Reinventing the Strip: In Conversation With Renowned Urban Designer Peter Calthorpe

This month, we talk to urban designer and planner Peter Calthorpe about his big idea for making California and the rest of the nation more earth-friendly and affordable.
By: William Shutkin & Andy Bush

Welcome to The Sustainable City Podcast. This month, renowned urban designer and planner Peter Calthorpe joins us to discuss his big idea for making California, and the rest of the nation, more sustainable. He calls it “Reinventing the strip.” Calthorpe is a founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism and author of several books, including “Sustainable Communities,” “The Next American Metropolis,” “The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl,” and “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change.”

Below is a stream and full transcript of the episode. You can subscribe to The Sustainable City at Soundcloud, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.


William Shutkin: Today we’re joined by renowned urban designer and planner Peter Calthorpe to discuss his big idea for making California and the rest of the nation more earth-friendly and affordable. He calls it reinventing the strip. Peter is co-founder of The Congress For the New Urbanism, senior vice president of HDR Calthorpe, and co-founder of the software firm UrbanFootprint. He is the author of several books, including “Sustainable Communities,” “The Next American Metropolis,” “The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl,” and “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change.” Peter, welcome.

Peter Calthorpe: Thanks.

Andy Bush: Well, Peter, as an urban planner, by background, who has now been focused on sustainable development for 20 years, I followed your work from comprehensive planning to urban design to TOD-oriented [Transit-oriented development] planning process, and it seems like this is kind of the next logical extension. Can you give us some background and tell us what got you excited about it and the overall premise for the concept?

Peter Calthorpe: Well, it’s good to think about the background. The big background, of course, is the housing paradigm in the United States since World War Two, which, of course, is ever more distant subdivisions. The notion of financial traction in this country has been built on single family home ownership. We subsidized it after World War Two with freeways and VA loans and redlining and zoning methodologies and standards that pretty much pushed everybody away from the city, away from walkable areas towards landscapes of asphalt as far as the eye can see.

I believe that that paradigm died in 2008 — even though we were hacking away at its feet all the way back at the beginning of the ’80s and the ’70s with concepts of sustainability, with concepts of new urbanism, with concepts of transit-oriented development. You know, a whole constellation of ideas, urban growth foundries, things like that, all focused in on trying to shift the notion of what the good life was or what was a really sustainable good life, away from that old automobile paradigm.

In 2008, which we tend to discount as a moment in time that had more to do with Wall Street and subprime mortgages, it was really a manifestation of the fact that the product, the single family subdivision was becoming less and less affordable to a workforce that had stagnant wages for 20 years, that were being asked to drive ever greater distances to get to work.

As a matter of fact, one of the analyses we did way back when was if you add the cost of transportation to the cost of housing, all of a sudden, the idea that as long as you can keep building subdivisions way out in the middle of nowhere, they will inherently be affordable — well, it’s true the land is less expensive, but the infrastructure is more expensive and the household costs are even more expensive.

I think 2008 was just more profoundly a manifestation of the demise of that fundamental paradigm of how we house America. It became too expensive for the environment, it became too expensive for the household, and you couldn’t profit off with enough magical thinking around financing. Since 2008, I actually think we’ve been… The country really hasn’t resolved what the next step is, hence you have places like California, where our housing affordability has gone through the ceiling, because we can’t produce enough housing that’s viable for the workforce. I’m not talking about high end housing for the ultra wealthy. I’m talking about workforce housing, which then impacts the inventory of affordable housing, which then impacts the people at the bottom of the ladder, pushing them right out onto the street in the form of homelessness.

California has got a housing deficit now of around two and a half million units. It’s just a frightening prospect. We see it all the time, people talk about how people are leaving the state, because the housing crisis is in place, and it’s a housing crisis, it’s an equity crisis, and it’s an environmental crisis all bundled together. I actually came back to something that we did in the very first book I worked on, “Sustainable Communities,” where we looked at different case studies for how to create really sustainable communities. We were trying to illustrate a very un-mined or undeveloped concept of what sustainability really would be. We certainly didn’t think it was always about going off and creating a new talent somewhere and we didn’t think it was about just reshaping the subdivision. It was about infill and it was about redevelopment, reusing assets, places that were deeply troubled.

