Infrastructure

Future of Mobility Forum: Transportation Chiefs Must Embrace Tech, Be Adaptive

Planners should try to stay ahead of technology and embrace changes that will include driverless vehicles, and vehicles that share traffic and road conditions with each other.

by Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / July 12, 2016

(TNS) -- Regional planners should be flexible, innovative and adaptive as they develop transportation recommendations for the future.

That’s the message the Regional Transportation Alliance and others interested in transportation heard Monday from experts at the Future of Mobility Forum.

The alliance presented panels at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty on autonomous vehicles and mobility options as a result of technological advancements, but many of the comments from the presenters were more general in nature and encouraged planners to try to stay ahead of technology and embrace changes that will include self-driving vehicles and vehicles that share traffic and road conditions with each other.

Joe McAndrew of Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C., agency that helps local communities with transportation issues, said self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft will change the automobile-based society Americans have been used to for more than 50 years. Those changes will give communities “the opportunity to get things right that we got wrong before,” such as street design, the location of housing and services closed to work areas.

Marshall Brown, an architect and urban designer working on the Driverless City project in Chicago, encouraged leaders to think about the results of transportation changes rather than just the changes themselves. For example, he said, it is important to plan how to reuse parking lots and garages if there are fewer vehicles to store.

Mr. Brown said planners need to show “a little bravura” to bring cost, safety and convenience together in the future transportation system. But he stressed that it is important that communities not innovate to the point that they seem empty.

“Show me a city without traffic and I’ll show you an unsuccessful city,” he said.

Among the innovations were two programs used by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in Florida. The authority last year lost a referendum for a public transit tax and has scrambled to provide service. One program it uses subsidizes Uber rides to get passengers to common transit stops and another gives riders 23 free Uber rides a month between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. to transport people with late-night jobs.

The transportation alliance was formed last year through the Allegheny Conference on Community Development to propose transportation improvements for the 10-county region. It is expected to submit recommendations by the end of the year as the first step to a regional plan.

©2016 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.