Transit’s Surprising Advantage is Sitting Right in Your Pocket

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab. Edited for this site.]

Metra Commuters

With public-transit use riding a 58-year high of 10.8 billion trips last year, it only makes sense to ask: why? Technology may be partially responsible for public transit’s record ridership, but probably not in the way you think.

As smartphones and other electronic devices have skyrocketed in popularity, more people are becoming dependent on them (much to the chagrin of some psychologists). These technology-dependent commuters want to to remain engaged with their devices at all times, and more of them are choosing public transit for the ease at which they can do so while riding the bus or train.

A new study by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development finds that the most avid users of mobile devices may be boosting Chicago’s transit ridership numbers, and there is reason to believe this trend is occurring in other metropolitan areas. Apple, Google, and Amazon aren’t just changing the way we work, communicate, and socialize, but are also influencing our transportation choices as well.

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Behind the Scenes of a Transportation Tech Start-Up

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]


It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to compete with the likes of Google, but that’s what a little start-up named Conveyal is doing.

The firm creates digital tools to help transport authorities better communicate the wide array of available mobility options. Its new product is similar in functionality to Google Maps and the many consumer-based trip planners in existence. What differentiates Conveyal’s product is that it provides users with a multimodal view of commuting options in the Washington D.C. region, emphasizing those that are healthy and sustainable.

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Technology “Hacks” Solve Real-World Cycling Problems

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]16826825412_238a756a88_k (1)

The bicycle was created in the 1800s, but technology is keeping it relevant with “hacks” – or solutions – designed to get more people to use bike helmets, count ridership better, and reduce the obstacles keeping people from biking.

These and other innovations were on display at the latest Transportation Techies event: Bike Hack Night III.

Ola Göransson, an innovations expert at Washington’s Embassy of Sweden, demonstrated the Invisible Bike Helmet, an airbag for bicyclists. Not yet available for purchase in the United States, the helmet was developed by two industrial design students in Sweden to address the complaint by some cyclists that existing helmets are unattractive and mess up their hair.

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What are Cities Trying to Tell People?

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[By Tom Fairchild and Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab. Published on April 30, 2014]


“Does a city speak?”

This provocative question – posed by Saskia Sassen (pictured above) – opened the recent Mobilities in Cities: From Visible to Invisible conference at Columbia University. It’s hard to deny that a city has life, but does it live and communicate?

Sassen has explored these ideas before: the juxtaposition of technology – ephemeral, artificial, and quite often invisible – against what she calls “the urbanizing vector.” More often than we would like, cities fail to respond to an application of technology upon them, or respond in unexpected ways. This, Sassen says, is a city’s “voice,” its way of speaking back.

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Smart Cities Put People First, and People Want Technology

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on December 13, 2013.]

The Brookings Institution held a forum this week for urban planners, techies, and politicians on a topic that’s gained traction in recent years: “smart cities.”

Cohosted by Barcelona’s ESADE Business School, Getting Smarter About Smart Cities included panelists from Barcelona, Amsterdam, Edmonton, and Arlington.

A smart city is a term coined by IBM to describe a city that uses technology in various ways to better plan and manage the design, functions, and services of a city. The concept is generally thought of in terms of sustainability and economic efficiencies, but smart cities can use technology and data to improve healthcare, social welfare, and education. It’s a fairly utopian (or e-topian) idea, to be sure.

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Transportation Tech Bubble Makes D.C. “Ripe for Disruption”

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on September 27, 2013]


The word “innovative” isn’t usually used in the same sentence as Washington D.C., but that adjective is surprisingly apt today. The nation’s capital has flown under the radar to become one of the leaders in transportation innovation.

Recently launched services such as Uber, Hailo, Capital Bikeshare, Hitch, and RidePost are changing the way Washingtonians get around. The proliferation of these new apps and services was the topic of the evening at “Transportation in the City,” a panel discussion hosted this week at 1776 by Smart Growth America and Elevation DC.

Why D.C., and why now? These were two of the questions posed at the event, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of hipsters, geeks, and wonks in 1776’s swank industrial meeting space.

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Pop-Up Buses, Cell-Phone Data are Big Winners at Transit Tech Competition

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on June 25, 2013]


Above, Josephine Kressner and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton

One might expect the future of transportation to involve teleportation machines, but, at the recent “Outside the Box” competition, presenters were less “Back to the Future”-style flying skateboards than real-world innovations that could be actually implemented to solve transportation problems.

The George Mason School of Public Policy hosted the event for students and young professionals in the field of transportation policy. Thirty-eight proposals were submitted in February and narrowed down to three finalists who presented their transportation innovations June 12 at George Mason Founder’s Hall in Arlington, Virginia.

The first-place, $10,000 winner of the competition was Josephine Kressner, a Ph.D. student from Georgia Tech whose entry involved innovative use of targeted marketing and cell-phone data as a replacement for Household Travel Surveys. The existing surveys are periodically performed by federal and regional transportation officials at great cost and could be replaced, according to Kressner’s concept, by existing cell-phone records and marketing data for a fraction of the cost. (Editor’s note: There might be shortcomings such as capturing data for number of people in each vehicle and trip purposes, but there could also be a lot of positives, including capturing bicycle and pedestrian data.)

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