In honor of its 50th Anniversary, the US Department of Transportation has designated June as “Innovation Month.” But what exactly does that mean?
The word “innovation” gets tossed around so much these days that it has almost lost its meaning. Everywhere you turn, things are being labelled “innovative” even though they often seem, well… rather ordinary. As a result, the word “innovation” can start to sound like a hollow buzzword.
When Secretary Foxx asked me to serve as USDOT’s first Chief Innovation Officer, it wasn’t to bring more buzzwords to government. My enthusiasm to take leave from Stanford University, where I work as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and join USDOT was not because of the trendy title. It was instead because I saw a huge challenge and a chance to do my part to help meet it.
As holidays go, Memorial Day is one of America’s most important. It is a time to remember the sacrifices made by those who have died in the service of our country.
It is also the traditional start to summer and, with that, summer driving. Last week, our friends at the AAA announced their estimate that 34 million drivers will travel more than 50 miles from home this weekend, making it one of the most highly traveled weekends in more than a decade.
According to FHWA data, the busiest interstates in the nation are Los Angeles’ I-5, which is used by an estimated 452,600 drivers on a normal day, followed by Atlanta’s I-401, which typically serves an estimated 382,000 drivers each day. You can bet those numbers will be even higher this weekend.
Transportation is our lifeblood. It gets us where we need to be, whether it’s to work, to meet friends, to enjoy our kids’ baseball games or be home with our families.
It’s funny, but when it works best, we almost forget about transportation. It’s always there. It’s reliable. We don’t need to think about it.
Unfortunately, everyday transportation has become even more challenging as our cities grow. Congestion, cost, proximity, or the ability to physically access some vehicles are hurdles. These barriers, like a purchasing or driving a car, are even higher for our most vulnerable communities – the working poor, children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
Earlier this month, Kansas City, Missouri celebrated a major first as residents and visitors boarded the city’s first streetcar in over 59 years. A result of a $20 million TIGER grant awarded by the Department of Transportation, Kansas City’s streetcar system came in on time and under budget. As 32,000 people climbed aboard during opening weekend, $1.7 Billion in economic development had already been accounted for along the 2.2 mile route.
During his opening remarks, Mayor Sly James thanked DoT partners who “from the very beginning, understood what this project meant to our residents, our visitors and our future.” He noted that this was not an ending, but rather the beginning of something truly transformative for the people of Kansas City.
And he was right.
The efficiency of freight movement affects the bottom line of businesses nationwide -- from the first mile, when a product is shipped, to the last mile, when it arrives at its destination. For businesses in the Northeast, this means cost – the cost of delivery and, increasingly, the costs of delay.
In New York City, 80 percent of freight is moved by truck -- leading to some of the worst and most expensive congestion in the country. The myriad of solutions to address the freight congestion in the Big Apple will call for complex undertakings such as the Cross Harbor Freight Program proposed by the Port of New York and New Jersey (the East Coast’s largest port). The project could improve freight movement across New York Harbor by offering a tunnel and various non-highway alternatives, such as rail.
At the same time, easier and proven solutions such as off-peak deliveries, or nighttime deliveries, continue to be part of the answer to freight congestion. There is no question that truck deliveries made when there is less traffic on the highways - can save time and money. With the rise in online shopping and other deliveries -- traditional approaches to freight shipping will change.
As the Portland team prepared for Secretary Foxx’s visit to the Rose City last week, we knew one thing for certain: We wanted to share the transformative potential of the Smart City Challenge with the community. That is why we chose to host Secretary Foxx at Portland Community College’s (PCC) Southeast Campus.
The entire PCC system is a strong rung on the region’s ladder of opportunity, educating over 89,000 students across the city at four large, full-service facilities. Their Southeast campus is on the Powell-Division corridor – one of Portland’s most important arteries and a priority area in our Smart City Challenge proposal. The proposed BRT line that will serve the Powell Division Corridor is currently in project development with the FTA. This corridor is also one of Portland’s most diverse areas, with growing and vibrant Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Latino, Russian, and Ukrainian communities. The Southeast campus’ student body reflects the cultural diversity of the area and promotes a strong sense of community. Our engagement with PCC shows what our Smart City application is all about: using the most advanced technology to help the most people connect with jobs, opportunity and a better future.
Forty years of growth made San Bernardino County’s Devore Interchange one of Southern California’s most urgently needed projects. Last week, I visited the interchange, at the junction of Interstates 15 and 215, and saw firsthand how critical it is to the movement of people and freight in this rapidly growing region.
For too long, congestion and gridlock have been the norm for the one million cars and 150,000 commercial trucks that use the interchange weekly. During peak times, it’s not uncommon for traffic to exceed five miles. Bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions on the interchange undermine the productivity of not only the region—but of the entire nation.
When we began our Smart City efforts, we started with the people it would affect the most: Columbus residents.
We listened to people like Asa Burke, an East High School senior, who has to travel by bus about an hour each way to get to and from school, even though his school is just a 15 minute drive from his home.
We listened to people who utilize our workforce development services to find jobs, and we listened to their needs for reliable transportation including for the first and last miles of their commutes.
Each year, on May 22, we celebrate National Maritime Day and recognize the dedicated seafaring men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine. All of whom have served our nation since its founding. In ways we could not possibly recount, we owe a great debt to the merchant mariners who have served our nation throughout its history.
Throughout our history, the merchant marine has consistently gone far beyond the call of duty. It has proven itself – time and again -- not only as a national asset, but a global asset as well.
When discussing NHTSA’s mission of keeping Americans safe when they drive, ride and walk, the focus largely falls on emerging vehicle safety technologies, such as vehicle automation. But we can never lose sight of the importance of one of the earliest and simplest pieces of vehicle safety equipment: the seat belt. That is why we are again launching NHTSA’s“Click It or Ticket” nationwide mobilization reminds Americans that buckling up saves lives.
Thousands of Americans are alive today because a seat belt saved them during a crash. From 2010 to 2014, seat belts saved an estimated 63,000 lives. Yet almost half of drivers and passengers (49 percent) who were killed in 2014 were unrestrained.