By Paul Mackie

When people are stuck in traffic, they have a lot of time to go over in their minds how they want to complain about being stuck in traffic.

And they usually have plenty of source material, noted Motivate’s Jay Walder in his keynote speech at this week’s National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago.

After all, we still have the same streets that were designed for horses and buggies. “As cities are becoming busier and more dense, this is becoming a bigger problem,” Walder said. “In Chicago, they added trains above and in New York, they added trains below. Then we’ve added in sidewalks and bike lanes.”

Fellow keynoter Jarrett Walker, a transit planner, also talked about the importance of space. A city is, if nothing else, a place where each person has a small bit of space to share with others, he said. And “technology will change a lot of things, but it will never change geometry.”

Fair enough, but the problem with focusing on space so much is that regular Joes don’t start their day in the city by asking themselves how much space they have to work with on their way to the office. For them, it’s not a matter of geometry or academics. Perhaps it should be, but it’s mostly a practical matter.

People know they’ve got a set amount of time to get somewhere. And they’re going to fit their alarm clocks and their morning routines into that allotted time. Planners need to figure out more pleasant ways – ideally accepting a little more help than they traditionally have from other professionals, like communicators, hackers, and entrepreneurs – to make transportation options fit better into those timetables.

Joshua Schank speaks at all these mobility conferences, and he’s doing exactly this – as head of Los Angeles Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation. Read that again: Office of Extraordinary Innovation. I like it!

That department is releasing its next strategic plan in a few weeks. And why do I get the sense this won’t be the last strategic plan from LA Metro for the next 40 years? This is a very good baby step. Strategic plans need to be refreshed and re-released all the time! A pathetic amount of transit agencies have long-range plans that account for Uber, Lyft, and autonomous vehicles. In most plans, there might be more accounting for horses and buggies.

Further, Schank said, “Part of that plan is that we’re taking demand management seriously as an agency.” He added that LA Metro asked for and received many dozens of private-sector proposals on how to price options beyond transit fares, congestion pricing, and regulating Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing options.

Schank said the hope is that there will be a Metro-branded microtransit service. To help make sure this is a strong direction, he is overseeing a “first-mile” pilot to three transit stations to determine whether they can increase the number of people riding transit.

Moving things along faster than the old ways things have always been done seems to be entirely what Schank is about. And the same can certainly be said about transportation entrepreneur Gabe Klein. He pointed out that a transit station can actually be built in less than nine hours, as happened in January in Eastern China.

Once these infrastructure-related improvements and advancements can happen, real TDM – like helping educate the public about how great their options may be – can truly begin to show massive returns on investment.

Then we can start to see major positive sociological change. Some great ideas were sprinkled throughout the Shared-Use Summit. Many are related to this idea of making the time-saving benefits more obvious to people and can help serve as some of the guidelines as places make the badly-needed updates to their planning strategies, such as:

Jay Walder

E-bikes will roll out in a few weeks in San Francisco, and they present a huge opportunity.

Don’t use the words “alternative” and “niche” for these services anymore.


Gabe Klein

Between 2010 and 2012, 88 percent of new households in Washington D.C. were car-free.

Leaders always tell Klein that you just can’t do things out of the blue. But he used the nearby Chicago City Walk along the river as an example of something Chicago officials told him made no sense. The development is “now spinning a profit.”

We should have 50 percent modeshare for active transportation and 50 percent for shared use in our cities.

Leah Treat, director of the Portland (Ore.) Bureau of Transportation

Portland has the nation’s first Adaptive Bikeshare program for adults and children with different riding needs.

Transportation videos and advertising don’t have to be awful. Moshow, the cat rapper, promotes Portland’s Parking Kitty parking app with high production values that can lead to real changed perspectives.


Andrew Glass Hastings,
director of transit and mobility for the Seattle DOT

Twenty percent of Amazon’s 45,000 downtown employees walk to work.


Kevin Webb
of SharedStreets, a new non-profit collaborating with the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the World Resources Institute

We need a shared data language for the streets. We can’t do autonomous street data well if we don’t even have addresses or street-condition information for emergency responders to use on 911 calls.

The U.S. Census is an important source for people who study transportation data and there are currently political threats that could diminish its quality, which would be “a national crisis.”


Matt Caywood
of TransitScreen

The annual value of time lost waiting for transit is $60 billion, so how can we recover some of that by providing better information?


Regina Clewlow
of Populus

Cities are operating in the dark with data. They pretend shuttles and Ubers and Lyfts don’t exist in their 30-year plans.

We don’t know who is using shared-mobility services and how it impacts their transit use.

It’s really challenging for cities to plan around safety when the transportation landscape is more chaotic than ever before with all these options.


Elliot Dam
of Teralytics

Using telecom data is the best way to analyze the ways people move, partly because cell-tower data doesn’t lie.


Stephanie Dock
of the District Department of Transportation

Introducing sidewalk robots in Washington D.C. (that deliver orders from Postmates) gave DDOT a chance to set guidelines from the start of a program, requiring the company to operate in a defined zone and share its data.


Dianne Schwager
of the National Academiesí Transportation Research Board

Planners come up with too many data points. You can’t win when you try to overwhelm people with too much data.


Maybe if only one data point should be used, it should be this one:  that there should be an effort to get all the top CEOs to better understand the lingo being so eloquently espoused by the 600 or so people at the Shared Mobility Summit, then it can trickle down over time.

But seriously, it’s inspiring to know that so many important people have so many great ideas. Those ideas can’t possibly keep being buried.

And those afore-mentioned average Joes won’t even notice the many positive changes underway within their mobility landscapes, at least not until they realize they’re extraordinarily getting to work on time a lot more frequently.  

Paul is the director of research and communications for Mobility Lab. He specializes in transportation storytelling and organizational strategy.