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.

SF Bay Area paradox: 21st century ICT leader chokes on 20th century rush hour traffic

“Congestion is having a dramatic impact on the quality of life in the Bay Area,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business lobbying group active in transportation issues. According to the study, drivers in the San Francisco area, which includes the inner East Bay, the Peninsula and the South Bay, wasted 83 hours sitting or creeping along in traffic in 2016. Last year’s survey, which used a different methodology, ranked San Francisco second in the nation, tied with Washington, but behind Los Angeles. Bay Area drivers in 2015 wasted 75 hours in traffic. Congestion causes San Francisco-area drivers $1,996 a year per person in wasted time, Inrix concluded, compared with a national average of $1,400. […] Bob Pishue, Inrix’s senior economist and study co-author, said San Francisco’s congestion during the morning and evening commutes is the worst in the nation, particularly on city streets. In the Bay Area, Wunderman said, the long, slow commutes combined with the rising cost of housing are starting to drive away some job seekers and could have the same effect on employers. “I hear anecdotally from companies all the time about problems with people getting to their jobs,” Wunderman said.

Source: SF traffic ranks as 4th worst in world

This puzzling paradox continues. The San Francisco Bay Area and nearby Silicon Valley are home to many of the world’s information and communications technology (ICT) leaders. But the region continues to function as if it were 1965 when everyone commuted to the office because there was no Internet yet and all the tools knowledge workers needed to do their jobs were still at the office. And that none of the innovations its companies have created exist, tools that have decentralized knowledge work and the centralized, commute-in office, effectively obsoleting daily commute trips that are choking its streets and highways.

We have the “killer app” to slay rush hour traffic congestion

Los Angeles has topped the INRIX Global Congestion Ranking to be named the most gridlocked city in the world. Carried out by INRIX, Inc., experts in transportation analytics and connected car services, the research looked at traffic congestion in 1,064 cities across 38 countries worldwide, making it the largest study ever of its kind.Los Angeles took the number one spot after the results revealed that in 2016 drivers in the city spent 104 hours in congestion during peak time periods, followed by Moscow (91 hours), New York (89 hours), San Francisco (83 hours) and Bogota (80 hours). Sao Paulo came in sixth, followed by London, Atlanta, Paris and Miami. The US was also named the most congested developed country in the world, with the country accounting for 11 of the top 25 cities worldwide with the worst traffic congestion and with drivers on average spending 42 hours a year in traffic during peak times.

Source: Los Angeles named the most gridlocked city in the world

The Industrial Age has shown we can’t build our way out of gridlock due to what transportation planners term induced demand. Self driving cars and “smart city” traffic controls aren’t the answer either. There’s only so much real estate in crowded metro areas. That’s why they are congested and housing there sells at a premium beyond the reach of most.

We already have the “killer app” to address this problem in the increasingly post industrial, information economy: Internet-based telecommunications technology. It eliminates the need for unnecessary peak hour travel to centralized, commute-in offices since it enables the knowledge and information work traditionally done in offices to be accomplished most anywhere. One no longer needs to sit for hours in rush hour traffic to send email to co-workers and clients, write a report or collaborate on a project.

There are also adverse health as well the obvious environmental impacts of so many vehicles idling on clogged freeways. All that sitting and stress contributes to preventable health conditions as it becomes apparent that like adding more freeway lanes to ease traffic congestion, we cannot medically treat or spend our way to health. Office workers need to get off their butts and out of their cars move around and be active. The most accessible setting for most is in their communities, using the freed up time now unnecessarily wasted on commuting.

Ongoing paradox of SF Bay Area that underutilizes ICT, chokes on traffic congestion

If it seems as if you’re spending more time behind the wheel than ever, it’s not an illusion. Since 2010, the amount of time Bay Area drivers endure crawling along in freeway congestion has soared 70 percent.That’s the highest level of “congested delay” — time spent in traffic moving at speeds of 35 mph or less — since traffic experts began keeping track in 1981.

Source: Drive across Bay Bridge tops list of Bay Area’s worst commutes – SFGate

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to underutilize its signature product — information and communications technologies (ICT) — that could make a big dent in its world class traffic congestion by reducing commute trips.

Instead of commuting along freeways to offices located elsewhere in the Bay Area, ICT enables knowledge workers to remain at home or in the communities rather than playing road warrior each work day. But the Industrial Age commute to the office habit is proving to be very enduring even as traffic congestion and associated delays and adverse quality of life impacts continue to increase.

