July 5, 2022
What does the future transportation system look like? The digital age of innovative infrastructure is here and now. ITS America’s Digital Infrastructure Forum Outlines the Blueprint for the Future of Mobility.
On June 22nd , ITS America held its first in-person forum in nearly two years – since the globe was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and America continued to see an alarming increase in fatal crashes on its roads. To spotlight the importance of transportation technology to improve lives, ITS America’s members convened public and public sector champions and USDOT officials to discuss the importance of digital infrastructure.
The U.S. transportation system has evolved from paved roads and concrete bridges to sensors, data, software, and algorithms. With advances and rapid deployments in automation, connected technologies, mobility on demand, and sustainable and resilient technologies, a future of transportation – the digital infrastructure age – uses technology and innovation to advance future mobility that is safer, greener, smarter, and more equitable.
This new era links the physical world to a digital layer, allowing us to communicate, share, store, analyze, and use information in real-time to save lives, provide faster emergency response, help mitigate impacts of extreme weather, improve resiliency, reduce emissions, enhance mobility, and distribute services equitably. Digital infrastructure is the operating system for the future of mobility.
Read more below to understand key takeaways, how we advance transportation innovation, and learn what you can do to advance the future of mobility.
- Tech is the future of transportation – USDOT’s Intelligent Transportation System Joint Programs Office celebrated its 30th birthday this year and reflected on our collective history to help us look to the future. We’ve learned to evaluate our programs and train our amazing professionals to harness this future, as visioned by USDOT’s Innovation Principles. The Department plays a pivotal role in bringing legacy systems into the digital age to advance American innovation. As Managing Director Egan Smith noted, “We need purpose-driven innovation that is data driven and evidence-based.” That innovation must put people and communities first, as evidenced in ITS America’s Inclusive Principles for Future Mobility, because “it’s about the user, addressing their needs, and how we can help the transpiration system run smoothly.”
- Trends show we have fundamentally transformed into the ‘digital infrastructure age’ – The question isn’t whether we’re ready to modernize transportation, but how we make it easier. “Making it people-centric is key” notes Rahul Gupta, Accenture’s Managing Director – Consulting, Cities, Transport and Infrastructure, North America. Trends in research, development, and innovation show us we must tailor experiences to user needs. Communities expect support and answers throughout their transportation experience. Accenture predicts that by 2026, investing in climate technology will present a 6:1 return on investment, whereas investment in digital infrastructure shows a 4:1 ROI.
- We have a once in a generation opportunity. Gupta noted, “We’re building for the 22nd century for the AI and data world where it’s data, intelligence, and knowledge.” Digital infrastructure is a powerful multiplier and “the time is now for cities to evolve”. The new future of smart and innovative mobility is about user experience defined by community needs, integrated and seamless interactions, and provides real-time information through digital twinning.
- We need to orchestrate a new public-private tech ecosystem – Solutions are no longer being built solely by the private sector; the public sector wants to partner to co-create solutions. Do we have the right organizational structures and institutions to harness this opportunity? Are our agencies built to take advantage of this new ecosystem? Are we too siloed? Public leaders must shift to more agile, nimble processes to allow us to fail and learn, and move forward together. This also requires private equity and capital to seed fund our investments for our future infrastructure, because even with the IIJA, the current infrastructure funding gap is $1.5T.
- Tech works, it saves lives, and it’s the best return on investment we have – Humans can’t see through walls. Drivers get distracted. Communities are hesitant to reimagine roads without strong data. All of these challenges have been overcome by ITS America members like Velodyne, NYC DOT, Pennsylvania DOT, Rekor, and Lacuna. Velodyne’s LiDAR can predict walkers and cyclists around buildings that human drivers can’t see – saving lives in Louisiana. LiDAR also shows public agencies gaps in their systems. For example, using pedestrian detection LiDAR technology, one community found that pedestrians were in danger because a bus drop-off was near an intersection where people walking weren’t visible to cars, which helped the city redesign bus stops locations to protect humans. It’s using technology to make better design decisions.
