Using residents as guides, Knight Foundation to expand autonomous and electric transit options in Long Beach through grant • Long Beach Post

After debuting a $5.25 million program that will focus on five cities across the nation, the Knight Foundation focused on its efforts in Long Beach by announcing that it will expand first-mile, last-mile transit options that are electric- and human-powered, including self-driving vehicles.

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The grant is part of the Foundation’s Smart Cities initiative, launched earlier this year, that focuses on examining the role of technology in the lives of residents and the effects that has on governance, space, and livability.

The ultimate questions being posed by this specific grant are: How will cities and technology adapt to the eventual removal of human agency from transportation? How will each adapt to folks who wish to travel increasingly shorter distances for their needs?

“Knight believes that a true Smart City puts people first,” stated Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, and senior adviser to the president. “Self-driving cars have the potential to remake the face of cities. We want to work with city leaders to ensure those changes respond to residents, instead of putting residents at the whims of technology. Further, by involving residents on the front end, cities can facilitate a smoother rollout of new technologies and programs on the back end.”

When it comes to Long Beach, the program will “provide residents with more short-distance travel options by better integrating electric or human-powered transit (e.g. bikes, scooters, etc.) and other transportation methods, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions; improving air quality; and creating a safer, healthier, and more sustainable city.”

The move by Knight is a reasonable if not outright smart one: As cities across the U.S. have amped up its transit alternatives, from bike shares and scooters to electric buses and ride share, preparation, or a lack thereof—through both infrastructure and operations—has a vast impact on urban mobility.

“Many transportation plans which project outcomes decades into the future focus almost exclusively on the problem of automobile congestion and prescribe increased infrastructure in the form of new roads as the primary cure,” said Nicole DuPuis, Senior Associate for Infrastructure at the National League of Cities. “However, experts and trends point to a future that will be increasingly multi-modal.”

DuPuis noted that, according to research by the National League of Cities, only 6 percent of mobility and transit plans include driverless technology and only 3 percent take into account ride share operations like Lyft, which operate in every major U.S. metropolitan area. Meanwhile, half of all plans include expansion of roadways for individual car use despite overwhelming evidence that arterial expansion leads to more traffic and congestion.

Furthermore, DuPuis’ comments correlate in two ways when it comes to Long Beach: on one hand, we have her notes about archaic planning given the current 710 expansion and, on the other hand, we have the extensive complete streets improvements that are being helped along via Measure A funds, particularly the Broadway Corridor project.

Both these troubles and advances could explain Long Beach’s “readiness” for Knight’s project, which the Foundation noted was one of the reason it and four other cities were chosen. Here’s what’s happening in each of the other cities, which all involve some form of autonomous vehicles:

  • Detroit: To address challenges getting to/from bus stops that connect Detroiters to employment hubs.
  • Miami: To develop driverless, on-demand shuttles as an alternative to buses that drive a fixed route.
  • Pittsburgh: To develop sustainably and support neighborhoods by slowing the growth of single-occupant vehicle trips.
  • San Jose: To better integrate autonomous vehicles with other forms of transit and help improve public life by connecting residents to jobs, and destinations for retail and nightlife, in downtown San Jose.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.



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