On March 6, 2018, over 100 real estate professionals crowded into ULI’s headquarters at 2001 L Street, NW to hear an exciting panel discussion: CRE Disruptors: The Rapid Evolution of Transportation. The expert panel brought a wide variety of perspectives on both the public policy side of transportation infrastructure and the emerging technologies disrupting the urban transportation landscape in Washington, DC. Moderated by Mitch Roschelle (Partner and Business Development Leader, PwC), the panel included Aaron Landry (GM, car2go), Leif Dormsjo (SVP of Infrastructure Asset Management, Louis Berger), Dan Emerine (Manager of Policy & Legislative Affairs, DDOT), Martin Ditto (CEO, Ditton Residential), and Laurence Caudle (Director of Housing, Hickok Cole).
Mr. Roschelle launched into the discussion with a question on the planning side of real estate, and how a dwindling importance of car ownership impacts the future of real estate design. Mr. Caudle offered a perspective that his clients are beginning to design to the minimum parking requirements, and thinking more comprehensively about lobby design to handle ride sharing wait times. The primary concern among the panel going forward related to car sharing as a replacement for vehicle ownership will be the use of the streetscape and pedestrian pathways to handle the increased level of pickup and drop off activity at buildings. When asked about reduced parking ratios at new construction, Mr. Ditto indicated that institutional equity sources are coming around to the idea. As it pertained to the car2go, Mr. Landry highlighted that ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft have been beneficial for car2go’s on-demand car business as average trips for those that need to use a car have increased in recent years.
Mr. Emerine and Mr. Dormsjo discussed the policy and planning implications for the surge in ride sharing and bike sharing services in the District, indicating the process will involve many iterations to get communities and other DC stakeholders comfortable with additional bike lanes and reduced street parking. Multifamily and office owners have seen an increased demand for bike storage in the last 4-5 years, indicated a greater reliance on bicycle commuting to and from work and a need for additional dedicated bike lanes.
Turning the discussion to autonomous vehicles, the panel discussed the far ranging implications of driverless cars. The key policy risk discussed was that decisions would be made at a national level without collaborating with local policymakers as technology has far outpaced policy. The panelists agreed that autonomous vehicles will have a huge impact on commercial real estate and land utilization, but the question remains whether the fleet of cars will shrink as utilization grows, or if traffic will increase as more people live further in the suburbs due to an automated commute. The panel was strongly opposed to the idea of adding more cars to local roads as a result of autonomous technology, and would prefer that efficient networks of utilization be put in place to avoid making the current congestion problem worse.
Prompted by audience questions on mass transit, the panel tackled both metro ridership and the need for more efficient bus route and large transport vehicles in Washington, DC. For Metro, it’s been well publicized that ridership is down in recent years, but the panel noted that funding is now coming together to ensure the success of Metro in the face of declining ridership. The panel had an interesting discussion on the use of a network of transport vans to fill the gap between Metro buses and single car commuters. Additionally, virtual transportation and telecommuting was raised as a potential mitigant to increased congestion in the DC metro area.
Despite the uncertainty around transportation in Washington, DC, the event wrapped up with a poll of each panelist whether – 10 years from now – traffic would be better or worse in the DC metro area. The answers: 5 better, 1 worse (but that “worse” vote was admittedly a posterity vote from the moderator, Mr. Roschelle!).