- Tech leads to real outcomes we can scale! New York City has invested close to $1B in digital infrastructure. Using ITS bus telematics, they manage transit signals to give priority to buses, resulting in 5-14% more efficient bus speeds to move people more effectively. This data helped to convert lanes for buses, increasing ridership by 14% and reducing injuries. Incredibly, NYC used ITS data and sensors to make the business case to convert a lane on the Brooklyn Bridge to a bike and pedestrian path, increasing walking by an overwhelming 80% without impacting traffic into and out of the largest city in the country. This data informed decisions they hadn’t otherwise predicted because it showed human behavior better than any observable information about pedestrian trends. Pennsylvania DOT – a national leader in this space – noted that 66% of crashes there could have been addressed by automated and connected vehicle technologies, which would have eliminated 698 fatalities. Their personal delivery robots provide delivery services for small and disadvantaged businesses that can’t afford large corporate delivery networks. Most importantly, Pittsburgh’s autonomy sector employs more than 6,300 people, creates $651M in income, raises $34.7M in state and local tax revenues, and $126.7M in federal tax revenue. The city’s AV economy alone generated an additional 8,604 full or part-time indirect jobs. ITS pays and advances economic prosperity.
- ‘We don’t have a data problem; we have an insights problem’ – As Rekor CEO David Desharnais noted, a coffee cup contains 1 gig of data. 2022 will create 175 zetabyes (that’s a lot of coffee). What do we do with this data? The new economy is digital infrastructure because we can maintain our infrastructure but make it ‘aware’. With nearly 90% of vehicles having connectivity, this data provides access to powerful insights. Existing infrastructure must be complemented with digital infrastructure to help us save lives and promote our policy goals. Using Rekor’s connected vehicle data and powerful AI system in Nevada, the company detected 43% of crashes faster than 911, reduced crashes by 18%, reduced speeding by 43%, and decreased emergency response time by 9-12 minutes! When every minute saves lives, this shows the importance of tech in the safe systems approach to Vision Zero.
- We need to make it easier for cities to benefit – By 2027, this sector offers over $2B in economic opportunity for communities. How do we help them leverage this amazing opportunity? Through tech and open data. There are nearly 20,000 cities and towns across the country, but it’s unrealistic to expect companies innovating these solutions to work in 20,000 different ways. But, with innovative models like the Open Mobility Foundation’s mobility data specification, these open-source (e.g., non-trade secret and non-proprietary) digital infrastructure platforms allow cities to manage their communities in partnership with industry. Mobility specifications are simple, free software code that allows communities to understand where rideshares, scooters, and other mobility services are, which allows them to then manage how they want to work with these vendors. The OMF already has 145 using this “MDS” with 12 commercial partners, and it continues to grow.
- Democratize tech to make it simpler and more accessible – “Bring the power of poetry and art in a way that’s accessible.”- Monali Shah. As poet Amanda Gorman notes, we need to welcome all to conversations to think creatively and artistically about the future. In the tech and innovation sectors we use terms like data, analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning – but that’s intimidating. Let’s democratize the use of tech to make it simple and accessible.
- Let’s stop talking about the 21st century and start talking about the 22nd century. We’re a quarter of the way through it and already two generations have been born. The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) has an innovation lab – the Go! Mobility Lab – to help public agencies work within and around existing laws to innovate. Tech is just as important as concrete and steel in our transportation system.
- We need license to innovate – In America, we don’t holistically track near-miss crashes. By using connected vehicle data and automation, Detroit found that 33 of 37 crashes in its downtown area could have been prevented. “It’s not just about investing in tech, it’s about proactive engineering,” as Michigan DOT Director Paul Ajegba notes.
