At first glance, two volumes and 795 pages into a very repetitive four-volume, 1,496-page report, it doesn’t look like Volume 3 contains much that I haven’t already read. This volume discusses how Sidewalk Labs innovations will be deployed in its desired parts of the Eastern Waterfront. It is therefore different from the previous volume, which discussed how its desired parts of the Eastern Waterfront would deploy Sidewalk Labs’ innovations.
If anything, though, this Volume is a concentrated dose of what Sidewalk Labs is selling, which is a dream, not a plan. This is a Volume in which the word “could” appears no less than 687 times in 470 pages (recalling that not all of these pages have words on them). That works out to more than one “could” (and more than one implied “could not”) per page. (Fun fact: the phrase “could not” appears once, on page 450.)
Could: it’s what you say when saying “will” represents too much of a commitment.
Even more than the previous two documents, Volume 2 is an aspirational document, a Project Vision, if you will, selling things that don’t yet exist, but might! Or might not! But also might.
Moving on, much of what’s in here lies outside my competencies. I’d bet pretty good money that they’re placing too much emphasis on self-driving cars becoming a thing in their 22-year time horizon, but as to the quality of their ideas about bike lanes? I like cycling, but that’s as much of an expert as I am.
What this means is I’m probably going to speed through this Volume. [Future Blayne: That… did not happen.] I’ll note which sections are located where and highlight anything that stands out to me, but I’m going to try not to re-litigate points I’ve already made or to repeat myself. No need to pull a Sidewalk Labs.
(I’m also going to dispense with the notation of “Not listed in Table of Contents” for subsections that should have been flagged by Sidewalk Labs in this way (so readers could easily see what’s in a 1,496-page report). From here on in, you can assume that everything not labelled “Chapter” or “Part” wasn’t listed in the Table of Contents.)
Introduction (pp. 16-21)
Pages 16 and 17 repeat pages 57 and 58 from the Overview. Page 18 before the volume overview is lifted from passages from pages 59-64.
Chapter 1: Mobility (pp. 22-117)
Introduction (pp. 24-31)
New bureaucracy alert (see Dr. Natasha Tusikov’s guest post for a discussion of the proposed Waterfront Transportation Management Association, and much else besides)
to coordinate the entire mobility system, Sidewalk Labs proposes a new public entity that uses real-time traffic management tools, pricing policies, and an integrated mobility package to encourage transit, walking, cycling, and shared trips. (p. 26)
Rule 1: the longer the timeline of your predictions, the more worthless they are.
Rule 2: Independent analyses are a good idea. The analyses in this section are paid for by Sidewalk Labs. I’d like to see the City of Toronto run its own numbers on this project.
22 years into the future:
The 2041 figure assumes a fully deployed mobility system, including self-driving fleets, traffic management, and the light rail extension. As a result, Sidewalk Labs would expect very few households in the IDEA District to feel the need to own a car. (p. 30)
Questions to keep in mind
- How confident are you that self-driving car fleets will end up working, or will end up working in the way we anticipate them today?
- What does each of these elements (transit, self-driving cars, escooters) contribute to these projections?
- From Table 9 (p. 29) of Mobility Appendix G, “Modelling and Traffic Analysis” (inaccurately referred to on page 31 of Volume 3 as “Modelling and Transportation Analysis,” making it difficult to locate on the Sidewalk Labs’ site, where appendices are not labelled as such in their main feed and which are not included with the main report), it looks like most people would be taking public transit.
How sensitive is the model to changes in variables (e.g., transit or parking costs, roadway speeds)?
Part 1: Expanding Public Transit (pp. 32-41)
Goal 1: Design a neighbourhood with transit first (pp. 35-39)
Goal 2: Encourage expansion through “self-financing” (pp. 40-41)
A non- profit or new government entity could be created to oversee the implementation of this self-financing proposal; its role would be to manage the funds raised, which would be required by law to be used exclusively for the light rail expansion. (p. 41)
Part 2: Enabling Walking and Cycling Year-Round (pp. 42-53)
Goal 1: Plan for a “15-minute neighbourhood” (pp. 44-45)
i.e., a “mixed-development” neighbourhood (p. 44), served by good transportation options and social infrastructure (p. 45)
Goal 2: Expand safe, comfortable walking and cycling networks (pp. 46-48)
Goal 3: Provide signal priority for walking and cycling (p. 49)
They want to adapt tech pioneered in Copenhagen to do this.
Question: Europe has a much more developed cycling culture. To what extent would Toronto’s particular cycling culture affect the effectiveness of this technology?
Goal 4: Encourage bike- share, e-bike, and other low-speed vehicle options (pp. 50-51)
Via lots of bike parking, bike-share docks, and e-scooter and e-bikes.
New regulation: Sidewalk Labs would “require all buildings to create a minimum of one bike space per every two building residents and one bike space for every four employees.”
Goal 5: Facilitate all- weather walking and cycling with heated pavement (pp. 52-53)
heated pavement in some sidewalks and bike lanes to make walking and cycling more attractive all year. (p. 52)
To conserve energy, heated pavement would connect to real-time weather forecasts programmed to automatically “power on” three or four hours in advance of a storm. (p. 52)
In Quayside, Sidewalk Labs plans to deploy 1,200 square metres of heated sidewalk and pedestrian zones and 1,590 square metres of heated bike paths. (p. 52)
Part 3: Harnessing New Mobility and Self-Driving Technology (pp. 54-
The first six pages are all about self-driving technology. It’s pretty obvious that Google wants to use Toronto and Sidewalk Labs to make it a reality.
