Feb 26, 2014

Downtown Project: Las Vegas’s Transportation Opportunity

Edited Only_DTLV
Photo by Shin-pei Tsay

You may have heard of Downtown Project’s Project 100, its subscription-based transportation service model. The project is intended to eliminate the need to own a car while still providing a high level of access to mobility options. The banner project has been the purchase of 100 Teslas, a purchase that also bought Project 100 a lot of media attention.

Conceptually, there’s a lot to like about Project 100 and there’s enough evidence that this is precisely where consumer tastes are heading and thus where pioneering researchers and policy makers are focusing their energy. Look at the oversubscribed Shared Use Mobility Summit in San Francisco from October 2013 and the recently launched Center for Shared Use Mobility or new fellowship posts that focus exclusively on these nascent transportation services. (Check out the June 2014 Shared Use Mobility Summit in Washington).

Still, some pragmatic and analog transportation opportunities for Downtown Las Vegas were immediately evident. The grid street network and high intersection density of Downtown Las Vegas make it a natural pedestrian and biking town. The car share seems to be more useful for the trips to the shopping districts outside of town or excursions to the many beautiful parks outside of the city. I would look to Lyon, France as a model to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists.

The low level of traffic on the street, their width, and the existing sidewalks just seemed to be huge opportunities for programming and connections without major expenditures, a la Tactical Urbanism. Programming them would bring activity to the entire district, especially in the winter, when it’s still sunny and the temperatures are pleasant.

The existing bike lanes, a product of the state DOT, are a joke. The roads are so wide that the few cars who drive can easily drive fast, yet the bike lanes are still the minimum width, barely tolerable given the width of the road and the multiple lanes of car traffic. There is more than enough space to build out protected bike lanes protected by parking spots, the kind of lanes where the entire family can ride.

Add to a bicycle network accompanying programming such as learn to ride classes, bicycle riding classes in the schools, and tourist rides, such as a museum ride between the MOB Museum and the Neon Museum or a typography of Old Vegas tour, would contribute to the desired connectedness and collision.

There is enough funding to add more docking stations and bikes for a bike share program for those who conduct most of their daily life in the district and don’t want to be bothered carrying a lock. Currently the program is slated to have 150 bikes. I think this is too few to make it useable, unless there are lots of docking stations dotted throughout the district. But that would make each station carry only a few bikes. Still, this may be enough to launch the program as its not a big area for coverage.

Finally, I see a great opportunity to connect tech ventures with transportation services. The Downtown Project is both a physical site for experimentation and a forum for innovation. Technology has been the biggest factor in the explosion of shared transportation services such as car share, ride share, bike share, and even scooter share. Project 100 could partner with its Tech Fund to seed transportation service start-ups and use the Downtown redevelopment project as a test case.

What of conventional transit in Downtown Las Vegas? The Strip district has a monorail, but it is three mega-blocks away from Las Vegas Boulevard itself and doesn’t seem to connect the major destinations, so ultimately functions as a novelty ride. No one mentions the convenience the monorail provides the Strip, but people do speak of it fondly as a fun ride. The rest of the region – including Downtown Las Vegas – appears to be serviced by a regional transit system that primarily brings people from the suburbs to the downtown. How much it connects the neighborhoods to each other was not immediately apparent. My guess is that Project 100 views itself as challenging the regional transit authority with superior transportation services but I’d like to see it do so for all residents, not just the Downtown residents. After all, transportation is not limited to city boundaries, unlike real estate development.

There are so many opportunities. Stay tuned – I think the Project has more to come.

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