- Tech investments provide excellent ROI – Investing in concrete or pavement to build a road or bridge benefits only one community but investing in technology innovation benefits all. Code is the new concrete. In Utah, FlowLabs showed that for every dollar invested in technology like connected signals offers a $413 return on investment. A 413:1 ROI and accurate performance measures show a scalable way to digitize transportation from an analog world.
So, what’s the answer?
Digital infrastructure democratizes transportation. With the advent of mobility technology, the private sector disrupted transportation with ridesharing companies and micro mobility. Smartphones and ubiquitous connectivity in the palms of our hands suddenly opened the door for companies to offer transportation services directly to consumers. Mobility shifted to the private sector, and this led to private companies using public space – like curbs, sidewalks, and streets – in ways we never imagined, leading to unsafe, unsustainable, inequitable outcomes. Companies optimize for individual efficiency, not collective societal goals. Los Angeles has the worst air quality in the country despite California purchasing half of the EVs in the United States; cities like Los Angeles began to think about what the future would look like. And while in a physical world we have broad agreement about what’s public and what’s private, we don’t have clear consensus in the digital world. The Open Mobility Foundation developed data specifications for mobility technology – the transportation ‘metaverse’ in a digital world. The mobility data specifications help more than 140 cities address the unintended outcomes of tech, helping them manage their communities with simple tech that re-mobilizes transportation to drive community goals.
The real question is: What do we do now?
- Create key performance indicators. Develop common KPIs to ensure our investments are successful and we learn from failure. Let’s measure success through metrics and ask, “How do we measure transportation success?”
- Hold leaders accountable to achieve our goals.
- Develop a common understanding of tech, including how tech can and should be used.
- Share best practices.
- Use tech to promote meaningful outcomes.
- Empower cities, states, and local government with the flexibility to make investments and give them patience to work with tech companies to be successful and share those examples.
- Embrace failure. Exercise grace in oversight and monitoring to tolerate failure and do things differently.
- Break down barriers. Government, researchers, and companies need to collaborate. Better procurement practices can help.
- We need a major national digital infrastructure initiative led by the federal government. Every city needs a chief technology officer who has authority to get funding for innovation. USDOT needs to offer implementation grants for open-sourced ideas. Fix procurement so cities can try new tech. Protect privacy so cities don’t have to address privacy concerns on their own.
- Be proactive investors. Companies need to co-design tech with communities so they don’t create solutions for problems that don’t exist. Develop public-private partnerships to facilitate those partnerships.
- Get creative about procurement. We must be extremely creative in how we procure, buy, and contract for tech. Create a short-list of pre-qualified companies and make a list of the issues to fund.
- Ask questions and listen. What’s the impact you want to make? How can we scale ideas? What are the challenges or insights you need? Start listening. Use human-centered design concepts in these conversations and agile methods so we innovate and joyfully co-create ideas with communities.
- Align around our common principles. Stakeholders should come together around goals to save lives, promote sustainable transportation, and grow access and opportunity for all.
- Be open to change. Remember, there’s more than one way to do things.
- Get more diverse voices in the room.
- Be open to new ideas. We have national EV legislation but nothing for CAVs.
- Private sector needs a better understanding what government does, how it operates, and what communities want.
- Invest in R&D. The federal government needs to incubate new ideas, support innovative research, and scale tech.
- We need a common definition of digital infrastructure.
- Act now. Recognize the window of opportunity is closing quickly. Safety, sustainability, and equity need to be embedded into our tools and processes and decision-making so we can act on this historic investment in our nation’s future.
What can you do? What is our call to action?
- Share this information with your coworkers and communities.
- Be an ambassador for transportation innovation. Be a champion for this work.
- Join us at the 2022 Automated Road Transportation Symposium (July 18-21) to help us create a definition for digital infrastructure.
- Attend the 2022 ITS World Congress in LA September 18-22
- Share this information with policymakers
If you want to host a workshop on this topic, sponsor a forum on digital infrastructure, or learn more, contact email@example.com. Help us champion a new era for transportation innovation to promote a world that is safer, greener, and smarter for all.