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Eliminate Silos to Innovate Your Transportation System

Bike paths, bus systems, crosswalks and airports — all should work together, transportation leaders said recently. Forging an efficient and seamless network, they agreed, can bring challenges, but opportunities as well.

Getting a bus system to coordinate stops with the locations of crosswalks or bike paths shouldn’t be a foreign idea.

But too often, say transportation officials, that disconnect is the difference between outdated mindsets and what’s needed for a future where the modes of mobility are plentiful and they all work as one choreographed unit.

“How we organize is how then we create solutions,” said Julie White, deputy secretary for multimodal transportation at the North Carolina Department of Transportation, speaking on a panel at the recent CoMotion Miami conference.

Her own department “combined ‘bike and pedestrian’ with public transit” seven years ago, starting the process of elimination for a system that was “super siloed.”

“So now, my bike and ped planners are working with my public transit planners to plan a system that makes sense,” White said.

But creating a seamless system requires more than just having the bike and pedestrian planners talk to the transit team. Holistic planning and overlap needs to happen at other intersections too, said Jennifer Jacobs Dungs, global head of mobility at EIT InnoEnergy. She called attention to mobility hubs and to thinking creatively around what new uses they could serve.

Jeni Arndt, mayor of Fort Collins, Colo., pointed to the untapped potential in the local airport serving her region. Arndt, who serves on the airport’s leadership board, has called for rethinking it as a “transit hub,” instead of focusing exclusively on attracting more commercial air service.

“I think that’s a yesterday way of thinking,” Arndt said of the idea of concentrating on attracting new airlines to an airport that’s only an hour drive from Denver International Airport. “And boy, everyone looks at me like I have three heads when I say that.”

“The challenges are — collaboration is the answer — and collaboration is the challenge,” said Arndt, during a panel discussion.

Thinking more holistically about the ways transportation systems can be more integrated is also part of the larger aim to make them more cost-effective and time-efficient.

Beth Kigel, vice president and director of smart and connected solutions at engineering firm HNTB, moderated the panel. She reminded conference attendees how much time and money is lost sitting in traffic.

In 2022, the average driver lost 51 hours to traffic congestion, Kigel said. But in Miami, the ninth most congested city in the world and the fifth most congested in the U.S., she said the average driver lost 105 hours in traffic that year, a 30 percent increase from pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, congestion cost the trucking industry nearly $95 billion in the U.S.

Finding inefficiencies in the transportation system is part of the same process of making it work more seamlessly, the experts said. It’s why large, legacy package delivery companies like the United Parcel Service (UPS) are trying out new modes like electric cargo bikes in dense urban areas. Yes, these modes can certainly reduce the company’s carbon footprint, Dungs said — but they can make commercial sense as well.

At this moment, when companies like UPS are exploring switching their fleets from combustion to electric vehicles, it is time to rethink the vehicle itself, she said, and to consider more innovative, right-sized modes of transit.

“If all we do is transform combustion engines to electric vehicles, we didn’t do anything for transport and mobility,” said Dungs.
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.