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New D.C. Innovation District to Explore Mobility Options

The newly formed Mobility Innovation District in southwest Washington, D.C., will be the site to launch initiatives like “universal basic mobility” pilots, as well as on-demand microtransit.

A Washington, D.C., streetcar
Mixed transit in Washington, D.C., as a streetcar makes its way through city streets. In a press conference Tuesday the American Public Transit Association put forward a request for $32 billion as Congress considers another $1 trillion round of funding to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Transportation safety technology and microtransit are just some of the initiatives to land in a new innovation district identified in the nation’s capital.

A “Mobility Innovation District” has been established in southwest Washington, D.C., as a zone to improve transportation access with the launch of Circuit, an on-demand microtransit shuttle operator, connecting riders to key destinations and transit stops.

The innovation district is a partnership among the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), the Southwest Business Improvement District (Southwest BID) and community leaders. One of the key projects to move forward is a universal basic mobility program which would provide a direct subsidy to qualifying residents to access transportation options.

“This program's vision is to allow individuals to receive funds they can use for their choice of shared transportation services. This could include anything from a rentable scooter to a public transit bus,” explained, Brandon Pollak, a senior principal at Cityfi and an adviser on the Washington Mobility Innovation District.

The Southwest BID received a $3 million grant from DMPED to help fund the project.

“By creating the Mobility Innovation District, we can reduce congestion, ensure more neighbors are benefiting from new opportunities, and build a greener, more sustainable D.C.,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser, in a statement.

Another component of the universal basic mobility pilot is to explore how electrification can help to enable a more equitable and robust transportation system. This can include the development of charging infrastructure, electric microtransit and other options.

“Charging stations create new opportunities for the electric grid. Electrification of personally owned vehicles is essential to addressing the climate crisis. Across the country, nearly 60 percent of trips are less than six miles,” Pollak pointed out.

A central ingredient of the innovation district is the launch of Circuit, set to take to the streets early next year. Circuit electric shuttles can be found in dozens of cities like San Diego, Chicago and Hollywood, Fla.

“Now more than ever, it is time to find innovative urban transportation solutions in a rapidly changing and densifying part of the District of Columbia,” said Pollak.

The innovation district will also be a place to experiment with transportation technology, particularly in connecting federal and regional government policy goals, which the District of Columbia is well positioned to do.

“This testbed will be a model for equitable, sustainable and safe modes of transportation,” said Pollak.

The area will offer a chance to allow technology to work in concert with Washington’s Vision Zero goals, a program launched in 2015 with the aim of eliminating fatalities and serious injuries on the capital’s streets by 2024. During the nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic injuries in Washington declined 30 percent. However, fatalities sharply increased last year with 40 traffic-related fatalities, up from 27 in 2019 and 37 in 2020, according to a Vision Zero report issued by the mayor’s office. The district has launched a new dashboard to track street safety statistics and other information.

Washington is no stranger to the use of technology to analyze the safety of its streets. A recent study by transportation technology company INRIX — partnering with General Motors — applied INRIX’s Safety View analytics platform to Washington to glean insights from crash data, vehicle data, traffic volume and other metrics to get a sense of street safety. The idea is to put the Safety View tool — a cloud-based platform — into the hands of DOTs, regional planners and others to better understand the safety posture of streets and intersections, and the effectiveness of mitigation efforts.

“So it brings these all together in one framework where you can analyze up front, so you can understand the challenge you’re trying to solve for,” Mark Burfeind, director of global communications at INRIX, told Government Technology during a July interview to discuss Safety View. “And then, post-project, measuring what the impact has been."

“We can take all of these data sets and apply them in sort of a tool that a D.C. Department of Transportation staff person could open the platform,” he continued. “They could click on any segment that they are interested in investigating further, and they could get very detailed information about what’s happening on that section of roadway, in that part of the city.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.