The Honorable Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation Anthony Foxx kicked off the Smart City Challenge pitch event this afternoon by saying, “This is not a normal government space. And this is not a normal government challenge.”
Nothing could be truer. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Laris said, “Competition helps make hard-to-do things happen,” and the US DOT Smart City Challenge provided this much needed catalyst to spur innovation and change in the way cities in America think about transporting their citizens.
During the Smart City Challenge live pitch in Washington D.C., the Mayor of Austin, Steve Adler, said that a smart city is one that recognizes challenges and owns those challenges. One of the most memorable statements he made was that smart cities is about an approach where anyone in the city can touch anyone in the city.
A similar sentiment was communicated by the San Francisco mayor, who talked about equity in cities. Opportunities where anyone can take advantage of transportation networks that are based on shared, autonomous, affordable, and connected vehicles. Transportation networks that connect people to the city that they love in a broad sense versus just taking someone from Point A to Point B.
After listening to the mayors of the seven Smart City Finalist cities, it is clear that transportation systems in a Smart City should provide mobility freedom. Creating access points to everyone from the beginning, which means providing mobility solutions that are less of a barrier and more of a creator of equal opportunities.
For decades, the purpose and goal of transportation network design in the United States was to move as much motorized traffic as quickly and safely as possible from point A to point B. It didn’t matter whether the traffic was moving along a major freeway or through a city center or even a residential neighborhood. In a country where people have traditionally loved their cars, the idea of providing mobility options not centered on the automobile may be difficult for many to accept, but change is definitely coming.
According to an article published in the FHWA Public Roads publication, developing a transportation system primarily for motorized vehicular traffic has failed to meet the travel needs and preferences of large segments of the country’s population. Because of this, new factors are now influencing the planning, design, and operation of today’s streets. Concerns about accommodating the needs of an aging population, improving public health and fitness, as well as creating and connecting vibrant neighborhoods are becoming more of a priority. Ensuring that roads provide safe mobility for all travelers, not just motor vehicles, is at the heart of a new approach to envisioning and building transportation facilities known as “complete streets”. I predict that complete street plans will soon become an integral part of overall Smart Cities plans in the future.
At a recent American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials meeting, I overhead a group of chief engineers say that state DOTs needed to evolve into transportation organizations of the future. This was a refreshing remark as it indicates that industry professionals are realizing that solving increasingly complex transportation challenges doesn’t mean we need to add more lanes to existing highways or even add more roads or streets. We all need to think about what the concept of Smart Cities means to how we reinvent and build a stronger 21st Century transportation system – one that is multi-modal.
Mobility simulation enables city planners and engineers to assess multi-modal transit systems to more efficiently move people from point A to point B through mass transit, biking, or walking.