The arrival of Spring brings to an end one of the most difficult winters in history here in Boston, where we managed to surpass the highest recorded snowfall in history for the 2014-2015 season. It was also a ridiculously cold winter. As many know, the snow and cold temperatures have taken a huge toll on the public transportation system in Boston, causing significant service disruptions which have frustrated commuters for nearly two months.
With this context, it was particularly interesting to read a recently released draft report prepared by the U.S. Department of Transportation entitled "Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices 2045." The report provided a sobering look at how the U.S. has failed to adequately plan for and fund our transportation infrastructure. In the face of significant shifts in transportation and growth patterns, such as increased urbanization, an aging population, and significant increases in freight volumes, our approach to transportation planning and funding has potentially disastrous consequences for the future.
The importance of transportation to real estate cannot be overstated. Throughout the country, residential and mixed-use growth opportunities continue to be focused on transit hubs. Industrial development is happening in areas where goods can be moved with relative ease. The quality of our transportation infrastructure will always have a significant impact real estate, both in terms of the market for properties and in our ability to grow and develop.
Beyond Traffic offers an interesting look at trends and technology shaping transportation, such as online shopping, car sharing, and, interestingly, 3-D printing (which the report suggests could disrupt supply chains by allowing distributed manufacturing of customized products and parts). Many of these trends and technological innovations will lead to changes in how real estate is developed and used. For example, as automation increases at industrial complexes, larger complexes could be staffed by smaller workforces (lower those parking requirements please!). Flexible schedules and “hoteling” (unassigned office seating) is reducing the amount of office work space required for many companies.
The Department of Transportation is seeking constructive advice on Beyond Traffic, with the goal of helping objectively frame critical policy choices that need to be made in the future. It will be important for the real estate community to be engaged in these discussions to ensure that the transportation system of our future continues to foster desired economic growth.
The Massachusetts Chapter of NAIOP - The Commercial Real Estate Development Association is hosting a Transportation Transformation Conference on April 9, 2015 that will discuss transportation planning and economic growth as it encourages the leaders of Massachusetts to engage in long term planning of our infrastructure.
Note: Greg Sampson serves as the Assistant Vice President of Government Affairs for NAIOP Massachusetts Inc. and has been involved in the planning of the transportation conference.