Written by Tom Klaers, Clean Response
In September 2016, Greater Minneapolis BOMA brought some focus to local transportation issues with a seminar that included 3 transportation-related presentations. The first, by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, delivered information on road construction projects and new technologies that improve efficiency, and also had a few slides on the impacts of self-driving vehicles. Then the city of Minneapolis presented details of road construction and infrastructure improvements in the downtown. Lastly was a very interesting presentation by experts from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the future of self-driving vehicles. All 3 presentations generated many questions from the audience.
Here are some highlights from each presentation.
City of Minneapolis:
U of M Hubert H. Humphrey’s School of Public Affairs
The final presentation of the seminar described the progress, future, and impacts of self-driving vehicles (SDV’s). According to the presenters, it is not a question of “if” SDV’s become mainstream, the question is “when” will they dominate our roads. Current state and federal laws don’t specifically prohibit SDV’s, which means they are probably legal. As technology improves we can expect more government policy for SDV’s. A big question to be answered is how to integrate SDV’s on to roads currently filled with nonautomated vehicles controlled by human drivers. There are 5 levels of automation for SDV’s, ranging from driver assisted, to partially automated, all the way to fully automated. The varied levels of automation complicate the integration of SDV’s to our roads.
At least 10 companies are working on SDV systems, including Ford, Apple, Mercedes Benz, and Google. There are many benefits to SDV’s, and human safety might be the biggest, as 90% of accidents are caused by human error. SDV’s can provide mobility for people who currently can’t drive. The elderly, disabled, and even children would be able to get around on their own. Our road infrastructure can be better utilized by SDV’s. Lane widths can be reduced, increasing road capacity. Traffic congestion can be reduced by better intersection and bottle neck management, smoother merging, and improved traffic flow.
There are several potential SDV ownership models. Currently, our cars are used an average of 2 hours per day, and many people already question the value of owning a car, especially with the availability of new alternatives like Cars to Go and Uber. Ownership will depend on the cost of SDV’s and the needs of the user. SDV’s could be privately owned like most cars are today. Shared vehicle models could include government owned SDV’s that are made available to the public or privately owned fleets available to rent. The economics of SDV’s will answer many of the questions they create.
There will be real estate implications to SDV’s, with new challenges and opportunities created by the technology. Transportation availability has determined where cities were established in the past, and is tied to development and real estate value. Where we live, work, and play is dependent on transportation resources. Should a shared ownership model be dominant, parking space could be reduced as much as 40%, creating new development opportunities. Traditional car dealerships would decline as new car sales decline, which could lead to redevelopment. Destinations and venues like hotels, theme parks, stadiums, and arenas would not need much, if any, parking space. Hubs for maintaining, charging, or storing vehicles not in use would be needed. Urban areas would be impacted first and to the greatest extent, though rural areas would eventually be affected as well.
In November 2016, MNDOT held a I-94 Construction Project informational meeting, where they shared information on the scope of the project, traffic changes due to this project, and the effects on downtown Minneapolis. This presentation was hosted by BOMA Greater Minneapolis, the Downtown Council, Meet Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The presentation covered:
The I-94 and 35W projects won’t just affect traffic on those roads. People may choose to take routes or go places that avoid the congestion caused by these projects, leading to a decline in revenue for downtown businesses. Employee productivity may be affected by longer commutes to and from downtown. Concerts and other events may look for venues with greater accessibility. Businesses considering moving to downtown Minneapolis may decide to wait until the projects are completed, consider another suburban location, or just choose not to move.
Traffic over the next few years will be challenging for all of us, and the combination of highway construction and downtown street improvements could make Minneapolis seem like a war zone. However, these projects have funding, and must be executed while funding is available. The good news is that once these road construction projects are completed, we can all look forward to safer roads, better commutes, easier access to mass transit, and a growing and prosperous city of Minneapolis.
More information and resources can be found at the following websites:
City of Minneapolis
City of Lakes