Well, fast forward and we studied El Camino Real, which is a very famous street in the Bay Area. It runs from San Francisco to San Jose, right through the heart of Silicon Valley and it’s, of course, where the Mission, the missionaries… It was their route for conquering this land, taking this land. We looked at it then and it occurred to me that it’d be worthwhile to look at it now, because not only did we have this confluence in the last 10, 15 years of the demise of the single family model, or actually the demise of workforce housing, period, end of story, in most places, and also what we experienced with COVID, which was people staying at home, not going out on the strip to shop, and so all of a sudden, all that single story garbage that lined our arterials with aprons of parking lots, which were the place you would go to get what you needed, and that all started happening online. Not only was this a dysfunctional environment, because it was always congested and uglier than sin, because all that you could see was parking and signs, but also you basically had the economic foundation of that land use fall away.

I wondered, using our software, UrbanFootprint, if I could easily identify every parcel of land in the Bay Area that sat on a commercial strip and that was low density, i.e., parking and single story shops, which are underwater financially. We identified all of them in the five county Bay Area. Turned out to be about 15,000 acres. The capacity, if you redeveloped that land, is around 1.3 million units of housing.

Now the beauty of that strategy is that housing sits in the middle of the communities that are already mature. It runs through the heart of our major employment zones. It puts people closer to jobs, closer to mature services, closer to the… I guess they call it social capital of our communities, our regions. You know, there’s so much written now about agglomeration economies where whether you like it or not, whether you can spend your life staring at a computer screen, people still need to aggregate. Economies need to aggregate. Economic activity needs to aggregate. Quite frankly, workforce housing is most needed in those places, because not everybody gets to work on a computer screen. You have a huge service economy now, so when you talk about school teachers, all the people who actually take care of our communities, can no longer live there.

Well, there it is. I can show you pictures and it’s always more compelling with pictures but you can all imagine what the strip looks like today. It’s the worst place in everybody’s community. What if the worst place became the best place? What if it became a grand boulevard with transit in the middle, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, plenty of trees, housing over shops? I don’t think we’ll ever get to the grandeur of Paris but there’s no reason these can’t be really exciting, interesting places to live and a really potent alternative.

Now I’m going to do this all in one soliloquy, so you’re not going to get to ask a question. What if we were to build 1.3 million units of infill housing and stop building at the periphery of our regions? By the way, we also did the analysis for LA County — that county alone has 19,000 acres of strip commercial and could accommodate 1.6 million units.

William Shutkin: Amazing. I was going to say, it isn’t unique to the Bay Area that this kind of infill opportunity exists.

Peter Calthorpe: It’s generic to the whole country. You know, this was the paradigm, the strip, the subdivision, the mall, and the office park. Those are the building blocks.

William Shutkin: Yeah.

Peter Calthorpe: Creating, of course, a deadly environment. All right. Now you’ve got all this potential housing. We did very detailed analysis on what the demand really was, and it turns out you could say everybody wants single family but many people are in phases of life where single family is clearly not appropriate. Many people are economically strapped and just aren’t going to get there, and so it turns out that multi-family from townhouse up, fills about 80 percent of the market demand for workforce housing. There’s still the elite who are going to go off and get their estates, but that’s just a whole other discussion of social and economic equity.

This fills the need and it puts it in the right place. How do you make it happen? Well, it turns out NIMBYism is still strong. City by city, most cities, at least, in California, really don’t like housing, because of our tax structure. Housing doesn’t pay a lot of taxes, property tax, but it demands a lot of services. Cities avoid it like the plague. Existing homeowners hate it, because it just means there’s more people around to crowd things up, I think to make things more interesting but they think to crowd things up. Local opposition is always foremost. These things just don’t happen. Even if they’re zoned into place, more often than not, local neighborhood groups shout and yell enough to turn it into a 10 year ordeal just to get the permit.

William Shutkin: Peter, we’d like to say, in Boulder, there’s no such thing as by right.

Peter Calthorpe: Yeah. Well, that was a term I was about to use. This is a point in time where we cannot let local governments exclude workforce housing. That needs to be infilled into their community. They’ve demonstrated they’re not willing to do it, no matter how many carrots and sticks get thrown at them. We need state legislation that will create as of right zoning, minimum densities on strip commercial. The beauty of this is it doesn’t touch any existing residential neighborhoods. You know, locals are against anything anywhere but, boy, are they against housing in their residential neighborhoods. There’s danger, quite frankly, whenever you rezone residential that you’re actually going to end up creating displacement and gentrification. Not such a good idea and, politically, a much harder road. We’ll get to SB9 and the fact that we’re trying that idea anyway. Even though, it may not be the most fruitful.

