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Eight Takeaways from ConnectATL, ARC’s Summit on the Future of Mobility

The transportation world is changing fast.

New technologies such as self-driving cars and “smart” stoplights that optimize the flow of traffic hold the potential to transform the Atlanta region.

But the region must work together to prepare for this new world. After all, traffic doesn’t stop at the city limit or the county line. Metro Atlanta requires a seamless technology in order to fully take advantage of these new innovations.

To help plan, the Atlanta Regional Commission on Sept. 22 convened over 300 local government officials and transportation experts at ConnectATL, the region’s first summit on the future of connectivity.

Attendees heard from leading national experts who shared their expertise about connected technology and the challenges to come, including implications for local governments, the workforce, infrastructure, equitable communities, and more.

Eight key takeaways from the first ConnectATL summit:


It’s Not Just Cars

Smart transportation technology will affect not only those of us who are drivers, but also those us of who use transit and get around in other ways. “It’s going to affect pedestrians, and even bicycle riders, so it’s going to affect every aspect of transportation as we know it today,” said Doug Hooker, Executive Director of ARC.

Freight May be First to Automate

Imagine a platoon of autonomous trucks traveling in a tightly packed line down the highway. This may be one of our first real glimpses of automated vehicles at work, according to Tom Cunningham of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. The trucking industry is likely to be an early adapter of this technology, as it offers potential to reduce congestion and improve efficiency while addressing the industry’s chronic shortage of drivers.

In the Autonomous Future, Transit Remains Key

Autonomous vehicles won’t mean the end of transit. Far from it. Self-driving cars and smart technology will help address the “last mile” connectivity issue— the distance between a transit stop and a rider’s destination that can be a barrier to transit use, said Paul Brubaker with the Alliance for Transportation Innovation. In building this system, “be ready for some uncomfortable conversations involving [issues like] connectivity, income, and people’s mobility needs,” he said.

Equity Considerations Should be Part of the Planning Process

The autonomous and connected future must include the entire community, not just a privileged few. To achieve this, make sure that equity is included in the front end, during the planning process for smart mobility projects, as it’s difficult to incorporate later on, said Aurash Khawarzad with New York-based Center for Social Inclusion.

Use the Technology…Or Risk Letting it Use You

Autonomous vehicles are coming. Now is the time to plan how to use this technology to build the communities we want, said Georgia Tech’s Ellen Dunham-Jones, such as reducing transportation costs, increasing greenspace, and limiting sprawl. “We’ve set up a world where the benefits of automobile ownership accrue to the individual, but all the costs accrue to the society as a whole,” she said. “I want to see us use autonomous vehicles to rebalance that.”

Get Ready to Move Beyond the One-Person, One-Car Model

Shared autonomous vehicles may decrease the need for car ownership. “We need to have residents make the change from being dependent on personal vehicle ownership to other mobility solutions” such as transit, ride-sharing, walking, or biking, said keynote speaker Andrew Ginther, mayor of Columbus, Ohio, winner of the Smart Cities Challenge in 2016.

Smart Technology Can Help Even the Playing Field

When correctly planned for, the new technologies can act as “ladders to opportunity” said Mayor Ginther, providing improved access to jobs and services to disadvantaged communities. “It’s not just about roads, transit, or ride sharing,” he said. “It’s about how people live.”

In this New World, Data Security is Paramount

As we design systems based on the smart use of data from a variety of sources, reliable systems that safeguard the security of that data become more important than ever. To fully leverage the new technology, decisions must be made using real-time data and communicated to users.