NSF Sustainable Urban Systems “New Mobility, Cities and Data” Workshop Report

On July 15-16 2019, a diverse group of university researchers and community stakeholders from Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Oregon participated in a workshop to explore issues surrounding new mobility technologies, sustainable urban systems and data.  This event was organized in response to the National Science Foundation Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-032; “Concepts for Advancing Sustainable Urban Systems (SUS) Research Networks”) released in December 2018.

Deeper scientific understanding of cities and more nuanced, effective sustainability policy and planning interventions are crucial as we move towards an almost completely urbanized planet by the end of the 21st century.  A pressing concern are questions and needs relating to new technology-enabled services that are disrupting the mobility landscape of cities.  Urban mobility is experiencing a revolution, much of it driven by the private sector, with new technologies and services involving light individual transport (e.g., scooters), shared vehicles, microtransit, mobility as a service and eventually connected and autonomous vehicles.  The impacts of the new mobility revolution on urban sustainability is uncertain: similar to the introduction of cars and highways in the early 20th century, it is possible that mobility technologies and services that individually appear to be sustainable and beneficial may collectively reshape cities to have larger environmental footprints, greater inequality and/or less economic flexibility and resilience.

Urban sustainability data observatories (USDOs) are a means for persistent, ongoing data collection, archiving and analysis to enable new knowledge about complex human and coupled human-natural systems, such as cities. They integrate many of the diverse elements that are needed to significantly advance sustainable urban systems (SUS) science. Importantly, they support new data and methods for understanding current SUS drivers and interactions, advancing comparative studies, developing the science to model the future of SUS, and fostering the science of knowledge co-production. USDOs can also facilitate more sensitive and nuanced understanding of how context and history shape the outcomes of policy and planning interventions in complex urban systems.  Finally, they can go beyond observation to enable platforms and processes for data-enabled engagement and discussions among heterogeneous stakeholders concerned with the environmental, social and economic future of their community.

A report on the workshop is now available here (in PDF) SUS Workshop Report – FINAL 25 Sept 2019.

Science Sundays lecture – “Mobility Matters – Why Sustainable Transportation is Essential for Our Future”

It took some time to be posted, but you can now enjoy a video of my February 2019 College of Arts and Sciences Science Sundays lecture – “Mobility Matters: Why Sustainable Transportation is Essential for Our Future.”  I will still take questions too!

Accessibility planning in American metropolitan areas: Are we there yet?

Proffitt, D., Bartholomew, K., Ewing, R. and Miller, H.J. (2019) “Accessibility planning in American metropolitan areas: Are we there yet?Urban Studies, 56, 167-192.

Abstract.  Transportation-planning researchers have long argued that the end goal of a transportation system is increasing accessibility, or opportunities for individuals to meet their daily needs, but that US practice tends to focus on increasing mobility, or opportunities to travel farther and faster. This study finds evidence that the gap between theory and practice may be closing when it comes to accessibility, but that significant barriers still exist to the wider adoption of the accessibility paradigm among metropolitan planning organisations, the main entities responsible for regional transportation planning in the USA. We measure this gap by creating an accessibility index based on content analysis of a nationally representative sample of 42 US regional transportation plans (RTPs). We then use regression-tree analysis to determine the characteristics of metropolitan areas that are most likely to employ accessibility concepts. Finally, we identify barriers to a wider adoption of the accessibility paradigm. Most RTPs include accessibility-related goals, but few define the term or use accessibility-oriented performance measures. The lack of clarity on accessibility leaves vehicle speed as the fundamental criterion for success in most plans. Our analysis finds that MPOs serving large regions with high per capita income are the most likely to produce plans that focus on accessibility. We argue that such places produce more accessibility-oriented RTPs because they have greater planning capacity and recommend changes to federal planning guidelines that could speed the adoption of the accessibility paradigm in RTPs.