Navigant Research Blog

Digital Strategies Help Bridge the Bike Infrastructure Gap

— October 5, 2015

The number of Americans switching from cars to bikes for their commute of choice is increasing at a rapid rate—up 62% between 2000 and 2013, according to U.S. Census data—and is challenging cities to develop solutions that can address the safety and convenience needs for this new set of commuters. Cyclists in San Francisco and the Netherlands have famously demonstrated the need for separate infrastructure and rules, causing large traffic jams as a form of protest. However, developing bike infrastructure can be prohibitively expensive for cities burdened by transportation department regulations, and as some cities have experienced, reducing lanes in order to allocate more space for bikers can be extremely unpopular among citizens.

In recent years, new, more cost-effective and data-based approaches to planning and managing bike infrastructure have emerged. Cities like New York and Chicago are proving that improved data collection has the ability to inform where and how cities can strategically develop bike lanes (based on the number and location of bikers at any given time during the day) and also better enable cyclists to pass through not so bike-friendly areas through better integration with public transportation.

Motivate, formerly Alta Bicycle Share, is a for-profit organization based out of New York City that manages bike-share systems in New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The company has struggled financially in recent years, and in its (so far successful) attempt to turn itself around, Motivate has developed a technology-based approach to engaging with members. This involves pulling together information on road and air conditions, public transportation schedules to optimize internal operations and development, and trip planning for members that includes other forms of public transport.

In Portland, Oregon, Open Bike Initiative and Knock Software have also recognized the need for improving open access to data in order to support bike travel. Knock Software is currently developing two projects to support the city’s efforts to be more bike friendly. The first is a low-cost sensor network that monitors and analyzes bicycle traffic and car traffic trends to provide planning insights for the city. The second uses this same data, paired with other sources such as weather data and road conditions, to help bikers plan and optimize their travel via an app called Ride. Similar to Google’s Waze for drivers, Ride provides information on routes and weather and allows members to give feedback on their commute.

Technology-based approaches have the benefit of improving safety and convenience and can result in much more strategic—and less expensive—transportation planning for cities. While cities like Portland, San Francisco, and New York have been open and supportive of their cycling populations, other cities where bike commuting is still just emerging have not quite figured out how to support this demographic in a low-cost manner—and something as simple as a smartphone app could be an easy first step.


Smart Cities Initiative Provides Added Boost to Growing IoT Market

— September 29, 2015

Coinciding with Smart Cities Week in Washington, D.C., the Obama administration announced an investment of over $160 million for a new Smart Cities Initiative on September 14. The initiative focuses on federal research and will leverage over 25 new technology collaborations to help municipalities address key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of climate change, and improving the delivery of city services.

The initiative shows the U.S. government following other national governments in supporting smart city initiatives, including the United Kingdom, India, and South Korea. This is further evidence of how the smart city concept is being fully embraced in North America.

The Obama administration has broken down the investment allocation as follows:

  • More than $35 million in new grants and over $10 million in proposed investments assigned to build a research infrastructure for smart cities, led by the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • Nearly $70 million in new spending and over $45 million in proposed investments allotted to unlock new solutions in safety, energy, climate preparedness, transportation, health and more, by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

IoT Segment Growing Quickly

This announcement comes at a time when interest and activity in smart cities technologies and solutions is higher than ever. There is a growing focus on the intersection of smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT). In the context of smart cities, IoT refers to a network of physical objects within a smart city that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

Just over the past few weeks, several high-profile developments in the IoT market have taken place. General Electric announced the creation of a new business unit with the aim of becoming the leader in the IoT; IBM appointed Harriet Green—the former CEO of Thomas Cook Group in the United Kingdom—to lead its new IoT business unit (IBM is expected to invest $3 billion over the next 4 years in this unit); and Salesforce announced a new IoT Cloud platform. According to the Smart Cities Initiative, these developments in the IoT market reinforce the importance of its focus on “creating test beds for ‘Internet of Things’ applications and developing new multi-sector collaborative models.”

Array of Things

Several cities in the United States have been evolving to add more IoT concepts to smart city projects. For example, the University and the city of Chicago are engaged in a joint venture named the Array of Things (AOT) with the Argonne National Laboratory. This project will provide real-time, location-based data through sensor boxes that will be deployed in the Chicago area. The sensors will detect temperature, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and surface temperatures to work with applications that use the sensor data to alert residents to areas with traffic congestion, pedestrian traffic, and icy patches on sidewalks. Data collected by the AoT project will be free and open to the public, a key feature of the program. The National Science Foundation is providing an additional $3.1 million to the AoT project, derived from the White House’s Smart Cities Initiative funding. The impact of IoT on smart cities will be explored in more depth in Navigant Research’s upcoming Smart City Street Management report.


