Oct 4, 2019

Simulations could have real-world impact on decongesting city streets

Ford technicians study City Insights Studio. Photo courtesy of Ford

As cities get more crowded, companies are developing SimCity-like software that help urban planners plot better transportation networks.

Why it matters: These software programs enable communities to visualize the movement of people and goods around their city and develop solutions to reduce congestion and improve safety.

  • This is important because it's getting tougher to move around some cities, which are coping with population growth, worsening traffic and deteriorating public transit. And, the arrival of self-driving cars could improve conditions — or make them much worse.
  • Companies like RideOS and Bestmile are developing fleet optimization software to make transportation networks more efficient.
  • Another startup called Remix brings together disparate data sources into one view of a city’s transportation picture for better decision-making.

Zoom in: Ford’s City Insights platform also brings together data not usually found in one place so cities can view their entire transportation system holistically and explore solutions to traffic and safety problems before implementing them in the real world.

  • It has a secondary purpose, though: Ford wants to understand how its robotaxis and automated delivery vehicles might fit into the mix one day.

What's new: Ford is piloting the City Insights software in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it works with city planners and other organizations to analyze specific transportation issues in the growing college town of 121,000.

How it works: Communities like Ann Arbor collect lots of transportation-related data, but don't often share it across departments or organizations. This limits visibility into what's really happening on the roads.

  • Ford pools parking, transit, traffic, safety and census data about Ann Arbor and uses its suite of software tools to bring it to life with a digital model of the city across 6 LCD screens, including miniature 3D-printed buildings.
  • The interactive tabletop offers planners a way to visualize information they might miss on a spreadsheet.
  • They can then analyze traffic patterns and simulate various scenarios.

What they learned:

  • Planners thought Ann Arbor needed more parking, but changed their minds after visualizing traffic flows and are now working on directing drivers to open spaces — a much cheaper alternative.
  • To improve safety, they identified the riskiest intersections by analyzing crash data from police reports alongside Ford's own connected vehicle data, showing instances of sudden braking, for example, which could suggest near-misses.
  • They also studied movement in back alleys, to see how city services could be improved. "If a garbage truck can’t enter an alley as part of its normal route, that doesn’t just create traffic. It costs the city money and negatively impacts the quality of life for residents and businesses," Brett Wheatley, Ford's VP of mobility marketing and growth, writes in a blog post.

What's next: Ford will expand the use of these tools to 6 more U.S. cities, including Austin, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Go deeper

Autonomous vehicles won't save cities without sharing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As congestion cripples the world's cities, transportation officials and city planners are trying to figure out how automated vehicles can help alleviate traffic and address climate change.

Why it matters: Robotaxis and delivery AVs running non-stop won't stop anything if they're merely replacing existing cars on the road. Instead, AVs need to be thoughtfully woven into reinvigorated public transportation systems so they become a desirable alternative to personal cars.

Go deeperArrowOct 9, 2019

Exclusive: Cities see signs of recession on the horizon

Data: National League of Cities City Fiscal Conditions Report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Almost two in three finance officers in large cities are predicting a recession as soon as 2020, according to a new report from the National League of Cities, as weakening major economic indicators and shrinking revenue sources put pressure on municipal budgets.

Why it matters: One of the first signs of changing economic conditions can be seen in city revenue collections. For the first time in 7 years — generally seen as the recovery phase since the Great Recession — cities expect revenues to decline as they close the books on the 2019 fiscal year.

Go deeperArrowOct 23, 2019

The growing budget gap in big cities

Data: National League of Cities City Fiscal Conditions Report; Chart: Axios Visuals

In fiscal year 2018, total general fund revenues increased less than 1% for cities surveyed by the National League of Cities, representing their lowest annual growth rate since 2013.

Why it matters: General fund revenue changes reflect local economic conditions. When revenues coming in can't cover the expenditures going out, city officials have to make hard choices to balance their budgets.

Go deeperArrowOct 23, 2019