As of right means that every community has to allow this kind of housing to be built. I think the conditions on it, on the as of right, should be a fairly careful urban design code that goes with it, that says, “You’re on a strip but not all strips are created equal.” Some are four lane, i.e., should be lower density. Some are near a major transit node, i.e., could be higher density. Some are six lane and could be converted with BRT, bus rapid transit, but good investment if we’re infilling one and a half million units, you’re going to need more transit. That’s a medium density.

The location will determine the various types of densities. Also, the adjacencies. If the back of the lot is single family, you need set backs and things like that. All very easily doable. You have a fairly precise, intelligent, from an urban design standpoint, as of right law. The second thing you need is something, and this is maybe going to get more complicated than you audience wants to get into, but in the weeds are actually where the fertilizer gets made and you don’t get good growth unless you get deep into the weeds and churn it a bit. That is tax increment financing. You guys know what that is?

Andy Bush: Sure. We’ve done a lot of tax increment financing.

Peter Calthorpe: Okay. Maybe the audience doesn’t, so I’ll explain. A tax strategy that was developed mainly around redevelopment agencies. When we said it’s a blighted area and we have to redevelop it, one of the economic enhancements was, as it was redeveloping, it would generate higher property taxes. Those taxes would get recycled back into the project itself. Now, in California, that got thrown out some time ago, unfortunately. I would say that these ribbons of density should get tax increment or the strip… The grand boulevard should get tax increment financing. What would it be used for? Number one, to subsidize affordable housing. Even though this housing type is intrinsically much more affordable than a subdivision, and even though, the as of right would include a requirement for inclusionary, say, 15 percent, that’s on the developer. He got a piece of land on El Camino, he’s building podium style apartments with ground floor shops and he’s doing all that stuff.

It’s not a heavy ask to say 15 percent of your units are affordable but 15 percent is not enough. One of the primary uses of the tax increment, which creates a stream of property tax, which then you can put a bond against and you get a lot of money. As a matter of fact, we calculated for the Bay Area. It’s $43 billion of bonding capacity coming off these tax increments.

With that, you can buy another 10 percent of affordable housing, so now you’re at 25 percent. You can pay for BRT style transit on 400 miles of arterial in our city. 400 miles. All of a sudden, transit becomes so ubiquitous that people will actually use it. The big problem with transit in America is it’s so infrequent that it’s not near where you start and it’s not necessarily near where you end, but other than that, it’s great.

William Shutkin: Other than that, it’s great.

Peter Calthorpe: You really need to make transit much more ubiquitous and BRT is the way to do that. The tax increment can pay for that. It can pay for making the street a beautiful place, adding the bike lanes, enhancing the sidewalks, putting in street trees, putting in transit. Then the third use for the $43 billion is to pay off the goddamn cities, so they would get funds out of the [inaudible] to balance out what they claim… I think to a lesser degree than they claim, but is still real, that additional services are needed if you’re impacted. You know, you’ve got to expand your park system, you’ve got to enhance your police, you’ve got fire — you know? There’s infrastructure changes that have to happen. The point is that this is a strategy that not only puts housing in the right place and makes it affordable but actually pays for itself and pays for expansion of our transit systems.

Andy Bush: Yeah and the way I see it, Peter, is that from a tax incremental financing standpoint, what you’re really doing is we’re using taxes, reinvesting that increment for a period of time, and then you get the benefit of that long-term. You’re not raising taxes on anyone as part of it, right?

Peter Calthorpe: No. In other words, if a developer buys that parcel, builds it, the value of that property goes up, even in California when the value goes up, you can adjust the tax. Prop 13 pretty much puts a cap of 1 percent which is pretty low. By the way, everybody says Texas is so affordable. You know what their property taxes are for residential? In Austin? 3 percent. 3 percent. You go to Austin and everyone says, “The houses are so cheap.” Yeah, just wait until you add in your property taxes. In California, it’s 1 percent.

Andy Bush: Where do you start, Peter? If you went into… It’s got to be, it seems like… Well, I don’t know. City by city? Do you pick the ideal corridor and work on that? Is it something we do en masse throughout the state as a legislative framework?

William Shutkin: Peter, let me just build on that, because you and I talked about this a little bit. Is this a national campaign? Is it a Bay Area/California campaign with lawyers, advocates, lobbyists? Is it a demonstration project? What generally is the scale of time, Peter, that we’re talking? Let’s say, you, we, were successful in promoting the concept, got real traction with the Scott Weiners of the world and Gavin Newsoms and Jared Polis in Colorado, say, are we talking roughly a kind of longer term planning process of, say, a decade, a decade and a half, where we will begin to see this kind of reinvestment and strategy unfold?

