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Smart cities ‘bringing sexy back’ to traffic infrastructure

SXSW panel: smart cities use intelligent infrastructure to keep up with urbanization

AUSTIN, Texas – “Cities are on the rise,” proclaimed Harvard University’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter during a panel discussion at this week’s South by Southwest event. “Technology is the big hope.”

Kanter, chair and director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, was joined by RideScout cofounder and CEO Joseph Kosper; and Mark Dowd, senior advisor to the secretary and deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation in a discussion about how smart city technology, particularly traffic infrastructure, can help solve numerous societal problems.

Kanter said people waste more than 5.5 billion hours per year in lost productivity with a value of $70 billion; 2.9 billion gallons of fuel; and $15 billion in associated public health costs “just from unnecessary congestion. If we could somehow capture that money … we could pay for a lot of the things we want to do. There are big bucks being wasted and left on the table.”

Kanter also commented on the global trend of urbanization, which is seeing a historic, long-term migration into urban centers and out of rural areas. Kanter said many current transportation plans are based on the idea that living outside of metros and coming in for work is the preference, “therefore leaving the city dark and dangerous. Now transportation planners are thinking about how do you get people in the city and keep them there? They are now hot beds of creativity. It’s where millennials want to live. They don’t want to drive, they don’t want to own a car.”

This conversation is part and parcel to the DoT’s $50 million Smart City Challenge. Of an initial 78 applications, the DoT announced seven finalists, which will receive $100,000 to further refine plans to address traffic problems with smart city technology.

Dowd got a big laugh when he said, traditionally, traffic infrastructure isn’t sexy but, “DoT is bringing sexy back,” with the Smart City Challenge. Dowd said there’s no single solution.

“It’s not doing one of those,” Dowd said. “It’s how does it all work together? For us, that’s what we’re trying to get the mayors to think about. How do you see all these different technologies and innovations to formulate a plan for what’s coming down the pipe?”

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