Changing Our Mindset to Build Safer Communities

Written by: Laura Chace, President & CEO, ITS America

As the transportation community celebrates Infrastructure Week, ITS America and its members are excited to kick off the second annual Digital Infrastructure Week to highlight the importance of deploying technology and innovation as we build modern infrastructure in communities across the country to deliver safer streets, cleaner transportation, and more accessible & equitable mobility of people and goods.   

Meeting those goals requires fully embracing digital infrastructure, which is more than just incorporating new technology into legacy systems. It is a fundamental change in how transportation and services are planned, delivered, and managed. It requires a mindset shift, new policy structures and robust workforce development that supports the transformation of our transportation system. We must adopt a change in approach from “this is the way things have always been done” to “how can we do things differently to produce better outcomes?” Our transportation system is no longer just concrete, asphalt, and steel. Today, our transportation system includes sensors, software, data, algorithms, cloud, and communications backbones.  It encompasses numerous technologies that enable automation, connected vehicles, mobility on demand, and a more sustainable and resilient system.   

We can’t rely on the ways of old and hope for the best when the best of tomorrow is ready to be deployed right now: tools for digital twinning to build better structures the first time; solutions to implement better connectivity in cars, in the infrastructure and among all road users to save lives; and tools to collect better data allowing us to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to safety, surfacing insights that show us where crashes occur most often, capturing near misses, and helping us make more informed decisions.  All these solutions are key components of the digital infrastructure layer that allow us to make the transportation system safer and more effective for every user. 

As travelers on the system, we all know how much technology and data already impacts how we move, but there is so much more we can use to our advantage. When digital infrastructure is seamlessly integrated into all facets of our transportation system, bringing together highways, local roads, transit, para-transit, micromobility, freight, and curb space, it allows users of the system to plan their journeys without stress or frustration. Recently, at our ITS America Conference & Expo in Phoenix, we hosted a Digital Infrastructure Workshop in collaboration with USDOT. During the workshop, discussions continued the need for a national vision and framework that includes detailed next steps, increased collaboration, expanded stakeholder participation, and system-level multimodal use cases. Keep an eye on our Digital Infrastructure Week page and social media accounts as we will release high-level takeaways later this week. 

The successful integration of digital infrastructure also requires new, modern policy structures and funding mechanisms that are designed to meet the unique needs of technology and software solutions. Our Digital Infrastructure Committee is hard at work developing policy that defines and authorizes digital infrastructure and adapts current funding programs to the needs of technology.   

The pace of digital transformation continues to challenge the industry to keep up. Today there are 15B devices connected to the internet, generating data, and that number is expected to double in just over 5 years. The proliferation of data from internet connected devices, the digitization of legacy systems and the advancement in capabilities of artificial intelligence are creating new workforce development needs and skillsets not only across transportation, but across many industries. Per a new report from the National Skills Coalition, 92% of jobs now require or likely require digital skills. We need to develop foundational knowledge among our industry practitioners on data, AI, and other emerging technologies so that we can effectively leverage these tools.  To address this need, I am thrilled to announce that ITS America is launching a new training platform this fall – ITSA Academy, and the first course will be an Introduction to Transportation Data. This course will provide attendees with practical, applicable knowledge about transportation data and use cases.  Visit here for more information on the course!  We will build more courses over time to ensure that our industry stays ahead of the curve on how to assess, deploy, and manage the latest technologies. 

Finally, and most importantly, we need to keep humans and users of the system at the heart of everything we do. We must ensure that the solutions we employ are providing value to them and explain how technology they cannot see is beneficial to them. Transporting children to and from school safely. Providing safe, clean, and more efficient means of bringing people to and home from work, doctors’ appointments, and social gatherings. Improving access to mobility and unlocking new opportunities for those in underserved areas. Providing medicine, food and goods to communities safely, more quickly, and at reduced cost.  Connecting people to what is most important in their lives, safely, seamlessly and efficiently.   

I hope you will join us through the week as we highlight webinars, new content, current resources, and ways that we can collaborate to invest in digital infrastructure for a safer, greener, smarter future for all.