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University of Washington Study Helps Steer Path Toward the Future

University of Washington Study Helps Steer Path Toward the Future
September 5, 2019   //   

By Allison Wylie

As the demand for curb space increases — with the rise of urban delivery, shared mobility services, and eventually AVs — cities are looking for ways to make their curbs safer, more efficient, and more productive. We share cities’ goals of rethinking curbs as flexible space and ultimately making it safer, quicker, and easier for people to get around without having to use their own cars. By getting more people out of their personal cars and into more efficient modes — bikes, scooters, shared rides, and public transit — we believe we can help cities make more productive use out of their limited urban space.

That’s why we’re proud to have supported recent research conducted by the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab and Sustainable Transportation Lab in cooperation with the Seattle Department of Transportation on how to improve traffic flow in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

The research is reflected in an initial study, which provides valuable insights on what policy changes might be made to further improve curb use, as well as what kind of additional research is needed to expand curb use innovation in Seattle and beyond. We plan to support the next phase of the UW’s research, which will focus on further identifying ways to streamline the rideshare pick-up and drop-off experience in downtown Seattle.

The UW’s initial findings are promising. Results show that when there is ample curb space designated for rideshare pick-ups and drop-offs, drivers reduce the frequency with which they stop in the travel lane as well as the time they stay stopped there.

The UW study confirms that downtown tech workers are leading the way in eschewing the use of their own cars, as initially found in an analysis by the Seattle Times last year, and practicing the sort of multimodal travel we want to make easier for everyone. There are of course many other downtown workers who are moving in this direction as well. Just look at the mix of riders on any city bus or light rail train going in and out of the city each day.

However, this behavior change is only possible if there are robust transit options. Seattle, along with Minneapolis, has shown the rest of the country what can happen when you make meaningful, long-term investments in public transit. For example, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s most recent Traffic Report, personal vehicle use has gone down and transit ridership, along with other mode uses, has gone up in Seattle. In short, these reports show that people choose to get around differently when they have more options, which is exactly what we see happening in South Lake Union.

While the trends mentioned above are positive — more people using transit along with a mix of on-demand transportation, fewer people commuting via SOVs (single occupancy vehicles), and less overall vehicle travel downtown — there’s still progress to be made. The city’s own data shows that the #1 way people get to and from work in Seattle is still via SOV commuting. Our own recently-shared data on how people travel in a number of metropolitan regions in the country reflects this as well.

We are optimistic about the ability of governments, transit agencies, researchers and private companies to work together to determine what the future of cities will look like and how people and goods in them will move. We’re committed to working with cities and others to encourage the adoption of more sustainable mobility options, reduce the reliance on the private car, and in turn unlock space for people and more efficient and productive land uses — for housing, pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and public space.