March 30, 2018

Future’s here: Planners prep for driverless cars

Cities such as Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Greeley and Boulder are planning for the advent of automated vehicles when, and if, they take hold in the marketplace.

For now, automated or driverless vehicles are a futuristic concept in the testing phases.

“We are, like everyone else, trying to figure out what it all means because it’s changing so rapidly,” said Aaron Iverson, senior transportation planner for the city of Fort Collins.

Automated vehicles, or AVs, will impact the city’s transportation system, parking and land use, but just how leaves many unanswered questions, Iverson said. Will users own or share the vehicles, paying for rides as they need them? Will the vehicles drop them off and head to a parking garage, a fleet center or their home and return to pick them up? Will this create congestion from multiple empty cars being on the roads?

Tim Young operates his DJI Phantom 3 professional drone at his Windsor home recently. Drone technology continues to advance and is likely to have widespread impacts on the delivery business, which will reduce traffic volume on highways as well as impact transportation jobs. Joel Blocker for BizWest

The city of Fort Collins’ planning and transportation staffs are including guidance and policies about AVs and on-demand, shared vehicles as they update their various planning documents, Iverson said.

“We could have less need for parking in certain areas, like Old Town or downtown,” Iverson said, adding that fewer parking garages and on-street parking spaces likely will be needed in north Fort Collins and elsewhere in the city, such as the university and retail and business centers.

However, space would have to be included for drop-off and pick-up points for passengers using the AVs, as well as on-demand vehicles, requiring some type of curb management, Iverson said. AVs may require fewer traffic lanes, giving extra space for pedestrian and bicycle use, he said. Traffic management also may be handled differently, such as using special signs and striping to help orient AVs and reprogramming the traffic signals to be able to communicate with the vehicles, he said.

“There are a few potential benefits they’re suggesting in the research,” Iverson said. “It’s more efficient because vehicles can understand each other and talk to each other. They can use the road more efficiently.”

For city entities like the Poudre River Public Library District in Fort Collins, AVs would help address issues like parking, as is the case with the three library locations of Old Town, Council Tree and Harmony.

“Finding adequate parking has always been a challenge, and we hope driverless cars will help us with that,” said David Slivken, executive director of the Poudre River Public Library District. “It is on our radar, but we have not any kind of planning for it at this time. … We don’t know the marketing aspects for driverless cars. Will there be a tier of charges?”


The library is considering opening a fourth library location if master planning identifies a need, potentially in north Fort Collins, limiting the parking to city code requirements, Slivken said.

“Land here is so expensive,” Slivken said. “We don’t want to buy all this land and buy a massive parking lot. Buying extra land for extra parking is awfully expensive.”

In Loveland, the city’s downtown and other planning documents address various issues related to AV vehicles, such as parking, drop-off points and loading zones, said David Eisenbraun, strategic planner in the city of Loveland’s community and strategic planning division. Parking potentially could be relocated to the edges of downtown, opening up the core for other uses, and travel lanes could be narrowed, as outlined in the city’s Heart Improvement Program, or HIP, downtown streetscape plan, approved by the Loveland City Council in December 2017.

Parking would have to be open and free of obstacles, and garages likely would require barcode scans instead of the pushing of a button for entry and exit, Eisenbraun said. Once they are dropped off, AV users could potentially take a downtown circulator or mini buses to get around within downtown, he said.

“Right now, we’re in the formative stages of trying to understand the implications,” Eisenbraun said. “Ultimately, we are trying to be realistic in our expectations … to make it safe and achievable.”

Reducing parking needs could open up land use in business and retail centers and residential neighborhoods, Eisenbraun said.

“It has the option to create more efficiency with land use. We won’t have so much wasted space with parking lots,” Eisenbraun said.

The city of Boulder is incorporating AV and other advanced mobility uses in its transportation plans, corridor studies and other planning documents, said Kathleen Bracke, GO Boulder manager in the transportation division for the city of Boulder.

“The time to start planning this is now,” Bracke said. “We’re already incorporating it into our plans. We have a corridor study in the planning phases with an option to have shared lanes. If AVs come online, the shared lanes could include shared AVs.”

The planning also could include drop-off spaces in locations that are safe and do not block traffic, Bracke said.

Planners will need to consider vehicle storage, which would be reduced if passengers are sharing vehicles, as they are now with on-demand services like Uber and Lift, said Randall Rutsch, senior transportation planner for the city of Boulder. The need for less parking could open up land use for more green space, parks and wider sidewalks, he said.

On the downside, shared vehicles could open up the potential for longer commutes, potentially resulting in more greenhouse emissions, Rutsch said.

And before AVs become widely used, there likely will be a transition period of a mix of driver-controlled and AV vehicles on the roadways and a continued need for parking, said Michael Gardner-Sweeney, transportation division director of the public works department for the city of Boulder. Planning for parking needs to take into account ways it can be reused in the future once it is no longer needed, he said.

“We’re going to be in a mixed environment for a period of time,” Gardner-Sweeney said. “There will be much less need to store vehicles on site in the long term.”

