8 Ways To Diversify Transportation In Neighborhoods Like Somerville's Union Square

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The future of America's cities has a lot to do with the future of transportation — and with what some people call a "mobility revolution," which is changing the way we live, work and play in our cities. From the days when parkways and interstates whisked people in their cars out of cities, the trend today is a move into cities.

And that's being encouraged in a big way by new subway and bus lines, shared bikes and cars — along with new technologies, like self-parking vehicles — all designed to ease congestion and create more room for pedestrians.

These ideas are at the heart of a global competition on the future of mobility sponsored by the German automaker, Audi. The company has chosen four teams from four cities around the world that are competing for a €100,000 prize. The teams are made up of architects, urban planners and transportation experts from Berlin, Seoul, Mexico City and Boston.

8 Ways To Diversify Transportation In Neighborhoods Like Somerville's Union Square:

1. Remember there's more than just public transportation:
Philip Parsons:
"What I think people haven’t really taken into account is this really is a mobility revolution we're in the middle of. And it’s not just about the green line. Right behind you there's Hubway bikes...and all those bikes are gone, somebody's taken all of them somewhere else. We are going to have more and more car sharing here. There’s a Zipcar...station right behind us over there. We have people walking here, biking here, taking the train. There’s a huge amount of change [that’s] going to be happening in the way we use our cars in the future. [The] millennial generation — fewer and fewer of them are getting driving licenses now. People don’t want to use cars, they don’t want to own cars."

2. Reduce square footage for cars:
"I think it’s true that up to 45 percent of some cities is devoted to cars — car storage, parking and so forth, or on the road. We’ve really given away our cities to cars. It's because there's so much rapid change here, I think we can really look at how we can use this mobility revolution to advantage and not let this rapid growth lead to congestion, gridlock and a more and more unfriendly city for pedestrians...I think what we'll see is a lot more space for people, for public space, a lot more pedestrian activity, there'll be better bus routes, better bike routes, there'll be car sharing stations."

3. Don't try to anticipate the future:
"This proposal we’re making is really creating the machinery that we need to respond to the future as it emerges rather than to regulate the future. People have tried to anticipate the future in the past — you see these amazing pictures from the 50s of flying cars and so forth. I think those kind of predictions are rash and typically wrong. But we do need to be able to control the future in a way that makes sure that cities work better for people rather than worse for people. And that seems like an ambition worth having."

4. Utilize big data:
"If we had a comprehensive database of car use, public transit use and so forth, we could create what we called a multi-modal mobility marketplace — we actually call this 4M because it’s so hard to say. This would be a data platform that would encourage entrepreneurship — new ideas in transportation where we could have a much better sense of where we needed to invest in infrastructure because we would know how mobility was being used and we could also regulate it."

5. Systematize transportation information:
"There’s a huge amount of data already about how vehicles are used, but it’s not systematized. If this data was collected comprehensively, fully anonymized, it could be used by developers. I think we'd have a huge leap in inventive solutions to mobility. Plus, cities...or states and even the federal government, I guess, eventually would be able to target their investments in infrastructure...Bridj is a terrific example of what data can do in terms of providing services people actually need. And we’re imagining a more comprehensive data service that would really facilitate if you wanted to start a rickshaw or a bus service or whatever, public or private."

6. Try road pricing:
“Right now there are a lot of experiments around the world in pricing of road use, the most ambitious probably in Singapore, but we see them also in many European cities, and increasingly in American cities. This is very effective in controlling congestion in the city. We see this in London too, where the congestion pricing has had a huge effect on reducing congestion and reducing emissions, improving air quality in central London."

7. Account for higher populations:
Joseph Curtatone:
"We see a future of our city as being a city for people. And if we want to build a city and community for people, then we have to plan for that future. And if we think about what's happening in the country and the world, we’re seeing — in the United States — the greatest demographic shift since mid-century where baby boomers, millennials, the hipsters — they’re all moving to the urban centers. In fact more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban centers today. By 2030 that’ll be at more than 60 percent and by 2050 more than 70 percent. We need to think about how to service those populations. People are moving to more walkable, bikable communities that'll improve quality of life, create economic opportunity. Somerville has seen that, understands that and we’ve planned by have 50 percent [of] mobility trips away from automobiles to more biking, walking and public transportation which is why we've advocated for years for the green line extension."

8. Keep Somerville diverse:
"We understand that what is part our DNA is our diversity, our multicultural strength, our uniqueness, our originality, creativity, innovation. That has been set forth, for example, in the Union Square [request for qualifications] as we selected a national development partner. We want rising tides to raise all boats...What cannot happen is to depress that opportunity. Because we know...inter-mobility in any neighborhood benefits all. It connects people to job opportunities, to housing, to health care. It improves our quality of life and our public health."


Philip Parsons, winner of the Audi Urban Future Award 2014. He tweets @Philipjparsons.

Joe Curtatone, mayor of Somerville. He tweets @JoeCurtatone.


The Boston Globe: Union Square Is Hipster Central

  • "Move over, Cambridge. These days, anyone seeking a countercultural adventure comes to Somerville. Some say it started with the end of rent control in 1995, a move that pushed Cambridge’s students and creative class to seek lower rents. Others point to the innovation-friendly city policies promoted by Mayor Joseph Curtatone."

Somerville Patch: 19 People Who Will Help Shape Union Square's Future

  • "Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone Tuesday named 19 people to a committee that will grapple with a wide range of issues concerning real estate development and revitalization efforts in Union Square."

Beta Boston: Bridj Raises $4 Million, Hires Ex-Zipcar Exec

  • "On-demand private bus startup Bridj said it’s raised $4 million in funding to expand nationally."

This article was originally published on September 10, 2014.

This segment aired on September 10, 2014.


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