By Kelly Fleming (November 25, 2019)
California and the Bay Area face immense transportation challenges: ever-worsening traffic, seemingly intractable inequities, and pollution that damages our health and climate. To explore drivers of these challenges and solutions to them, the Exploratorium and the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy co-hosted “Transportation/Transformations,” a collection of public programs and an invitation-only symposium at the San Francisco museum. Sponsored by General Motors, the programs featured transportation and policy experts from diverse sectors, including the nonprofit world, industry, academia, and government.
Transportation/Transformations kicked off with an evening program, “Conversations About Landscape: Roles for Emerging Mobility in Sustainable Transportation.” Tim Doherty, the Climate and Sustainability Planner for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) moderated a lively discussion on the Bay Area’s transportation system and on how new mobility options such as ridehailing and scooter-sharing can complement existing transit. Panelists included Clarrissa Cabansagan of TransForm, Drew Cooper of the San Francisco County Transportation Agency, Dan Woo of the California Department of Public Health, and Austin Brown of UC Davis. The conversation had a strong focus on equity, emphasizing the ways in which new mobility can provide more opportunities to disadvantaged communities as well as the importance of incorporating perspectives from all stakeholder groups when designing new mobility strategies. Panelists acknowledged the challenges of accommodating new mobility vehicles alongside cars, bikes, and pedestrians in already-crowded city streets and sidewalks. They noted that regulators are working to mitigate safety and sustainability issues while still capitalizing on the benefits that new mobility options offer.
An all-day symposium presented an opportunity to dive deep into Bay Area traffic and transportation issues, from transportation innovation and public policy to meeting equity and climate goals for the future. The symposium opened with a panel on how emerging transportation technologies can help reduce congestion and pollution while improving affordability and safety. Regina Clewlow of Populus moderated, and speakers included Darton Ito of SFMTA, and Megan Richer of Via.
The next panel, led by Jennifer Gress of the California Air Resources Board, discussed opportunities for public investment to reduce carbon pollution and improve transportation access. Mollie Pelon-McArdle of Open Transport and Shared Streets spoke about opportunities to improve public and private partnerships. Logan Warren, the Policy Director of Mobility for the Oakland Mayor’s office, discussed initiatives to improve mobility equity across Oakland, including embracing new technologies even at the pilot/testing stage. Karen Schkolnick of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District spoke about regulatory measures to reduce transportation emissions. Transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions and pollution in the Bay Area and California.
The symposium keynote was delivered by Assemblymember Phil Ting (AD-19), who explained how California is leading the nation in transportation innovation and policy. Assemblymember Ting argued that transportation is the single biggest hurdle to solving climate change—but a hurdle that California is well-positioned to overcome. The Assemblymember announced a proposal to only provide electric vehicle (EV) rebates for companies that support California’s stringent mileage standards.
Mary Miller, Environment Program Director for the Exploratorium, led a panel on how transportation can help improve equity and access if transportation systems are designed with those goals in mind. Scott Blanks from the Lighthouse for the Blind noted that accessible transportation options are important for everyone, but especially vital for the vision-impaired. He exhorted transportation designers to include those with disabilities on planning teams. Michelle Arango, a high-school Fellow from New Voices Are Rising, shared her experience as a student in Oakland who relies on public transportation to get to and from school and her job. Clarrissa Cabansagan from TransForm described how new mobility can improve equity and access when pushed in the right direction by appropriate policy frameworks.
Laura Bliss, the West Coast Bureau Chief of The Atlantic’s CityLab, closed out the day with a panel on priorities for positioning the Bay Area at the forefront of an evolving transportation ecosystem. Sarah Jones explained how SFMTA is responding to rapid change in transportation. Ian Griffiths, Director of Seamless Bay Area, discussed how his organization is helping develop an integrated platform for all Bay Area transit. Kelly Obranowicz, Transportation Policy Manager for the Bay Area Council, discussed how the business community is promoting the twin goals of public-transportation infrastructure and affordable housing near transit centers to improve quality of life and reduce traffic congestion in the Bay Area. Elliot Martin of the UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Resource Center summarized research insights that can inform development of smart transportation policy.
Following the symposium, an “After Dark” program welcomed the broader public to the Exploratorium for demonstrations of the autonomous-vehicle technology, a “make your own hovercraft” activity, films, and several short talks by transportation experts. Attendees agreed that “After Dark” was a perfect way to push some of the most exciting new aspects of transportation into the limelight.