Two tech items from the New York Times:


Big City is watching you.

It will do it with camera-equipped drones that inspect municipal power lines and robotic cars that know where people go. Sensor-laden streetlights will change brightness based on danger levels. Technologists and urban planners are working on a major transformation of urban landscapes over the next few decades.Much of it involves the close monitoring of things and people, thanks to digital technology. To the extent that this makes people’s lives easier, the planners say, they will probably like it. But troubling and knotty questions of privacy and control remain. …

One of the biggest changes that will hit a digitally aware city, it is widely agreed, is the seemingly prosaic issue of parking. Space given to parking is expected to shrink by half or more, as self-driving cars and drone deliveries lead an overall shift in connected urban transport. That will change or eliminate acres of urban space occupied by raised and underground parking structures.

Shared vehicles are not parked as much, and with more automation, they will know where parking spaces are available, eliminating the need to drive in search of a space.

“Office complexes won’t need parking lots with twice the footprint of their buildings,” said Sebastian Thrun, who led Google’s self-driving car project in its early days and now runs Udacity, an online learning company. “When we started on self-driving cars, we talked all the time about cutting the number of cars in a city by a factor of three,” or a two-thirds reduction.  …

One reason for confidence in a radically changed future is that much of it is already here. The city’s Uber and Lyft, the Boston-based auto-sharing company Zipcar and things like corporate shuttle buses have shown new ways for urban dwellers to use vehicles. …

One danger of the new city may be the age-old faith that technology makes things better, and more tech is best.

“The danger of big dramatic projects is that they become the equivalent of urban renewal or the kind of sweeping things Robert Moses did for cars in New York that created dysfunction,” said Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster. “The best thing tech could do now is rescue us from the car-centric cities we built after 1930.” 

Full story here.



As cities grow and concerns about pollution and congestion rise, commuters in urban areas are increasingly turning to apps to compare and combine public and private transportation alternatives. “The shared modes complement public transit, enhancing urban mobility,” said Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association, a trade group based in Washington. …

In March, the American Public Transportation Association released a study that found that shared transit modes were likely to continue to grow. And the more people used them, the more likely they were to also use mass transit. …

Nationwide, mass transit use stalled during the last decade. According to the Census Bureau, 76.5 percent of commuters drove alone, 9.2 percent car-pooled and 5.2 percent used mass transit in 2014, the latest year for which figures were available. In 2005, 77 percent drove alone, 10.7 percent car-pooled and 4.7 percent used public transportation.

Apps hold the promise of altering those percentages by showing passengers how to travel from home to a transit stop and then to their ultimate destination, the so-called first mile-last mile of a commute. …

… the Department of Transportation pledged up to $40 million to one city to help define what it means to be a “smart city,” with innovative technologies including self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors incorporated into a transportation network. The department chose Columbus, Ohio, from the 78 cities that applied. Columbus will receive an additional $10 million for electric vehicles and to reduce carbon emissions from Vulcan Inc., a company started in Seattle by the philanthropist Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.

In other cities, private enterprise is joining forces with transit districts. In March, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority introduced a one-year, $1.3 million pilot program in conjunction with Bridj, a van ride-hailing service. …

Moovit, a navigation app in a thousand cities worldwide, uses crowdsourced data from customer phones to map the fastest route, estimating how long the trip will take and whether mass transit is running on time.

Experts expect these experiments to continue.

“There’s an insatiable demand,” said Robert J. Puentes, president and chief executive of Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank in Washington.

Full story here.