The fourth annual CoMotion LA conference opened Tuesday with leaders imagining how the Biden administration could guide the nation and world toward transportation solutions that are more advanced and sustainable.
Transportation visionaries are putting the struggles and setbacks of this year behind them, and are planning for a dawn of reimagined mobility systems that put in place sustainability, equity and recovery at the ideological center of the future.
As the fourth annual CoMotion LA conference kicked off on Tuesday, two weeks from the day polls closed across the nation, and Americans elected a new president with Joseph R. Biden Jr., the mood was if not giddy – profoundly hopeful.
“It is essential that we rebuild our transportation systems in green, healthy and sustainable ways that better serve cities and citizens,” said John Rossant, CEO and founder of CoMotion, a think tank for transportation innovation, as he called for a “New Deal for mobility.”
And indeed, the theme for this year’s three-day virtual conference is “A New Deal for Mobility: Transforming Cities, Transforming Lives.”
“We need not only to recover from this pandemic, but to reimagine our urban world. Reimagine what our urban transportation can be. Now is the time to do that. We need new solutions, new thinking,” Rossant implored in his opening remarks.
Speakers during one of the opening sessions “Four New Years in the U.S. and in the World,” called attention to the incoming Democratic administration in comments both oblique and more straightforward, offering feedback and direction for transportation and energy policy as the new Biden administration plans for an investment of $1.3 trillion over 10 years for transportation infrastructure, starting with $50 billon for highway repairs.
The administration is particularly poised to reimagine energy production and transportation across wide swaths of the country, helping to reset policy to have a real impact on climate change and jobs creation, said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
“This goal is to be able to not only look at our region in the United States, but regions throughout the world that have been dependent upon fossil fuels, and to be able to help create a model to help to streamline them so that everybody has an opportunity for new economy jobs, no matter where you live in a city or where you live in a rural area,” said Peduto.
Jordan Davis, executive director of Smart Columbus Partnership, said the next four years could offer a hopeful time for the federal government to lead in policy areas related to the advancement in autonomous vehicles, the electrification of the transportation sector, closing the digital divide to make cities more resilient and equitable, among other areas.
“We’re also doing a lot in the connected vehicle space, and I think that there’s great opportunity in the next four years … to continue to invest in that technology,” said Davis in her comments on the panel.
The incoming Biden administration may take a page from the Barack Obama White House, and ask cities and regions to lead with visionary ideas, said Peduto.
“I think that actual model of, 'What will the next administration do?' may be flipped upside down,” remarked Peduto. “I think as you’re seeing these great ideas happening at local levels, as city and departments of transportation start to reimagine what can be done.”
Biden may bring back competitions like the multimillion dollar “transportation challenge” from 2016, which selected Columbus, Ohio, as a location to explore and grow transportation innovations.
“And so I wouldn’t be surprised if this new administration would take a page out of the Obama administration’s book,” said Peduto.
“We shouldn’t be waiting for a one-size-fits-all transportation plan coming out of Washington,” he added.