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Smart Cities, Smart Design Part II: Bringing it Local

In my Smart Cities, Smart Design Part I blog a few months ago, I gave an overview of Smart Cities – from the Smart Design that plans for increased connectivity in homes and businesses, to the extended planning that brings this connectivity to transportation mobility solutions.

I also stressed how the Mobility Authority’s emphasis on multi-modal transportation is key to the Smart Cities concept, as connectivity increases mobility choices – from scooters, to delivery services.

Collaboration is also critical to Smart City success.

The Mobility Authority and our Central Texas transportation partners are preparing for the emerging technologies that will make our region “smarter,” while anticipating how those technologies might affect each resident on an individual level.

Here’s a brief summary of some of these collaborative efforts:

The City of Austin and Cap Metro: Smart Mobility Roadmap

Austin and Cap Metro’s Smart Mobility Roadmap focuses on five key areas:

  • Shared-Use Mobility
  • Electric Vehicles and Infrastructure
  • Autonomous Vehicles
  • Data and Technology
  • Land Use & Infrastructure

Shared-Use Mobility

Shared-use mobility is a new name for familiar services. Hailing a cab, hiring a limo, carpooling or taking a bus or shuttle is participating in shared-use mobility.

Now, technology makes this participation easier; you can schedule a trip through your phone with a ride-sharing or taxi service app, check routes for some transportation services, and pay for your ride through your phone.

What the Roadmap emphasizes are combinations that will solve the first- and last-mile challenges, and “micro-transit” options – for example, using a bike-sharing program to get from your home to the bus stop, then a taxi from the bus stop to work. It’s also probable that one of those legs will be serviced by an autonomous vehicle in the not-too-distant future.

What do we, as a region, need to do to prepare for greater deployment and utilization of shared-use mobility? The Roadmap makes several suggestions. Notably, we need to recognize that the backbone of a successful system is public transportation. Technology-oriented suggestions include launching a shared electric scooter system, to incorporating payment technologies into regional services.

Electric Vehicles and Infrastructure

The appeal of electric vehicles (EVs) lies squarely in the reduced emissions they offer, but our region needs to increase the charging infrastructure to encourage both widespread adoption and increased use by current owners. The Roadmap offers up other incentive strategies, such as free parking for EVs, creating an all-EV city fleet and an EV for-hire incentive program for ABIA.

Autonomous Vehicles

As the Roadmap points out, economics will likely drive autonomous vehicles (AVs) into fleet services first on a wide scale just to offset the cost. But as AVs permeate public use, what can we expect? The data points to increased safety through fewer crashes, but we don’t know for sure that AVs will decrease the number of vehicles on the road. In fact, if autonomous ride sourcing becomes both affordable and convenient, we could see less demand for public transportation and other traditional transit services.

Data and Technology

Our collective comfort in living in a data-driven world is increasing, from getting tasks accomplished through Alexa, to apps that track our movements. In reality, we are merely glimpsing the options brought by the volume and sophistication of data that we’ll see with smart cities.

Managing tomorrow’s data is going to require collaboration. Not just inter-agency, but throughout communities in our region. The Roadmap offers several recommendations, but the “Data Rodeo” collaborative concept offers a great illustration of the challenges and the opportunities of what technology can mean for mobility.

Currently, regional transportation agencies, municipalities, researchers and others such as transportation app companies collect Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) data and share it only as requested or when there’s a specific need, such as emergency road conditions. The UT Center for Transportation Research and UT Texas Advanced Computing Center are working with partners to corral this disparate, collected data and share it consistently with other transportation partners.

Unsure of how it will be used? If you are part of Waze’s Connected Citizen Program, you are a Data Rodeo transportation cowboy.

The Smart Mobility Roadmap understands that as mobility players increase in the smart city transitions, so does the amount of data. A Data Rodeo helps planners integrate ITS and also identifies gaps in community and regional pockets. In this way, developing a smart city can be a socioeconomic equalizer.

Land Use and Infrastructure

I mentioned increasing EV charging stations above, and it’s a great example of how planners must think about land and infrastructure in smart city design.

In this piece I penned for Forbes last year, I mentioned how solar installations in public roadway green spaces could benefit both the public and private industry, transforming what are typically sunk public assets into revenue and energy generators.

We must think about infrastructure alterations as well. For example, electronic tolling didn’t just change the way tolls are collected; it altered the toll road. We had to think about toll gantries, and what we needed to make commuters’ lives more convenient – without being constrained by infrastructure.

Similarly, if we meet our goal of drastically increasing public transportation use, what’s the best way to utilize unused parking spaces? Should land and infrastructure policies be reactive to behavior change, or proactive to encourage that change?

Answering these questions are as much a part of smart city planning as technology.

Change is upon us

Flying vehicle adoption may be years away, but EVs are here, and AV testing is continuing. As part of its participation in U.S. DOT’s Signal Phasing and Timing (SPaT) challenge, Austin has recently outfitted five intersections with dedicated short-range community (DSRC) technology that will connect your vehicles to traffic signal controllers.

Technology doesn’t mean the private automobile is going to completely go away – but it does grant us the ability to be smarter about how we use it in the multi-modal mix. Travis County just released its Transportation Blueprint through 2045 in which multi-modal options figure heavily.

It’s an exciting time to be in the business of delivering mobility services to you. Preparing for this delivery requires smart planning now, and bringing the results of smart collaboration to our Central Texas communities.

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