As dollars dwindle for roads, gridlock seems assured | SanDiegoUnionTribune.com

You won’t hear this from so-called greens who vote to block road construction, but traffic is arguably the top environmental problem in San Diego County, which lacks a big industrial footprint.Cars spew vastly more air pollution when they are prevented from reaching the speeds posted on freeways and parkways. In addition, stop-and-go traffic sends tons of heavy metals from brake dust into watersheds.Then there’s the economic damage. The average commuter in San Diego County lost 42 hours a year sitting in traffic in 2014, reckons the Texas Transportation Institute.Put another way, we each lose an entire work week every year. Such delay cost the region an estimated $1.7 billion, a low-ball figure that includes only wasted fuel and lost time (calculated at the median hourly wage).Harder to measure is missing a kid’s first goal; all those spikes in blood pressure; the spiritual toll from hating a stranger just because he applied his brakes.

Source: As dollars dwindle for roads, gridlock seems assured | SanDiegoUnionTribune.com

Planners and public policymakers continue to respond to traffic congestion with the same ineffective solution: building more transportation infrastructure. Instead, we should be building better telecommunications infrastructure and transitioning to distributed knowledge work so people don’t have to commute daily to offices to do their jobs. The environmental, organizational and social benefits strongly make the case.

S.F. Bay Area continues to struggle in transition from industrial to information economy amid choking traffic

“Beat L.A.” is a familiar refrain in Bay Area sports, but it now appears Northern California is on its way to being a rival for Southern California in an unwelcome fashion: traffic jams.Residents in the Bay Area have become discouraged about the heavy traffic in the region, with a dramatically expanding number of them indicating that traffic is worse than a year ago amid a huge surge in the local economy, a new poll released Friday by the Bay Area Council suggests.”Bay Area residents are frustrated about traffic,” said Ruth Bernstein, senior principal with EMC Research, a firm that conducts market and opinion research. “It’s harder for them to get around. We definitely are seeing a backlash against the economic boom.”

Source: Bay Area traffic ignites backlash against boom, new poll suggests – San Jose Mercury News

The crisis of too many cars deepens in the San Francisco Bay Area as does the paradox of one of the world’s leading information tech centers ushering in an information age economy still mired in Industrial Age rush hour commute traffic. Traffic that’s completely unnecessary given the information and communications technology Silicon Valley companies innovated that allows knowledge work to be done where people live. It’s a head scratching situation that makes one think the region is trapped in a time warp with the calendar reading 1966 instead of 2016.

Report: Housing costs, traffic congestion motivate workers to seek balance beyond Silicon Valley

In another sign that Silicon Valley isn’t as gilded as it once was, more tech workers want to leave, according to the Woo data. Almost 30 percent of Bay Area workers surveyed in the first quarter indicated they wanted to relocate, compared with 22 percent in the quarter before. New York was highest in demand.There are a number of growing tech hot spots outside Silicon Valley, May said, most of which have a lower cost of living. And that ties into the fact that people surveyed are putting a greater emphasis on work-life balance. “People are changing their priorities,” he said.There’s evidence the exodus away from Silicon Valley has started already. In 2014 more people left Silicon Valley than moved in, for the first time since 2011, according to a study by the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project. More than 7,500 residents hit the road, the study found. The researchers blamed quality of life issues such as skyrocketing housing prices and increasing traffic congestion.

Source: Tech workers lower salary expectations amid economic uncertainty – San Jose Mercury News

It’s time for Silicon Valley to progress to the Information Age — using the information and communications technology it innovated — and out of the Industrial Age model of centralized commuter offices and mega corporate campuses. This technology now allows information workers to do the same work they do in Silicon Valley in the cloud. That way, they can skip the daily commute and live where housing is more affordable.

We can’t build ourselves out of the rush hour

A new policy brief by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation once again highlights the futility of expanding road capacity to reduce traffic congestion. Moreover, another expected benefit of doing so — economic development and job creation — isn’t generally realized.

In short, we can’t build ourselves out of rush hour traffic. We need a new, post-Industrial Age paradigm where information work comes to knowledge workers via information and communications technology rather building more pavement to transport workers to centralized, commute-in offices. Plus modernizing and building out telecommunications infrastructure to serve every premise in the communities where knowledge workers live.