Peter Calthorpe: You know, I think that I maybe I left one of my books. It was called “The Regional City” and it was about regional planning. I’m a big believer in regional plans. Now for grand boulevards, I think we need state legislation because the local jurisdictions, not only control their own zoning but they control the regional planning agencies. Actually, this thing could be adopted region by region. In other words, the kind of taxonomy of housing that we would put into the Bay Area grand boulevards would probably be different than Fresno or Sacramento or some other places. In its most beautiful form, it would be a regional as of right. Every city would have to allow this housing in the region, but it might be a different set of design standards, region by region.

William Shutkin: In California, it could be overlaid, essentially, on the housing allocation model, which is essentially a regional model with the participation of regional councils of government, et cetera.

Peter Calthorpe: Yeah. For example, right now, there are three kind of… This is not an experiment. This is a proven, viable strategy. Years ago, I rezoned University Avenue, which is the main gateway to Berkeley, the university. One of the most amazing places on the planet and you drove through motels and gas stations and strip commercial to get there. And it was the street with the highest crime rate in all of Berkeley. We rezoned it for four story maximum housing over shops. Lo and behold, it’s all pretty well built out and all the crime is gone from that street. It’s pretty amazing. Redwood City and Mountainview, enlightened cities in Silicon Valley on El Camino, have done the same. They zone it, it gets built right away, because the market demand is there and developers are very comfortable with this housing strategy. It’s not a bizarre new mix. If they can do it, the banks are comfortable with it. The moment the zoning is there, the buildings will start.

I think the as of right… I’d like to see it at the state level. The state may be too timid, so they may say, “We’ll do as of right for LA and San Francisco, Bay Area” and the coastal cities where our crisis of jobs, housing, and balance is greatest, where the affordable housing is really in trouble and homelessness too. You know, there may be a piece of state legislation that says as of right for these RPOs, regional planning organizations. That would be a decent way to start and politically, it may have legs.

Now we ought to talk about the fact that we did just pass an as of right law, SB9, which as of right, makes every single-family lot something you can split into two, and then each of the two has had, for some time, an ADU law, which allows an ADU. Now I love ADUs. I think that’s a beautiful concept, all day and all night. People can build it. It’s not that expensive to build. They’re small. But to do a lot split, and to develop three more units on your house, I think, is the kind of thing that, unfortunately, is only going to happen in wealthy neighborhoods where households can have the wherewithal to get the financing and organize the contractors and go through all of the stuff, because it’s never that simple.

Each one will be a one-off. I think, unfortunately, the results will be anemic in terms of quality of housing. It will benefit… I mean, if the people who are advocating that law were really trying to take on the economic equity, the misplaced economy equity in single-family housing for so long… Everybody who is fortunate enough to own a big lot somewhere, a lot that’s big enough to split, they’re the guys who are going to make money.

William Shutkin: That’s part of what made it palpable, right? And sellable. You’re adding value.

Peter Calthorpe: I never thought that… That’s a very cynical thought but I never thought that. It was being led by people who were truly —

William Shutkin: — and the CNU for 30 years have been advocating ADUs before anybody knew what one was. It was like —

Peter Calthorpe: I think ADUs are fine. You can imagine them fitting on small lots.

William Shutkin: But they are expensive. You have to permit them. You’ve got to hire contractors and consultants. Andy and I have had this conversation many times. It’s no simple feat to make a building appear in your backyard. It takes a lot of hoops and a lot of cash.

Peter Calthorpe: It probably happens in high end neighborhoods with large lots. Those places, because… Then the results will be incredibly expensive.

Andy Bush: Often times, they turn into VRBO rental units and stuff. I’m not sure it’s a great way to get housing when you have… Back to the strip, most of the infrastructure is in place. The retail that stays will be an evolutionary process. You’ve got a great kind of corridors to develop transit on it. It almost seems like the ultimate no brainer.

William Shutkin: Well, Peter, to add to that, Conor Dougherty — you and I have talked about Conor of the New York Times — was with me and Andy a couple of months ago and talked about these unregulated organic ADUs that one sees throughout the coastal cities of California, which have this interesting history where it is, in fact, a way of providing friends and family affordable housing. As soon as you formalize the process and add the regulatory overlays and the other compliance requirements, that’s when you start to see the economics come into play where that home owner who developed the ADU in a formal sense now really needs to recoup that investment and it becomes less about giving the brother or sister a hand, and it’s more about, “Hey, now I’ve got to really bone up and become, essentially, a business person operating an accommodation.”

