Solutions for Sacramento area commute congestion

In recent years, the traffic on this route, and on similar country thoroughfares throughout the Capital Region, has included folks who’ve moved from Sacramento into the surrounding countryside and still do daily business in the city. Transportation experts agree that while there are no studies confirming this, anecdotal evidence suggests urban expats, scattered to the countryside by high housing prices, empty-nest syndrome or a desire for a pastoral lifestyle, are helping clog local roads.

Source: Making Connections | Comstock’s magazine

Like many metros, the Sacramento suffers from time and quality of life sucks caused by too many commuters relative to limited transportation system capacity. Especially as this article notes, GPS systems route commuters onto and clog secondary roads never intended to function as commute routes. The traditional remedies of building more highway lanes and mass transit take many years and dollars to bring on line. And the public and personal economics to support that don’t scale as well in smaller metros like Sacramento where many commuters live in the region’s less densely populated exurban and quasi-rural areas where housing is more affordable.

Clearly alternative solutions are needed. Given the many state government workers in the metro, the first would be to substitute information and communications technology for transportation. Get state and other knowledge workers out of their cars and create opportunities for them to work in their residential communities in telework centers or if they can, in their homes. The second is beefing up the region’s telecommunications infrastructure which is perhaps the worst in the state, replacing decades old aged copper telephone cable with fiber optic lines.

Knowledge economy should evolve beyond Industrial Age Ver. 2.0

As much of the economy becomes more knowledge-based it continues to retain a key feature of the Industrial Age: geographic concentration in urban centers. That’s according to this piece recently appearing in Governing. Instead of a post-industrial economy, the economy is being rebooted as Industrial Age 2.0. As in ver. 1.0, work is centralized. Or clustered or agglomerated as it’s termed in the article. Less so in manufacturing plants but in office towers and sprawling info tech industry campuses requiring knowledge workers to show up there every workday just as in the industrial economy.

But that has distorted housing markets, driving up home prices and making nearby housing unaffordable for many. That in turn is expanding the geography of metro areas as knowledge workers seek more affordable housing in communities distant from the office towers and tech campuses in their centers. That drives a level of commuting to work metro areas’ 20th century transportation systems were not designed to handle, creating congested and unbearable “super commutes” that suck hours from each work day. Clustering and the agglomeration run up against fundamental limits. There is only so much residential real estate for knowledge workers to live on adjacent to the office towers and campuses. The law of supply and demand dictates only a limited amount will be affordable.

Analysts such as those cited in the Governing article contend the holy grail of the knowledge economy is the same as that of the offices and assembly lines of industrial economy: proximity. “You wouldn’t actually get the innovation if you took the people working on those things and spread them around the country,” Salim Furth, director of the Urbanity project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, told the publication. “We rely on face-to-face contact to come up with great innovation and changes.” Buy does that hold true most the time for most knowledge workers? Likely not. Knowledge work is both an individual and collaborative effort. And not all collaboration nor even the most productive must occur in same physical location. Lots of it can be done virtually using today’s information and communications technology.

The knowledge economy should evolve beyond Industrial Age Ver. 2.0 amid rising concern over the environmental impact of commute transportation demand, housing affordability and declining population health status (long commutes have a deleterious impact).

21st century solution to curb California mega commutes: Leveraging ICT for knowledge jobs

The conference also included a short talk by Lenny Mendonca, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief economic and business adviser. Asked about Newsom’s efforts to promote regional responses to the state’s affordable housing shortage and Marin’s reluctance to surrender local control, Mendonca said, “There are 85,000 people a day who commute from the northern part of San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento into the Bay Area.“Those are often people who are commuting and an hour and a half and two hours each way in their car for economic opportunity,” Mendonca said. “That creates all kinds of challenges from housing costs to traffic to air quality to quality of life and community degradation.” Mendonca said one way to address this problem is to build more housing in places where the jobs are, including the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Source: Economist: Marin recession unlikely before 2021

That’s one way — a 20th century approach. But it takes a long time for new housing to come online, particularly in the already built out Bay Area and Los Angeles. Additionally, proposed land use reforms to reshape suburban development with high density housing near mass transit encounters strong political resistance. A far faster, cheaper 21st century solution is to take a different approach to working, particularly knowledge work. Nowadays, people don’t need a commute-in office in some far off location to get it done. They can leverage information and communications technology to work in the communities where they live so the work can come to them instead of having to drive for hours each day to work.

