[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on June 10, 2014]
The Oregon Democrat described how transit, walking, and cycling are all necessary in order to “coax more capacity” out of our current transportation systems. And it seems, by the focus of speakers on a panel called “How Local Governments are Using Innovation to Complete Multimodal Transportation Systems,” that localities are primarily focused on the bikesharing and car-sharing elements of the transportation sharing economy.
These shared-use modes tend to be excellent at filling in the gaps and extending the reach of current regional transit systems.
Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Transportation, described Chicago’s successful implementation of its bikesharing program called Divvy. Hamilton explained how Divvy, in operation since June 2013, is part of Chicago’s Complete Streets policy. She referred to the fledgling bikesharing service as “a new form of transit for Chicago.” Even with one of Chicago’s worst winters in its history, Hamilton said users still used Divvy in numbers that would characterize it as a success.
Hamilton attributed part of Divvy’s success with the Chicago DOT’s policy of public engagement. Specific ways the department engaged the public have included public crowd-sourcing of new-station locations and through a Data Challenge that encouraged coders to visualize anonymous bikeshare data.
Hillary Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), discussed the opportunities and challenges of living in Los Angeles, California, a city with the dubious distinction of “highest number of hours per capita lost in traffic (92 per year).” Also, L.A. County has a high population density, a high percentage of drivers, and high vehicle miles traveled (117 VMT per person). Finally, L.A. has the largest number of street miles of any county in the U.S.
Norton described how L.A. started a First Last Mile Strategic Plan to inform the public about mobility problems and how to address them. Specifically, the plan described how biking and shuttles could expand the reach of the transit system, and it created Mobility Hubs, areas of density where car sharing, bike sharing, and bike parking would encourage greener transportation.
She said partnerships have worked well – with Bike Nation to bring bikesharing, and with Zipcar to bring carsharing to L.A.. Norton concluded that, while tech might be sexy to industry insiders, it’s important to “highlight people and not technologies” in building public support.
Linda Bailey from the National Association of City Transportation Officials discussed multimodal transportation from a national perspective. Bailey said that “80 percent of our public space is made up of streets.” Bailey described bikesharing as an effective and popular way to bridge the gap between walkable and drivable destinations (there are 46 bikesharing systems in the United States). Bicycling, unlike walking, is effective at traversing trips of medium distance.
Cities still have questions regarding bikesharing systems, including the role of private versus public funding, and the most effective way to roll out these systems. Bikesharing systems are making clear that success can be measured in different ways. Equity concerns, a result of the “digital divide,” and sustainability are new ways to measure success of mobility services. Bikeshare systems, Bailey concluded, are an opportunity to create low-cost mobility solutions for everyone.
Bibiana McHugh, sometimes referred to as “the visionary behind Google Transit” and currently with Portland, Oregon’s TriMet, discussed her experience with creating Google Transit. Her goal in the project was to “make transit directions as easy as driving directions.”
As a result of the success of the Google Transit project, General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data is now the de facto standard for public-transit schedule information. McHugh’s experience with OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open source crowd-sourced street map, and OpenTripPlanner, a true open-source multimodal trip planner, resulted in several lessons learned: namely, that open standards, open data, and open-source software are important, but shared resources and collaboration are indispensable.
McHugh said that while bicyclists are smart, “they’re not as smart as the algorithm.” She explained how OSM, by using elevation data, can output to users the quickest or flattest bicycle trip. McHugh summed up that standard data sets are important, and she envisions a day when carshare and bikeshare locations are incorporated in Google Transit maps.
Divvy bikes at Bike to Work Day Rally photo by Steven Vance.