Collaborative project promises fair public transit in Austin



MetroLab Network has partnered with Government technology to bring to its readers a segment called the MetroLab Innovation of the Month series, which highlights the impactful technology, data and innovation projects underway between cities and universities.

In a special series, Innovation of the Month currently focuses on award-winning and innovative projects championed by MetroLab member universities and civic partners that have advanced to Stage 2 of the NSF Civic Innovation Challenge, a national research program and multi-agency action. competition that aims to fund ready-to-implement pilot research projects that have the potential to have an evolving, sustainable and transferable impact on the priorities identified by the community. If you would like to know more or contact the project managers, please contact MetroLab at [email protected] for more information.

In the first installment of this month’s CIVIC Stage 2 Innovation of the Month series, we highlight a project titled “Co-Creating a Community Hub for Smart Mobility: A University-Government-Nonprofit Partnership” from Austin, in Texas. The project aims to advance transport equity and mobility justice in underfunded transit deserts by building a low-cost community hub for smart mobility.


Josh Schacht and Elias Gbadamosi from MetroLab spoke with Junfeng Jiao from UT-Austin School of Architecture; Kenneth R. Fleischmann of the UT-Austin School of Information; Sherri R. Greenberg of the UT-Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs; and Jason JonMichael and Jordan “Alex” Payson of the City of Austin Transportation Department on their implementation plan as they move on to step 2 of the challenge.

Josh Schacht: Can you explain the purpose of this project and how the project was designed?

Junfeng Jiao: The spatial mismatch between housing affordability and employment causes suburban traffic jams, resulting in an annual loss of $ 29 billion to the US economy. Therefore, the main objective of this project is to develop, implement and evaluate a Community Center for Smart Mobility as a model for solving the employment / housing disparity in American cities. Specifically, the community we work with is Georgian Acres, a historically underfunded neighborhood in northeast Austin, Texas, and we are working with several civic partners to meet the neighborhood’s unique transportation needs.

Alex Payson: The goal of our Community Hub for Smart Mobility is to provide affordable transportation options, so community members can get from their door to the hub, from the hub to work, and back again. We want these trips to be meaningful to them, while being affordable, timely and comfortable.

Ken Fleischmann: As for the origin of our project, in many ways it is the product of a larger collaboration between the University of Texas at Austin and the City of Austin. Sherri, Junfeng and I are all members of Good Systems, a UT Grand Challenge. The objective of Good Systems is to develop ethical human-AI partnerships that benefit society. We all three collaborated with partners in the city of Austin, in particular Charles Purma III, Ted Lehr and Sara Smith, to co-organize a workshop to build collaborations between the university and the city. During my tenure as founding president of Good Systems, we developed and funded seven city-university collaborative research collaborations; Junfeng succeeded me as chairman and oversaw the execution of these projects. One of these projects was selected as the MetroLab Innovation of the Month for July 2020. This collaboration led to the signing of an interlocal agreement between the University of Texas at Austin and the city of Austin; the university’s senior negotiator was Assistant Vice President, Research Jennifer Lyon Gardner. The interlocal agreement provides a model for other cities and universities to follow and has helped make this collaboration possible.

Elias Gbadamosi: Who are the stakeholders involved and what perspectives do they bring?

Payson: This project is a collaboration between the University of Texas at Austin, the City of Austin and a local nonprofit, Jails to Jobs, as well as many community organizations. The university offers valuable perspectives on the research and development of efficient and sustainable transportation technologies. The city prioritizes the provision of safe and livable places that meet the needs of community members, while emphasizing the neighborhood voice in the project process. Jails to Jobs, which is located in Georgian Acres, fosters a sense of belonging and ownership within this community.

Jiao: This project is also one of 17 winners of the Civic Innovation Challenge, or CIVIC, which is a collaboration between the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Homeland Security and MetroLab.

Fleischmann: In particular, through the multiple stages of review and execution of the project, we have benefited significantly from the guidance provided by MetroLab, including workshops on stakeholder analysis, community engagement and data strategy. MetroLab has brought a wealth of experience in promoting productive collaborations between universities, local governments and community organizations.

Schacht: Equity is an important objective for this project. How does the team conceptualize equity in this project and how will it be measured?

Jiao: Those underserved by transportation in American cities face common challenges of structural inequalities as well as transportation that does not currently meet all of their needs. Tackling this problem requires listening to the community.

Sherri Greenberg: Absoutely. We are co-creating the Community Hub for Smart Mobility with the people we serve, and we cannot create fair and smart mobility without listening to community members. We cannot assume that we understand the transportation needs of residents of Georgian Acres or residents of any other underserved neighborhood. The use of human and community centered design principles is essential. This includes strong, local community engagement and outreach, as well as interviews, surveys and workshops to determine people’s needs and to co-design and implement transportation solutions based on their values ​​and contributions. .

Gbadamosi: How will the project reduce the economic and social gaps between social classes in Austin?

Jiao: Transport is an important facilitator of social inclusion, which can affect economic and social outcomes, and therefore inequalities. Not everyone can afford a personal vehicle; we need to offer geographically wide and affordable multimodal mobility options.

Payson: This is because the transport options available at the Community Mobility Center will improve access to public transport by tackling first / last mile issues, allowing people to move more freely to access economic opportunities. Providing access to various transportation options also increases the choice of the community, thus allowing community members to make transportation choices based on their needs.

Schacht: Do you think this project could apply to other communities across the United States?

Jiao: This project provides both a general and a detailed framework for the development of a community hub for intelligent mobility, including a multimodal transportation system that can be applied to other US cities through partnerships with local entities and transport agencies.

Fleischmann: Specifically, here in Austin, in November 2020, voters approved more than $ 7 billion in funding for Project Connect, which will revolutionize transportation in Austin. Project Connect has funding allocated to the construction of traffic circuits, which is one of the approaches we are piloting in this project. Through Project Connect, the city and Cap Metro could scale this project citywide, and then these innovations could provide a model that could be transferred to many other cities across the country.

Jason Jon Michael: Significant innovation has the potential to help transform the way people move around the city in a safe, efficient and affordable way. By encouraging the community to participate in this conversation, we can harness the power of innovation to help address community transportation challenges. It must be a collaborative process that values ​​the contribution of those for whom it is designed.


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