Increased Safety at Ports through Smart Technologies

— September 1, 2015

Massive explosions killed at least 114 people and injured over 700 in early August at the Port of Tianjin in China. Tianjin is located close to Beijing and is one of China’s most important oil and gas terminals. It also serves as a key entry point for iron ore, vital to the enormous steel making industry in China. While the cause of the explosions are not yet clear, it is interesting to question whether this accident could have been prevented through the use of smart technologies. Technologies such as petrochemical air pollution sensors and wireless mesh networks could have potentially been helpful in detecting potential hazards such as early fires (which may have led to the explosions) or a gas leak.

Smart Technology Port Applications

Ports in China would be far from the first to adopt smart technologies for safety purposes. Wireless mesh networks are currently being used in marine and safety applications in North America at the NY Waterway. This network provides a security solution with a coverage area spanning nearly all the waterways that surround Manhattan. The NY Waterway uses the high-speed wireless network to improve communications, emergency response, and preparedness throughout all ports and ferries in the organization’s fleet. Hundreds of Interlogix IP and analog cameras are being used and are connected through Fluidmesh’s Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based wireless mesh network.

Increased Safety through Energy Efficiency

Smart technologies can also make port operations safer by making them more energy efficient. The Port of Hamburg, which takes in roughly 10,000 ships per year, recently computerized its loading systems to synchronize offloading and reduce traffic jams that were causing very high concentrations of diesel emissions. Integrated Truck Guidance systems from companies such as Siemens can track and guide trucks that are close to the port (within 10-15 miles) to assigned spaces or allocate each truck to alternative spaces if the originally assigned space is not open. This system can reduce traffic congestion and unnecessary idling at ports by making parking and cargo pickup routes more efficient—thus reducing harmful air pollution.

While it’s impossible to know for sure whether a connected sensor network could have prevented the explosions at the Tianjin port, perhaps operators could have taken some preventative action if they were given a chance to respond to the events before it became an uncontrollable situation. The inherent security and operational issues regarding ports and ships make this industry a prime candidate for smart technologies.

For more information on the use of smart technologies in port operations, see Navigant Research’s report Energy-Efficient Port Operations, which analyzes the market for shore power technology and natural gas drayage trucks.


Smart Cities: It’s All Relative

— July 29, 2015

Cities around the world are increasingly adopting technologies to improve the quality of life in the modern city, where traffic congestion, air pollution, and a lack of mobility are often the norm. Many smart city technologies are also being developed to deal with specific issues in energy distribution, energy and water management, transportation optimization, and public safety and security. Navigant Research defines a smart city as the integration of technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being, and economic development.

Currently, the level of smart city technology integration varies greatly by region. What is considered to be one of the leading smart cities in Brazil, for example, may be far behind some of the leading cities in Denmark. To illustrate this, let’s compare Curitiba, Brazil with Copenhagen, Denmark.

Apples to Oranges

Curitiba has one of the most advanced recycling programs in Brazil, yet the city recycles just 20% of its waste.  In Copenhagen, 57% of total waste was recycled in 2009. Additionally, incineration centers are converting waste to energy by using steam from the water that is heated in the incinerator ovens. Roughly 80% of this steam energy is being used in the municipal heating system, and 20% is being fed back into the electricity grid. While Curitiba deserves significant praise for pioneering a very successful bus rapid transit (BRT) system, the city is still struggling with congestion and has just recently made initial plans for subway system infrastructure. Conversely, Copenhagen Metro began operation in 2002 (22 stations, nine of which are underground), and a driverless light metro supplements the larger S-train rapid transit system. Back in Brazil, Curitiba has the highest rate of public transport use in Brazil (45% of journeys), while in Copenhagen, it is estimated that 50% of all citizens commute by bicycle every day.

Beyond specific projects, broader climate action goals between these two cities are also quite different. Copenhagen aims to become the first carbon-neutral city in the world by 2025. The city has established targets in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green building standards (all new buildings must be carbon neutral by 2020). Navigant Research has been unable to identify any city-level sustainability or climate action plans in Curitiba.

GDP Considerations

This comparative analysis by no means intends to detract from the tremendous achievements and progress in sustainability that Curitiba has attained. Instead, it seeks to illustrate the regional nature and context of what constitutes a leading smart city. With a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of roughly $60,000 in Copenhagen, a much larger volume of resources is available for smart city development than in Curitiba, where GDP per capita is estimated to be $13,000.

The global smart city technology market is forecast to be worth more than $27.5 billion annually by 2023, according to Navigant Research’s Smart Cities report. Cumulative global investment in smart city technologies over the decade is expected to be $174.4 billion.

Annual Smart City Technology Revenue by Region, World Markets: 2014-2023

Smart Cities Revenue

(Source: Navigant Research)


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