Guest Post by Catherine Cox Blair, NRDC
It only takes a small change to create a cultural shift.
Denver has seen unprecedented growth in the past decade, and with that has come national attention, greater prosperity – and traffic. So much traffic that residents are worried their Rocky Mountain quality of life is in jeopardy.
But we’re here to tell you that innovative solutions are available – and they don’t require sacrifice or increased cost. Not only do cost-effective solutions already exist, they can catalyze still more jobs and opportunity for all segments of society.
On May 17, the second annual Live.Ride.Share Conference, sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Urban Solutions program, comes to Denver with the help of WalkDenver, The Transit Alliance, and others to highlight the city as a leader in a sustainable transportation future.
With plans in the works since our first conference in Los Angeles last February, Denver becomes the second city to join a national movement centered in metro areas, statehouses, urban centers and neighborhoods to advance what’s been dubbed “shared mobility.”
What is shared mobility?
Over time, we’ve come to accept the idea that single occupancy vehicles – a car for every person – are not only necessary, but synonymous with access and freedom. This is changing. Denver, like other cities destined for explosive growth, knows that the “car for every person” model is outdated. It leads to gridlock, stress, financial strain, pollution and diminished health – and it’s not sustainable for job growth, prosperity and a high quality of life.
If you think about it, there is nothing else that we spend so much money on, but get so little use out of. At any given time, 80 percent of private vehicles are sitting empty, and cars are stationary for 95 percent of their operating lives. The average cost to own and operate this empty, stationary “asset” is nearly $9,000 every year in the U.S.
At the same time, America is changing in fundamental ways. The vast majority of people in the United States now live in cities; people are getting married later in life and with greater debt; city centers are undergoing a renaissance; job markets are shifting; and technology is a major force in most of our lives.
It’s easy to understand why it’s time for a transportation revolution – one in which people have control over their own mobility without the need to own a 3,000-pound vehicle with all that that entails.
Enter the sharing economy, which focuses on maximizing benefits while spreading out the cost. For transportation in the U.S., this includes carsharing, bike-sharing, ridesharing, on-demand services, shuttle services, and other emerging industries. Shared mobility offers commuting options that are easier, greener, and more economical, and can also fill a gap in critical first- and last- mile connections by extending the reach of convenient and cost-effective public transportation options.
State and local transportation agencies are taking note. Even agencies that traditionally focus on building and maintaining roads or providing public transit services are embracing shared mobility options. Some recent examples include linking shared mobility services to commuter bus and train purchase plans and offering subsidies for ride-sharing services for low-income residents– a major focal point for shared mobility activists.
This new way of thinking is making a big difference.
In an interview with Governing magazine, CEO of the ride-share company Lyft predicted that shared mobility will cut car ownership in half in 10 years. According to researcher Susan Shaheen of the University of California at Berkeley, a single carshare vehicle has been found to replace between nine and 13 cars on the road due to carsharing participants selling their cars or postponing purchases. In addition, members of carsharing services reduce their vehicle miles traveled by 27-43 percent.
The full effect of shared mobility on existing transportation networks is yet to be seen. But transportation systems connected via smart phone apps, public-private cooperation, and community buy-in could substantially reduce traffic congestion, take tons of carbon pollution out of the air, and make our metro areas more accessible, more sustainable places to work and live.
Like many cities that grew up around the automobile, Denver remains deeply steeped in car culture. But new pressures from a burgeoning population and increased demand for a more walkable, transit-oriented city are sparking significant changes to Denver’s urban form and transportation networks. Denver’s approach to this transportation revolution is still evolving: the city has traditional road-widening plans in the works, but it also has plans for several other mobility options, including public transit, bicycle networks and more protected bike plans, and pedestrian infrastructure. Denver is also beginning the process of updating the city’s comprehensive plan, Blueprint Denver, which calls for streets that allow for all modes of transportation, including biking and walking, a Vision Zero plan, and Denver Moves: Transit the first citywide strategy to make bus and rail efficient and attractive, which until now has been left up to RTD.
In partnership with Xerox, Denver recently launched the Go Denver App. The new mobility platform aggregates and calculates the time, cost, carbon footprint, and health benefits from walking, biking, driving, parking, taking public transit, as well as the emerging ride-hailing transportation options – such as Lyft, Zipcar, Car2Go, and FlitWays – giving users a variety of ways to reach their destination, taking into account real time traffic conditions.
The conversation at Denver’s own Live.Ride.Share conference will encompass all these ideas with a lineup of some of the major thought leaders on this topic in the country as speakers, including our morning keynote speakers, Gabe Klein, author of Start-Up City and Professor Peter Norton author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.
Read more about our program, speakers and how to register here: http://liveridesharedenver.nationbuilder.com/