BU Initiatives on Cities – Beyond Congestion: Pathways to Better Mobility

in Research
August 22nd, 2019

By Doruntina Zeneli

On Tuesday March 26, panelists discussed how current transportation networks within major cities do not operate efficiently and future technology will serve a key role in incentivizing change and eliminating congestion. The conversation was initially led by Matthew Raifman, Senior Manager at Ford Smart Mobility. Raifman described congestion as an “excess of vehicles on a portion of roadway at a particular time resulting in a reduction below total possible throughput.” Traffic congestion serves as a negative externality for residents by inducing vehicle costs, greenhouse gas emissions, additional travel time and potential health risks.

He presented solutions to congestion by advocating for fewer vehicles, building more roads and spreading demand over time. However, cities simply do not have the available space to build more roads and repurposing green spaces, bike lanes and sidewalks, are not an effective solution in solving this ubiquitous issue. Raifman also emphasized that reducing the number of vehicles and implementing workplace policies that stagger arrival times of employees, serve as viable solutions to this issue.

Similarly, Yannis Paschalidis a BU Professor of Engineering, explained the severity of congestion in cities today. It is predicted that the cost of traffic congestion will reach $2.8 trillion by 2030 in the U.S. alone. Additionally, Boston was recently declared as the number one city in hours lost during rush hour traffic for each driver in 2018.

Moreover, Paschalidis showed an interactive model that illustrated congestion in Boston neighborhoods from 2012 to 2015. By providing these reference years, the audience was able to pinpoint increases in congestion within specific areas in Boston. Paschalidis also developed a transportation network model, which utilized a congestion function and demonstrated that drivers make optimally selfish decisions when choosing traffic routes.

Iram Farooq, the Assistant City Manager for the City of Cambridge also spoke about her role in developing policies that focuses on transportation, mobility and sustainability in Cambridge. Her involvement on transportation policies in the early 90’s enabled her local community to have manageable traffic levels with small commuting times during rush hour in comparison to Boston.

Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the former CIO for the City of Boston, emphasized the importance of new mobility as an emerging service industry. Recent services include Zipcar, ride-sharing, public bike-share systems and autonomous vehicles. Although there are benefits from new mobility, the issue of consumer protection arises. Many of these services are publicly traded or privately owned, so there is a potential risk consumers may lose the benefit of a marketplace. For instance, all forms of transportation modes are listed within these mobile apps. Eventually, one to two large companies will gain pricing power over consumers by capitalizing on the marketplace for their basic mobility needs. As a result, standards for consumer protection should be implemented as the industry of new mobility grows.

Click here to download slides from the panel.