Indeed, Mendonca recognized the need for more widely deployed advanced telecommunications infrastructure to enable virtual working in a recent interview. “We have large portions in every geographic area, especially rural California, that don’t have access,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “You need access to current technologies at the speed the world is moving.”

Trump Versus Telework: Federal Policy Retraction Will Cost Government Millions

Last week, the Washington Post reported that “President Trump’s government is scaling [telework] back in multiple agencies on the theory that a fanny in the seat prevents the kind of slacking off that can happen when no one’s watching.”

Source: Trump Versus Telework: Federal Policy Retraction Will Cost Government Millions

What we’re seeing is a clash between the traditional definition of knowledge work – seated in a chair in a centralized commuter office (CCO) after taking a vehicle to work – and the inherent constrained capacity of 20th century transportation systems in metro areas to accommodate that mode of working.

Organizations can insist all they want that knowledge work can only be performed in CCOs 8-5, Monday-Friday. But roads and highways are fixed, limited real estate that cannot flex to accommodate all the rush hour transportation demand that generates. The result is crippling traffic congestion, a giant time suck and numerous adverse effects on organizations and knowledge workers.

In the 21st century, information and communications technology replaces the pavement and the vehicle to bring knowledge work to the knowledge worker. We need to adjust our thinking and expectations.

To reduce commute transportation demand and further its climate goals, California should tap pension funds to support advanced telecommunications infrastructure

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently issued an executive order directing the state Department of Finance to create a Climate Investment Framework. The order notes that while the state has established an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, emissions from automobiles and other forms of transportation remain a “stubborn driver” of emissions. The order further directs the State Transportation Agency to reduce transportation-based emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled by bringing jobs and housing in closer proximity and to “encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.” The order also calls for the state to leverage its $700 billion pension investment portfolio and assets to advance California’s climate leadership.

Placing jobs and housing in closer proximity has historically proven to be difficult to achieve in California given local governments have much more direct jurisdiction over land use planning than the state. A better approach would be to leverage pension funds to support regional projects by local governments to build much needed modern fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure. Pension funds the patient capital needed for long term investments such as infrastructure. This strategy would reduce commute transportation demand by better connecting California communities and allowing office workers to more easily work from their homes and co-working centers instead of piling onto freeways daily and spewing vehicular emissions. It’s particularly timely as the state’s high housing prices in metro areas drive lengthening commutes as people seek affordable homes often located at the edges of metro areas and beyond. This is where advanced telecommunications infrastructure tends to be the weakest but provides the greatest benefit.

History will judge Frances Cairncross’s predicted “death of distance” correct

The irony of America’s tech-fueled brain drain is that the internet should have freed us from location-based employment and helped disperse high-skilled tech workers. In her 1997 book The Death of Distance, British economist Frances Cairncross heralded the ways that digital technologies, particularly the internet and mobile phones, were “killing location” and “loosening the grip of geography.” For Cairncross, one of the many implications of ubiquitous internet access was that “companies will have more freedom to locate a service where their key staff want to live, rather than near its market” and employees “will gain more freedom to live far from their employers.” Reality proved far messier.

Cairncross says she “misjudged” the extent to which concentrated labor markets matter in the knowledge economy, because they provide an available pool of specialized skills and other agglomeration benefits. So rather than decentralizing the American labor pool, the rise of the internet and digital technologies had the opposite effect: It accelerated its concentration. The face of this change is the San Francisco Bay Area, which consistently ranks as one of the most congested and expensive regions in the US. But a similar scenario is playing out in Denver, Boston, Seattle, and other major tech-driven metro areas.

Source: How Smaller Cities Are Luring High-Tech Talent | WIRED

Despite her misgivings, I believe history will ultimately prove Cairncross correct. Knowledge work is currently in transition between the centralized Industrial Age when the automobile and high speed highways made it possible for office workers to work daily in communities far from their homes to an emerging decentralized “work anywhere” mode.

The trouble in the San Francisco Bay Area and other metro centers the high speed highways that made commuting a breeze in the 1950s and 1960s aren’t so speedy anymore and overcrowded with too many knowledge workers during the morning and evening commutes. Building more highway lanes only induces more commute trips. Autonomous vehicles can’t solve the congestion because there will always be a limited amount of pavement over which they can travel. Mass transit isn’t the answer either given the differing schedule and location circumstances of knowledge workers and limited practical range that has served as a perpetual disincentive.

Of course, there is nothing that beats the natural inclination of humans to socialize and exchange ideas that drive the information economy co-located, face to face. The question is whether doing that every work day remains practical in congested and expensive metro areas given the personal time and economic costs extracted by daily vehicular commute trips. These trips are lengthened by housing market dynamics. Affordable homes are often located at the periphery of metro areas.