Peter Calthorpe: Yeah. The only other fear I have — and at the last minute, they changed the law so that the owner had to live there — because I was very afraid, frightened that low income neighborhoods, like West Oakland or East Palo Alto, small lots, developers would just descend on them, buying lots, splitting them, and turning them into techy condo, actually is not serving…

The other thing I think about grand boulevards is you’re dealing with workforce housing. High end, single techys who can afford… They’re a couple rungs on the economic ladder up, they would move into West Oakland. They already are. That gentrification is happening. The danger is if they hadn’t put in that stipulation of owner-occupied, boy, I would have just seen West Oakland be clear cut.

Not to mention, East Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley. I mean, it would just be overnight gentrified. They did a good thing by adding that stipulation. Still unclear whether developers are going to go in and offer low income households, “We’ll save your house and we’ll do a lot split and build something in your backyard and we’ll give you $80,000 and you won’t have to move.” Wait a minute, what is that going to end up like? There’s all sorts of question marks. I just hope — the good thing about it is that finally the state of California said, “We’re going to use a powerful tool called as of right zoning. We’re not going to let local jurisdictions have ultimate control.”

You know, by the way, New York has always been as of right, and it’s a beautiful thing. Here’s another anecdote. It makes transfer development rights really functional. Every parcel of land in New York has as of right. They don’t have to go through community hearings or design review committees. They don’t get appealed up to city council. None of that. If they build as of right, they build as of right. They take it to the building department, they’re working [inaudible.] Now if they want to go denser, they can buy development rights from somebody else, because the moment you’ve created as of right domain, not everybody wants to use it. Right? And so there’s value on other people’s property that maybe they don’t want to mine, but somebody can buy it, it happens all the time, and then they have to go through more stringent design review. It does enhance the viability of transfer development rights, which I think is another component of solving the housing crisis.

William Shutkin: Gosh, Peter, I mean, my daughter lives in Crown Heights in Brooklyn and is paying $1600 for one room in a four bedroom walk up apartment in a slowly but surely gentrifying neighborhood of Brooklyn. As progressive as New York City’s zoning and housing policy has been over the years, whether it’s the corruption or just the fact that there’s so much money in play in the Big Apple, I would be reluctant to look to it as a model of moving this agenda forward, especially the last decade or so.

Peter Calthorpe: I want to put this into… I’m supposed to be a liberal hippie who doesn’t believe in market economies but sometimes the market economy gets so out of whack, that you’ve got to believe in it. Since 2010 to 2018, in the Bay Area, we created 880,000 jobs and just over 116,000 housing units. 116,000.

William Shutkin: Crazy.

Peter Calthorpe: Yeah. The imbalance… It’s pretty clear why everything that actually exists is very expensive. There’s a huge deficit. Now just to put the number for the five county strip only — doesn’t touch any of the ground — development was 1.3 million. That’s 10 times — more than 10 times — what we accomplished in that period of time. All of a sudden, [inaudible] really honestly believe that if you enhance the supply to that level, that you will see that the median price go down, and you’ll create a lot more entry level housing —

William Shutkin: which includes that 15 percent inclusionary, which is —

Peter Calthorpe: 25 percent.

William Shutkin: Or 25 percent, right, with the TFF.

Peter Calthorpe: 15 percent from the developer, 10 percent from the TFF.

William Shutkin: Yeah.

Andy Bush: Peter, did you see, essentially, the same formula or framework in LA County when you looked at that?

Peter Calthorpe: Yeah. You know, the other thing we did is use UrbanFootprint because UrbanFootprint can make it very easy to measure all sorts of impacts of housing. In the Bay Area — and I’m not going to be able to remember all the numbers but in the Bay Area — we compared the grand boulevard housing to what could be another growth in the far east bay, over the hill, in the more suburban parts of the region, Livermore and out there — these suburban communities.

The environmental… The VMT went down by over 50 percent per household. Carbon emissions, over 50 percent. Water consumption over 50 percent. I’ll send you the numbers. You get a more affordable unit in a grand boulevard but you’re spending less money and you’re spending less money on transportation and commuting, and you’re spending less money on utilities because, of course, the parting wall is an efficient way of saving BTUs.

You know, you look at it environmentally, you look at it socially, you look at it in terms of the nature of community, it wins in all ways. The final thing is that I would think the local cities would wake up to the fact that getting the eyesore of the strip commercial out of their town and turning it into a place where the hippest restaurants end up and there’s some street life, some real street vitality, and new transit in your town. Maybe they’d grow up and understand that this actually would be an enhancement.

