The Old Way: Over dependency on private ownership of cars
We Americans are hopelessly dependent on our cars as our only reliable means of personal mobility. Our dependency on cars is killing us in the pocketbook, ruining our health and destroying our planet. Our love affair with the car long ago resulted in auto-centric urban planning which consequently led to the demolition of untold numbers of historic buildings to make room for parking garages. The veritable orgy of parking garage construction in the last 70 years has had the unintended consequence of destroying commercial and cultural activities in our high density central business districts, rendering them unsafe and undesirable. Jane Jacobs told this sad story 50 years ago and downtown Oakland, CA remains today a living laboratory for studying the prolonged and dominant effects of auto-centric planning on a once thriving central business district.
The bottom line is now clear to all who care to look at the record: Dependency on private cars for personal mobility does not and never will mix with high density development. If we want our nation’s cities to thrive as affordable, dynamic and diverse centers of cultural and economic activity, we need a way to keep private cars out of our cities. Therefore we need to re-think and re-invent new methods for providing reliable and affordable personal mobility.
The New Way: Enhanced Mobility Systems
Fortunately there is a solution to our hyper dependency on the private car for reliable personal mobility. The solution is being developed in various forms by a wide variety of businesses throughout the world. The strategic combination of the most commercially successful and user friendly of these strategies is what I call an Enhanced Mobility System or EMS. An EMS utilizes our 24/7 access to the internet via our cell phones (what author Lisa Gansky aptly calls “The Mesh” in her book of the same name) to allow you to reserve and pay for an almost limitless variety of low cost methods of transportation to fit your needs as they vary from day to night, weekday to weekend.
You can choose a method that has you as the driver of a vehicle or with you as a passenger, whichever best fits your needs. East Bay Area to San Francisco weekday commuters might reserve a seat on a door to door microbus system which picks you up at your residence and takes you to the closest East Bay BART station and then picks you up at your San Francisco BART station and drops you off at work. Or you might just take a microbus which picks you up at your home and drops you off Downtown. Or maybe you commute to Apple or Facebook or another major employment center in Silicon Valley. An EMS will have a microbus for you too.
In the afternoon you might want to reserve your child a spot on a special van service designed to safely transport children from home to school or home to soccer or music practice. This is an affordable chauffeuring system for you children. You sign them in to the driver and the custodian on the other end signs for them on their arrival so there is certain and perfect chain of custody for kids of all ages. Think of the hours spent as you retire from the business of chauffeuring your children!
For the weekend, you might reserve a pickup truck which is parked close to your house for a trip to the garden center for mulch. Or you might want to reserve a campervan for a family trip. Or what about a nice outing to Napa or Sonoma with a vintage convertible roadster or a new Telsa S Coupe! With an Enhanced Mobility System you can afford these options for less than the cost of owning your own car because with the EMS you trade costly ownership of one or two cars with more affordable shared access to a wider variety of means of getting around.
Reclaiming our cities for people:
By employing a strategically developed and custom designed EMS, developers can virtually eliminate any need for minimum off street parking requirements and the massive garages that result from these requirements. This is because it takes less than one tenth the number of single occupancy vehicles in an EMS system to serve a given population as it does private cars. This is partly due to the fact that private cars are used less than 5% of the time and the vehicle in the EMS system are used at much higher percentage. The lower number of single occupancy vehicles are easily and more effectively stored in dedicated street parking spaces for use neighborhood wide therefore eliminating the need for off-street parking of any kind. Developing new projects with Enhanced Mobility Systems perfectly addresses the standard neighborhood concern for parking spillover on its head. New projects which employ a customized EMS to serve their development and the local area can now become neighborhood centers for microbus commuting and hubs for neighborhood wide vehicle sharing, leading to a net decrease in local parking demand.
Enhanced Mobility Systems make parking garages unnecessary and eventually obsolete beginning a long awaited trend toward the attrition of the private car in high density urban centers. We can now take significant amounts of our downtown commercial real estate, which is currently legally required to only store cars, and recapture it for civic, cultural and commercial uses. In so doing we can begin to restore our downtowns to their birthrights as dynamic and diverse centers of cultural and economic activity which are available and affordable to everyone.
Tying the Enhanced Mobility System into existing and future transit systems.
The San Francisco Bay Area’s transit system, BART, is one of the best in the world but they are still building parking garages at their stations to enable and encourage system users to drive their private car to and from the station. Transit agencies call getting their passengers to and from their stations at each end of the trip the “first and last mile”. To enable one end of this first/last mile trip by private car, BART, like most transit systems, provides massive amounts of surface parking on expensive real estate and/or very expensive parking garages at their stations.
In a clear case of irony BART subsidizes the use of private cars by charging only $1 per day to park, well under market rate. Naturally, non-car users pay for this subsidy in higher rider costs. Instead of inducing demand for parking, BART could implement fair market pricing for their parking. (Probably in the area of $5-$10 per day depending on the location) The added income into the system can go to lowering rider costs and to partially subsidize the implementation of an EMS at a BART Station providing better overall service at a lower price point and virtually eliminate the need for building parking garages. This same story and same opportunity exists at all transit hubs.
The EMS designed for any project or neighborhood will be well coordinated with BART and all other forms of public transit including bus systems, air travel, heavy and light rail etc. The EMS’s cybernetic connectivity between systems will allow for all forms of travel and transit to be coordinated, scheduled and paid with one cell phone application or at one website. For example, the EMS user can reserve the microbus to take them to BART or Amtrak or the Airport and then be picked up or have available an appropriate vehicle at the destination station and do the same in reverse for the trip home. All of these hubs can radically reduce their need for providing massive parking structures for storing private cars once they are properly and effectively linked to the growing network of Enhanced Mobility Systems regionally, nationally and internationally.
As the Enhanced Mobility Systems develop, spread, and mature, more and more car owners will begin to drop their expensive, inefficient conventional private car ownership and instead invest in a connected cybernetically advanced and coordinated mobility system that will enhance their ability to get around and save them impressive amounts of time and resources while increasing their quality of life and the overall enjoyment of getting around.
For more information on how to bring Enhanced Mobility Systems to your neighborhood, city, development or campus please call Todd Jersey, AIA at 510 528 5477 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tesla Roadster by Niall Kennedy, Flickr Creative Commons
Jaguar 1963 MKII 3.4, Basic Transporter, Paul Horn, Flickr Creative Commons
Mini Camper, by Hermés, Flickr Creative Commons
Electric Car, by Charlotte Gilhooly, Flickr Creative Commons
Electric Scooter, Skinbops, Flickr Creative Commons