AVs may improve road safety by removing the element of distracted and impaired driving, Gardner-Sweeney said. There are other benefits as well, such as increased mobility for seniors and disabled users and more efficient vehicle movement with vehicles able to move closer together when computers are in charge, he said.

On the downside, drivers may not be needed for freight, delivery and transit services, and bicyclists and pedestrians can be seen as obstacles to the programming, Gardner-Sweeney said.

“We still think biking and walking are critical to a community,” Gardner-Sweeney said. “We’re taking care of people using all modes of transportation.”

Planning for a futuristic concept is difficult, said Brad Mueller, director of community development for the city of Greeley.

“It’s hard to react to a technology when there isn’t standardization in technology … a standard to work toward,” Mueller said. “We try to make streets smart today already in terms of having a good profile in terms of an engineering standpoint with detached sidewalks and adequate curbs and parkways. These are all parts of urban design.”

The city of Longmont is considering AVs, along with on-demand services, in its future planning but has not set any regulations, though will keep the rules fluid enough to allow for changes, said Phil Greenwald, transportation planner for the city of Longmont.

Downtown Longmont currently does not lack parking but has an issue with distribution, requiring visitors to walk further than they want, Greenwald said. Keeping the future in mind, the city will consider parking supply and vehicle usage before building a parking garage — and if one is built, it should be able to be converted to other uses, he said. Plus, parking is becoming a matter of maximum need, instead of minimum need, where developers are limited to the number of spaces they can provide for their buildings and centers, something other Northern Colorado communities are doing, he said.

“Let’s try to provide more space at the curb and maybe start looking at how to utilize the curb in front of businesses,” Greenwald said.

Loveland-based McWhinney, the developer of Centerra among numerous other developments, already has provided charging stations for electric vehicles at properties such as Centerra.

“Specifically, for Centerra, we have already begun to explore the use of autonomous shuttles to help get residents to local shopping and from their homes or businesses to the local bus rapid transit station,” said Keo Frazier, vice president of marketing for McWhinney. “We do not have specifics at this time from a planning perspective but can share that as developers we always need to be looking into the future to stay relevant and impactful in the communities where we have a presence.”

Water Valley Land Co. in Windsor also is incorporating plans for AVs, on-demand services and other forms of mobility in the future development of the Brands at the Ranch near Centerra with construction beginning this summer. Fewer parking spaces will be needed with drop-off areas given more of a priority and roads designed for a change in traffic flow, said Martin Lind, president of Water Valley Land Co.

“If you have cars coming and going, they need a different through-lane,” Lind said. “We are reaching out to consultants constantly to make sure we’re on the leading edge of this. It could end up being a dedicated lane for Uber and automated vehicles.”

Other organizations, such as the U.S. Postal Service, are planning for AVs, as well as drones, which could potentially decrease road usage.

“Our fleet management group will continue to explore innovations and possibilities to incorporate technologies into future vehicle acquisitions,” said David Rupert, postal spokesman for the Denver office, adding that he cannot discuss specific planning. “We’re fully looking into the future and how it applies to us and how we can maximize it. … We’re looking at all future technologies and how they relate to us. We’re looking at all of that and looking for ways that will both serve our customers and our employees.”

Desk Chair Workspace - Loveland, Colo.
Courtesy Desk Chair Workspace

As AVs gain in popularity, alongside cloud computing, workers will not be tethered to the office and can work from home or shared office spaces, like Desk Chair Workspace, a 200-desk co-working office in downtown Loveland. Workers, including employees, freelancers, solo-preneurs and contractors who use cloud computing do not have to report to the same desk but can sign in their credentials through the cloud and begin working.

Co-working could affect land use and the need for commercial real estate sales and leases, while also reducing traffic emissions, said Jim Doherty, sales manager of Desk Chair. For workers, if they have the added benefit of AV or on-demand services, they will not have to worry about parking and can get immediately to work, he said.

“It will be a much less stressful day for workers,” Doherty said.

Co-working, which became popular over the last five to 10 years, has several benefits, including bringing together people from different backgrounds into a collaborative environment that fosters creativity and provides a social outlet.

“You get out of the echo chamber of your own company and get a finger on the pulse outside of your office,” Doherty said. “There’s an energy to be had to be around other folks, other individuals and other jobs. … For social and professional wellbeing, it allows you to be around other people instead of your basement office.”

Cities such as Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Greeley and Boulder are planning for the advent of automated vehicles when, and if, they take hold in the marketplace.

For now, automated or driverless vehicles are a futuristic concept in the testing phases.

“We are, like everyone else, trying to figure out what it all means because it’s changing so rapidly,” said Aaron Iverson, senior transportation planner for the city of Fort Collins.

Automated vehicles, or AVs, will impact the city’s transportation system, parking and land use, but just how leaves many unanswered questions, Iverson said.…


Katherine Stahla

Katherine Stahla
Katherine Stahla is a reporter covering business, real estate, agriculture and energy in Northern Colorado. Katherine loves covering stories that matter to communities all across the state. Katherine also likes making videos supplementing the news, and fun short films on the side.

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