One of those long-standing items in the Florida travel wishlist finally happened a couple of weeks ago – largely to commemorate the PhD defense. The Everglades is perhaps best avoided during this time of the year. Insect bites and a lost-wallet episode aside, I had a pretty uneventful trip. Gators, crocodiles, panthers (they say!), hundreds of species of birds (I missed the lion’s share though!), lot of interesting (and sad) stories on the Burmese pythons in the park, the mangroves – all made for an interesting couple of days. Remind me to hit the park in the winters though!
By the time this is on air, we may have passed 2016 and let me just stop with how glad I am to see the back of it. 2017 comes with a lot of promises – graduation, employment, travel and let’s just stop short of saying that I’m really chuffed about it too. How was everyone’s 2016? Did you make any resolutions that you were able to keep at whole through the year? Do you believe in resolutions? Why so, if not? And finally, what are you looking for, in 2017? Let me know! 🙂
Anyways, first up in 2017 is the 96th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB 2017)- the yearly pilgrimage for every transportation enthusiast out there. This year, like the past years, I will be focussing my energies on the connected/autonomous events at TRB. TRB presents a logistical nightmare (the good kind) which makes it almost imperative to challenge the time manager in you to get the best out of the conference. Most of the “good stuff” on the AV/CV section is focussed around Monday and Tuesday, although I am already regretting that I shall miss event 868 on Wednesday afternoon as I am due to fly back to Tampa. There are also a few career events and other receptions in additions to the sessions that would feature in my plans. In addition to that, we (CUTR/USF) are also hosting out first ever TRB Reception & Alumni Reunion on Sunday (Jan 8) – something that I’m looking forward to, immensely.
Once TRB is finished, my focus will go back to the dissertation and the final leap towards the graduation process. We are long overdue an update about my work here so I will be updating this space time and again with little tidbits on the dissertation and my overall findings as we move along this year. I am also in the job market for an industry position in the transportation planning/modeling realms, so that is an additional area of focus for the first part of 2017. Finally, I was catching up with the weather in D.C. with an eye on my baggage – doesn’t look for good reading especially since Florida kinda missed the winter this time.
So, Columbus won the $50 million grant from USDOT Smart City Challenge. A city that proposed to bridge the gap between job accessibility, income disparities, and healthcare with the application of intelligent transportation systems (a much more sophisticated solution to tackle its problems in comparison to the other finalists), Columbus will now be getting a grand total of $140 million to herald a transportation-led revolution to bring positive changes into the city’s economy. Congratulations!
In the offing from a transportation systems point of view are AV fleets that would carry people into the various job zones, a multi-platform smartphone app for all their travel needs (including ride-sharing and ride-hailing services), more electric vehicles and charging stations and a plethora of tech services to aid the systems in place. What really stood out was the way in which Columbus convincingly built its story around its infant mortality rate and showed how the said grant would alleviate some of it – something which was not really the focus from its competitors, in hindsight. The USDOT also strongly urged the losing cities to focus on continuing their projects with the help of outside funding sources including philanthropists.
This is now a good time to go back to assess Tampa’s Smart City Proposal that was submitted in February 2016. I feel the city can take inspiration from the exercise to see what we had missed in our focus, and how we could positively contribute and impact on future exercises of such nature.
This very interesting illustration on WaPo caught my attention today. Seven U.S. cities are vying for a $40 million start-up prize from USDOT in order to find solutions to problems that they have by a perfect marriage of automation, climate change, and inequality. Most cities in the world find these elements to be a constantly engaging thorn in their vision for the future. And most of these cities, for no fault of theirs look at tackling these issues on a one-on-one basis. Combining these issues together seems to be something that the DOT is passionate about and these 7 cities have emerged from a bigger list of cities, with a fighting chance to provide innovative solutions to tackle their problems.
I went through all seen of them. Interesting concepts, of course very relevant to their own setting. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who had to pick the winner from these. Although the parameters considered are mentioned in this article on Geekwire:
The proposals will be judged by how well they mesh with the elements of DOT’s Smart City vision, including urban automation, connected vehicles and sensor-based infrastructure. Other factors could touch on user-focused mobility and shared-transportation services, such as Uber, Lyft and Car2Go.
Tampa’s problems somewhat mirror that of Kansas City, presented in the said illustration. HART does not cover much of the Hillsborough county, has issues with reliability and suffers from less than 2% market share. I am really curious to see an accessibility explorer for the Tampa Bay-St.Pete-Clearwater MSA – something on the lines of this in order to get a better grasp or what folks are actually missing here. Light rail has been vehemently opposed earlier, as we know. TBARTA outlines a host of projects in their Vision 2040. We have been a hotbed for failed transportation plans and one wonders what it might mean to get something like this on board in the car-frenzied counties of this MSA. Inspiration is very much around the corner at least.
So yes, TRB 2015 was pretty awesome I thought. The efforts to hold the gargantuan conference in one venue (technically two, if you discount the tunnel between the Marriott and the Convention Center) paid off and I am happy to say that I did not miss out on any of my planned sessions (unlike last time). The Automated Vehicle (AV) sessions were well attended – so much so that I could not get into one of the sessions and had to be standing out on guard duty. But I’d imagine it is pretty great that a lot of attention has been focussed on something that is upon us, if not tomorrow, in a few years’ time.
My main idea of hitting DC this time was to attend the AV sessions and gauge what was going on with the rest of the AV research folk. A secondary interest was to catch up with people – old and new. On the research front, abunch of interesting AV sessions. My favourites works on AVs were focussed around the consumer perception and anticipated travel behaviour aspects of AVs – a study from Germany on travel time valuation, a few of the UT Austin works on shared AVs and a few of the posters (especially this one on social media and mode choice from UC Davis), which I thought were brilliant. Apart from the sessions and meetings, it was nice to meet most of my old professors and colleagues from Portugal and a couple of very good friends from back home (NIT Calicut).
While the sessions took shape, it snowed a bit in DC as well – my first active snowfall experience. It didn’t snow this time, last year though. And since I had been to most places around town, I didn’t bother much to go sightseeing either (the cold didn’t help too, I must say). Despite the cold weather, I must confess that I quite like Washington DC. It has the airs of this big city with life moving at a comfortable pace. I have been told that the same can’t be said about New York City, where people always seem to be in a rush. DC from my experience, proved to a hybrid of Madras and Bombay. Add to that, the excellent accessibility guaranteed by the largely efficient, yet ill-maintained transit system and it does it for me. Coming from Florida, this is a welcome sight. The whole idea of not having to drive by your own volition excites me and I would totally see myself living and working there.
We found a pretty nice (some may say fancy) place to stay close to the White House. I came back to Tampa last Thursday and still haven’t kicked out of the vacation mood. 2015 is the year of opportunities and one idea of heading off to such conferences is also to come back inspired to peg on and achieve more than last time. My dream of being at peace with a book in hand while commuting (I know!!) seems to be getting closer and closer to reality.