Tag Archives: Transportation Planning

How Coworking Spaces Benefit Transportation and Promote Economic Development!

CoLab provided by Ariel (1)Coworking spaces such as the Grandin CoLab allow small businesses and startups to pay a monthly fee in order to use shared space within the facility.  In many ways this is similar to an individual joining a fitness center.  This idea is that business startups and home (garage) based businesses get to a point where it is not useful from a professional image or branding perspective to invite clients, partners or investors to meetings over the kitchen table or out in the garage anymore.  A more polished business presence is needed in order to scale-up to the next level.  This describes a target market for coworking spaces, however, what is really going on under the hood from an economic development and transportation planning perspective?

Essentially coworking spaces allow members to share the high fixed-costs that are associated with a nice, well-done commercial space in a central commercial location in an urban area.  All businesses face two types of costs:  fixed and variable.  Startups may have heretofore dealt with fixed costs by running their business out of their home or garage.  However, when it comes to graduating to a commercial space, the high fixed costs can be daunting for a small business which may not be able to easily get conventional commercial financing.  Coworking spaces solve this dilemma beautifully with their membership model that shares fixed costs widely among many startups.  This allows for entrepreneurial business development that otherwise might have been stymied by high fixed costs thus developing the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Interestingly the observation that high fixed costs can have a dampening effect on entrepreneurialism and business creation dates back to the planning classic “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs  where she observed that one benefit of the so called “urban decay” of the 1960’s was that it kept rents (i.e. fixed costs) low so that small businesses would have a place to develop.  Thankfully, coworking spaces are the exact opposite of “urban decay” and can provide high end and urban edifying amenities that can be affordable due to shared fixed costs in a commercially viable urban setting.

Coworking spaces also provide “Economies of Agglomeration” which is a fancy way of saying the benefits that a business gets by being near other businesses.  This can can be thought of as crosspollination of ideas and/or as spillovers from businesses in close proximity being each other’s’ customers and suppliers.  Essentially co-working spaces produce internal economies of agglomeration within the one building.  And, the building itself can be located in a downtown or village center and member benefits can benefit from the next level of agglomeration effects that come from being in a mixed-use urban context.

As far as transportation is concerned it is precisely these agglomerating and concentrating effects of coworking spaces that encourage businesses to locate in urban areas where transportation already exists.  This is in stark contrast to situations in the past where businesses would sprawl out further and further looking for cheaper rent.  Also, the new transportation services such as car sharing, think Zipcar, ridesharing, or vanpooling which also benefit from users sharing the fixed costs of vehicle ownership are good complements to the coworking model.  Such services as well as public transportation can be conveniently located nearby.  Any dollar that an entrepreneur saves on transportation costs can be plowed back into growing their business.

Disclaimer – In this blog post I have specifically referred to a successful coworking space in Roanoke, Virginia called the Grandin CoLab (http://www.grandincolab.com/).  The concepts are generalizable and would apply to any coworking environment.  This post is not a public sector endorsement of one particular private coworking environment over any other.CoLab provided by Ariel (2)

CoLab provided by Ariel (3)

How does economic development relate to transportation infrastructure?

Economic Development Venn DiagramThere are a lot of opinions and some misconceptions about economic development out there in popular discussion.  Economic development is very important.  So, we should think through how it relates to transportation infrastructure.  Many people think of economic development in terms of its historic roots in real-estate development.  This is only a partial and incomplete picture of a dynamic and important topic.  Essentially economic development has three interrelated components:

  • Economic Efficiency – is necessary but not sufficient. This means that economic efficiency alone will not guarantee economic development.  Many proponents proclaim that all you have to do is to cut out a regulation here or tax there, and you get economic development via increased efficiency.  These “cut” approaches may be a good first step in cases of waste or economic distortion, but they will not necessarily guarantee growth or development.  In fact, a status quo economic process that is seen as self-evidently “efficient” may suffer from a “rest on your laurels bias” and new improvements may not be pursued to a collective chorus of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
  • Investments in transportation infrastructure may, on the other hand, help us become more economically efficient by allowing private sector businesses to reduce inventories, use just-In-time manufacturing approaches and better leverage logistics and supply chain efficiencies.  Expanding public transit can also expand the labor pool for businesses by allowing people to get to work at an industrial park that was previously inaccessible by transit.  Future automated and self-driving technologies, both passenger and freight, may have a big impact on improving economic efficiency.  Along these lines, we can think of improvements in the transportation of information (i.e. broadband) as having a beneficial and complementary role to investments in physical transportation infrastructure.
  • Economic Growth – is also necessary but not sufficient. Growth can come at the expense of quality of life or even economic improvement.  It can be the result of everybody working longer hours and not having time for family or other pursuits.  If inflation isn’t taken into account, growth can simply be the result of inflation without any real increase in goods or services.  Like economic efficiency, real “inflation adjusted” economic growth can provide us the fuel we need to arrive at economic development.  In this regard investments in transportation infrastructure can help us access national and global markets.   One example involves pursuing a Small Community Air Service Development Program Grant to access a new air service hub such as Denver of Dallas from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.  Another would involve developing a regional intermodal freight center to connect rail with trucks and service increased container shipments through the soon-to-be expanded Panama Canal to the Port of Virginia.  This would allow us to take advantage of our geographic comparative advantages, which is a fancy way of saying further leveraging our strengths.
  • New Process, Technology or Business Model Development – This is the “development” part of economic development, the secret sauce. This is where a new way of doing business or a new technology helps us become more productive.  We develop new “strengths,” new comparative advantages and new industry clusters.  This is often where standards of living improve.  So how can transportation infrastructure help us with the “development” component of economic development?  One idea is to promote the region as an urban test bed to test market new technologies such as automated vehicle systems.  This would allow us to develop industry clusters around the new technologies and add new skills and strengths to a diverse regional economy.  We already have the Smart Road down at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).  Why not extend that technology development cycle to position the Roanoke Valley as the live test bed for the next generation of transportation technologies?

