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Series starts smart, as mobility forum fuels transit brainstorm

Series starts smart, as mobility
forum fuels transit brainstorm

by ROB McMANAMY with MIKE HRYMAK | Jul 30, 2015

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Connectedness: Our Infrastructure Functionality panel (from left), Clifford Krapfl (TEAMS Design); Caleb Hudson (Tesla); Adebayo Onigbanjo (Zebra Technologies); and Glen Campbell & Mike Garcia, both from Patrick Engineering.

Connectedness: Our Infrastructure Functionality panel (from left), Clifford Krapfl (TEAMS Design); Caleb Hudson (Tesla); Adebayo Onigbanjo (Zebra Technologies); and Glen Campbell & Mike Garcia, both from Patrick Engineering.

As much as we may try to get away from it all this summer, our mental escape routes now are as clogged by big transportation news as the aging thoroughfares linking our cities. This week, as Congress breaks for its August recess and congratulates itself for passing yet another stop-gap transportation bill (good for 90 whole days!), the State of New York has unveiled a massive, $4-billion, public-private-partnership (P3) to replace LaGuardia Airport.

On hand for the announcement was Vice President Joe Biden, who famously had said a year ago, "If someone blind-folded you and took you to LaGuardia, you'd think you were in the third world!"

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, MI, public-private interests also have joined to force the issue, last week opening a driverless test town for the Mobility Transportation Center at the University of Michigan. There, the state department of transportation is working with more than 50 private companies now to help advance the state of mobility to at least, well, functional.

Such was the reality, mixed with achievable dreams, that coursed through our SmartWorlds: Future Mobility half-day conference last week, as public and private transportation experts and entrepreneurs descended on BuiltWorlds in search of allies and answers for their mobility causes and concerns. "This was an important event for us, the first of many interdisciplinary collaborations that we hope will help to push this ball forward," said Matt Abeles, BuiltWorlds cofounder and managing director.

  • To get a flash drive of all the presentations, sponsored by KIG, please contact us here
KIG Kickoff: Data specialist Marc Rutzen of Kiser Institutional Group started off the conference with eye-opening stats about the strong growth of bicycle use in Chicago and the demographic areas with more potential.

KIG Kickoff: Data specialist Marc Rutzen of Kiser Institutional Group started off the conference with eye-opening stats about the strong growth of bicycle use in Chicago and the demographic areas with more potential.

Sponsored by KIG Analytics, Newforma, and the Industrial Designers Society of America, the event packed three panels of experts into a tight program of presentations and discussions that covered topics from floating urban bike paths and smart pavement to flying cars, high-speed rail, and parallel transit modes that finally separate freight from humans.

"That separation will finally have to happen," said engineer Mike Garcia, senior director of rail services at Patrick Engineering. "It makes too much sense and it's been needed for too long."

Of course, that last comment could be attributed to many of the ideas floated at the event. Echoing the mood of "urgent optimism" that had birthed the SmartWorlds series in the first place, architect and urban planner Peter Ellis at one point stood to remind us all of the broader mission now before us.   

"We have to radically re-invent our cities," said the SmartWorlds advisor and founder of Peter Ellis New Cities. "What we are talking about tonight are really just the seeds of something that has to grow. We have to dream even bigger," he urged the audience.

Take that, Tesla! Peter Ellis jokes with representatives from 'Musk Motors' about their high-performance product's inability to fly. More seriously, he said, "I really want to get our cities back. The car has taken them away from us."

Take that, Tesla! Peter Ellis jokes with representatives from 'Musk Motors' about their high-performance product's inability to fly. More seriously, he said, "I really want to get our cities back. The car has taken them away from us."

For its part, Tesla Motors feels it can't think much bigger than it already is doing, noting that founder Elon Musk is simultaneously pushing the limits of electric cars, solar energy, and space exploration.  

"We are on a mission to transform the world -- we're here to be a change agent," announced Caleb Hudson, Tesla's Chicago-based regional marketing manager. "With our electric car, you already can drive from here to California and back, essentially for free, thanks to our free charging ports. And we have the fundamentals today for the autonomous driving of the future."

Asked if this meant that the U.S. auto industry's relentless marketing that encourages consumers to buy new cars every three to five years will have to change, he said, "Yes... but there is so much technology in our vehicles, that owners will have to bring them in every six months or so just to have that updated."

BW Bros: Bearded lads try out the Organic Transit ELF.

BW Bros: Bearded lads try out the Organic Transit ELF.

Broadening the discussion to look at traffic flow, pedestrian safety, and a smarter urban grid, technologist and marketing strategist Adebayo Onigbanjo of Zebra Technologies added that, "When the cars communicate with each other and with their environment, that is the bigger picture... Smart devices will instrument our environment: sensors, data points, weather info... and that will improve overall user experiences... People are understanding that sharing data can improve efficiency."

Indeed, data, combined with will (and yes, money) can bring ingenuity to life. But collectively, we have to break the pattern -- as demonstrated by Congress yet again this week -- of envisioning infrastructure investment in terms of election cycles. "Anything is truly possible now, but we have to think in terms of  20-year cycles," said presenter Paul Doherty, Smart Cities expert and SmartWorlds advisor. "Smart Cities are the cuisine, projects are the recipes, and innovations are the ingredients."

  • For more from the event, including interviews with the speakers, please visit BW-U in the next few weeks. For more on the series, please visit our #SmartWorlds page. 

"This was a great experience -- I was really impressed with the excellent cast you were able to put together for this," said civil engineer Michael Gingerich, PhD, a principal with MG2A Associates. He drove up from downstate Manhattan IL just for the event. "My interests intersect here with how all of this can be applied to smaller towns with urban cores," he added.

Among the ideas "floated" last week was TAG HoldingsRiver Ride, above, which would move bicycle traffic away from inner city roads (images 1-3); Seattle's reclaimed downtown vacant patch (4-5); a working car with wings; mini-drones for those hard-to-reach inspection tasks, and more.

Next up: The Aug. 27 installment of our series will dive deep into sustainability. For more info, click here.

Next up: The Aug. 27 installment of our series will dive deep into sustainability. For more info, click here.

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