And it’s not just about the technology. Sidewalk Labs/Google is looking to change laws and policies to enable this technology. As this report correctly notes:
Much of this outcome depends not on the technology itself, but on policy for how it is used. (p. 55)
Sidewalk Labs frames their proposal in terms of “people-first street designs” (p. 55), but these are “people-first” in the sense of designing roads and rules to accommodate self-driving cars so they won’t kill people. This project could equally be labelled “self-driving cars first.”
Sidewalk Labs supports research and stakeholder engagement initiatives that aim to improve the collective understanding of the effects of self-driving vehicles on urban transportation systems and to catalyze the consensus-building process to explore potential regulatory models. (p. 55)
Probably not on the table: just banning cars from roads and switching to better public transit. And notice that there’s nothing in this report about researching innovative public transit.
How the self-driving car bet drives MIDP projected outcomes
With the arrival of self-driving technology, Sidewalk Labs’ new mobility plan would lead to roughly 7 percent of all trips occurring by ride-hail options if applied at the full scale of the IDEA District and coordinated with the city… . (p. 55)
And all this for a technology that won’t be mainstream until 2035, at the earliest. (p. 58)
See Rule 1 above.
Goal 1: Encourage shared use of ride-hail services (pp. 60-62)
Its effects seem to depend a lot on the mainstreaming of self-driving technology. We’ll see… in 2035, I guess.
New fees (1): Dynamic curb pricing
dynamic curb pricing would apply to all vehicle services and vary based on congestion in pick-up or drop-off spaces. These charges would include a low one-time charge to access the curb space and higher time-based charges for vehicles that wait longer than five minutes at the curb.
The goal is to encourage people to consider alternative trip options or to share a ride and split the cost, as well as for vehicles to use the curb quickly and move on. Passengers who prefer not to pay a curb charge could be picked up or dropped off for free at a designated underground drop-off and pick-up area with access to numerous transport options. (p. 62)
New fees (2): Per-kilometre pricing
impose a per-kilometre charge on ride-hail vehicles using the Sidewalk Toronto project’s specially designed local streets, if necessary to encourage people to share rides and to discourage operators from allowing vehicles to cruise streets without passengers.
A new organization with taxation powers
The (here unnamed) Waterfront Transportation Management Association would be responsible for “proposing and administering” this tax on ride-hailing vehicles. Sidewalk Labs doesn’t want it to apply to people with disabilities, the elderly and low-income groups.
Far-future savings projections: The least reliable savings projections
At the full scale of the IDEA District, Sidewalk Labs estimates that the increased convenience and affordability of self-driving fleets [which, recall, that Sidewalk Labs itself doesn’t imagine will be here until 2035] would result in nearly 7 percent of trips occurring by hailed rides. (p. 62)
Goal 2: Provide car- share and parking options for the occasional private car trip (pp. 63-64)
Goal 3: Make all trip options available in discounted mobility packages (pp. 65-67)
This would include “a TTC monthly pass, an unlimited Bike Share Toronto membership, access to electric scooters and other low-speed vehicles, and credits for rides with ride- hail or car-share providers” for $270 per month. (p. 65)
The Graphic on page 67 says that a two-person household that owns car could save $4,000 per year ($333 per month) under their system. But what about the majority of downtown Torontonians who don’t own a car: how much would they save?
Part 4: Reimagining City Deliveries and Freight (pp. 68-83)
Goal 1: Establish a neighbourhood logistics hub for delivery, waste, storage, and borrowing services (pp. 74-76)
Waste from three streams (organics, recycling, D and landfill) would be transported via pneumatic tubes to the hub, making it the only neighbourhood stop for garbage trucks. (p. 70)
That would be the same hub that would be processing parcels. I am by no means an expert in this field, but I’m not sure how much sense it is to put your post office and garbage depot in the same underground cavern. Which would also double (triple) as residents’ off-site storage lockers. And (quadruple) as a “borrowing library” for tools or “sound systems.”
What could go wrong? The cited Dutch example apparently only handles “clean waste collection.” (p. 74)
Way back when Sidewalk Labs mentioned this plan in the Overview, I noted that they didn’t present any numbers describing the cost of having trucks deliver goods. They highlight the inconvenience of trucks using roads, but that doesn’t help us decide whether their proposed solution is an efficient use of scarce public resources.
A fee-charging library?
I had also previously, in reading the overview, assumed that even though Sidewalk Labs refers to a “Library of Things” they were probably imaging people renting, not borrowing, these tools. Two volumes later:
The library could house these items and rent them out for a fee. (p. 76)
Goal 2: Design a smart container for last-mile shipping (pp. 77-79)
Another chance to get in on the ground floor of a new industry standard. Sidewalk Labs would develop this technology.
Question: How will the benefits be shared with Torontonians and Canadians if this becomes a standard? Would it be a proprietary design?
Goal 3: Deploy electric, self-driving delivery dollies (pp. 80-81)
Sidewalk Labs does not plan to create self-driving delivery dollies itself but rather plans to work with third-party vendors to identify or develop a design that meets the container’s specifications. (p. 80)
Goal 4: Connect underground delivery tunnels into buildings (pp. 82-83)
Sidewalk Labs proposes to require that each building be designed to connect with the tunnel system so self-driving delivery dollies carrying smart containers can enter. These dollies would have the ability to take freight elevators to com- mon spaces, including first-floor lockers for package delivery. (p. 82)
Question: What if self-driving dolly technology doesn’t end up working as desired?