There are few things Austin likes more than reinventing things. Willie Nelson did it with country music, Whole Foods did it with grocery stores, and now the Smart City Challenge – with its promise of using technology to make mobility safer, cheaper, cleaner, and more effective for everyone – has caught Austin’s interest. But instead of focusing on the shiny new tech toys, Austin’s Smart City Challenge proposal will focus on connecting communities by building ladders of opportunity.
This focus on treating an urban mobility technology program like an opportunity for social transformation strikes some as, at best, counter-intuitive. Why wouldn’t we focus on building on our experience with Google’s automated vehicles by offering driverless shuttle buses at the airport? Why wouldn’t we brag about our partnership with the University of Texas’s Center for Traffic Management to use data so traffic lights will automatically adjust to weather, congestion, and collisions?
Pittsburgh has a history of successful collaboration amongst our community leaders to solve seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Partnerships between the public sector, universities, non-profits, businesses and the philanthropic community have been at the core of every successful initiative of the last 75 years.
In the mid 20th-Century, these partnerships led to the some of the first clean air and water legislation in the country, as we worked to clean up the legacy of a century of industry. Over the last 25 years, partnerships have helped the regional economy evolve into one built on education, healthcare and technology.
In Kansas City, developers are building a $300 million, 800-room hotel and convention center downtown. Nearby, an entrepreneur has invested $121 million to convert an aging 30-story office building into modern apartments. And the local YMCA is raising $37 million to renovate an abandoned theater into an 85,000-square-foot community center.
Those projects and dozens like them are occurring along Kansas City’s new two-mile-long streetcar line, which I helped open Friday. City leaders say the new development has injected more than $1 billion into the city’s economy since 2012, when voters approved a local tax to support streetcar service.
This year we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Department – 50 years of transportation safety, 50 years of innovation across all modes, and 50 years of creating opportunity. At the same time, we are looking into the future of this Department and our transportation system which is why this year’s National Transportation Week theme – “Infrastructure Matters” – is right on time.
All week we have the chance to further elevate and shine a spotlight on our transportation infrastructure as a critical issue impacting all Americans. Transportation infrastructure matters – in ways big and small - to our economy, our quality of life, our safety, and to every community across America.
Almost 6 months ago, we launched the Smart City Challenge to ignite innovation nationwide. Over 78 cities raised their hand to become the country’s first to fully integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors – into their transportation network. Our finalists in Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; and San Francisco, CA exhibited outstanding potential to transform the future of urban transportation and I’m excited to touch down in these cities next week learn more about their unique visions for the future.
Since our last check-in, representatives from each city came to Washington to brainstorm and share ideas as a group. So, as we close in on the final submission deadline, I’ll be on the ground to see their progress and have frank conversations about their transportation challenges and discuss their ideas to tackle them.
NATIONAL DEFENSE TRANSPORTATION DAY AND NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION WEEK, 2016
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
At the core of our national character is our persistent belief in what we, as a people, can accomplish as one. Connecting every corner of our country and each chapter of our Nation's story, our infrastructure has always played a critical role in helping us solve our shared challenges and in fueling the innovation and productivity that drive our economy. On National Defense Transportation Day and during National Transportation Week, we reflect on the importance of infrastructure throughout our history, and we recognize the need to invest in these essential pathways to our future.
From the National Road envisioned by our Founders to the Interstate Highway System first authorized six decades ago, the history of infrastructure projects in our country reflects the belief that the progress made by each generation is built on the efforts of those who came before
Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board held their first-ever forum to address pedestrian safety. NTSB Vice-Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr opened the forum by noting that nearly every two hours a person is killed or injured while walking in the United States - a rising toll since 2009.
I was extremely pleased to participate as a panelist because it represents an opportunity to join forces with the NTSB to tackle a safety problem that has been a top priority for Secretary Foxx.
At a time when the nation reflects on our past in order to decide who will lead us into the future, yesterday, our national town hall allowed for a relevant and poignant conversation on how and where transportation will fit in. Stakeholders, advocates and users alike from all across the nation were in the room, physically and virtually, to discuss the way in which our transportation system can functionally expand but also serve as the catalyst for economic opportunity in communities nationwide.
We know that deeply embedded in our transportation infrastructure are the values of past eras that accepted disconnections. The brick and mortar that holds up throughways to get us from point A to point B simultaneously kept people ‘in’ or ‘out’. As we prepare our transportation network to accommodate millions more Americans and freight demands in the coming years, we must consciously seek to ensure access for all. And by “all” I mean everyone affected by the projects we build.
CityLab’s Laura Bliss hit the nail on the head when she wrote, “If transportation infrastructure is a nation’s connective tissue, then the U.S. has excelled at severing its own parts.” So tomorrow, we're hosting a national virtual town hall to talk about how we’re going to change the course for our future.
For months now, many of you have read and heard about the integral role transportation has played in connecting people to opportunity. It's also true that our nation's transportation infrastructure has created social and economic barriers that –with proper planning and inclusive decision-making– we can correct and prevent.