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Gabe Klein. mobility panel MBS - Copy.JPG Tom Murphy
Gabe Klein speaking remotely at this week's CAR MBS.

How Many Cars Needed in ‘Smart Cities’ of Future?

“The ugly truth is… We need to cut in half our production of automobiles,” consultant Gabe Klein says during a CAR MBS panel session focused on smart cities.

Cities can get smart about improving transportation, traffic, parking and emissions, and shared mobility is a key component of that future, says Gabe Klein, a partner at CityFi, a consultancy that seeks to eliminate civic complexity in a rapidly urbanizing world.

Speaking remotely during a panel session at this week’s Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI, Klein says transportation plays a crucial role in how cities can improve “climate, equity, jobs, opportunity and access.”

But his solution may have rattled an audience whose livelihoods are pegged to the auto industry.

“The ugly truth is…We need to cut in half our production of automobiles, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, to really win this environmental battle,” Klein says. “To get healthy, to save the planet, to create opportunity and jobs, we need to get a handle on this.”

He proposes solutions including a dramatic increase in the use of shared mobility technologies and micro-transportation modes such as shared scooters and e-bikes.

Klein and other panelists suggest public and private parties need to come together and act quickly by merging smart policy with technological advances to identify pain points and devise solutions.

Justine Johnson, mobility strategist for Ford’s City Solutions group, works closely with cities such as Austin, TX, and Miami to help, for example, underserved groups such as the visually or hearing impaired get around cities more easily. Other efforts revolve around food delivery to certain communities that are isolated from fresh fruits and vegetables. 

It’s about creating an ecosystem, Johnson says. “Our approach is not to go into a city and drop technology off. Our approach is to work with cities to co-develop and co-create different solutions to meet their needs,” she says.

Heather Wilberger, senior vice president and chief information officer at Detroit-based Bedrock Real Estate, says the co-creation model is incredibly important by engaging with the city and community to understand what makes sense in new real estate developments and how to think about what cities should look like.

Tom MurphyJustine Johnson Ford. Heather Wilberger Bedrock  - Copy.JPG

Ford's Justine Johnson (left) and Bedrock's Heather Wilberger speaking on mobility panel.

“How do we build environments with a technology layer… that is easily adaptable, that the user wants to use?” Wilberger asks. “This goes back to co-creation.  …And we have to meet in the middle for it to be truly usable and truly adaptable to our communities.”

Mandy Bishop, program manager for Smart Columbus in Ohio, is doing traffic studies and preparing for the future by changing how planners look at cities not from the standpoint of automobiles but for the people who live and work there.

“You have to start with a conversation in engineering about why we engineer. We’re engineering solutions for people,” Bishop says.

Moderator Carla Bailo, president and CEO of CAR, adds: “We need to turn urban planning upside down. Instead of designing our cities for vehicles, we need to design our cities for people, for livability, etc.”

Johnson says communities need to be designed to accommodate multiple forms of mobility. “Whether you are walking, in a wheelchair, on a scooter or on a shuttle, how does that space start to feel safe from a design perspective?” she says.

Johnson says the conversation extends well into personal opportunities and economic development. “Mobility is that thread that connects people from their housing to employment, or the possibility of employment. And it’s really important that we think about that thread and how it weaves through people’s lives.”

The panelists agree cities that are intelligent and strategic about how they plan for future mobility and form the right technology partnerships will be the winners in attracting residents and industry and to ensure happier and healthier citizens as well as economic success. 

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