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Weekly Trend: The Future of Urban Transportation Is on the Move

The days of a city paralyzed by gridlock traffic may be on their way out—or at least that’s the hope of startups breaking into the urban transportation scene. There won’t be fewer people making the daily commute, but ideally there will be fewer people using traditional transportation like cars.

“As cities in the 21st century grow again.., everyone from mayors to Department of Transportation commissioners to developers, entrepreneurs, advocates, and activists are trying to figure out the silver bullet to our transportation woes,” Gabe Klein wrote in The Atlantic.

Several startup concepts—including ridesharing (think Uber or Lyft), bikeshares, and mobile apps that track public transit schedules—have catapulted into the mainstream. And if their popularity is any predictor of what’s next, then it seems that the way we get around today may be very different tomorrow.

What makes the urban transportation landscape so ripe for new and emerging startup companies is the diversity that cities naturally offer.

“Cities are complex ecosystems with varying transportation needs that are context-sensitive,” Klein explained. “ Neighborhood type, time of day peaks, age and physical ability of citizen population, mix of retail options available by distance, historical land-use patterns — all these and many other factors influence the urban travel network.”

With the diversity of factors that Klein describes comes a diversity of potential for startups. Whether it’s finding ways to better manage existing infrastructure and increasing accessibility, or encouraging new ways of thinking about transportation like ridesharing and mobile apps we’ve seen recently, trends indicate that the public is increasingly open to evolving technologies. For example, the proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s largest urbanized areas between 2000 and 2007-2011. And according to a study by AlixPartners, one rideshare vehicle can displace 32 personal vehicle purchases. The study projects that “as car sharing grows in popularity, it could account for approximately 1.2 million more purchases avoided through 2020.”

However, the future of transportation may not only impact how we get around and what purchases we make, but actually where and how we live in our communities. As John Renne suggests in The Atlantic, shifting transportation’s focus “will be enhanced through transit-oriented development and ‘networked livable communities.’”

As the name suggests, transit-oriented development means building communities around transportation options. As Renne explains, “Networked livable communities are networked into both the Internet and multi-modal transportation systems.” They’re also networked into the professional economy: They are hubs and corridors of cafes, boutiques, restaurants, bars and shared-office settings.

According to an Urban Land Institute survey, Americans “are creating a significant market shift toward compact, mixed-use development that is close to transit.” While many of the transportation infastructures are already in place, Renne suggests that local investments are needed to “unlock their potential.

“Networked livable communities are the post-recession ‘right places.’ Residents there network for jobs, business financing, new partnerships, and overall professional connectivity,” Renne said. “Adding this density would go a long way to enabling networked travel including walking, bicycling, and other modes to increase overall accessibility towards a sustainable transport system.”

As evolving technology continues to influence the way we move and live in cities, startups can expect to find a public more and more wiling to get on board with new concepts. The future of urban transportation is by no means set in stone, and now is the time for startups to innovate in this ever-evolving market.

Katie Thompson

Katie is the editor of Shared Justice, an online journal for millennials published by the Center for Public Justice. A proud native of New Jersey, she now resides in Washington,…