What Can Construction Expect in Cities?

The construction of buildings and cities needs to evolve—taking into consideration density and social distancing. Contractors will be tasked with making all these changes—quickly. In fact, I see a boom coming in order to make all these much-needed changes come to fruition.
However, before we jump in too quickly, we need to recognize the needs of our cities and our transportation networks, in order to build out the infrastructure that is needed. We see this happening in a couple of different cities—my sweet home Chicago being one example.
The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) provides roughly 1.5 million rides on average weekdays and serves the City of Chicago and 35 surrounding suburbs. Dorval Carter, president, CTA, has led investment and oversees $8 billion of projects completed, begun, or announced. Here’s a closer look at what has been happening inside the Chicago Transit Authority in the past few months.
The first priority when the pandemic started was the health and safety of workers and customers. One of the things it did not do was cut service. According to Carter, one of the reasons was it would create capacity issues in terms of social distancing. “The more service on the street, the safer for our customers.” Even at 80% loss, it was still carrying more than 250,000 people a day. It also implemented ultraviolet cleaning and messaging/decals to promote social distancing.
One of the biggest challenges was the reality of the virus itself and that it was an evolving discussion, with guidance changing overtime. The other challenge was the workforce, being primarily Black people with underlying health conditions. He says more than 300 people became sick and 7 employees died.
While there is no model or approach to dealing with this, Carter says, “We are an industry that likes to borrow from others that are successful.”
Still, he adds what works in one city might not work in another. Looking forward, he says, “Whatever the future is going to look like around this is, it’s going to be an integrated approach.”
Let’s look at another example then. The WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) involves an increasingly integrated group of service planners, data analysts, schedulers, and bus stop maintenance staff for Metrorail and Metrobus in the National Capital Region. Peter Cafiero, managing director of Intermodal Planning, WMATA, leads the group, with an eye on transformation.
At the beginning of the pandemic, WMATA split the workforce into two separate groups—A and B groups—that worked alternate days, and incidentally, do not ever meet each other. It was trying to protect against someone testing positive and then quarantining a whole division’s worth of employees. “We closed a number of stations that were very low-volume stations or stations with a lot of alternatives. And that was both to reduce risk, but also to conserve cleaning supplies.” Even with all the precautions in place, roughly a third of the entire workforce has been out at one point or another.
Here the challenge is managing the service levels to move customers, particularly essential employees, but also to fit within the workforce that it had available.
One organization has made a lot of big moves in the world of digital transformation: JTA (Jacksonville Transportation Authority) with Nathaniel Ford Sr., CEO, JTA, leading the charge. He is a champion of multimodal transportation, walkable neighborhoods, public-private partnerships, and transit-oriented development.
The first initial challenge it faced was a significant drop off in terms of its ridership on its system, having seen about a 75% drop off in terms of ridership. It immediately went from a weekday schedule to what it calls a Saturday schedule, which is a significant reduction in the amount of service that it provides. “We had to also make some structural changes as it relates to our infrastructure, increasing amount of distancing for our customers related to our bus stops, in our hubs, in our stations and ensure that we created the six foot social distancing.” It also implemented a split schedule, with an A team and a B team.
The biggest challenge was scheduling because the Saturday schedule doesn’t have an AM peak period or a PM peak period that would be the normal type of transit pattern or ridership pattern.
While its business intelligence units started about five years ago, with thousands and thousands of data points as it relates to operations, finances, customer relations, in terms of data collection, ridership trends, and more, it has built a realtime data information system that’s called Amelio, which actually takes all of these data points and aggregates them into about a dozen different categories that actually gives the macro trends.
“We were able to identify what routes were being more heavily impacted by the ridership decline, and we were able to make those adjustments,” he says.
While these are just three transit agencies, all around the globe city transportation systems are evolving—and determining how data can help. The end result will be the evolution of cities, with construction companies tasked with rebuilding the infrastructure. Now it’s time for us all to get back to work and reimagine the future of our beautiful cities today.