So the next time that someone tells you that they have the silver bullet for economic development, you will know there is more to the story.  Economic development takes long-term investments in transportation and broadband infrastructure, so that we can get to the intersection of economic efficiency, economic growth and new process development which is “Economic Development.”

3D Printing

Chapter 1.5 3D Printer - Public DomainThe goal of this post and of planning in general is to anticipate possible and plausible future conditions to better help leaders make informed decisions along the way.  According to wikipedia.org (accessed 09-23-2014)

“3D printing or additive manufacturing is any of various processes for making a three-dimensional object of almost any shape from a 3D model or other electronic data source primarily through additive processes in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control.  A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.

The above image is of a 3D printer that prints using plastic polymers.  Advances are being made in the printing of metals and even food grade materials.  The advantage of 3D printers is that final printed object contains no scraps or waste.  The printer only uses the amount of material necessary for production.  This could have wide-ranging implications for the size and scale of manufacturing and how it fits in with urban form and transportation demand.  3D printing’s implications for long-range transportation planning and related decisions by leaders and elected officials revolve around it’s potential to affect both “economies of scale” and “economies of agglomeration.”

Economies of scale are savings that occur to an individual entity (i.e. factory) or process when there are high fixed costs and the price per item manufactured goes down as the volume goes up.  Essentially, each additional item manufactured helps repay the high fixed costs, so “the more the merrier!”  The classic example is a large factory.  Since traditional manufacturing processes can require large volumes to reach economies of scale, manufacturing is typically located away from residential, commercial and retail uses.  3D printing has the potential to alter the volume necessary to reach economies of scale.  3D Printing based manufacturing could potentially be small enough to co-exist with commercial, retail and in some cases residential land uses.

Economies of agglomeration are savings and benefits to a company or organization when it locates close to other businesses and organizations.  These savings are usually due to potential productivity gains, savings on input costs (i.e. labor), and knowledge spillovers from the concentration of professionals, entrepreneurs and other creative individuals within a given geographic area.  The potential for 3D printing to operate at a small scale may allow it to be located near complementary business and markets thus reducing transportation demand.

Since 3D Printing is in its infancy, the extent to which it alters typical economies of scale and economies of agglomeration of manufacturing and thus manufacturing derived transportation demand remains to be seen.  Therefore, as we develop the next long-range transportation plan we would like to ask for your feedback on several questions.  Please provide answers in the comment box below.

  • Will 3D Printing and other advanced manufacturing technologies dramatically reduce the size and scale needed to reach economies of scale?
  • Will small scale 3D printing based manufactures locate in urban and other mixed-use environments?
  • Will these impacts account for a significant portion of the manufacturing sector or just niche and custom portions?
  • What other questions did we miss/would you suggest?

The Livable Roanoke Valley Summit – June 25th – provides a larger context for transportation!

Business books and business classes at universities focus on the importance of providing value to external customers and clients.  Without customer value there is no business.  In the transportation planning context providing value means focusing on transportation systems that get people to work, appointments and play.  Economists call transportation a “derived demand” meaning that people use transportation to accomplish a primary activity such as showing up to work.  In that sense, the transportation system’s ability to provide value to citizens rests in part on the Roanoke Valley continuously improving as a livable and dynamic place to work, do business and enjoy life.

The Livable Roanoke Valley Plan provides this larger context for transportation.  The multi-year planning process is culminating in a Livable Roanoke Valley Summit on June 25th.  Please see the original blog post announcing the summit below (originally published on May 23, 3014)

Attend the Livable Roanoke Valley Summit on June 25th

vision-valley

Please join us for a half day Summit to unveil the final Livable Roanoke Valley Plan.  The Summit will feature a keynote address by Bill Shelton, the Director of the VA Dept. of Housing & Community Development and community leaders that have agreed to champion initiatives in the areas economic development, workforce, health, and natural assets. By attending to the event you will receive a bound copy of the plan, as well as a networking breakfast and lunch.  You can view the completed plan and supporting information at www.livableroanoke.org.

