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The next big move in smart mobility

Parking design wasn’t a hot conversation topic in urban planning circles just a few years ago, but times have changed as smart mobility takes off, says Stantec’s director of urban places, Joe Geller.

Stantec’s senior vice president and director of urban places, North American-based Geller is a passionate proponent of smart cities. His teams are currently working on transformational projects that flip the mobility planning model.

“When most people think ‘smart cities’, they think of technology, data and the Internet of Things. But what we are seeing is a shift towards people – and how cities can be healthier and more vibrant, liveable places,” Geller says.

Stantec is currently working with Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, on Quayside, a high-tech hub along Toronto’s eastern waterfront.

The design of Quayside’s streets put people front-and-centre, supporting a mix of transport modes with room for light rail and cars, cyclists and pedestrians to coexist.

People will be within a short walk of e-scooters, e-bikes and mass transit, and Sidewalk Labs estimates that at full buildout only 10.7 per cent of trips will be made by private cars, far below the 27.2 per cent in comparable neighbourhoods.

Smart technology will be embedded into the precinct, such as LED lights that give pedestrians cues on when to cross. ‘Dynamic kerbs’ will eliminate on-street parking and prioritise the movement of people.

“Just one stretch of street that accommodates 60 parked cars in an eight-hour period can be transformed into a drop-off zone for 1,800 connected vehicles,” Geller explains.

“A drop off zone improves retail and walkability, creates a green dividend and new opportunities for communities to monetise the kerb.” At Quayside, utilising real time data peak hour drop off zones will morph into pop-up retail spaces, he explains.

While Quayside may still seem like science fiction, cities are changing “faster than anyone thinks,” Geller adds.

Take connected vehicles – conventional cars that use a data connection to “speak to the street” –are expected to account for around 50 per cent of parking demand within a decade. These vehicles will be able to find a parking spot and park themselves with precision, Geller explains.

Connected vehicles will reduce the space requirements for parking in our cities, and savvy developers are already planning for this reality. One Stantec client is currently planning a large mixed-use development in Boston with the “expectation that they’ll never have to build the second and third phases of underground parking”.

Joseph Walsh, a mechanical project engineer and a director of WGE, says Australia’s approach to smart cities technology is still a “bit hit and miss”.

“People see a lot of smart technology as something ahead in the future. But it’s happening now.” Walsh points to the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, which are expected to account for 20 per cent of Australia’s fleet by 2036.

“Developers are installing a small number of EV chargers, for example, into mixed use developments to allow for current building demand – but it’s clear we’ll have issues pretty soon when people don’t have the charging infrastructure they need.”

He says some councils are changing zoning regulations and introducing conditions in development approvals which require developers to invest in various smart technology “before they can sell the first lot”.

The advice is clear. “Start focusing on smart mobility now”.

Article courtesy of Property Council of Australia; first published 23 October 2019.