Information and communications technology provides the best alternative means to perform knowledge work. And yes, there still needs to be old style in person social interaction. But that can be obtained at training sessions, symposia and social gatherings. Commuting should be confined to getting to and from these events and not daily to a centralized, commute in office.

New generation of policymakers, planners needed to solve metro area traffic congestion

Liccardo, who also sits on the commission board, said reducing traffic congestion in the South Bay will require cities to add more housing units instead of simply focusing on job growth, and it might require regional incentives and penalties on cities.“We need to get people living closer to where they work,” Liccardo said.

Source: Highways to hell: Bay Area’s worst commutes ranked by MTC –

True for those who must be on site for their work. Not true for most knowledge workers who thanks to today’s information and communications technology — much of it innovated in the Bay Area. A new generation of policymakers and planners is needed that recognizes the potential of ICT to reduce the need for daily commute trips that substantially contribute to the enormous transportation demand that’s choking the Bay Area and other metros.

Externalizing the cost of the daily commute

Just a day after a United Nations panel called for urgent action on climate change, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded Monday to one American researcher for his work on the economics of a warming planet and to another whose study of innovation raises hopes that people can do something about it.The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the $1-million prize Monday to William Nordhaus of Yale University and Paul Romer of New York University. Nordhaus, 77, who has been called “the father of climate change economics,” developed models that suggest how governments can fight global warming. He has endorsed a universal tax on carbon, which would require polluters to pay for the costs that their emissions impose on society.

Source: Nobel in economics goes to two Americans for studying climate change and sustainable growth – Los Angeles Times

Or as economists term it, externalizing the costs. In the Industrial Age that brought the centralization of workplaces, the environmental as well as personal costs of daily commuting were externalized onto society and workers, respectively.

Now that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) allows knowledge workers at least to work where they live, acceptance of those costs is likely to meet with increased resistance. Especially if high carbon taxes are adopted and commuters face rising fuel and other transportation costs. And for good reason. The externalization and bearing of those costs no longer makes sense.

ICT to reduce commute trips and associated vehicle emissions takes on greater urgency as U.N. report calls for “aggressive action” to cool global climate

Not long after the first Earth Day in April 1970, a Los Angeles aerospace engineer as engineers are wont to do saw a problem and came up with a solution to fix it. The problem Jack Nilles saw in his daily drive to the office was bumper to bumper traffic and bad air quality. His solution: substituting telecommunications for commute induced transportation demand by establishing satellite offices in “bedroom communities” where people lived to avoid the trip to centralized commuter offices. The environmental benefit of the solution Nilles proposed nearly five decades ago takes on increased urgency with the publication of a report issued today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning of rapidly accelerating global warming.

Absent aggressive action, many effects once expected only several decades in the future will arrive by 2040, and at the lower temperature, the report shows. “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” said Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report.

To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the report said, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.

Turning the global economy on a dime is challenging to say the least. Cutting motor vehicle emissions associated with commuting is one measure that could be implemented relatively quickly, especially considering today’s information and communications technology is far more advanced than when Nilles first came up with his idea in the early 1970s, thanks to the proliferation of Internet protocol-based telecommunications.

Advanced telecommunications infrastructure redraws socioeconomy

Virtually everything has changed in the internet age. There were times when people flocked to cities for work. Lured by the opportunity for prosperity, people moved to major cities, driving massive population growth. During the Industrial Revolution, people moved to places such as Detroit to work on the assembly lines of automotive manufacturers, and in the tech boom, professionals flocked to Austin, Boston and Silicon Valley. Now these metro areas are bursting at the seams. Though a major city can be attractive for professional, educational or social reasons, rural communities are equally attractive and full of opportunities – but only if they have the great equalizer: access to high-speed internet. The internet boom – the current era – introduced the idea of “knowledge workers.” Today, instead of moving to a city to pursue a specific field of work, knowledge workers can work from anywhere in the country for major companies. Instead of moving to San Jose to work at a technology company headquarters, a knowledge worker can deliver that same work, remotely, from a town in the Sierras or the middle of Wisconsin. With high-speed internet access, small towns have the opportunity to offer “big city jobs.”

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The social case that enables transformation from labor to knowledge work is arguably greater in magnitude. The combination of new levels of  consumption and productivity changes the lives of individuals, families and entire communities. This combined opportunity has true potential for industrial diversification and economic growth that also improves the quality of life for people who use the network to not only consume but also to deliver their work.