5 Opportunities Cities Can Pursue to Expand Shared Mobility

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A new municipal tool is available to help city officials establish and expand shared modes of transport. Sharon Feigon examines several trends across a range of cities that can provide insight and guidance in this rapidly-evolving landscape.

(Christopher Ames/Getty Images)
It’s no secret that bikesharing, carsharing and other forms of shared mobility have tended to cluster in dense urban neighborhoods, where auto ownership rates are low and incomes are relatively high. While these core areas have sustained the growth of the shared mobility industry, other markets may also have the necessary qualities to support robust shared mobility networks. (Christopher Ames/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Sharon Feigon.

To help local leaders and stakeholders better understand transportation access in their cities and identify new opportunities beyond downtown, the Shared-Use Mobility Center has developed an opportunity analysis and mapping tool that uses data at a Census block group level to identify potential demand for shared-use resources. The tool is part of a comprehensive Shared Mobility Toolkit – which also includes an extensive policy database and benefits calculator – that cities can use to establish and expand shared modes of transport.

While each community has its own unique opportunities and challenges, an analysis comparing opportunity across a range of cities revealed several overall trends worth noting, including:

  1. Many regions can easily expand city shared mobility systems to inner-ring suburban communities

Often located just across the street from the city proper, inner-ring suburbs share many of the attributes of traditional urban neighborhoods, including relatively high levels of density, well-connected street grids, and frequent transit service. These qualities make them a natural fit for bikeshare and carshare systems that can expand outward from the city’s core.

Many of these communities also have their own vibrant downtowns, which hold a mix of uses and are typically bordered by lower-density swaths of single-family homes. When modeled, these neighborhoods indicate that they could support all shared modes, but would require some additional planning to strengthen or rebuild their orientation to transit.

Despite their transit-supportive physical attributes, many inner-ring suburbs declined economically after World War II as residents moved to more far-flung suburban communities, so the introduction of new shared-use modes, which can help cut household transportation costs and improve access to opportunity, may be especially beneficial.

  1. Shared mobility can help spur economic development in small city downtowns

Since downtowns in many smaller cities were established before automobile use became prevalent, they are often walkable neighborhoods featuring local retailers, public facilities such as libraries and parks, and a relatively dense urban form. Some are built around a major anchor such as a university or central thoroughfare. However, due to economic changes, many small city downtowns are no longer employment centers, with residents commuting via car from their homes to office parks on the community’s periphery.

Shared mobility — especially bikeshare — may help bring residents and visitors back downtown, providing economic benefits for local business owners and the region at large, while also addressing local congestion issues. Most of these markets can also support a full suite of shared mobility modes, which could be expanded if already present or otherwise integrated into the planning process.

  1. Moderately dense neighborhoods hold the most opportunity for cities looking to reduce car ownership

Dense urban downtowns often have the lowest car ownership rates, while car ownership remains a necessity in many outlying communities where other options are lacking. Moderately dense neighborhoods, however, tend to be relatively car dependent but can also support robust transit and shared mobility systems, making them a “sweet spot” for planners looking to shift people away from private vehicles to alternative transportation modes by scaling up shared mobility.

That is especially true of moderate-density neighborhoods adjacent to a city’s downtown or transit hubs. In some cases, these communities can have a more suburban feel, with single family homes and lower density retail and employment centers. All shared modes can be integrated into these communities, but some strategic planning and implementation of supportive policies must occur for them to fully succeed.

  1. Shared mobility can help provide first-mile/last-mile connections to transit in outlying communities

Many low-density suburban communities are located along commuter rail lines, but offer limited transit connections beyond that service. Commercial activity, meanwhile, is often restricted to strip malls located along major arterial roads, and most residents commute to the city center or to other employment centers throughout the region.

SUMC’s models indicate that such neighborhoods could support shared modes, such as microtransit, ride-hailing or vanpooling, that help provide first-mile/last-mile connections to transit networks and employment centers. Bikeshare and carshare fleets may be particularly effective when located near high-density residential clusters within these communities, such as apartment complexes and townhome developments. However, in order for shared mobility networks to succeed in these areas, they should also be coupled with strong transit investment.

  1. Many low-income neighborhoods offer ideal markets for shared mobility

SUMC’s analysis found that densely populated low-income neighborhoods, often located adjacent to core downtown areas, present a tremendous opportunity for shared mobility. While they have been often passed over, these neighborhoods have many of the key qualities — including high population density, transit access, and walkability — needed to support shared-use systems. Additionally, the opportunity to scale up shared modes in these neighborhoods is especially compelling since they stand to profit most from the benefits of shared mobility, including reduced household transportation costs and increased connectivity to jobs and opportunities outside the immediate community.

About the Author: Sharon Feigon is the executive director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), a national public interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility and extend its benefits for all. SUMC’s Shared Mobility Toolkit is publicly available online at sharedusemobilitycenter.org/tools.