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Pt. 2: Tapping Your Inner Futurist - The Future of Transportation

July 15, 2016


In part 1 of this two-part blog series, I discussed how an automation-led transition awaits the automotive experience and the ways our “driver” society is going to transform into a “captain” society over the next several years. In part 2 of the series, I’ll discuss the new ways we should look at data-driven insights and how Austin can truly become a ‘Smart City.’

Seeing the Big Picture from the Bottom Up

Since the founding of our nation’s interstate network, the primary source of data has been captured and controlled by state Department of Transportation and Transit agencies. This top-down information has been delivered via road signs to inform drivers on the go – and summarized in reports to inform policy makers and developers interested in understanding longer term growth patterns across the region.  

Today we are in the early days of data-driven insights coming from the bottom up through connected individuals, places and vehicles. These bottom-up data sets are being aggregated by private sector companies (e.g. Waze, Uber) and nascent open platforms for sharing mobility data (e.g. Transitland; PennDOT). In most cases, this information is collected in real-time and based on real-world mobility decisions rather than simulated models based on historical data. 

The opportunity here for Austin is to expand this ability to capture bottom up, real world mobility data and integrate it across the region to improve individual decision-making and overall performance of our multimodal transportation network.

As with most data-driven innovations there is a challenge presented in potentially crossing the creepy line of privacy and potential abuse of data systems controlled by large corporations. On the other side of the creepy line is a world of compelling outcomes if this information can improve how Austin residents move seamlessly throughout the region.

In August at the RECA Exchange, we will look at how this data-driven approach to innovation could transform Austin’s transportation future. In the meantime, you can explore programs such as Alphabet’s Waze Connected Citizen Program designed to assist municipal decision makers in designing interventions to help reduce congestion and increase safety across their roadways. Check out this quick video demonstrating the benefits.

This bottom up world of mobility data might also expand our ability to understand broader regional economic trends that influence public policy and real estate development patterns. 

Look beyond 2020, and we can imagine the Austin region leading the nation in data-driven decision making across a multi-modal transportation network of transit, individual and commercial vehicles.

The Many Paths to a Smart City

There is no shortage of competing visions of futuristic transportation systems for Austin to explore.  If we imagine a simple spectrum – on one end are techno-solutionist promises where self-driving electric fleets solve all problems. On the other end are livable policy-utopian visions of dramatically fewer cars, transit oriented development and bicycles for all. The most likely future is somewhere in the middle. 

In August, we aim to find the middle ground of these visions and identify both the low-hanging fruit (improving driver behavior and growing with flow) as well as bold visions that might help Austin someday leap into a new era of seamlessly connected regional transportation systems.

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