This op-ed appeared in the Arizona Republic this morning. It’s worthy of reprint because while it mentions light rail, it also outlines some really good steps that could be taken independently of light rail to improve transit…as opposed to facilitating high-density development and profits for developers, which is what light rail is really about.
Investing in infrastructure is vital to Valley’s future growth
The American Society of Civil Engineers recently released its “report card” on the state of American infrastructure. Frankly, the results aren’t good. As a country, we received a D+, and in Arizona, the infrastructure merited a C.
No other part of any industry in the world is competing and winning with machines, technology or systems that are even one-third as old as the national infrastructure in the U.S.
Our nation is equipped with roads, bridges and ports from the early to mid-20th century, and pipes and rail lines from the 19th century.
But the news isn’t all bad. What these rankings show us is that we have an enormous opportunity to make infrastructure improvements that will help create our competitive advantage in the 21stcentury global market and increase economic growth in our cities.
The Valley is one region especially poised for this opportunity. It has a light-rail system, which has been expanding since its introduction in 2008. But, as one of the fastest-growing states in the country and as a member of the 15 largest metro areas in the U.S., the need for infrastructure that can support quality of life for its citizens and economic growth is paramount.
And, the opportunities are here and ready for action. From its “Reinvent Phoenix” initiative, a planning process for five “urban” districts around the light-rail system, to the proposed citywide bikeshare program to lessen traffic congestion and reduce CO2 emissions, Phoenix and the Valley are ready to lead the way.
One key to realizing this potential is a focus on mobility. The report card stated current road infrastructure in Arizona is costing motorists $205 a person per year.
The International Municipal Signal Association is hosting its annual meeting in Scottsdale this week, specifically focused on intelligent, safe mobility technologies for a more sustainable transportation system. These solutions can allow buses to deliver riders to their destinations faster, offer drivers mobile applications that indicate open parking spots and centralize a city’s mobility infrastructure in a single control center.
There are five practical solutions that could have a significant impact on metro Phoenix’s infrastructure:
Intelligent and adaptive traffic signals that can reduce congestion daily and during special events.
A GPS-based bus rapid transit system that uses “virtual” detection zones and a fleet’s on-board computers to automatically request a green light when behind schedule.
A centralized control center that manages infrastructure technologies within the city to ensure solutions are working in sync.
Smart mobility that integrates public transportation with bike and car sharing to support adoption of alternative transportation.
“Connected vehicle” technology that allows mobile devices and navigation systems to wirelessly communicate and warn drivers in emergency situations to help avoid collisions.
There always remains the question of how to make these projects happen. There is funding available for infrastructure. Unfortunately, it often only gets released during emergencies or disastrous events, or simply when infrastructure is already crumbling. Though no one is advocating that this reactionary funding should not exist, there is a case to be made that proactively installing technology that increases efficiency will help mitigate future challenges and lessen the increasing costs of fixing something that’s broken.
Also, when the private and public sectors work collaboratively to develop solutions, it is a win/win situation. These alliances can encourage the free market to respond more resourcefully, not only to today’s problems but also to tomorrow’s.
Collaborations between the sectors can allow cities to address both challenges to and opportunities in infrastructure development.
Phoenix has the opportunity to build and invest in infrastructure that will be high tech, integrated, reliable and resilient. Smarter infrastructure will make the Valley more competitive and worthy of its citizens and America.
Peter Torrellas is chief technology officer for Siemens Mobility and Logistics Division within the Siemens Infrastructure and Cities Sector.