Tech + Transit

A recent study conducted by Latitude Research and Next American City reveals that new technologies and improved access to information can encourage transit use. They sampled 18 individuals aged 24 – 51 from Boston and San Francisco who are regular car drivers and asked them to go car-free for a week. They were tracked by GPS, surveyed about their perceptions of mobility before and after the study, and engaged in group discussions using the web throughout the study. Boston and San Francisco were chosen due to their recent commitment to open data solutions and technological initiatives.

The study is summarized by three main insights:

  • Information can equalize transit choices
    • Participants rated convenience, control, and flexibility as their highest values for mobility.
    • Location-aware mobile apps provide real-time information about the trade-offs between different routes and modes of travel, extending a feeling of convenience, control, and flexibility to transit.
  • Lose a car, gain a community
    • The majority of participants felt reconnected to their neighbors and their community by riding transit or adopting other non-automobile oriented transportation.
    • Mobile apps can enhance the off-line, real-world experience by connecting individuals to others while traveling.
  • Alternative transit is good for me and we
    • Participants gained insight into the environmental, health, and economic/financial benefits of car-free lifestyle.
    • Readily accessible information, largely available through the use of mobile apps, allows for empathy formation and an increased understanding of their own and others’ preferences and values.

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Why is Transportation Demand Management (TDM) the Best Investment for Public Health?

In the world of transportation, two components tend to dominate the discussion; design and planning. Those two components often look over the more vital component, funding and programming, but thus the nature of the beast. Typically most transportation discussions always lead back to design and planning. Much like in the world of health the discussion usually turns back to doctors and medicine. If one gets sick they see the doctor. If a street is too congested, they can have design add a lane. If there is a pandemic then a vaccine or drug will be prescribed to fight off the disease. If there is a community problem then planning will prescribe a TOD or transit system. But like in public health, many are trying to lead the discussion back to preventative care rather than keep the status quo fixated on doctors and medicine. Transportation demand management for lack of a better comparison is the preventative care option for the transportation discussion. Thus in many ways is the most important tool that can leverage transportation to fix America’s public health problem.

C.E.A Winslow defined public health as, “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.” Although, public health has evolved over time, it has only grown in scope and incorporates more sectors and industries.

Before the economic recession, sustainability was the big buzzword. Sustainability, for the most part was focused on getting projects and developments to achieve the triple bottom line (equity, environment, and economics).

Early on, sustainability was a luxury option, but later morphed into necessary requirement for firms that were concerned with their public image. After the recession hit some firms refocused around sustainability while others once again saw it as a luxury option. The Obama administration understood early on the importance of sustainability and took it to the next level by supporting and creating the HUD, DOT, and EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative. This led to the new “livability” criteria that many federal departments now employ when determining which projects receive funding.

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