, post-hoc, 1970s-era manual data collection approach constrained by subjectivity and human fatigue. The method for measuring efficient use of public dollars is itself inefficient.
The StDC is pioneering a next-generation PCI for streets and bike lane infrastructure. Our new approach permits a rapid and inexpensive blanketing of entire street networks with ground-truthed street quality data. This builds on a successful Street QUality IDentification (“SQUID”) pilot in the City of Syracuse that was supported by a Knight prototyping fund grant.
Real-time Transit Data
"Although the increase in weekday route-level ridership may appear modest [due to real-time transit information], on aggregate these increases exert a substantial positive effect on farebox revenue."
- The impact of real-time information on bus ridership in New York City (Brakewood et al., 2015)
Amazingly, simply increasing access to transit information using modern technology can have an effect similar to increasing transit service itself. From NYC to San Francisco, real-time transit data systems have been credited with increasing ridership.
However, while SB1 allocates 7.5 billion dollars to transit agencies to help them increase access and service, and catalyze other capital projects; these systems can cost upwards of 20 thousand dollars per vehicle. Fortunately new, low-cost technology allows us to use these public dollars more wisely.
The StDC is currently leveraging 30 dollar sensor technology to help cities track buses with efficiency. We can provide citizens with real-time bus scheduling, increasing farebox revenue and social equity in tandem.
Autonomous Vehicle Preparation
"It can't find the lane markings!" Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. "You need to paint the bloody roads here!"
Vehicle autonomy will completely shift how we think about mobility in cities. The car's traditional demand for space fundamentally changes when cars become driverless. We can expect cleaner air due to sharing autonomous taxis and reducing emissions. And more of our communities will be able to "age in place" by utilizing vehicle autonomy to move about as traditional driving becomes more difficult.
Unfortunately, the fact that many autonomous systems require well-marked streets to operate safely and optimally remains a substantial barrier.
The StDC is extending our modern street maintenance approaches to rapidly and inexpensively map lane marking quality across entire street networks. We must ensure our cities are positioned to shape markets and have these systems reliably serve the public good.
Powered by ARGO
ARGO is a startup nonprofit that builds, operates and maintains pioneering data infrastructure to transform how basic public services are delivered.
Learning from the tradition of visionary technocratic excellence in the California water community, we’re building a new kind of public institution, the world’s first data utility.
Below is our model for transformation as it applies to the StDC.
The StDC is pioneering a necessary common operational picture. Our coalition of mobility and technology experts will govern a common data infrastructure housing new standardized data. We call this The Kraken. By breaking through information and management silos, we are making our systems interoperable and lowering the mounting transaction costs of gathering the information we need to maintain and utilize our streets.
The StDC has developed open-source analytics on top of our data infrastructure. We are introducing objectivity and cost-effectiveness to the evaluation of our streets. Cities without budgets for traditional bus-tracking technology will provide citizens with realtime bus scheduling using StDC-engineered technology. And the marginal costs of deploying these tools for new cities deflate with our common data platform.
Cities face a wave of change. Our street networks are aging hand-in-hand with our methods for evaluating them. Vehicle autonomy that depends on the condition of these networks is on course to bubble over into our everyday lives in the coming years. The tension here needs to be reconciled. The StDC is our opportunity to ensure an efficient and equitable future for urban mobility, but that future must start today.
Images showcase historic street data projects led by the Fund for the City of New York and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Graphics are from the Noun Project and created by Laymik, Acid Beast, Stuart O'Neil, Felix Bronnimann and Stock Image Folio.