Register Here

PROGRAM

7:30AM   Networking Breakfast

8:30AM   Welcome and Opening Remarks
Wayne Strickland, Executive Director of the Regional Commission

8:45AM   Keynote Address
Bill Shelton, Director of the Virginia Dept. of Housing & Community Development

9:15AM   Livable Roanoke Valley Plan – Strategies and Champions
Lisa Garst, Chair of The Partnership for Livable Roanoke Valley

10:00AM   Break

10:15AM   Featured Economic and Workforces Development Initiatives
High Speed Broadband – Kevin Boggess
Regional STEM-H Programs – Jonathan Whitt
Xperience – Thomas Becher
Industry Sector Partnerships – Zenith Hamilton

11:15AM   Featured Health and Natural Asset Initiatives
Stormwater Banking Program – Mike McEvoy
Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program – Brent Cochran
Alternative Transportation – Jeremy Holmes
Community Dental Clinic – Eileen Lepro

12:30PM   Networking Lunch
Meet the Champions 

Annual Open House – May 27, 2014 – 3:00 to 6:00 pm

Please come to our Annual Open House which will feature in progress transportation planning work including a draft of the next long-range transportation plan’s vision statement and goals.

Please not that none of the links in the image below are click-able.

2014OpenHouseGraphic

What are your ideas for Goals and Objectives?

Planners are often unfairly characterized as waiting to the last minute to seek input from the public.  This perception is driven by the public hearing and open meeting laws that require a public hearing be advertised in the newspaper a certain number of times/days before the hearing.  In our case, these laws apply to the RVAMPO’s Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).  However, these laws have the unintended consequence of giving off the impression that planners wait until the last minute before seeking feedback through a “public hearing.”  In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.  We planners need good constructive input and feedback from citizens to help us develop plans in the first place.  Gone are the days of the 1950’s and 60’s in which planners believed that there was one rational and comprehensive planning model that applies to all situations.  Now, the vast majority of planners see their role as using professionalism and tools to have a conversation with citizens (“the public”) and to facilitate joint creation of plans that reflect the values and aspirations of a community.  This new role redefines the way planners view the public involvement process, which was previously mechanical and primarily benchmark driven.

With the above in mind, many plans often begin with “Goals” and “Objectives.”  The next LRTP – due in the summer of 2015 – will be no exception.  So, we are asking – even imploring – you for your early input to help us develop the “Goals” and “Objectives” of the next Long-Range Transportation Plan.  We are not waiting for a “public hearing,” we crave your input and feedback now!  Please put your ideas for goals and objectives in the comment box below.  Let’s get a conversation going.

Here is a convenient and concise definition of Goals and Objectives – courtesy of the State of Michigan http://www.michigan.gov/documents/8-pub207_60743_7.pdf   – to help get you started:

 Goals and Objectives

Our High-Tech Future?

visualizationfinal_Page_09

Does this conceptual reversible lane system represent part of our high tech future? Comment below with your ideas.

When I was growing up, movies and TV shows depicted a high-tech future (now) of automated transportation and fast mag-lev trains.  It seemed that the high-tech future was always around the corner.  Some of these images were artistic license in order to make movies look interesting.  Other predictions were overly optimistic concerning the technical challenges involved.

However, due to real advances in automated systems, Google’s forays into self driving and driver assist vehicles are just one example, some version of the high-tech future for transportation may actually arrive within the next 20 years.  As we are developing the next regional Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), we would like to hear from you.  Which technologies do you think will impact transportation and travel in the next 20 years.  What are the “game changers” in your opinion.  Use the comment boxes to put forth your ideas.

Region’s First Ever Congestion Management Process (CMP) Plan Approved

The region’s first ever Congestion Management Process (CMP) Plan was approved by the Roanoke Valley Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (RVAMPO) on January 23, 2014.  The CMP Plan is a new federal requirement for the RVAMPO, due to the fact that we became a Transportation Management Area (TMA) status MPO.  This new TMA status is a result going over 200,000 in population within the urbanized area according to US Census Bureau definitions. 

The Regional Commission and its staff viewed this new requirement as an opportunity to get ahead of future traffic congestion and to discuss multi-modal strategies to address current and future congestion.  We feel that we broke new ground with our first ever CMP, compared to examples from similar sized regions that were already TMA status MPOs.  Our first CMP is truly multi-modal in nature and incorporates strategies directly from local comprehensive plans, regional corridor, greenway and bicycle plans so that the strategies and suggestions from these plans can live on in our region’s first CMP.  In addition, we developed a new way of internal collaborative document development where more than one staff member can work on a plan simultaneously.  This allowed us to be both efficient and effective within our limited time and budget constraints.  We feel that we developed a much better plan than would have been the case if we would have approached the process in a traditional manner.

You can download the CMP here. (warning large file size 19.2Mb)