William Shutkin: I think they would. Andy, you know that our friend, Jim Kuntsler, Peter, has called Boulder’s 28th Street, which is our main artery —

Peter Calthorpe: Poster child.

Andy Bush: It’s a perfect poster child.

William Shutkin: Jim has called that worse than the Newark Airport frontage road. That’s Boulder’s 28th Street.

Peter Calthorpe: It’s so ironic that Boulder has such a holy reputation of enviro and, of course, Pearl Street is a beautiful place to walk. It’s easier to keep pedestrians’ movement in towns that are filled with college kids, by the way.

William Shutkin: It is.

Andy Bush: Yeah. That’s true.

Peter Calthorpe: Boy, does Boulder fall down when it gets out there to… What is that road down there, 28th?

Andy Bush: It’s 28th. Yeah.

William Shutkin: Highway 36.

Andy Bush: Peter, if you were advising the mayor of Boulder or a progressive mayor in southern California or northern California, who said, “All right. I buy it. Let’s get started. I’m not going to wait for the state. I’d love to participate regionally,” how would you tell them to get going?

Peter Calthorpe: Simple. Just take all the strip commercial land and zone it for mixed use and then let the private sector do the rest.

William Shutkin: Nice.

Peter Calthorpe: You know? It’s not that difficult. If it doesn’t work, if there’s a super viable retail establishment — let’s not forget that there are land leases that are in place that have tenure… Not everything is going to happen instantly but over time, some of the most opportunistic sites will redevelop very quickly. They’d still have shops. Then over time, people would see the value of it. Property owners would see the value of it and they would not renew the leases that basically enable parking lots and you get… A place as valuable as Boulder, it’s like Silicon Valley, those places can afford to put in a few parking structures and free up land for mixed use. You might get these weird hybrids where you have some housing and some traditional shopping venues.

Hey, I forgot to talk about the most exciting part of the whole idea, because I kept talking about BRT, bus rapid transit. That’s old technology. I think we have a new generation of transit on the way. I call it autonomous rapid transit. If you think of exactly the same bus lanes that BRT run in, and, of course, you have to have dedicated, protected lanes to make people feel like they’re going to skip through traffic and not have to bury themselves behind automobiles all the time, so you have to get the dedicated lanes in place and, normally, you put buses… Buses stop at every station, so they’re kind of slow, even if they get past the traffic.

Now imagine putting autonomous vans in these dedicated right of ways and having an algorithm that allows you to pick a van that takes you direct to your destination, because there are lots running and some of them are going here, so every trip would be an express trip. We did an analysis of a new BRT system in San Francisco on Gary Boulevard and the ART, autonomous rapid transit concept, reduced operations and maintenance by 50 percent, so much cheaper to run and increased the average rider trip speed 27 percent, because there’s no interim stops. Also, immediately all electric.

It’s a better way to use all the money being spent on autonomy, because if autonomous vehicles turn out to be private vehicles or even Uber, you’re going to — anywhere from an increase of 30 percent to a doubling in BMT, because of all the dead head wandering around stuff that’s going to happen and longer commutes. The outcome for autonomy will be really negative on cities unless we turn it into the next generation of transit. The cool thing is you can start with BRT. Permits for autonomous vehicles are more likely sooner, if they’re in dedicated, protected lanes, I think that there’s also endless question marks about liability in mixed flow environments. It means that that technology could come online sooner and would really make a huge difference. BRT is already the cheapest to build, but autonomous rapid transit would be even cheaper, because you wouldn’t pay drivers, which are typically beyond 50 percent of fare box.

Andy Bush: It’s at a time where machine learning and reinforced machine learning, the kind of things that say, how do we understand where someone wants to go now and how do we group and gather and organize those behaviors? If we can do that, combined with autonomous vehicles, I think you’re right. There’s some real confluence technology that’s coming along at this point in time.

Peter Calthorpe: Anyway, you heard it here, new concept, autonomous rapid transit, ART. Not BRT. That’s for all the grand boulevards.

William Shutkin: That’s awesome. Hey, you’ve got to go. You were so great to spend time with us. Thank you so much, Peter. See you soon.

Andy Bush: Thank you.

William Shutkin: In our next episode, we look at sustainability, health and wellness in buildings and real estate with Brad Jacobson, Principal at EHDD, a San Francisco-based architecture firm, and Alaina Ladner, who heads the Sustainability Practice at Jones Lang LaSalle’s Project and Development Services in the west.

Posted on